Ditch the nostalgia for old 007. He’s gone, and so is his Great Britain

Our standards are higher now, we like fast car chases and gritty realism

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There’s a certain type of British humour that is almost exclusively of its time. You find it in Monty Python (You must now cut down the tallest tree in the forest... with... A HERRING!), you find it in Fawlty Towers (Don’t mention the war!), and you find it in the old James Bond films. It’s still sort of funny now in a kitsch, nostalgic way, but only because it reminds you of a simpler time - a time when kippers were hilarious, goose-stepping was an icebreaker, and a little sexism never hurt anyone. If someone came up with those jokes today, though, we’d all find it rather embarrassing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s one man who doesn’t like this turn of events, at all. And in a recent Radio Times interview, John Cleese made his feelings very clear:

“I did two James Bond movies, and then I believe that they decided that the tone they needed was that of the Bourne action movies, which are very gritty and humourless”, he said, grimly.

“Also the big money was coming from Asia… where the audiences go to watch the action sequences, and that’s why in my opinion the action sequences go on for too long, and it’s a fundamental flaw. The audiences in Asia are not going for the subtle British humour or the class jokes.”

Ah yes. The traditional James Bond film is all about subtlety. You just don’t get characters like Pussy Galore, Xenia Onnatop or Plenty O’Toole anymore - and the reason is that the references go straight over audience heads.

Don’t get me wrong - I like the cheerful surrealism of the old Bond films. I like the bizarre, baroque sequences. That bit where Bond escapes from an alligator pit by using the alligators themselves as stepping stones. That moment in Live and Let Die where Bond forces the bad guy to eat an air capsule and therefore explode (he always did have an inflated opinion of himself), or when a hearse explodes (I think they were on their way to a funeral), or when someone gets harpooned (I think he got the point), or when a villain dies by snowblower (he had a lot of guts), or when Bond wrestles off a boa constrictor (it had a crush on me).

The villains were great, too. Rosa Klebb, poisoning victims with her clogs, Jaws, the metal mouthed monster who finds love in the end, Blofeld with his eerie emerald green contact lenses.

The trouble is, I like all these things as they are - safely in the past. You can’t reheat 70s Bond films now without producing Austin Powers. And forget the differences between the Asian and British markets - audiences simply expect more everywhere.

Our standards are higher. We like fast car chases and gritty realism and high definition fights that last for ages. And we’d take it over two hours of lacquered camp, no matter how many jokes about tea and references to some people being posher than others are in it. The new Bond films are funny, too - funny in a subtle, clever way, which plays much better with today’s audiences.

But this is just what nostalgics like Cleese fails to understand. Even British humour moves on. Even patriotism can be modern (just look at the plethora of Union Jacks in Skyfall). The truth is, Bond in his 60s heyday was already looking back - wryly - at a post-imperial age. A time when the world was run by middle-aged men sipping martinis. But that’s too far gone now. We need new points of reference. Prefer 007 as he was? Buy a box-set.

 

A dating service for clever people I’m not minded to join

So it looks like Mensa have set up a dating site. Sounds like a pretty good idea, in a way. If you’re clever (and you have to be, the site only lets you join if your IQ in in the 98th percentile) - you’ll probably want to date other clever people. But I think I’ve spotted a flaw.

The site selects for intelligence, yes, but it also selects for the sort of person who thinks they’re intelligent, indeed the sort of person who has invested time proving it and joining a club in which it will be constantly affirmed. The sort of person who will meet you at the British Museum for a first date and expect a long conversation about etruscan vases.

Then again, if you’re in Mensa, that’s probably what you want. As Dr Helen Fisher, Match.com’s scientific adviser wrote: “if you’re proud of being in Mensa, if someone (else) is also proud of being in Mensa, then you’re already in the same clan”. Quentin Tarantino is in the clan. Steve Martin is in the clan. Perhaps, on balance, it would be wise to stay out of the clan.

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