Yet another myth around the ‘real’ Bond

Yet another myth around the ‘real’ Bond
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First Published: Fri, Jun 06 2008. 12 00 AM IST

Devil’s due: Can Faulks recreate Fleming’s magic?
Devil’s due: Can Faulks recreate Fleming’s magic?
Updated: Fri, Jun 06 2008. 12 00 AM IST
Judging by the hype that has accompanied the release of Sebastian Faulks’ new James Bond novel (Devil May Care), the publishers want us to believe that Faulks is starting from where Ian Fleming left off due to his early death in 1965. The Man With The Golden Gun was the last Fleming Bond novel and Octopussy, a collection of short stories, was published posthumously.
Devil’s due: Can Faulks recreate Fleming’s magic?
It’s easy to see why the publishers wish to persuade us that Bond has never appeared in print since 1966. The James Bond of the movies is quite different from Fleming’s Bond. Even when the films were based on the books, all that they often retained were the original titles. While the early films only tinkered with Fleming’s plots, the later movies dispensed entirely with the stories. For instance, The Spy Who Loved Me has nothing in common with the Fleming novel of the same name.
Fans of the books said they were able to imagine Sean Connery as the Bond of the novels but after Roger Moore took over the role and played it for laughs, the book Bond and the movie Bond were regarded as two entirely different characters.
However, Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig, has ended up being the highest-grossing Bond movie so far. The film’s producers have declared that their intention is to return to the Bond of the books; the movie takes quite a lot of its plot from Fleming’s novel, and Bond as essayed by Craig, is nearer the original Sean Connery avatar.
What better time to revive the books? Why not capitalize on the popularity of the Daniel Craig Bond to update the original Fleming Bond?
And publishers can allow Bond a life independent of Ian Fleming. In an effort to make some easy money, Fleming sold the rights to the Bond character before his death. So the James Bond book franchise is owned by a company called Glidrose and it has constantly searched for new ways to make money off the character.
Though the idea of getting Faulks (a readable serious novelist) to update Bond may seem innovative, it is actually a retread of an old formula. In 1968, Glidrose asked Kingsley Amis (father of Martin and a proper novelist) to write a Bond novel. The book called Colonel Sun was a moderate success, though it has been largely forgotten. Amis was not thrilled with the idea of writing Bond novels, used a pseudonym (Robert Markham) and refused to do a follow-up.
The series should have died out then but Glidrose decided to revive it again, 13 years later. License Renewed was the first Bond novel by the well-known thriller author (and competent journeyman) John Gardner and it featured a central character who was a cross between Sean Connery’s Bond and the Roger Moore version.
Though Gardner went on to write several Bond novels, I never liked any of them and after the first four books gave up entirely on Bond in print. But Glidrose went on and on. After Gardner abandoned the series in 1996, another hack called Raymond Benson was brought in to write more Bond novels. More recently, Charlie Higson has authored successful novels for Glidrose focusing on the adventures of the teenage Bond.
The later Bond novels, by such authors as Amis, Gardner and Benson, never approached the sales of the Fleming originals. Many would argue that they cheapened the character and damaged the franchise. Though Gardner had hoped that Eon Productions, who make the Bond movies, would pick up his novels, the producers refused to base any of the films on the new books. Instead they wrote fresh scripts and gave them titles that had some connection to Fleming or Bond.
I haven’t read the Faulks’ Bond novel, but judging by the interviews the author has given in the run-up to its publication, he’ll go with a Daniel Craig-like Bond. This is fair enough. Purists claim to be horrified that Roger Moore was allowed to send Bond up in his movies and say that the character should be hard-edged and cruel.
Well, yes and no. We’ll never know what Fleming thought of the later movies but we do know that his choice of an actor to play Bond veered from day to day. Before the films were made, he said he wanted Cary Grant (a bisexual American actor of British origin) or David Niven (the caricature, effete English gentleman) to play Bond. Both were bizarre choices. It is hard to imagine Niven hitting anybody, never mind being cruel and hard-edged.
Then, Fleming collaborated on screen treatments for a Bond movie with Kevin McClory. These scripts eventually became Thunderball (though there’s a long and complicated story about the exact authorship of Thunderball and McClory still owns the movie rights). At that stage, he wanted Richard Burton — hardly an action hero — to play Bond. When the McClory project floundered, Eon bought the movie rights and looked for a Bond.
They were helped by the fact that the first appearance of Bond on screen had been forgotten. Fleming had allowed a US TV network to make a Casino Royale feature. The show turned Bond into an American, called him ‘Jimmy’ and cast Barry Nelson in the role. The TV version went out in 1954 but fortunately, by the time Eon was ready to cast the first movie, it had faded from public memory.
But even when the Eon casting calls began, there’s no evidence that Fleming wanted a rugged, action hero. The actor who came closest to being cast was—yes, indeed—Roger Moore. But he turned the role down, preferring to play The Saint on TV. Sean Connery, a former body-builder, was hardly an obvious choice and Fleming objected violently to his casting.
We’ll have to wait for the Faulks novel to see what his Bond is like. But one thing is clear: the Bond we visualize from reading the Fleming books was not the Bond that Fleming, with his choice of David Niven, imagined himself.
Write to Vir at pursuits@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jun 06 2008. 12 00 AM IST