Leading Article: Would the real 007 please stand up?

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THE VERY name, Bond, carries with it the thrill of sexual threat. Will he kiss her or slap her? Everyone knows he should not treat women like that, but who has not fantasised about being 007 or a Bond girl? We have missed the earthy ruthlessness that lay beneath Sean Connery's suave sophistication, his camp send-up of male sexual fascism.

Replacements did not measure up. Roger Moore had his good moments, but lacked animal magnetism. Timothy Dalton, the last stand-in, could never conjure up the days when men were men and women were glad of it. Earnest and politically correct, he romanced but rarely bedded. For years, frustrated devotees were impatient for Pierce Brosnan to pick up the keys of that Aston Martin. He had those dark, cruel good looks, could play rough, and seemed ready to save the world. Finally, yesterday, the new 007 was given his orders.

Now is the time for the movie- makers to abandon their dalliance with realism and re-explore the fantasy that made Bond big here and across the Atlantic in the Sixties. Then, Britain had lost its empire, but Bond helped to camouflage the country's shrinking role: 007 still rescued incompetent Americans from disaster. Without him, Washington would have been lasered from space and gold stocks at Fort Knox irradiated. The CIA played a subordinate role to Our Man, arranging cars at airports and inevitably losing their hapless agents.

Audiences in the US loved the outlandish plots, the battles of the Cold War against a mysterious enemy. They warmed to Bond's snobbery and the vowels of the upper- crust British. The stuffy mandarins back in London fitted their stereotypical views of England. James Bond became one of Britain's most successful cultural exports. Even after two relative flops, he is still hot property, as shown by interest in the new casting.

Before 007, screen heroes seduced women once if they were lucky. Bond bed-hopped and was immortal. He symbolised a new amorality and sexual liberation. Now, in these days of Aids, we want Bond to remain immune to hazards new and old. Escapism is the key to our enjoyment. The new 007 should be fearless and must singlehandedly stave off world domination by super-villains. Bond at his greatest brooked no compromise with reality.