“The name’s Bond, James Bond.”
When Sean Connery first uttered these words in the opening scenes of Dr. No, no-one could have known that the character he was playing would so penetrate the popular imagination that the movies would continue in an unbroken fifty-five year run and still be box-office gold.
The cinematic incarnation of the world’s most famous and, ironically, most recognised spy has nevertheless had to adapt itself over twenty-six films and five and a half decades to survive the social mores of each successive generation of movie-goers, from the beefy sixties sex beast of Connery through Moore’s glam campiness and the high-tech capers of Brosnan to Daniel Craig’s pared down reading of the character as a glum boy scout.
Nevertheless, much as the “real” Doctor Who is the one you grew up with, everyone has his or her own Bond, to be used as the yardstick by which other pretenders to the 00-prefix are measured. We know that Ian Fleming visualised 007 as much more like David Niven than Sean Connery (although he did relent when one of the production company’s secretaries confided with a flutter that Connery certainly “had something”) but the sheer longevity of the series begs the question of how close any of the screen versions might be to the author’s original vision.
I wouldn’t pretend to offer a definitive answer to that question, but I am fascinated by what that vision might have been, and how the character was originally conceived and presented. My plan is to re-read all the Fleming books in order, to map the development of the 007 brand over the eleven years during which they were written and to highlight the quirks and foibles that the creator gave to what has become one of the most recognisable fictional names in history: Bond, James Bond.