From dinner jackets and gadgets to casino plaques and a golden gun, the legend of James Bond has been preserved for ever in its archive, run by the peerless Archive Director Meg Simmonds. Nick Foulkes gets up close and personal with some of Meg’s precious relics to tell the cultural story of Ian Fleming’s ageless secret agent.
Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and James Bond (Roger Moore) in The Man with the Golden Gun. (Courtesy of Eon Productions)
A highly contagious mystery virus with the sinister name Covid-19 originates in the heart of China. It spreads
swiftly. Conspiracy theorists rush to the conclusion that a Chinese bioweapon has been unleashed on the world. With
frightening rapidity the virus races around the globe. The death toll mounts. Stock markets tumble. Governments
panic. Public order threatens to collapse. The world teeters on the brink…
Time for Daniel Craig — muscular upper body bulging through the close-fitting Tom Ford dinner jacket, and Omega watch
glimpsed on the wrist — to perform a handbrake turn in the latest offering from the beleaguered British motor
manufacturer Aston Martin and leap to the rescue. Hectic action ensues at casinos, on beaches, up mountains and in
sundry exotic locations around the world; by now Bond’s air miles account must be so bloated it would be no surprise
to learn that Greta Thunberg has put a contract out on him… A starting point for Bond No.26, working title ‘No Time
to Fly’. With the help of a few nifty gadgets, a squirt of Q-department hand sanitiser, some breathtaking action
sequences, and a script seasoned with a judicious sprinkling of MeToo-appropriate millennial witticisms courtesy of
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the day is saved. Order returns, stock markets soar, and the 25th James Bond film does not
need to be postponed…
Alas, of course, this is no James Bond plot to be solved with a few martinis, a bit of gunplay, and some
Fleabag-style soliloquies. At the time of writing, the shadow of coronavirus is lengthening over the world,
there is a not a bottle of hand sanitiser, nor a face mask, to be bought, and yes, the year’s most important
cinematic event, the release of No Time to Die, is postponed… again.
It is hard to think of a more enduring popular culture franchise than James Bond. Stars Trek and Wars are but infants
by comparison. Avengers, X-Men, Jack Reacher… just passing trends, mere specks of lint to be brushed from the sleeve
of cinematic history. Perhaps only Dracula has a longer claim on the public’s affections, if that is the right word,
but after all he is undead.
James Bond is the Peter Pan of the espionage world. A character already fully formed at the time the Iron Curtain
came down, he has outlived the world that spawned him, survived Francis Fukuyama’s over-hasty prediction of the end
of history, and proved himself a worthy adversary of whatever the popular incarnation of global threat may happen to
be: lawless post-Soviet Russia (GoldenEye); the power of megalomaniac media moguls (Tomorrow Never
Dies), rising petrol prices (The World Is Not Enough), North Korea (Die Another Day), the
funding of terrorism (Casino Royale), environmental fears (Quantum of Solace), and the perennial
standby of international terrorism (Spectre).
And yet, while remaining up-to-date in terms of threats and social mores — Waller-Bridge is one of the most talented
scriptwriters in the English language and a kind of insurance against accusations of outdated gender attitudes —
James Bond has to remain recognisably James Bond, a character rooted deep in an England that ceased to exist half a
century ago, a world of brittle sophistication, backgammon, bespoke suits, sexism, snobbery (especially, but not
exclusively, about wine), social stratification, and pretty much anything that fits under the umbrella term
Bond’s creator, the journalist turned novelist Ian Fleming, was born in Mayfair in 1908. He was shaped in the sunset
glow of empire. Eton during the twenties, a brief spell at Sandhurst, the rounds of country houses and London
nightclubs, sexual precocity, a private income and family connections at court combined to create the C.V. of a
prototypical bright young thing of the interwar years. Seen from the other side of the second world war, this
lifestyle would appear impossibly distant and anachronistic, but Fleming’s affection for it was undimmed.
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With thanks to videographer Marcus Ebanks, please seeNick Foulkes delving into the archives with the Archive Director of Eon Productions, Meg