Tag Archives: james bond

The name’s Fleming. Ian Fleming.

I’ve recently been acquainting myself with one of the most iconic characters of the twentieth century, a secret agent by the name of James Bond.

Everyone knows James Bond. The tuxedo, the gun, the enigmatic smile, the Aston Martin DB5, vodka martinis shaken and not stirred, licence to kill, 007 (008 outside Central London), “the name’s Bond,” lots of fancy ladies and so forth. The character has basically become the very definition of spy fiction. Any fictional spy who’s appeared on screen since the 1960s will inevitably be compared to him. Heck, most action films that have come along since then owe something to the tropes established by the Bond movies.

But the Bond we all know and love is, let’s be honest, the Bond of the films.

Being a cultured sort, you’re no doubt aware that the Bond franchise started out with a series of novels by Ian Fleming, pictured right. Fleming was a spy himself during the Second World War, and in fact claimed that Casino Royale was inspired by an experience he himself had with a couple of undercover German agents at the gaming table (sadly, not the wicked-awesome bit from the film where Bond flips his car over seven times).

Fleming created Bond initially as a fairly dull character – the name was chosen to reflect this, and was taken from an American ornithologist. The ornithologist in question did see the funny side. Fleming built the character and his world up from his own experiences and those of friends and colleagues – for instance, it’s from Fleming that Bond gets the bon viveur tendencies for which he’s known. The first book, Casino Royale, was published in 1953.

The books were, initially, only a modest success, and Fleming planned to end the series after the fifth, From Russia with Love. This is actually incredibly obvious from the ending of the book, but I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. However, this very same book was a roaring success, and is considered by many fans to be the best of the series. It was followed by seven more before Fleming’s death.

So how does Literary Bond compare to Movie Bond (s)? Well, it’s all rather interesting. Fleming himself rather liked Connery’s portrayal, to the extent of giving Bond a Scottish father in later books. However, the closest portrayal to the early books is probably that of Daniel Craig or Timothy Dalton.

Literary Bond, as Fleming envisioned him (the picture on the right was commissioned by the author), is something of a damaged individual. He is a man with definite mixed feelings about his calling in life. Not the sort of man who’d kill a henchman in cold blood and then produce a one-liner. There are several occasions when he becomes positively morbid – he accepts as inevitable the fact that he’s probably only got about a decade before being killed in the line of service, for instance. By the time of Doctor No, one of the weaker books in my opinion, M has decided that Bond is losing it as a result of all the crazy shit he’s been involved in recently. He’s an imperfect man whose cruel façade is built upon a very fallible, human foundation. As such, I actually find him a much more satisfying character than Connery or Moore’s impermeable action hero.

Interestingly in character terms, the Bond girls in the books are far more rounded characters than they are in the films. One, Gala Brand in Moonraker, is arguably more responsible for foiling the villain’s plan than Bond. And, most surprisingly of all, he doesn’t always get the girl.

The films vary in terms of how closely they stick to the books. Aside from updating the setting and padding the story out, Casino Royale is a fairly faithful adaptation. Moonraker, meanwhile, adopts the title and name of the villain and little else (so if you saw that film, don’t be put off the novel)

As I said earlier, the suave sophistication of the films is there – Fleming takes an almost pornographic delight in describing Bond’s food, drink and surroundings. Bear in mind that when the first books were published, Britain was still in the grip of rationing and far-flung holidays were just a dream for most people – this luxury was as much a part of the escapist fantasy as the machinations of Le Chiffre or Julius No.

One point against the books is that, in some regards, they are very much of their time. Particularly when it comes to things like imperialism and race. It’s always a bit embarrassing when Bond starts talking about race. Doctor No is particularly bad in this regard, and the whole thing frankly feels like a late installment in the Fu Manchu saga.

This aside, I can’t deny that they are very, very readable. I’ve ploughed through the individual novels at a rate of just under one a day because they are extremely compelling. Not great literature, you understand – I suspect that were it not for the films they’d have been forgotten by now – but something of a guilty pleasure nonetheless. And I think that when you have a character as iconic as Bond, you really ought to familiarise yourself with the source.

Moonraker was still a terrible film, though.

Further Reading

If you’re in the mood for further comparisons of films to their literary sources, my good chum Jess has recently started a blog doing just that for Disney. It’s right here. I’m looking forward to the surely-upcoming entry where she compares The Lion King to Kimba the White Lion (zing!).



