James Bond at 50

It remains one of the most memorable lines in cinema history.

“The name’s Bond, James Bond.”

Britain’s globally famous secret agent is 50 this year.

James Bond remains hugely popular with little boys of all ages.

The first toy I remember being utterly delighted with was a tiny model car-the famous Aston Martin-complete with ejector seat.

It threw the bad guy out of the roof and bouncing across my grannie’s kitchen table.

I provided the sound effects.

Like all seven year old boys of that pre digital epoch I was an accomplished Foley artist.

When Ian Fleming created the Bond character the Etonian tribe that ran the British Empire hadn’t, perhaps, yet fully grasped how their world had changed during World War Two.

After the Tehran conference British senior civil servants stopped talking about “the big three” (USA, USSR and the UK) and instead wryly referred to “the big two and a half”.

Despite that awareness that America and Russia dominated the planet after World War Two concluded in an allied victory Suez was still an almighty wake up call.

The time when Britain could invade some foreign place on a whim was well and truly over.

By the time 007 made it onto the silver screen the real guys at MI6 would have known the truth that when the big boys locked horns they were rather helpless onlookers.

The Bond fantasy fed the need for the British to convince themselves that they were still a world power.

It provided Cold War escapism in a Britain that was bleak and failing.

The Americans in the early Bond films were always dependent on 007 saving their ample incompetent asses from the devilish villain.

The idea of a secret agent booking into a hotel under his own name where the manager has fussily prepared his usual suite is actually rather touching.

Not very secret is he?

Even when he’s tooled up for action he is distinctive and easy to identify.

“Ah, Walther PPK. We only know of one man who favours such a veapon meester bond!”

Actually lots of these things were made and it was the side arm of the Wehrmacht staff officers and Nazi party officials.

Hitler used one to kill himself in the Führerbunker in Berlin.

After the war it then became a police sidearm in East Germany.

Sure even the cuddly old RUC Special branch had a batch of them.

James Bond doesn’t need a Legend because he is a legend, a myth.

One of the functions of the Connery Bond movies was part travelogue. This was the age of Alan Whicker going to places that British proletarians could only dream of.

All writing is short hand and all film is metaphor.

The place of Q in the genre is a reminder that the little island that was once the workshop of the world and could still make clever things.

In the age of the Bluestreak and strike torn car factories that produced a car with a square steering wheel then the fantasy was warm and comforting.

An ICBM in the age of the Four Minute Warning that took…err…four and a half minutes to fuel up was rather touching. This was more Mr Bean than Dr Strangelove.

The level of security of British nuclear weapons is probably proof enough that the former world power needed looking after.

The fate of the two Mars space probes probably sums up the technological balance across the pond.

Even 007 has not been immune to the march of human progress and now the Bond girl has been replaced with a female agent who is his equal.

In a more recent Bond film the new Lady M admonished the spy with a line of script that could have been written by Germaine Greer.

However, he still bests the nasty villain and thwarts his evil plans.

It wouldn’t be a Bond movie if he didn’t get the girl even though she has morphed from sex goddess into valued and respected co-worker.

Today fifty years after the Cuban Missile crisis we can look back to that time and see the importance of the first time Bond was on the big screen.

Dr No was a prefect launch of Bond in the movies.

A nonaligned madman in the Caribbean, a radioactive threat to the USA’s space programme and  only Bond can save the day and escape with Ursula Andress in a boat.

It allowed British movie audience to pretend that there was another global reality and one in which they were still important.

On planet earth Bond didn’t exist and, instead Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev squared up to John Fitzgerald Kennedy over Cuba and it was the Russian not the Irish American who blinked first.

The Soviet ships turned back.

Now this truly was saving the world.

When Bond turned 40 in 2002 he was in Cuba looking at Halle Berry getting out of the water.

Unlike Honey Ryder in Dr No, “Jinx” Johnson was a tooled up NSA agent doing all the double oh stuff too.

The original Bond girls were helpless eye candy needing 007’s protection.

The new liberated ones would leap onto Robert Shaw and break his neck before James had landed a punch on Red Grant in that cramped train carriage.

Of course, the reality of British Intelligence operations Post Suez has been shameful and criminal.

From Aden to Ireland British black ops were grubby rather than glamorous.

In all of the Bond movies I can never recall 007 being in Ireland or coming to close quarters with Irish Republicans let alone providing Loyalist death squads with cash, guns and a list of soft targets.

A nice cosy, feel good fantasy agent was needed instead of the grim reality.

James Bond never rapes or tortures.

Nor does he shoot unarmed demonstrators who are merely asking Her Majesty’s chaps to please just fuck off back to England.

