The Bond Phenomenon as Starting Point for Spy Fiction and Films
MEANING/HISTORY



by Anastasia Ageeva
17.11.2020
The reason for the following article is genuinely sad. Sir Sean Connery, the first actor who played James Bond, died on October 31. Just two months before this sorrowful event he celebrated two things — his 90th birthday and being proclaimed the best 007 in the history of the character. The poll was conducted by RadioTimes, and 14 thousand people participated in it.

James Bond made his initial appearance in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale first published in 1953. But his popularity has not subsided until now. Bond got a second wind in the 80s — thanks to the return of Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again (1983). Critics were blindly delighted. In this article we will tell where the path of the most famous spy in the world began and how his fame was reflected in the cinematic world.
Value for the industry
It is indisputable that this franchise and its main character have become a brand of spy fiction. The successful story about an agent with the right to kill was invented by a British author and naval intelligence officer Ian Flemming. In 1953, 4,728 copies of Casino Royale were printed and sold out in less than a month. As well as two more prints made afterwards. The epidemic of bondomania swept the U.K. Fleming's American sales were poor and then soared, soon after John F. Kennedy named From Russia with Love one of his favorite books.

007 promotes British respectability, relaxation, and sense of humour, though remains snobbish. For British people James Bond is a national treasure — he was rated fourth among British symbols after Elizabeth II, William Shakespeare, and Harry Potter at the beginning of the 21st century.

Bond as a brand had difficult times as well, despite the fact that the films have always remained afloat on the box office. The only real crisis was in the 1980s. It happened due to many coincided external factors, and also the leading actor Roger Moore was over fifty. It was necessary to revise the concept of the character that appeared during the Cold War era.

Many advertisers are fighting for the attention of film producers, and they successfully use it. Franchise also managed to present the first blockbuster in history to recoup the cost of producing a film long before the premiere. Die Another Day (2002), with a production budget of $ 139 million, received about $ 140 million from 20 different companies for product placement.
Literary background
To understand the reason for the popularity of James Bond as a cultural phenomenon we need to delve into the history of the genre. First literary attempts (which came into being before films) were made in the 19th century by James Fenimore Cooper. His second novel, The Spy: a Tale of the Neutral Ground, told the story of Harvey Birch who is suspected of spying. The action takes place at the end of the year 1780, during the American Revolution.

In 10 years' time Cooper has put his characters in European context — The Bravo consisted of three parts and followed Jacopo Frontini, who is a Senate spy in Venice. As is common among spy plots, there's a love line in Cooper's works. But mostly those novels are prominent for critique of European corruption and tyranny of oligarchical regimes that the author addresses. It is undeniably a political novel because Cooper was bringing out both dangers and threats of American republican experiment.

After American novels the genre moved to Europe itself, specifically to the U.K. It happened in the beginning of the 20th century. The most well-known authors were Rudyard Kipling (Kim), Joseph Conrad (The Secret Agent), Gilbert Keith Chesterton (The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare), John Buchan (The Thirty-Nine Steps), and of course Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, some of the Sherlock Holmes' stories have spies in it, read carefully.
James Bond and his prototype
Among those who had influenced Flemming's works he himself named Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Eric Ambler, and Graham Greene. William Cook in his New Statesman article says that Flemming's genius lies solely in the repackaging of the stories he had read as a child for the audience and the era of post-war Britain. It is widely known that a Bulldog Drummond — a fictional literary character created by British H. C. McNeile (pen name "Sapper") — is considered the prototype of James Bond.

The characters are similar even according to the creators' description. McNeile said that Drummond "has the appearance of an English gentleman: a man who fights hard, plays hard and lives clean. His best friend would not call him good-looking but he possess that cheerful type of ugliness which inspires immediate confidence ... Only his eyes redeem his face. Deep-set and steady, with eyelashes that many women envy, they show him to be a sportsman and an adventurer. Drummond goes outside the law when he feels the ends justify the means."

As for Bond, he is described as "a man of war and when, for a long period, there was no war, his spirit went into decline." In Casino Royale Bond is repeatedly compared to the American songwriter Hoagy Carmichael: "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. Not much of Hoagy Carmichael there, thought Bond."
Geopolitical reasons for Bond's popularity
The beginning of the 60s was the birthday date for filmic Bond. The reason for this was the Cold War which had gained momentum. These years were the culmination: the construction of the Berlin Wall, the proximity to nuclear war, the missile crisis in Cuba. What's interesting is that the latter happened the same year the first film about Bond, Dr. No (1962), was released — according to the plot, 007 was cracking down on a nuclear plant in Jamaica. The film was criticized in 2012 by the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry — for creating "an enduringly negative image of nuclear power as something dangerous that could be wielded by megalomaniacs with aspirations to world domination."

"Spy mania" has found an ideal breeding ground in this atmosphere and has taken over the world. It was formed at the intersection of constant mutual observation of States and furious hostile propaganda. This mania could turn a de-politicised commercial film into a politically motivated essay on conspiracy theory. All of the above gradually brought the spy genre into the category of pop cultural phenomenon which was given a special role in this confrontation of two world systems.

But the laurels of the emergence of interest in this spy phenomenon cannot be given only to the tense political situation. The key preconditions were the involvement of ordinary people into political processes with greater frequency and the general growth of mass media. Citizens demanded democratic participation and partnership, which forced the State to disclose the existence of secret organs. The aura of underground and secrecy perfectly matched the dramatic transmission of reality by the mass media of that time.

Extreme popularity of the character in the secret service changed the tone which espionage was shown in and told about in pop culture. Due to the lack of full understanding and public knowledge of espionage activities, these films, the themes and concepts raised in them often influenced the assessment of this activity by the public and in internal circles. As a result, the spy thriller has become an integral part of popular British and American fiction.
Primus inter pares
When spies are mentioned, the names of other famous incarnations on the screen come to mind. Like Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. None of them came close to the level of recognition that James Bond possesses. Is it because they were late for getting audience attention? Bond is almost 70, but he managed to jump over his peers as well. So, the reason is deeper.

As we know, none of the Marvel films would be shot if the heroes were not confronted by a suitable and disgusting enough villain with an explainable, although not accepted by us, motive. In most Bond films he seems to be overshadowed by his opponents. In this case, the excessive brightness of the villain is only beneficial.

Provided that Bond has long been primarily a brand, we note one of the reasons for its popularity with bright memorable phrases. One-liner is a must-have for every cool guy. If he plans to deal with the villain or has already done so, he needs to dispel the tension with some sort of a succinct tagline that would sound awesome. Like "Time to face gravity". But still the most frequently attributed phrase to Bond is classic "Shaken, not stirred."
To replace the old Bond, the new prototype is in a hurry, even several at once, in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015). The cinematic story here develops not according to the novel, but according to the comic books by Mark Millar. The Guardian called it an "adolescent 007 pastiche." The adaptation has everything that Bond possesses: catchy phrases, great villains (more than one in a film), and gloss. But can they outshine such a bright star? We doubt this.
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