“Nothing Is Too Much Trouble”: A Chronology of Ian Fleming’s James Bond (Part 3)

md6733474402_thumb.jpgOctober 1962 – March 1963

Bond is rescued by a girl from a Japanese fishing village, but the bullet that grazed his skull damaged his prefrontal lobe, and he has lost all memory of his identity. For several months he lives as a fisherman on a small island off the coast of Japan. He takes the name Taro Todoroki. (YOLT)

Early 1963

The Secret Service pronounces Bond missing and presumed killed. His official obituary appears in the London Times. It is written by M, and gives a somewhat accurate overview of Bond’s life (though some dates are off by three or four years, see Appendix C.) (YOLT)

Spring 1963

Bond begins having fragmentary flashbacks to his previous life. He is certain he had something to do with a place called “Russia.” He travels on a mail-boat to the Russian island of Sakhalin. (TMWGG)

Between April and November 1963

Bond is picked up by Soviet police on the waterfront at Valdivostok. In a scuffle, he receives another blow on the head, and begins to vaguely recall who he is.

After discovering Bond’s true identity, the KGB interrogates him for weeks (learning nothing due to his partial amnesia), then sends him for brainwashing at “The Institute” in Leningrad. (TMWGG)

November 1963

Due to a mind and psychological will left weak by the after-effects of amnesia, the KGB brainwashing is successful. Bond is sent by the KGB back to London to assassinate M. The assassination attempt fails, and Bond is put under the care of Sir James Molony, for what M calls “un-brainwashing.” Bond’s rehab includes neurosurgery. (TMWGG)

December 1963 – January 1964

Bond undergoes six weeks of intensive psychiatric rehabilitation at “The Park,” a discreet convalescent home in Kent. (TMWGG)

Late Winter – Early Spring 1964

Bond’s mental rehabilitation is judged successful. Physical rehabilitation and a massive amount of target practice at the police range in Maidstone follows. (TMWGG)

March 1964md3995449602

Bond receives first post-illness assignment, a seemingly impossible mission to test if his abilities have been fully restored: track down and eliminate Francisco “Pistols” Scaramanga, also known as the Man With the Golden Gun, the most dangerous hired assassin in the world. Scaramanga is currently employed by the Communist government of Cuba. If Bond successfully completes this mission, he will be reinstated to his previous status within Secret Service. (TMWGG)

May 1964

Working undercover as “Mark Hazard,” a courier/security guard for Transworld Consortium, Bond tracks Scaramanga for six weeks through Mexico and the Caribbean, finally cornering him in Jamaica. He succeeds in eliminating Scaramanga, but receives serious gunshot wounds in the shoulder and stomach.

Felix Leiter and the CIA lend their assistance. (TMWGG)

June 1964

Bond recuperates from gunshot wounds at the hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. Shortly thereafter, he declines a knighthood. (TMWGG)

Late July 1964

Bond returns to regular service duties as a Double-0 in the Secret Service.

Early 1965

On an unspecified assignment in the U.S. (Bond only refers to it as a “discourtesy visit.”) (CS)

June 1965

Bond is in Hong Kong to assisst with inserting another agent into China, but the mission goes awry. (CS)

colonel-sunSeptember 1965

M is kidnapped by terrorists in the employ of Colonel Sun Liang-Tan, of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who is planning an attack on a Middle East peace negotiation being held in Greece. (M is to be used in a bit of misdirection to make people think Britain is behind the attack.) Bond travels to Athens to prevent the attack, and succeeds, but not before being subjected to his most brutal torture session since the Casino Royale mission. (CS)

1965

Bond reaches the age of mandatory retirement from the Double-0 section. It would appear this policy has been waived in his case, or perhaps the overall policy has been changed since it was first mentioned.

May – June 1967

On a three-month sabbatical from the Service, Bond must decide whether or not to continue as a Double-0. He spends a month in Barbados (where he finally takes up tennis, after disdaining it his whole life), then travels along the Cote d’Azure in the south of France, before ending up in Rome. (DMC)

June 1967200px-devilmaycare

The sabbatical is cut short when he is summoned by M to investigate Dr. Julius Gorner, a pharmaceutical magnate suspected of illegal narcotics trafficking. Bond discovers that not only is Gorner a drug lord, he is also a terrorist planning an attack on the Soviet Union using a hijacked British airliner (to goad the Soviets into retaliating against Britain.) Bond’s mission to thwart Gorner’s plans takes him through Iran and into Russia. (DMC)

1969

Bond celebrates his “45th” birthday alone at the Dorchester Hotel in London. (He’s really 49 — but the fiction that was concocted to shave four years off his age seems to have taken hold. See Appendix C.)

The Bentley Mark VI is finally retired, having become too expensive to keep road-worthy, and is replaced with a new Jensen Interceptor FF.

69-interceptor-17.jpg

A 1969 Jensen Interceptor

Bond is sent to the small West African nation of Zanzarim, to “facilitate” an end to their civil war by eliminating the rebel warlord Solomon Adeka. Through the course of his investiagtion, he discovers that the aid organization led by Adeka’s brother — “AfriKIN” — is really a drug smuggling operation. After being shot and left for dead by his West African contacts, Bond is hospitalized. (S)

solo_-_james_bond_first_edition_coverAutumn 1969

After a brief recuperation, Bond tracks Gabriel Adeka to the AfriKIN headquarters in Washington, D.C., puts an end to his operations (and also takes personal revenge on those who betrayed him in West Africa.) The Zanzarim civil war is resolved, and the U.K. is ensured favorable trade relations with the oil-rich country. (S)

Between 1970 and 1972

Bond goes into semi-retirement, but still appears to be on call with the Service for certain assignments. (AB)

1972

[Fleming himself introduced the conceit that James Bond and his own novels about James Bond co-existed in the real world (as indicated in Bond’s much-referenced obituary from You Only Live Twice.) Fleming biographer John Pearson expands on this, explaining why the “real” Bond and the Secret Service would allow thinly-veiled descriptions of Bond’s missions to be published for the general public.]

Bond, at 52, is nearing the end of his spying career and sits for a series of interviews with author John Pearson. For unknown reasons, Bond spins a pack of half-truths and total fabrications about his childhood and early teen years, omitting the series of extraordinary events that occurred to him between 1933 and 1935. Maybe because they were so unbelievable? Or traumatic? The so-called “authorized biography” should be taken with a heavy dose of salt.

Whither Bond? After Pearson’s work was published in 1973, Ian Fleming’s original version of the character disappears. After decades of beatings and brutal injuries in the line of duty, his body was probably used up. And without the discipline of regular Double-0 work, I suspect his lifestyle would quickly catch up with him. He was a heavy smoker beginning in his teens (sixty to seventy a day at his peak), and his formerly moderate drinking increased noticeably over the last two Fleming novels when he became a widower. The original model for Bond (bad habits and all), Fleming himself, died of a massive heart attack at age 56.

In my imagination, Bond retired permanently to Jamaica, and passed from this world there at around the age of sixty (specifically, in April 1981 when the first in a new series of Bond novels by John Gardner was published, in essence “replacing” the original Bond), probably from the same heart trouble that plagued his alter ego, or maybe lung cancer.

But Bond is tough, so…maybe he still lives, a forgotten relict from a long-gone era. Ninety-six years old, the comma of hair over his eye now white as snow. Palsied and spotted hands lift a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee to his lips as he eyes the attractive young nurse, and looks forward to the one cigarette and cocktail the rest home allows him after dinner.

APPENDIX A: The Physical Bond

What did Fleming’s Bond actually look like? Like any good writer, Fleming provided a simple, clear physical description of his protagonist to project into his readers’ imagination.

His grey-blue eyes looked calmly back with a hint of ironical inquiry and the short lock of black hair which would never stay in place slowly subsided to form a thick comma above his right eyebrow. With the thin vertical scar down his right cheek the general effect was faintly piratical. (Casino Royale)

fleming007impression

Bond as envisioned by Fleming — he personally approved this drawing to be the model for the Daily Express comic strip

It was a dark, clean-cut face, with a three-inch scar showing whitely down the sunburned skin of the right cheek. The eyes were wide and level under straight, rather long black brows. The hair was black, parted on the left, and carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow. The longish straight nose ran down to a short upper lip below which was a wide and finely drawn but cruel mouth. The line of the jaw was straight and firm. (From Russia With Love)

“He is very good-looking. He reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless…” — Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale).

hoagy-carmichael

Hoagy Carmichael

The Hoagy Carmichael comparison is made more than once. Fleming also described him to someone as looking like golfer Henry Cotton.

henry-cotton_620x410

Henry Cotton

Some basics were provided by the Russian dossier, dated 1953, described in Fleming’s fifth Bond novel From Russia With Love

HEIGHT: 6’0”

WEIGHT: 167.5 lbs.

BUILD: Slim

EYES: Blue

HAIR: Black

DISTINGUISHING MARKS: Scars on right cheek and left shoulder; signs of plastic surgery on right hand

SKILLS: All-around athlete; expert pistol shot, boxer, and knife-thrower; knows basic holds of judo; fights with tenacity and has a high tolerance of pain

ARMAMENTS: .25 Beretta automatic pistol (8 rounds) in holster under left arm (after March 1956, this is replaced with a .32 Walther PPK); sometimes carries a knife strapped to left forearm

LANGUAGES: English, French, German

VICES: Cigarettes (heavy), alcohol (not to excess), women

OTHER: Does not use disguises; not known to accept bribes

Of all the actors who played Bond over the years, which physical specimen most closely matched Fleming’s descriptions? As awesome as Connery was, he was too dark-eyed and heavy-featured. Moore, though finer-boned and conveying the proper sophistication, was a little too old during his run as 007, and doesn’t convey enough menace. (Fleming states that Bond’s blue eyes do have a touch of “warmth and humour” to contrast his “cruel mouth,” but Moore’s eyes practically twinkle — he simply can’t hide the fact that he’s a sweetheart of a guy.) Craig is too blonde, and Lazenby, well, just…no. When I picture Fleming’s Bond, it’s not too far off from Timothy Dalton (with ‘50s hair instead of ‘80s hair, without the cleft chin, and maybe smoothed out with a little with a touch of suaver Brosnan.)

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Timothy Dalton

APPENDIX B: Bond’s Lifestyle

What is Bond’s life like when not on assignment? Comfortable and repetitive. The rigor of his assignments requires long recharge periods, and the instability (and frequent danger, see the Young Bond series) of his formative years causes him to seek comfort in routine as an adult. He admits being a creature of habit can be dangerous in itself in his line of work, but he goes through his regular paces anyway.

He lives in a small-but-comfortable ground-floor flat of a coverted Regency townhouse in Chelsea, on a plane tree-lined square off of King’s Road. The flat consists of a large combination sitting-room and study, with an ornate Empire desk facing out the big front window, a “smallish” bedroom decorated with white and gold Cole wallpaper and deep red curtains (a dark blue counterpane covers the double bed), a white-tiled bathrooom, and a well-stocked kitchen with a small dining table.

He earns the salary of a Principal Officer of the Civil Service: £1500 per year in 1953, along with an annual tax-free £1000 “of his own” — unexplained, but probably some kind of trust fund or inheritance. He also brings home an unspecified-but-not-insubstantial amount from gambling. His after-tax net income would be about $40,000 in 2016 dollars. Shockingly low for the kind of risks he took on behalf of his government, but very comfortable for a single man with no debts and few expenses. He gets two weeks’ paid leave after every assignment.

