MI6 traces the legacy of the Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and their parallels to modern culture and politics...

James Bond In History (1)
17th June 2008

James Bond, the infamous secret agent, has had immense popularity and sustainability as both a character and a pop-icon. Over the past 50 years, the persona of James Bond has influenced fashion and style, movies and television, art and even the way people behave.

To track James Bond through the decades is a massive task, but when searching the giant realm of these classic spy-thrillers it is not hard to see where Bond has left his mark or to find parallels with our 20th century culture and politics. With the spirit of celebrating the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth in mind, MI6 tracks the legacy of 007 as an icon in the modern world.

Spotting the Differences
Leaving aside the statement that Ian Fleming's creation is a parallel for modern life; there clearly was a time when Bond was not about. Indeed before the year of 1953 there was no Bond - guns were agents of evil and sex was something kept well behind closed doors. Gritty heroes drank black coffee and battled their evils with words, not actions.

James Bond developed as a spark in the mind of creator Ian Fleming during his time in the forces. Although he never saw action as Bond did, Fleming was inspired to pen this extravagant character after a spell in the secret office of the British navy. But it was not the "who" that Fleming was fixated with, but the "what" and "how". Never did Fleming expect "the man with the boring name" to explode into a household legend and a time-changing character - he simply wished to write entertaining spy stories.

Above: Author Ian Fleming relaxes at his Jamaican home, Goldeneye

Fleming created a character that seemed quite natural to his eccentricities of the time. He crafted someone he could personally idolise. James Bond held the figure later to be associated with the 1960's playboy - a smoking, drinking, womanising, cold-hearted rogue. A modern gentleman, but perhaps a century too early.

Above: Bond gets caught in a twisted SMERSH plot in Fleming's fifth 007 adventure...

A Relic of the Cold War
Fleming thought nothing of labeling his enemies. At the time, it was "clear" to the West that the biggest threat to the civilised world lay in the East. From the frequency of rumours it wasn't unreasonable for Fleming to craft the sadistic Russian organization known as SMERSH who operated under the motto, "Death to Spies".

Since the end of the War in '45, the world was split down the middle. The Western world began to identify new threats and anti-communist propaganda spread freely throughout the UK and America. The words "Stalin", "evil" and "nuclear" were household terms and the West was poisoned with the idea of a Russian threat. With the surrounding anger, it was reasonable for Fleming to associate his villains and their master plans with the stereotype of the "Evil-East". James Bond was born in a time of suspicion, fear, and loathing for the unknown.

The 1950s were the heart of the Cold War - yet 1954, the year of "Casino Royale", saw some restructuring within both Russian and US politics. On the death of Stalin in '53, Nikita Khrushchev took up the presidency of the Soviet Union and in the same year President Eisenhower - the first Republican in 20 years - took up the Oval Office in America.

Above: Presidents Khrushchev & Eisenhower

Both leaders brought a fresh change to their respective ideals - Khrushchev denouncing many of Stalin's internal policies and Eisenhower helping to bring an end to American involvement in Korea. Nevertheless, it took another 20 years for the Western culture (and indeed James Bond) to begin make peace with the Eastern Superpowers. A lot of blood and pride can be lost in 20 years.

A New Spy for a New World
James Bond was successful and enduring, iconic and some might say invincible - but he was not born with this status. Granted, he grew quickly to become the most, if not profitable, then unarguably successful series ever.

Some might argue James Bond began in London, when "Casino Royale" hit the printers. Others say it was in Jamaica, when Fleming typed out those first famous words. But the concept of Bond actually began in 1944, when on the side of the road in Cherbourg, France, Fleming was asked about his post-war plans. It was here that Fleming announced he would write "the spy story to end all spy stories" and the pretext of Special Agent 007 was born.

But it was not enough for Bond just to exist. He had to be popular too. His popularity extended from the fact he was an anti-hero - a startling change from anything in fiction before or since. Bond set the standards for action, adventure and most controversially, brutality.

"Casino Royale" was released to satisfactory sales in the UK and many reporters paralleled Fleming to the already successful Raymond Chandler, author of the Philip Marlowe detective series. Fleming and Chandler would later become good associates, sharing a knowledge for the literary business.

Above: Cover art for first edition Fleming novel, "Casino Royale", designed by Ian Fleming himself...

In 1954, "Royale" entered the USA to slimmer success - the up-market nature of 007 not proving as popular among the Americans. Fleming, never very positive about his first novel, distributed it to associates in the US baring the inscription: "read and burn." Bond's success in the US took the pulp-paperback publishers Popular Library to release "Casino Royale" under the name "You Asked For It". Fleming found his niche and successfully sparked a love for spy-thrillers in both the US and UK.

Above: Modern day GoldenEye is still host to Fleming's writing desk and memorial photo

Fleming was a stubborn man and so on his annual return to Jamaica, set about writing "Live And Let Die". It continued year by year, Fleming returned to GoldenEye, his Jamaican estate and "banged" out a Bond adventure each year.

Stay tuned to MI6 for the second part of "James Bond in History" when we look back at the legacy of the on-screen legend...