Rock'n'roll beats 'shaken not stirred'

Paul Vallely weighs up Sixties beacons James Bond and The Beatles

Related Topics

The decade that marked the watershed in 20th-century popular culture began, not as Philip Larkin would have it, in 1963, but on 5 October 1962 – the day, half a century ago, when the first James Bond movie opened and the first Lennon & McCartney single, "Love Me Do", was released.

That was, in the words of The Beatles' musical svengali George Martin, "the day the world changed". Out went the received-pronunciation Britain of the bowler hat and brolly. In came the flat drawling vowels of Liverpool and a hard-edged Scottish burr. Out went Mantovani and Danger Man and in came the raw energy of the Merseybeat and the daring cocktail of action, sex and arch-eyebrowed amorality of the cinematic 007.

The suave good looks, cruel-mouth and ironic humour of Sean Connery had about them some of the same dangerous sexuality that screaming teenage girls saw in John Lennon. They were totems of a counter-culture. The Beatles burned themselves out in less than a decade. But Bond has gone on to become the longest continually-running film series in history. The difference is instructive.

Setting out to satisfy the Cold War appetite for spy thrillers, the Bond movies hit upon a formula of cocktails and casinos, stylish fashion and exotic settings, fast cars and faster women, which has endured for half a century, refreshed by a succession of six actors over 22 films.

As the decades passed, the nature of the gadgetry altered with the technology of the times. Bond abandoned his trademark "shaken, not stirred" martini for a product-placement Heineken lager. And author Ian Fleming's low regard for women was tempered by bringing in the masterful Judi Dench as Bond's female spymaster. But these tweaks never altered the basic franchise. The lapels of his jacket narrowed and widened but the Bond template has remained unchanged.

By contrast, the trajectory of The Beatles' brief but brilliant career took them from the fresh dynamism of "Love Me Do" to the multilayered complexity of "A Day in the Life" in just five years. They began as the boys-next-door, along with fellow mop-haired Scousers such as The Searchers, Swinging Blue Jeans and Gerry and the Pacemakers. But they emerged out of the explosion of Beatlemania as a force of constantly changing creativity. Titles such as "She Loves You", "Norwegian Wood", "For No One", "Paperback Writer", "Penny Lane", "I Am the Walrus", "Blackbird", "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" chronicled an extraordinary journey that combined a gift for melody unparalleled since Schubert with a revolution in what was understood by popular music.

There were points of confluence. Early on, Connery quipped to a glamourpuss: "My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Pérignon '53 above a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs!" And with considerably less irony, Paul McCartney in his later solo days composed the theme song of the 1973 Bond movie "Live and Let Die".

When the new Bond movie, Skyfall, the 23rd, premieres this month we may expect to be entertained. But tonight a remastered edition of The Beatles' 1967 film, Magical Mystery Tour, will be shown on BBC2. It will be preceded by an Arena documentary on the making of the movie which was critically derided at the time but can now be seen as the psychedelic precursor of a new style of humour – when Monty Python's Flying Circus made its debut on BBC television two years later, it changed the face of comedy. In the end, what Bond and The Beatles reveal is the difference between amusement and art.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a campaign visit to Chris Sedgeman Scaffolding in Penzance  

General Election 2015: With not long to go, all the main parties need to up their game

Ian Birrell
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions