Shaken, stirred, but alive

PROFILE : JAMES BOND Racked by self-doubt, the new 007 is a hero for our time, says David Lister
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The Independent Online
THERE is a telling moment in the new James Bond film which opens this week. Dame Judi Dench, who plays the secret service chief M - yes, this film is bang up to date on the feminisation in Britain's espionage hierarchy - comes upon 007 swapping stories about her with a fellow agent. "lf I want sarcasm I'll talk to my children," she barks at them. Then she turns her full withering attention on Pierce Brosnan's Bond. "You're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur," she tells him, "a relic of the Cold War."

Sexist, children. These are words, concepts even, that have never featured in a Bond film before. Honor Blackman did not wrestle with Sean Connery in Goldfinger to tell him she was keen to start a family. Nor did she consider there was anything wrong with a good old British name like Pussy Galore. But then Sean Connery was never afflicted with the melancholy and identity crisis that permeates Pierce Brosnan's character in this refreshingly sophisticated new Bond outing.

And it is not just the epitome of British suavity who has changed in the first Bond film for six years. A post-Cold War new man, Bond is matched by post-feminist Bond girls. The female villain, Famke Janssen, has a good time with her male escorts before crushing them to death between her thighs. Even Miss Moneypenny, for goodness' sake, M's Bond-adoring spinsterish secretary, is edging fitfully towards self-discovery.

No wonder 007 is confused. A woman is running the shop; the old enemy is no longer the foe and it's hard to tell who is; the girls all seem to have been on assertiveness courses and, with the audience all Aids conscious, there's not a lot you could do with them anyway.

Life was so much simpler 40 years ago.

FOR ALL of those 40 years - since the publication of the first Bond book, Casino Royale - there has been speculation about which spy, if any, Ian Fleming based his fictional character on. No MI5 or MI6 man worth his vodka martini would want his obituary to be devoid of a hint that he had been the role model for James Bond. The prosaic certainty is that the real James Bond was an American ornithologist. His reference book, Field Guide To Birds Of The West Indies, was on Ian Fleming's shelf when he was searching for a name for his new creation. As with many fictional creations, however, Bond's character mixes traits borrowed from the author's friends and acquaintance, as well as owing something to a psychological make-up of Fleming himself.

According to Andrew Lycett, who has written a revealing new biography of Fleming: "As a perennial fantasist, Ian could not help introducing a strong element of wish-fulfilment into his creation. James Bond was the man of action he would have liked to have been, if his nature had not been more passive, reflective and chameleon- like. Again, Bond was a projection of the heroic image of his father, which he spent his life measuring up to and not quite emulating. Bond gave at least fictional form to Ian's frustrated urge to have been out in the field during the war, a full-time secret agent, rather than a competent staff officer, office-politicking and dreaming in Room 39 of the Admiralty."

Fleming's father was a Conservative MP, killed on the Western Front in 1917, his Times obituary written by Winston Churchill. Fleming's life was rather more colourful than a desk at the Admiralty might suggest. After Eton and Sandhurst he made his mark in naval intelligence in the Second World War, masterminding top-secret operations (one of which was called Goldeneye, the title of the new Bond film). His vivacious wife Ann, in an episode too improbable for a Bond film, left him briefly for the Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell. And during the war one of Fleming's memoranda detailed how a new US intelligence agency might cooperate with the British. This led him later to claim, with a dollop of poetic licence, that he had written the blueprint for the CIA.

In that memorandum Fleming wrote his prescription for the ideal intelligence officer: he "must have trained powers of observation, analysis and evaluation; absolute discretion, sobriety, devotion to duty, language and wide experience, and be aged about 40 to 50".

Add charm, devastating sexual technique, a dry wit, and an array of devilishly ingenious gadgets and you have the saviour of the British film industry.

