28 May, 1908 – 12 August, 1964
28 May, 1908 – 12 August, 1964
Article by Revelator
After the narrative slack of Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming decided to better himself with From Russia with Love. Because its story was entirely structured around a deathtrap for one man, it was important for that man to be human enough to hold the audience’s empathy. This demanded a more rounded Bond, and Fleming was forced to further personalize his hero, giving an exact physical description of character and filling in his past history.
In Moonraker Fleming gave us details of Bond’s everyday life in London. Now we’re given a fuller portrait, and see Bond bored at work, reminiscing about the innocence of his teenage years in Kitzbühel, worrying that he’s “pimping for England” (and wondering if he’s capable of it), experiencing fear when his airplane’s caught in a storm, and so forth. This Bond even has an outright distaste for cold-blooded killing, in…
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Man’s stock appears to be falling. He is suffering a public relations crisis.
Three years ago, Hanna Rosin cogently contemplated ‘The End of Man’, as his physical size and strength are of little consequence in our post-industrial society.[i] Four months ago, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen baulked at the ‘new sex appeal’ promoted by James Bond’s twenty-third cinematic outing, which preferences Man’s pectorals and glutes over his personality and gumption.[ii] The debate about Man’s societal role and public presentation gives a new twist to age-old discussions about ‘great men’ and icons, particularly from the golden years of Hollywood. Cohen suggests that Man’s present focus on physical perfection has emasculated him. To make the point, he compares Daniel Craig’s Bond with Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill in Hitchcock’s…
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Words by Revelator
Here is part 1 of 3 that we’re calling “the three ages of Bond.”
Thanks to Daniel Craig (and his underrated predecessor Timothy Dalton) we’ve heard a lot of the phrase “Fleming’s Bond,” as in “Craig comes closest to Fleming’s Bond, the ruthless government assassin” and so on. This phrase has always rang false to me, because Fleming’s version of the character was never fixed. “Fleming’s Bond” assumes that James Bond remained a static character, but Fleming lived with Bond for over a decade, during which his relationship with the character changed. There are several Bonds we could call “Fleming’s Bond”—the different versions of the character roughly correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of Fleming’s career as a novelist.
Fleming’s original conception of Bond, the characterless government assassin: “The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was…
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The good news is that Titan Books has begun reissuing the Matt Helm series (1960 – 1993) of books by Donald Hamilton in attractive paperbacks with the obligatory scantily clad “dame” on the cover. This, I think, harkens back to the book’s roots as classic pulps from the 50s and 60s. Although one must note, that the girls portrayed on today’s covers are a bit more, should we say, svelte, or a little less Marilynesque looking than those in the wonderful Robert McGinnis covers (he did over 1200) which adorned the originals.
Helm, who was introduced in 1960 with the publication by Fawcett of Death of a Citizen, seven years after Bond, but before Bond took off in the United States (this would happen in 1964 with the publication of JFK’s manufactured reading list) continued on for about twenty books into the 1990s. These were the glory years for the pulps, and all of Helm’s adventures were published as paperbacks. Hamilton and Helm ruled for many years until giving way to a man named Travis McGee. So much so, that the final Helm book is still unpublished (Titan are you listening?).
Helm suffered a similar fate at the cinema as that of his counterpart across the pond. As with Bond, movies were produced that bore little or no resemblance to the books from which they sprung. Even more so in Helm’s case, as the films were purposely presented as camp comedy. You know it’s a bad sign when Dean Martin is chosen to portray you’re ruthless counter assassin.
Both literary characters are both darker and less humorous than their movie counterparts. One could say Bond was “humorless” until the release of the first Bond film which in turn influenced Fleming’s writing. The men in the books are sociopaths, just good looking ones who happen to work for the government. Bond, really had no personality, which was Fleming’s intent. He had “things” and habits, but he was a blank slate that the reader could write on. Helm is a bit more fleshed out, but although he attempted to live a “normal life” he was most comfortable in the world of assassination and mayhem. Helm also did not benefit from the “Fleming Effect” (a term coined by novelist and Bond fan Sir Kingsley Amis) which was what would become known as “product placement”, although Fleming was doing it for free. When Helm looked at his watch, it was just a “watch”, Bond on the other hand looked at his “Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet”. Fleming felt that this “grounded” Bond in a world that readers would recognize, even if they did not know it.
