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COLIN M JARMAN

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Young Bond's Charlie Higson on Old James Bond
by COLIN M JARMAN   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, March 13, 2010
Posted: Saturday, March 13, 2010

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Charlie Higson is both a lifelong fan of James Bond and the man entrusted by Ian Fleming Publications to write the Young Bond novel series. As he has produced five best-selling editions on the fledgling secret agent, I wondered what Charlie has had to say about Old Bond, as it were. Quite a lot by the look of it.

In the course of compiling my book of humorous quotations about James Bond - License To Quote: The Quotable Double-0 Seven - it struck me how one particular person has a uniquely stereoscopic view of 007.

Charlie Higson is both a lifelong fan of James Bond and the man entrusted by Ian Fleming Publications to write the Young Bond novel series. As he has produced five best-selling editions on the fledgling secret agent, I wondered what Charlie has had to say about Old Bond, as it were. Quite a lot by the look of it.

The Fast Show alumnus has also proved rather fast at meeting deadlines. In the last few years, he has penned a number of (old) Bond-related articles for most of the quality papers from The Sunday Times to The Spectator. Since Charlie’s word is his Bond, he must have a lot of great stuff to share about 007. And, indeed he does.

In no formal order, other than chronological, here are my favourite ten ‘soundbites’ from Charlie’s newspaper articles on James Bond.

 

“James Bond had always been there. I grew up with him; the first film I can remember going to is Thunderball, and there were always long rows of paperbacks in W.H. Smith alongside Agatha Christie and westerns. But were the books any good? I soon discovered how insanely readable they are, and how seductive (and occasionally outrageous) Fleming’s voice is. The man invented a genre. The world of films and books has never been the same since.”

Charlie Higson

in The Sunday Times (2005)

Comparing an Agatha Christie whodunit to Ian Fleming is like comparing a feather duster to a knuckle duster. They do, however, share a common ‘bond.’ Namely the Orient Express; on which both novelists famously stage-managed murder most foul. For the life of me, I cannot recall the victim in Christie’s book, but we all know who Bond dispatched in From Russia With Love … and how!

 

“The Bond of the early book jackets is a dull, wooden, square-jawed stuffed shirt. If Fleming had succeeded in getting a movie made back then [in the 50s] it would have been a dull, wooden, worthy little parochial black-and-white British thriller. It would have been stripped of all the sex and violence, and it would have starred some deadly dull lightweight actor like Stewart Granger or Kenneth More. It would have, in all probability, been instantly forgotten along with all the other British thrillers made at the time, and that would have been that.”

Charlie Higson

in The Spectator (2006)

Kenneth More as Bond is as worrying as Roger Moore as a clown. To his credit, Ken did play the secret agentish Richard Hannay in a 1959 remake of The Thirty Nine Steps. I could have definitely seen Stewart (real first name James, by the way) doing a Lazenby and only appearing in one Bond film … making him the Lone Granger.

 

“James Bond is still the second most valuable film franchise after Star Wars (and what, after all, is the first Star Wars film but James Bond in space, right down to the villain’s lair exploding in a climactic finale?)”

Charlie Higson

in The Spectator (2006)

Star Wars or Moonraker? Jabba the Hut or Drax the Nut? JarJar or Jaws? Leia or Goodhead? Millennium Falcon or Bondola? Death Star or Space Station? Chewbacca or Chew Scenery? Luke Skywalker or Superannuated Floorwalker? The Celestial Critics have spoken and the Moon wins over the Star (just kidding!).

 

 

Charlie found a lot of positives in the 2006 Casino reboot despite its darker story line, “Don't worry, though, it's not all character analysis and brooding introspection. It's got all the required Bond elements - M, Felix Leiter, a terrific score, bone-crunching action sequences featuring real stunts rather than wire work and CGI, three beautiful Bond girls (and some of the best verbal sparring in any Bond movie), some genuinely funny one-liners, a set-piece poker match, and, in Mads Mikkelsen, a vampiric villain to rank alongside the greats.”

Charlie Higson

in The Daily Telegraph (2006)

 

Hang on! ALL the required Bond elements? There’s no Q or Moneypenny, no shaken not stirred, no pussygaloriously named Bond girl, no schoolboy smutty retorts and no Shirley Bassey. As for ‘genuinely funny lines’ … did Charlie drop off in the middle of the film and start dreaming of Casino 1967? Poker matches are found in the fireplace, poker tournaments are found in casinos. And, Charlie, please explain how Le Chiffre ranks alongside the greats but doesn’t make your top ten villains of all time. Which neatly brings me on to … Charlie Higson's Top 10 Bond Villains.

“Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the only recurring villain in the books, and does more psychological harm to Bond than anyone else, right down to killing his wife. In the films he is of course the most used baddie. Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice defined exactly what a Bond villain should be - the bald head, the scar, the coldness, the sarcasm, the funny foreign accent, the Mao suit, the white cat, the lair, the men in colour-coded jumpsuits. Perfect.”

Charlie Higson

in The Guardian (2008)

One trait Charlie did not list for Pleasence’s iconic Blofeld was as inspiration for Dr. Evil. It seems Bond villains are easier to spoof than Bond himself  (yes, Sterling Archer and Johnny English I am looking at you!) In ranking his Top Ten Bond Naughties (to borrow Julian Glover’s exquisite expression), Charlie was right to crown E.S.B. ‘Number One.’ That was also his title at the Sadistic Pussycat-loving Entrepreneurs Coalition of Tyrannically Rotund Eggheads. As head honcho and the brains behind SPECTRE, Blofeld is quite simply the neuraxis of evil.

 

“Best name and best one-liner - in the movies: ‘Do you expect me to talk?’ ‘No, mister Bond, I expect you to die!’ - Goldfinger's the most vivid of the villains in the books, and what a lucky coincidence that his name matches his obsession. If he'd been born Ernst Stavro Stamptongue maybe he'd have been obsessed with stamps and we would have been deprived of a great plot to rob Fort Knox.”

Charlie Higson

in The Guardian (2008)

Cannot quite work out why Auric Goldfinger (number two on Charlie’s Top Ten list) would have been born with Blofeld’s forenames. Does this mean we can expect to a villain in Bond 23 called Hannibal Luther or Lex Lecter?

 

“Amid all the brouhaha surrounding Bond, it's all too easy to forget just what a good writer Fleming was. Writing action is a little like writing sex (which he was pretty good at too); there is a limited vocabulary and a narrow range of things your protagonists can actually get up to. There are only so many ways you can punch someone, or shoot them, or strangle them. Whether he's writing about skin diving, fast cars, naked gypsy wrestling, Fleming's books are vivid and immediate.”

Charlie Higson

in The Times ( 2008)

True, Fleming did think up some exotic deaths in his books. I am particularly fond of the watery demise suffered by Major Dexter Smythe in Octopussy. The Major gets his comeuppance courtesy of mother nature rather than Bond’s bullet. He is slowly consumed by nausea, blurred vision, vomiting and paralysis … the self-same symptoms that overcame me while watching the film version of that short story.

 

“Back in the early days, Bond was a tough guy. By the late Seventies Bond had become a cartoon figure - the joke was that no matter what situation Roger Moore was in, no matter what beastliness had been done to him, he would remain immaculate. He would merely have to flick the dust off his lapels, make a witty quip and drive off in an expensive car. I don't remember ever seeing Roger Moore bleed.”

Charlie Higson

in The Independent on Sunday (2008)

Roger Moore Bleed! Have you ever tried to get bloodstains out of a beige safari suit?

 

“You can see James Bond and Indiana Jones as examples of two very different types of hero. Bond is the American idea of a typical European. Well-dressed, well-mannered, elegantly unruffled, supercilious, a womaniser but ever so slightly gay. Jones is the American idea of an American. Practically dressed, no-nonsense, rugged, downbeat, put-upon, but a winner.”

Charlie Higson

in The Independent on Sunday (2008)

I am not sure if Charlie is describing Double-0 Seven or Fred Astaire. After all, 007 is Carefree, always ‘Putting on the Ritz,’ he perfected a classic golf Swing Time after time in Goldfinger, went Flying Down to Rio in Moonraker, and has been the root cause of many a Damsel in Distress. Although all Bond’s assignments were more Top Secret than Top Hat.

 

From Russia With Love - If you’ve never read a Bond book before you’ve picked a good place to start. My favourite of the Bond books.”

Charlie Higson

I don’t know where I found this final quote, but a Bond book recommendation from a man who has written five Young Bond novels has to be taken seriously. Though I do have wonder why Charlie did not suggest that Bond newbies start at the genesis of the series with Casino Royale. It’s a bit like advising someone to listen to the Beatles’ Back in the USSR then letting them discover Love Me Do (ear muffs, and all).

For more on Charlie's Young Bond series, go to the ... 

YOUNG BOND DOSSIER

 

Web Site: Licence To Quote



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