Bond has a regular morning workout as soon as he gets out of bed at around 7:30. He strips off his sleepwear — a single, long silk pajama jacket, a style he picked up in the Far East after the war — and does a set of push-ups, then straight leg lifts on his back (both done as slowly as possible until his muscles “scream”), twenty toe-touches, and a variety of arm and chest excercises combined with deep breathing. He takes a five-minute shower that is scaldingly hot, then icy cold. His preferred shampoo is Pinaud Elixir. He shaves with a Hoffritz razor, and due to a “lifelong prejudice,” will not shave again until the next morning. Perhaps he feels five o’clock shadow is lucky? Bond does not seem to wear any cologne himself, but he does keep Floris bath essence on hand for his overnight female companions.

He dresses in serge or light worsted suits, always dark blue, over a heavy white silk shirt and knitted silk tie (no pin or clip; always tied in a four-in-hand or half-windsor), and black loafers, highly polished. Bond has an odd hatred for shoelaces. The shirt under his suit is often short-sleeved, a fashion faux-pas, but very practical for staying cool when on assignment in warm climates (and he never takes his suit jacket off anyway — can’t reveal the holster!) When in casual mode, he wears short-sleeved Sea Island cotton shirts, tropical-style worsted trousers, and moccasins or leather sandals.  

He keeps a wristwatch on at all times. In some instances, it is an expensive Rolex Explorer I or Oyster Perpetual, but in general (according to a letter from Fleming to a watch-obsessed reader), Bond prefers a “light, expendable” watch on a flex metal band that won’t weigh down his hand and can be used as a knuckle-duster. A luminous dial is a must, of course.

He cleans and works the action on his .25 Beretta with the skeleton grip, or, in later years, his .32 Walther PPK. The sidearm will go under his suit coat in a leather chamois shoulder holster and hang three inches below his left armpit. In his hip pocket is a black Ronson lighter and a gunmetal cigarette case holding fifty custom-made cigarettes from the Morland & Co. tobacconist. They are a blend of strong Turkish and Balkan tobacco, unfiltered, with three gold bands around the butt (representing the three gold rings around the wrists of his naval commander uniform jacket.)

Breakfast is Bond’s favorite meal, he likes to linger over it, and he has very strong opinions of how it should be prepared. Luckily, he has May, his grey-haired, black-uniformed Scottish housekeeper, who is just as much of a perfectionist as he is.

Bond’s Breakfast

  • Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, stocked by the Paris chocolatier De Bry (which had a branch in New Oxford Street, London), brewed in a glass Chemex coffeemaker, then transferred to a silver coffee pot for serving. 2 cups, no cream or sugar. (And Bond despises tea.)
  • One egg, boiled for exactly three and a third minutes, and served in a dark blue egg cup with a gold ring around the top. The eggs should be of the brown, speckled variety laid by French Marans hens. (Provided by some country-dwelling friends of May.)
  • Two thick slices of whole wheat toast, with a pat of Jersey butter.
  • Three small glass jars of condiments: Tiptree “Little Scarlet” strawberry jam, Cooper’s Vintage Oxford marmalade, and Norwegian Heather honey from Fortnum’s (an upscale department store.)

This should all be served on Minton china (of the same pattern as the egg cup) on a tray of Queen Anne silver. Accompanying the meal is the morning edition of the London Times, and after the meal is Bond’s first cigarette of the day.

When he needs a quick breakfast on the road, or needs to cook for himself, it is almost always scrambled eggs.

Around nine o’clock or a little after, Bond fires up his Bentley (before mid-1953, his rare and much-loved 1930 model, after mid-1953 a brand-new Mark VI) and drives to work, a fifteen-minute trip in typical London traffic. The Secret Service headquarters is simply described as a “tall, grey building overlooking Regent’s Park.” Bond parks in the staff garage at the back of the building.

There are only a handful of Double-0 agents at any given time (usually around three — by 1953, Bond was the senior Double-0), and they are only given one to three missions per year, but a mission can last a month or more. When not on assignment, Bond keeps working hours at Secret Service headquarters of around 10 am to 6 pm. He has an office and a secretary (Miss Loela Posonby, later Miss Mary Goodnight), both of which are shared with the other Double-0s, but they are rarely all in the office at the same time. Bond’s day consists mostly of research and reading — top secret intelligence reports and dossiers wired to HQ from stations around the world, and background reports on various relevant topics prepared by HQ staff. He is probably responsible for writing some of these reports himself. Mondays are particularly busy, as there is a two-day backlog of intelligence to sort through.

