Brian Viner's Icons of the 20th Century No 7: James Bond

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Following their cold-blooded execution of News at Ten, ITV chiefs have now unveiled their secret plan to conquer the schedules - running all the James Bond films in chronological order. With Trevor McDonald, otherwise known as agent 22.00, no longer posing a problem, 007 must now deal with the twin agents 21.00, aka Peter Sissons and Michael Buerk. If his mission is successful, the BBC may be forced to kill off the 9pm News.

ITV's revised evening schedules are already eroding the BBC audience, and a long season of Bond films is likely to emphasise the benefit of a schedule unencumbered by a mid-evening news bulletin. So, the BBC may yet seize the vacant 10pm slot for their main evening news. The word at White City, of course, is that they are no longer terribly bothered by ratings. But who better to shoot down that transparent fib than James Bond, the man who once brought down a helicopter full of villains with a single shot from his Walther PPK?

I forget in which film that happened, but the ITV season will doubtless remind me. It began last Wednesday with Dr No - the only Bond movie, as all 007 devotees know, without the familiar pre-titles sequence. And it will include even the lousy 1967 spoof Casino Royale, which ironically starred David Niven as Bond. Ironic, because the super-suave Niven was the man Ian Fleming originally wanted to play his hero. Instead, he had to settle for a working-class lad from Edinburgh, tattooed forearm and all. Sean Connery probably did go to Fettes - Bond's Alma Mater - but only in the milk float he used to drive.

Purists like to point out that the celluloid Bond has never much resembled Fleming's creation, who was a hard-hearted, hard-drinking loner, not a highly sexed punster, and emphatically not Roger Moore. Fleming's Bond never pushed a villain into a printing press - as Pierce Brosnan's Bond did in Tomorrow Never Dies - and quipped "They'll print anything these days". In the books, killing was never a laughing matter. But the fact is that hardly anyone has read the books, at any rate by comparison with the 2 billion or so people who have seen at least one of the films. So if anyone was responsible for making an icon of 007, it was the producers Albert Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, rather than Ian Fleming.

Sean Connery played his part, too. And despite the fact that he always looked more likely to order a pint of heavy than a vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, Connery remains most people's quintessential Bond. Partly because he was the first, of course. Partly because he is, even now, more ruggedly macho than the men who succeeded him: Roger Moore, the unfairly maligned George Lazenby, the badly miscast Timothy Dalton, and Brosnan, the best of the post-Connery Bonds. And partly, no doubt, because he had the good fortune to star in arguably the best Bond film of all, 1964's Goldfinger.

That was the one in which Q's celebrated Aston Martin DB5, complete with rotating licence plates, made its debut. It also contained the most memorable Bond villain. There have been plenty of great villains, such as Donald Pleasence's Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967) and Richard Kiel's Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), not to mention Christopher Lee's Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

But Harold Sakata's Oddjob was the best of the lot, and Goldfinger also produced one of the most memorable exchanges - Bond: "Do you expect me to talk?" Goldfinger: "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die."