Helm was much more of a middle class character whereas Bond (Eton, Fettes, Royal Navy Officer) was more upper U. Both men were highly trained professional killers, although Helm is not a spy, he is a counter-assassin for an unnamed United States government agency. Helm’s unit (with which he served during World War II) was a Nazi hunting group which the government thought would work on dirty red bastards as well, so was kept going after the war’s end. Helm is much more ruthless and brutal than Bond. In one story Helm is sent to “convincingly beat up” a fellow female agent, armed with instructions from the agency doctor on what to break, etc. no less (we are told he trained for this, a school I’d like to see) but accidently kills her when she has an alcohol induced heart attack midway through the session. Hate when that happens. He always carries a Buck Knife and doesn’t like to carry a gun (when he has to it is usually a .38) because they can’t be explained away if caught. Helm’s adventures are less exotic and the Bentleys and Aston Martins are replaced with Fords, Chevrolets and Volkswagens from the car pool. Helm’s personal vehicle was an old pick-up truck equipped with a camper shell. Not exactly sexy. He shops at Brooks Brothers not Savile Row, and we never learn if he eats off Minton china or prefers eggs from particular hens. He definitely buys his smokes (probably Lucky Strikes or Chesterfields) at the commissary and not at Morland of Grosvenor Street.
Having read the books back in the day, I was pleased to find them being republished after many years of out-of-printness. I enjoy these mid-20th century pulp novels. So politically incorrect and surprisingly frank about sex and violence for books written in the early 60s. Yes, like Bond, Helm has a way with the ladies, not as suave and debonair, but he pulls in the tail nonetheless. Definitely worth a look for those with a nostalgic bent. Actually a little more believable than the Bond stories, just not as well dressed.
For those interested, check out The Matt Helm Dossier, which covers all the books in detail and has an hilarious on-going riff on the use of the word “darling”. Which is a word one comes across in any book of this time period. Excellent resource.
Fantastic post by man BAMF…Actually one of the best rundowns on Bond out there. I’m a fan of the literary Bond and really don’t care for the movie version. But I can stomach the Sean Connery Bond. Very good stuff.
Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (1964), wearing the closest cinematic approximation of the suit imagined by Ian Fleming for his character. Inset is a drawing created by Fleming and commissioned for the Daily Express comic strip.
James Bond, British government agent
106 years ago, on May 28, 1908, Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in Mayfair to an eventual member of parliament and his wife. Throughout his life, Fleming would be a journalist, a Naval Intelligence officer, and – the role in which he is most remembered – the author who introduced the world to James Bond.
After World War II, Fleming was demobilized from his position at British Naval Intelligence and began working as a newspaper manager, a job allowing him three months vacation. Fleming, whose ambition had long been to write a spy novel, used those winter months to retreat to Jamaica.
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“…Bond, like his literary creator, Ian Fleming, is always a snob but never a bore. His obsession with correct style is a defense against the coarse vulgarities of a changing world in which a conspiracy of global power and money seem to have the upper hand. In the Bondian fairy tale, they come a cropper against Savile Row suits and mordant asides. To the lethal sirens—think of the flame-haired vixen Fiona Volpe in Thunderball or Xenia Onatopp in 1995’s GoldenEye (like Dickens, Fleming loved making his names act out the part)—Bond delivers lashings of rough sex and death. But to the drippy D-cup Andromedas, chained to their rocks by some lunatic captor, he is always the liberating knight-gallant…”
“you drink it occasionally; In Geneva, a Löwenbräu; in the States, a Miller’s High Life, a couple of Red Stripes in Jamaica and as many as four steins of local brew in Munich if you find yourself with an ex-Luftwafffe pilot. But eschew English beer. It, like cider, belongs in pubs and 007 does not.”
-Kingsley Amis The Book of Bond: Or Every Man His Own 007
The Literary James Bond Magazine
The unexamined life is not worth living.
(n): An office or position that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue.
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