But first, and not always to great acclaim, came the novels. Fleming wrote the 62,000-word Casino Royale in only four weeks in 1952, an exercise he later said he undertook to take his mind off the horrific prospect of matrimony. The book's first sentence, "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning", introduced the reader to Bond's fast living. And within just a few pages nearly all his trademarks were established: looks like Hoagy Carmichael (a then fashionable American crooner); something cold and ruthless in the eyes; drives a 1933 four- and-a-half-litre Bentley; drinks champagne and dry Martini, shaken not stirred; carries Morland cigarettes in a flat gun-metal box; underneath his dinner jacket he has a .25 Beretta automatic.

There is one more accessory. On his arm is the dark, blue-eyed Vesper Lynd, wearing a diamond necklace and "a diamond clip in the low vee which just exposed the jutting swell of her breasts".

Thirteen more Bond stories followed, with devotee Kingsley Amis commissioned to write a 15th after Fleming's death. But the hero did not achieve universal popularity.

In 1958, on the publication of Dr No, Paul Johnson wrote an essay in the New Statesman entitled "Sex, Snobbery and Sadism". Dr No was, he said, the nastiest book he had ever read, containing three basic ingredients "all unhealthy, all thoroughly English - the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude snob-cravings of a suburban adult". In the columns of Pravda, too, Bond had a fierce critic who denounced "a world where the laws are written with a pistol barrel, and rape and outrages on female honour are considered gallantry".

BOND'S move to film came in 1961. In that year Harry Saltzman, head of Woodfall films which had made Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, teamed up with ex-Hollywood agent Cubby Broccoli to make Dr No. Their casting of Connery was inspired. His good looks, ever-present suggestion of danger and Scottish burr turned the schoolboy's fantasy hero of the books into a romantic icon. So impressed was Fleming that he changed his hero's background in the last Bond books to give him Scottish ancestry and decided that James had been thrown out of Eton and sent to the Scottish equivalent, Fettes.

Coinciding with the swinging Sixties in Britain, the character of Bond blazed across the world the country's claim to be hip, suave, youthful and exciting. Helped by the fact that his enemies never chose the simple expedient of just shooting him - Bond has seen off sharks no fewer than eight times - he extolled not just British invincibility but British virility, British fashion, British hardware.

Poor James. Everything was to change. Connery left the part and, after a one-film appearance by George Lazenby, was succeeded in 1973 by the infinitely less charismatic Roger Moore. Over the next 12 years the films lost their sense of excitement by trying to be too knowing and self-mocking, replacing dry wit with daft puns. Timothy Dalton's short tenure didn't bring back the lustre. With the Cold War coming to an end and Aids awareness prohibiting one of our hero's adventurous pursuits, the scriptwriters were uncertain how to develop the main man.

Even British fashion and British hardware were being replaced at Pinewood Studios. In the new film Bond drives a BMW, wears an Italian suit and a Swiss watch. The real-life Q, Nick Finlayson, who created the gadgets for Goldeneye, says wearily: "We did try to use British. But there are so many difficulties in getting the supplies on time. We talked to a lot of British manufacturers, but they didn't have the right car at the right time."

The suits, too, are no longer Savile Row. They were tailored in Italy to look as British as possible. The top British tailors were too busy and too small to meet the demands of a film company which can need instant replacements if anything goes wrong on a shoot.

Poor James. "I don't think Bond has the following he did in the Sixties," says Graham Rye, president of the James Bond fan club (phone number ending with the digits 007). "When Thunderball came out in '65 he was at his peak. That film took more money, allowing for inflation, than any of the others. Kids don't play at being James Bond any more. They don't identify with this dapper-looking guy in his dinner jacket."

And so Commander James Bond has an identity crisis. Unsure of his role, his allure, his future, he is having to re-examine his past in the light of new superpower alliances. But as the early reviews of the new film suggest, and audiences will discover for themselves from this week, this loss of self-assurance, this new-found introspection, may just mean that Britain has produced the perfect fin de siecle romantic hero.