Shaken, not stirred

25 September 2012 Alan Attwood

Shaken, not stirred

I once heard a story about a guy named Charlie Brown. One of the secrets of his success – he was a salesman – was that he never had trouble getting put through to people on the phone. “Everyone wants to say they’ve spoken to Charlie Brown,” he explained. In Chicago, similarly, there was a dentist named Michael Jordan. One of the advantages was always being able to get dinner reservations. And if anyone at a restaurant ever protested that he wasn’t the real Michael Jordan he could produce a driver’s licence and say, “Oh yes I am.” Because it’s not an unusual name, and because some parents have an odd sense of humour, there are also bound to be many James Bonds out there. Each of them has my sympathy. Few names have such cachet. Yet dinner reservations aren’t guaranteed, as the best-known Bond is a fictional character. He is also about to mark a couple of anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the first Bond movie, Dr No, and then the release of the 23rd, Skyfall.

Like the two Bond movies preceding it, Skyfall features an actor with a much-discussed cameo at the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony, Daniel Craig. And while some insist he looks hunky in a pair of swimming trunks, the real Bond to me will always be the original celluloid 007, Sean Connery – now 82 and recently seen supporting fellow Scot Andy Murray at the US Open. With this edition, Connery joins a select group of people who have made a Big Issue cover more than once. The last time was way back in Ed#78, July 1999. In the course of an interview ostensibly about a movie called Entrapment (anyone remember it?), Connery was asked why Bond endures as a popular character. He replied: “All I can say is that the people who claim to have said he was going to be such a big success were liars, because nobody knew. It is quite amazing he is still going strong today. Timing, I think, was all-important – and Bond had a bit of oomph and looked more upmarket and glossy than it really was. The first one, Dr No, was made for less than a million dollars.” You can probably multiply that by 150 for the budget of the latest movie. The fact that Connery was the first of six gents to play Bond is, perhaps, one reason the character has rolled on. Rather like Dr Who, new stars bring new tricks; Craig is a Bond for these troubled times. Anyone not convinced by Craig, incidentally, can browse the very long list of actors considered as movie Bonds, or rumoured to have been considered, or rejected, or who perhaps just wanted the world to think they were in the mix. That list includes Rex Harrison, David Niven, Michael Caine, Sam Neill, Heath Ledger, Eric Bana, Hugh Grant (what were they thinking?), Orlando Bloom, Mel Gibson, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor. Cate Blanchett is inexplicably not there, though she did once play Bob Dylan. There is an equally long list of parodies, knock-offs or bastard children on screens big and small for which Bond should claim paternity – everything from Carry on Spying to The Man from UNCLE; Maxwell Smart to Austin Powers.

When Ian Fleming wrote the first sentence of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, early in the 1950s, he could have had no idea what he was starting. (Here it is: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”) Where it will end is even more of a mystery. Depending how you reckon it, Bond is now 60. Or 50. Or possibly even – as Anthony Morris argues in his story – 94. Whatever. Happy birthday, Mr Bond.