He began as an obituary but has lived for nearly 60 years. When Ian Fleming introduced James Bond to the world via his first novel, Casino Royale in 1953, he was mourning the death of his own bachelor lifestyle ahead of his marriage to pregnant girlfriend Ann Charteris. But with a golden film jubilee to savour before the character's diamond equivalent next year, James Bond continues to be a remarkably pertinent character in the arts.
In a year in which Britain has toasted the Queen's Diamond's Jubilee and hosted its first Olympic Games since 1948, it seems apt that two British institutions' landmarks coincide in the same year.
Today is not only the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first number one single, but also the premiere of the first Eon-produced Bond film, Dr. No. Cherished worldwide for their different aesthetic appeal, they remain enduring well into the 21st century. Bond, the Eton-educated brand connoisseur that he is, could not resist a dig at the Fab Four in Goldfinger as if to clarify the differences.
Two years ago during my MA, the ongoing financial troubles of MGM were on the brink of ending when I brought up the story as a suggested Bond-angled feature to cover. To my horror, my tutor remarked: "Does anybody care about James Bond anymore?"
For yours truly, the Bond phenomenon started aged two when I watched The Spy who Loved Me recorded off the telly. Its awe-inspiring pre-credits sequence marks it out as an ideal first Bond film to win anyone, any age, over. Trips to the film's 40th anniversary exhibition at the Science Museum 10 years ago as well as visits to the Barbican and Beaulieu for this year's celebrations are a further indication the fondness hasn't wavered. The ubiquity of MI6's finest on the box at Christmas, Easter or every other week helps retain the love, mind.
As a journalist with an impassioned view of the environment, Bond would not have liked my tutor, I'd surmise. Her ignorance is a repeated mistake through the 50 years Bond has been on film though. Leaders have changed, walls have come down, terror has struck, yet the wider public continues to yearn for the escapism which a Bond film has to offer.
The politics could have been critical to Sean Connery's Bond amidst the paranoia of the Cold War in the 1960s, but instead the films largely shied away from it. Instead Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman embraced a fantastical world of glamour and introduced audiences to esoteric cultures barely two decades after World War II. Would filmmakers in this day and age readily travel to film in a country which had sided with the enemy in combat?
Daniel Craig's Bond, the 'post 9/11' incarnation, touches upon how the world had changed briefly in 2006's excellent Casino Royale when he thwarts a terrorist's bid to destroy a prototype airliner. Subtle and pertinent nods can be forgiven, but plunging Bond into the real world strips him of his identity.
And that has been an issue, despite Craig excelling as 007. Royale is a top three Bond film, but it borrows a few leaves from the book of Jason Bourne and come its direct sequel Quantum of Solace, the leaves had become chapters.
Quantum is a rushed, incomprehensible and uninteresting failure with a harsh landscape bereft of charm. Bond had not been this humourless since his quest to avenge Felix Leiter being mauled by a shark in 1989's License to Kill. Despite its boldness, audiences didn't respond to that either, so un-Bondian was Timothy Dalton's final outing.
Austin Powers may have ridiculed the Bond formula for being as predictable as a Bruce Forsythe punchline, but devoid of it the world would be a duller place. Bourne barely cracks a smile and his legacy has been borderline-bastardised, John le Carré's George Smiley and Len Deighton's Harry Palmer are the anti-Bonds while Jack Bauer represents the relentless American Republican. Bond, on the other hand, is a sophisticated and dangerous sexual predator who dresses and drinks expensively. For men, he allows us to lapse into a deluded ideal.
Skyfall, replete with British landmarks, the return of the DB5 and Q along with Javier Bardem's 60s tribute megalomaniac, will hopefully be a more fitting complement to Bond's 50th birthday on film than Die Another Day was when he turned 40.
Whereas Fleming penned his "dreadful oafish opus" with a heavy heart, the latest 007 adventure may prompt revelries which warrant a bank holiday. James Bond will return.Suggest a correction