Some time ago, slightlyfoxed made a typically delightful post about contemplating a first edition copy of Dracula and thinking that it was now impossible to read it in the same way as the original owner: even children now know who Dracula is and there's no longer any 'he's a vampire!?!' surprise.
This has stuck with me, particularly when reading The Man Who Saved Britain, which is an attempt to look at the Bond novels and films in the context of when they came out.
There are some problems with it – when I was ghost-writing for someone, the perennial comment would be 'make it flow'… and the writing in this book doesn't. Most chapters are made up of individual chunks on topics barely related to their neighbours. If this were a magazine article, half the book would be printed in side boxes rather than in the main body of the text.
The author's also firmly of the opinion that one should never buy soundtrack albums, with the single exception of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (my copy of that, which is indeed wonderful, is now horribly scratched, so if anyone has a copy…) but this is just as silly a prejudice as some of Ian Fleming's ones and which he finds outrageous. (Anyone who doubts this is invited to listen to Michael Nyman or John Carpenter or Ennio Morricone or…)
Some errors make me wonder how they ever survived into the paperback edition. An Amazon reviewer spotted things like "the third car in the chase from Kent to London (Moonraker) was an Alfa Romeo, not an Aston Martin" – have they ever considered appearing on Mastermind? – but the one that raised my eyebrows the highest was a comment (p258) about Charles Gray appearing in the film adaptation of You Only Live Twice when, as any fule kno, it was Diamonds Are Forever in which he was the best Blofeld. It's right elsewhere in the book, so why so embarrassingly wrong there?
But those aside, there is lots to like. Sticking with You Only Live Twice, the film has Britain invited to a tripartite summit to discuss the disappearance of US and Soviet space capsules from orbit, resulting in Bond being sent off to Japan. In the real 1967, Britain would never even have been considered for an invitation to such a meeting – it's almost as laughable as the way that a 1950s Arthur C Clarke novel about the first moon landings looks now with its three simultaneous coordinated efforts, including one from Britain – and it's this gaping difference between the books (and films) and the real world that is explored well. Was it, in fact, the difference that made the books at least so successful?
Some of the appeal is probably because I'm almost the same age as the author, so I can go 'oh yes' to some of the descriptions of a childhood in the 1970s. L14 has, as far as I know, never read one, but Bond was such a hit for boys when I was his age that when my Scout troop were asked in a quiz what 'OHMS' stood for, only a couple out of forty or so didn't say 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'.
The author regards Bond as a combination of guilty pleasure and utterly distorting mirror of Britain, and I suspect it will be enjoyable for anyone with a general interest in that period, when Britain changed from a global superpower to a failing island off mainland Europe with a somewhat dodgy past, or Bond. As some of the Amazon reviews show, it's not for obsessives, or indeed for people who think that the Roger Moore films were any good 🙂
It's been decades since I read the books, but it has tempted me to do so again.