He takes a light, basic cafeteria lunch in the canteen, and is back at his desk in thirty minutes. (He keeps his own mustard-heavy dressing for the side salad.) Once a week, he practices on the shooting range in the HQ basement. He is the best shot in the Service, but only M, the Chief of Staff, and the range instructor know this.

He rarely has dinner at home. After work, he will usually join a few colleagues, often including Chief of Staff Bill Tanner, for a round of cards and a simple, basic British dinner — Dover sole or roast beef are his usual choices — at Scott’s restaurant on Coventry Street, or at Crockford’s, the gentleman’s club on St. James’s Street. Or, of course, he will take a female companion on a date, which usually ends the next morning. (May is known to disapprove of her employer’s freuqent and various sleepover guests, but holds her tongue.)

(When abroad on assignment, Bond has an unlimited expense account which he uses to the fullest, dining in high style, preferably on whatever the local specialty is.)

Bond’s eternal association with the vodka martini is largely due to the movies. The literary Bond does not seem to have a go-to libation. His general preferences appear to be American bourbon on ice, Tattinger’s champagne, plain old beer, or whatever highball or cocktail strikes his fancy in the moment, including, yes, an occasional martini, which he prefers in a 6-to-1 ratio (“medium dry”) and garnished with lemon peel. He seems to go back and forth bewteen vodka martinis and the more traditional gin martinis.

If alone after dinner, he spends the rest of the evening in his book-lined sitting room before retiring at 11:30 for eight hours of sleep. His reading habits are mostly focused on topics that can help him on assignments, but he is known to read for pleasure (perhaps surprisingly, he likes detective thrillers — the Nero Wolfe stories by Rex Stout are a favorite.) He refuses to own a televsion. If he owns a radio, he rarely listens to it, although he is familiar with the occasional Tin Pan Alley or jazz standard when it comes up under other circumstances. There is no record of him attending films, plays, or concerts for his own amusement (but one assumes he does things like that on dates.) By the 1950s, his life was entirely bound up in his work, and his only routine pleasures were women, his car, and the undemanding company of a few colleagues (he prefers to keep emotional connections to a minimum, and he has no real friends —  Bill Tanner probably comes the closest, and he always likes seeing Felix Leiter when out on assignment.)

Weekends are for romantic getaways, or putting the Bentley through its paces out on country roads, or golf.

(“Lifestyle” details provided mostly by MR and FRWL, the flemingsbond.com website, and the post “The Literary James Bond” on the BAMF Style website, which I discovered three-fourths of the way through writing this, and pretty much makes this whole appendix entirely redundant.)

APPENDIX C: The “Year of Birth” Debate:

The literary Bond was active as a Double-0 from the early 1950s to (at least) the mid-60s. As we’ve noted, Fleming was not a stickler for chronology, never intended to write as many Bond novels as he did, and never meant Bond to age. The combination of these factors always causes fits among Bond chronologists. But, in spite of never giving his fictional hero a date of birth, Fleming did leave some vague (and not-so-vague) indicators that raise more issues than they resolve.