Filed under 20th Century, History, Literature, Notable Londoners

Shirley Bassey ain’t singing about this one.

Yesterday I found myself in West London, White City to be precise, in the shadow of the Westway. It is, if I’m quite honest, not the most beautiful area of the city – the Westway itself has become synonymous with psychogeographical hostility, due to the way it cuts across West London like an infected wound.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though, although it’s not entirely unrelated, thematically speaking. From here, and indeed from many, many vantage points on this side of the city, there’s a landmark even more visible and only slightly prettier.

The rather rubbish photo to the right depicts it- the Trellick Tower. The Tower is notoriously brutal in its design and, indeed, is one of the most famous examples of Brutalist architecture in the city.

Brutalism is perhaps the ultimate expression of architectural arrogance. It is a spin-off from Modernism, which, for all its high-falutin’ idealism concerning the revolutionising of living space, has rarely worked in the real world. The architect Erno Goldfinger, who designed the Trellick Tower, summed up the aims of Modernism thus:

Whenever space is enclosed, a spatial sensation will automatically result for persons who happen to be within it.

At this point, I think I speak for us all when I say “No shit, Sherlock.” Goldfinger then adds,

It is the artist who comprehends the social requirements of his time and is able to integrate the technical potentialities in order to shape the spaces of the future.

Thus, Goldfinger (and the other Modernists) saw their duty as something more than simply to produce places for people to live and work. Their goal was nothing less than the reshaping of society through their harnessing of space. However, at this point, I would like to retort with the Da’s opinion on architecture, which he quotes from a builder he once did some work for.

For centuries, houses have been built with four walls and a pointy roof, and there’s a good reason for that.

You see, the problem with Modernist architecture is that while it was very high-minded in its conception, it was often ill-thought-out and badly-executed. I don’t think I’ll be contradicted when I say that the result, in the 1950s-70s, was the most hated architectural movement in Britain’s history. Cutting corners during construction resulted in unsafe buildings that aged poorly. In one notorious case – pictured left – the side of Ronan Point tower block in Newham collapsed following a gas explosion. Even when the buildings stayed up, they were ugly and depressing. Concrete grew damp and grimy, corridors admitted little light and sharp corners gathered dust and litter. The psychogeographical effects are summed up by Lynsey Hanley in her excellent Estates: An Intimate History:

You can’t drift easily this way around many council estates… They are too channelled, too labyrinthine to make wandering an enjoyable experience.

Indeed. If Goldfinger and co. intended to shape people, it’s not entirely clear what they intended to shape them into. Modernist housing became synonymous with crime, poverty and hopelessness.

The Trellick Tower opened for business in 1972, and within a few years had become as notorious as any other high rise council block – indeed, its prominence made it perhaps more notorious than most. It stood out for miles, compromising not one jot with its surroundings. Tales abounded of poor maintenance, robbery and rape. Goldfinger was utterly unrepentant, observing, “I built skyscrapers for people to live in there and now they messed them up – disgusting.” What a prick.

For many people, the ugly-bastardry of Trellick Tower demanded retribution, and a popular urban legend arose that Goldfinger was actually utterly guilt-ridden by what he had unleashed on the residents of West London and jumped to his death from the Tower’s roof. Nothing but wishful thinking.

Ian Fleming, however, took things a step further. Fleming, of course, was the author of the James Bond novels, and no fan of Brutalism. If you know the Bond canon at all, you’ll no doubt have figured what happened – Fleming decided to give Bond a greedy, cheating enemy by the name of Goldfinger. Goldfinger – the real one – was a man without humour, as you may have guessed (for instance, he was known to fire assistants for cracking jokes), and Fleming’s publishers baulked at the possibility of being sued by the architect. Fleming furiously suggested that the character be renamed “Goldprick,” and the publishers figured maybe they should just go ahead and what the hell.

Oddly enough, the Trellick Tower has had something of a revival in its reputation in recent years. Following the formation of a Residents’ Association and a number of improvements, it’s become a more desirable place to live, with flats selling for an amount reported to be “heinously large” by sources (well, Wikipedia). Its distinctive shape has given it something of an iconic stature, and it’s become weirdly accepted as part of the skyline, like an old scar. It’s even been given Grade II* listing, which I don’t think anyone saw coming back in 1972. Apart from Goldfinger, perhaps.


Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Environment, Fashion and trends, Geography, History, Kensington, London, Notable Londoners, Psychogeography, Suburbia

This train will not be stopping at…

A couple of entries ago, I got to talking about Tube stations that get used for filming. I briefly mentioned Vauxhall Cross, the abandoned station that appears in the mediocre James Bond movie Die Another Day. Which brings me to today’s topic. I call it “Tube stations that don’t actually exist that appear in films and on TV and that.”

Vauxhall Cross is one I’ve been asked about more than once, with one person being quite adamant that there genuinely was such a station. It appears, as I say, in Die Another Day as part of Q’s research facility. Bond is given the invisible Aston Martin Vanquish, seen by many fans as a bit far-fetched (actually, the technology used to make the car invisible genuinely was under serious consideration by the US military at the time). Not sure quite what they meant about it being far-fetched, it’s not as if the series was noted for its gritty realism.

The film did not make use of a real station, nor was there ever a Vauxhall Cross station. Although Aldwych was used for research purposes, the actual station was a very convincing mock-up. There is a station at Vauxhall Cross, and it’s called Vauxhall.

The station appearing in the movie is apparently on the Piccadilly Line, approximately where the abandoned Down Street is. Down Street is just off Hyde Park and, as I mentioned a couple of entries ago, was a government base during the Second World War. However, it’s nowhere near Vauxhall. The idea, according to the Underground History website, was that a fictional branch line was built from Green Park. This makes some sense – the Victoria Line hadn’t been built when the Piccadilly Line appeared, so there was no Underground interchange at Vauxhall until the 1960s. None of this explains why Bond reaches the station via Westminster Bridge, though.

Presumably in the James Bond universe the Victoria Line wasn’t built. Sorry, Brixton.

Probably the best known fictional Underground station in London is Walford East, seen left. This is the station that serves Albert Square in long-running BBC soap Eastenders. The station is a very convincing mock-up, and thanks to the wonders of CGI, can now even boast trains.

The station is on the District Line. In the Eastenders universe, Bromley-by-Bow doesn’t exist. Of course, if you’re going to be pedantic, you could point out that the distinctive red-tiled Leslie Green frontage wouldn’t be seen on a purely District Line station. This kind of architecture was only seen on the lines owned by Charles Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company (roughly speaking, the Bakerloo Line, the Piccadilly Line and the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line). Fortunately, I’m not going to be pedantic, so you’ll just have to forget that last paragraph.

On the subject of the architecture, David Leboff notes that while this station doesn’t precisely match any real Leslie Green station, the designers are to be praised for both their imagination and authenticity in designing the Arts and Crafts-style frontage.

Yr. Humble Chronicler is not a regular viewer of Eastenders, but given the unrelenting horror that seems to be in constant progress throughout Walford, the sensible thing to do would be to abandon the station and shut the whole place off from the rest of the world. For the greater good.

Alistair McGowan once suggested that Walford East was not actually on the District Line, but was on its own “Eastenders Line.” This consisted of two stations – Walford East and Up West.

The last station on our quest is well known to fans of British sci-fi. It goes by two names – Hobb’s Lane and Hobb’s End. Hobb’s Lane was mentioned in the 1959 BBC science fiction serial Quatermass and the Pit, but never actually appeared. In this serial, construction workers uncover a Martian spaceship buried beneath the streets of Knightsbridge that begins to have strange and horrifying effects on the locals…

Presumably Hobb’s Lane was on the Piccadilly Line. For the movie version of the serial, made by the now-legendary Hammer Films, the Underground was more prominent. Indeed, the works that uncover the downed spaceship are in fact an extension of the Central Line into North Kensington.

Hobb’s Lane/End is often used in other works as a nod to the classic serials. The Tube station itself appears in the comics Caballistics Inc. and Scarlet Traces: The Great Game.

If you get the chance, the Quatermass serials are well worth catching. They were among the first science fiction shows on British television and are an obvious ancestor of Doctor Who – indeed, there’s even a popular fan theory that the two are set in the same universe, seemingly confirmed by a few minor lawyer-friendly references in Who.

So, just remember – this train will not be stopping at Walford East, Vauxhall Cross or Hobb’s End. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause to your journey.

Further Reading

http://underground-history.co.uk/vauxhallx.php – Underground History on Vauxhall Cross.

http://underground-history.co.uk/walford.php – Underground History on Walford East.


Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Film and TV, Geography, History, Kensington, Literature, London, London Underground, Occult, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Suburbia, Transport, West End