He is always saving the planet from a maniacal baddie.

Connery and Moore, the Cold War 007s, saved the day while the Yanks look on helpless and awestruck.

However, it was Britain that was the fretting spectator as Washington and Moscow circled each other warily.

The Bond movies are to real intelligence work what the Rocky movies were to professional heavyweight boxing.

If someone made a gritty Raging Bull film about MI6 then it wouldn’t be very entertaining or very nice.

A Martin Scorsese created Bond would be up to his neck in Kitson black ops and running a Counter Gang somewhere.

Q would provide him with a Thompson sub machine gun nicked from the Official IRA to gun down unarmed men in Andersontown in order to kick off a feud with the Provos.

This is the reality of British intelligence operation rather than our dashing hero single-handedly thwarting some free enterprise attempt to take over the world by a wild eyed billionaire.

The success of the Bond franchise shows the power of myth for human communities.

007 tells the British elite that they still matter in the world, when of course they don’t.

It is very difficult to disentangle the construction of political and ethnic Britishness from the imperial project.

The London state was the preeminent power in the 19th century.

Britannia did truly rule the waves.

It is a nice touch that Bond holds the rank of Commander in the Royal Navy.

These days the British have more admirals than ships.

Bond’s creator Ian Fleming held the same rank during WW2.

He mixed with Special Operations Executive people during the war.

The SOE carried out an asymmetrical warfare campaign in occupied Europe, today it would be called terrorism.

Fleming knew that people a parachuted into Nazi controlled Western Europe were licensed to kill.

Actually the most successful of these agents were, in the main, educated women from a middle class background with a good grasp of languages.

Deploying deception rather than dealing death was the key skill.

What is not in doubt is the bravery of the real wartime agents

Rather than an accurate depiction of espionage Fleming’s creation was about making Englishmen feel good about themselves.

On all fronts the twentieth century it has been a narrative of comparative decline for Britain on the world stage.

Created three years before the Suez crisis Fleming used the world of espionage to construct a narrative where Britain was still important in global affairs.

Recently the UK slipped from being the sixth biggest economy in the world to seventh with Brazil overtaking them.

By the time the England football team reaches Rio no economist thinks that the UK will have climbed back.

The Copacabana is the sort of place that 007 would be found, but the reality of British Empire was more Ronnie Biggs than James Bond.

Behind the pumped up patriotism on the last night of the proms or the Govan stand is centuries of theft and murder.

James Bond always saves the world in the end.

However, the Crown that he secretly serves did its best to steal the world when it was the strongest state of the planet.

Now the UK is like an old lag in a retirement home for criminals, unable to mug even an elderly person or shin up a drainpipe.

However, the collapse of their international clout means that the UK can actually become a better country for the people who live there.

Britain can become a place where tax payer’s money is spent on schools and hospitals and not on imperial status symbols like aircraft carriers, especially when they can’t afford to operate them.

Perhaps the ruling Etonian tribe are beyond help.

The class snobbery that is England’s birth defect continues to dominate the British state.

Craig Murray, a man once at the heart of the London state, said to me recently that he thought that the UK was incapable of being reformed and that only the break up through Scottish independence would remove it malign influence from the world stage.

I’m not so sure, a reduced Britain, shorn of imperial hubris and the capacity to invade still has something to offer the world.

Historically literate Britons are aware of their baggage from the past and that the UK is responsible for many of the world’s current flashpoints.

I don’t expect the lower orders to get his anymore than the neo-Nazis in Germany get what burden the Third Reich bequeathed to unborn generations of good decent Germans.

Similarly at Ibrox and in EDL circles the empire is seen as a past glory to be celebrated.

The last time Britain was important in the world was as allied troops marshalled in southern England to liberate Europe from the Third Reich.

The “special relationship” between London and Washington means a lot more to the former than the latter.

The folks inside the beltway now concern themselves with Pacific more than the Atlantic.

Even the US State Department uses the term Las Malvinas when discussing location of the British Argentinian spat in the South Atlantic.

Changed times indeed.

The shameful British capitulation in Basra to the Mehdi army and the fact that the Yanks had to bail out the Queen’s boys Helmand means that, even as junior allies, the Americans don’t rate the British any more.

Nor should they.

The big Five Oh can usher in an existential crisis for any man, even 007.

Britain is diminished on the world stage and the proposed defence cuts means that even the pretence of power will be difficult to maintain.

Subsequently, there never has been a greater need for Bond to make a nation of Jeremy Clarksons feel better about how far they’ve fallen in the new world order.

Now pay attention 007…

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