  • In the first few novels, Bond had an extensive professional resume pre-dating WWII, and bought an expensive car in 1933, indicating a birth year in the 1910s.
  • In the third novel, Moonraker, Bond is described as “eight years from mandatory retirement” at age 45. Although the established chronology places Moonraker in 1953, Fleming is known to have imagined his stories in the present moment as he was writing them (further screwing up amateur chronologists). This places the novel in Fleming’s mind as 1954. 37 years old in 1954 gives a birth year of 1916 or 1917.
  • To preserve Bond’s aura of mystery, only the smallest details about him personally were mentioned in the early novels. This begins to change in 1956’s From Russia With Love, where we get a look at the dossier the Russians have on him. Among other things, it is revealed that Bond began his career in intelligence work in 1938.
  • Around the time of the seventh novel, 1959’s Goldfinger, Fleming begins subtly adjusting Bond’s backstory to keep him at around 37.
  • The most detailed backstory on Bond we ever get directly from Fleming is the obituaury that appears in the second-to-last novel, You Only Live Twice, when Bond was missing and presumed dead. Here is where we find out Bond was orphaned at age eleven, falsified his age to begin intelligence work at seventeen, and other small nuggets of information, including a mention of having to leave Eton due to “some alleged trouble with one of the boys’ maids,” which is elaborated on in By Royal Command (it wasn’t as simple as it seemed.) By YOLT, Fleming has clearly decided on 1924 as Bond’s year of birth. He specifically mentions the “Year of the Rat” in the Chinese zodiac, and also mentions that Bond began his professional career in 1941 (contradicting From Russia With Love’s 1938 date).

The obituary was supposedly written by M himself. Was he mistaken? Unlikely. Was he, in fact, responsible for presenting Bond as four years younger than he was? More likely, but the reasons are unknowable.

So Fleming’s Bond was born anywhere between 1916 and 1924. How do we pin it down?

In his continuation novel, Solo, which is set in 1969, William Boyd has Bond celebrate his 45th birthday, which indicates he is using the 1924 date of later-era Fleming.

John Pearson gives the date as November 11, 1920 in James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007. Although not officially part of the Bond series of novels, it was sanctioned by Ian Fleming Publications, and has traditionally been considered fairly canonical. Late 1920 matches FRWL’s dossier date of a 1938 professional start, and also matches YOLT’s age of seventeen for that start.

John Griswold opts for a year later in his Annotations and Chronologies. His choice for date of birth, November 11, 1921, is based on the following:

  • It explains how Bond acquired a car as early as 1933 — he inherited it. Fleming notes that Bond’s parents were killed when he was eleven years old, which would make it 1933, lining up neatly with the year Fleming said Bond got his Bentley. (Although Fleming specifically said he bought it, corroborated by Higson in Double Or Die.)
  • In the original type-written draft of You Only Live Twice, Fleming stated that Bond was seventeen in 1939 when he started intelligence work. This is also the same year Fleming started his career in intelligence work, and since Fleming based large parts of Bond on himself, this is reasonable. (The date was changed to 1941 prior to official publication.)

Both Pearson and Griswold reject Fleming’s implied later birth year of 1924, blaming a lot the inconsistencies created by the updated date on “mistakes” made by the characters as they speak, or someone deliberately obfuscating Bond’s true age for secrecy purposes, or mistakes by Fleming-as-narrator.

So 1920 or 21 is the choice that covers the most narrative territory, keeping Bond in his 30s and early 40s, and in his physical and mental prime, through the majority of his noteworthy Fleming adventures, while also (barely) maintaing enough space in the timeline to give him something of a pre-war career as a novice intelligence operative as stated in several of the books (even Fleming eventually had to acknowledge that Bond started pretty damn young.)

And what of the fact that Bond is clearly described as eight years shy of 45 in the 1953/54 Moonraker? Well, according to “Bond” himself, speaking to John Pearson in his “authorized biography,” Moonraker was the one Fleming novel not based on one of his actual missions, but was a work of complete fiction. But for my purposes, Moonraker is just too rich in detail to dismiss, so I’ve still included it in the official timeline. The age discrepancy will have to be one of those shrug-it-off mistakes. He would be twelve years shy of retirement. The best we can do say it’s the mother of all Fleming typos.

I found Griswold’s reasoning in the birth-year area a little strained, so I had already chosen Pearson’s date. During the course of my recent research, I discovered that when Charlie Higson began wiriting the Young Bond series, Ian Fleming Publications officially approved 1920 as the year of Bond’s birth. True to form, the year is never actually mentioned in Higson’s novels, but this ends the debate as far as I’m concerned. Like Higson and IFP, I have dropped the specific date of November 11, and left it at an ambiguous “1920” only.

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