From martinis to tinnies for an everyman Bond

Will a quick half sully the mystique of 007, wonders Geoffrey Macnab

Prepare for all the puns about irate James Bond enthusiasts being shaken and stirred. Earlier this week, it was confirmed in Advertising Age that Britain's best-known secret agent is going to change the habits of a lifetime and drink beer in the new Bond film, Skyfall.

Heineken has struck a deal for a Bond campaign and 007 will reportedly be shown drinking Heineken in at least one scene. This is an act of near heresy for a movie character who has been defined for the past 50 years by his love of martinis.

There are several different ways to look at Bond's new choice of tipple. On the one hand, this is product placement, pure and simple. Beer, movies and advertising go back a very long way together. Whether it was Orson Welles sonorously telling us that a certain Danish lager was probably the best in the world or the use of footage of a parched John Mills, just out of the desert in Ice Cold in Alex.

However, with a character whose habits are studied as intensely as those of Bond, every change in behaviour is scrutinised for secret meanings. One argument must be that his beer drinking represents a further democratisation of a figure who (as originally created by Ian Fleming) came from an upper-class background.

As played by Daniel Craig, Bond is now more of a rugged everyman. The challenge for director Sam Mendes is to show Bond quaffing his lager without allowing it to compromise his mystique. After all, beer in films has rarely been used before to suggest sophistication. "Bah! I've supped some ale tonight" was the catchphrase of the northern comedian and film star Frank Randle, whose comic persona was based around beer, burping and bodily functions.

British films inspired by the music-hall tradition were full of leering, bandy-legged drunks. They were deliberately bawdy and vulgar. Part of their intention was to cock a snook at respectable, middle-class society.

It wasn't much different in Hollywood either. Watch WC Fields' 1933 short The Fatal Glass Of Beer and you enter a world that is as far removed from Aston Martins and 007's customary Euro-trash luxury as you can imagine. Fields plays a Yukon prospector caught in a snow storm who wails a preposterous song about the evils of drink.

Of course, Bond has an iron constitution. There isn't a scene in any Bond film that springs to mind in which he is tipsy or has a hangover, regardless of how many martinis he has consumed. It's doubtful that his new-found enthusiasm for lager will result in delirium tremens or that he'll be caught short in the middle of an important mission and have to rush to the gents as Blofeld escapes over the horizon.