Thursday, 19 May 2016

REVIEWED: JAMES BOND - THE SECRET HISTORY

James Bond The Secret History

Sean Egan's website describes him as 'A freelance journalist, author and editor who writes about arts and entertainment (music, film, TV, comics and literature) and sport (historical soccer and historical tennis).' As well as covering a wide range of pop culture, he's now turned his hand to the world of James Bond. I'm reviewing the hardback, which weighs in at 353 pages, including 8 pages of photographs, some in colour. With a foreword by Jeremy Duns (A Bond author himself) the book starts with a dedication to Egan's Dad, who let his Mum call him Sean after Connery – and mentions finding his Dad's copy of Live and Let Die life-changing. I've just finished re-reading Fleming's second work and, dated racial attitudes aside, it is phenomenal. However – Egan's book...


We start with an examination of the factors behind the creation of Bond and with a look into the psyche of Ian Fleming. Using interviews with Fleming familiars, Egan establishes the background to 007 before moving on to the creation of Casino Royale at Fleming's Goldeneye retreat. Despite the familiarity of all this to a seasoned Fleming-aficionado, the author manages to pack in quite a few details that aren't generally known; Bond may, in fact have been ripped straight from the pages of a Dennis Wheatley novel. (You be the judge; the hero has a facial scar, is a hedonistic secret agent into spanking and the first chapter of the novel Contraband – written in 1936 – has him in a Casino in Northern France...) Going through the books, Egan gives us plenty of details about the publishing arrangements, deals etc behind them as well as the inspiration for the stories and characters.


After endless failed attempts to bring Bond to the screen (Let's not mention the TV version of Casino Royale...) we come to Sean Connery's time as Bond, starting of course with Dr. No. Sean Egan is clearly 'into' Bond, but not starry-eyed; he provides plenty of criticism of the absurdities of both film and book. Example?; In Dr. No, Sylvia Trench is able to sneak into an Intelligence Officer's home. I've seen this film a hundred times (I saw it when it premiered on UK tv as a kid back in 1975.) yet that never struck me as odd until now. Egan manages to pick apart the errors and, importantly the inconsistencies in both Fleming's work and the films based on it. I adore Fleming's work, particularly the earlier books, yet he paid little attention to continuity – in Live and Let Die – possibly his best work, he claims Bond cries his first tears since childhood. Egan points out he wept for Vesper in Casino Royale.


We move on through the films, the inevitable bitterness felt by Connery (According to Egan his salary for Marnie alone was many times what the early Bonds had paid him combined) and the hunt for a replacement. George Lazenby gives way to Roger Moore and so on. The author manages to combine his own views on each film with plenty of facts and background detail of the type I find fascinating. Behind every movie there are deals, squabbles, lawsuits even – Egan turns the spotlight onto each, uncovering quite a few nuggets I for one was unaware of. Where he really delivers, however – where his book earns its place on my Shelf O'Bond* is his encyclopaedic coverage of Bond in other media. Want to know about Bond comics?; it's all here, from the first newspaper strip to the 21stCentury attempts to produce 007 as a comic-strip hero. Likewise video games, with every conceivable offering covered. I'm just young enough to have played Goldeneye on the N64 so this section was fascinating to me.
(*Yes, that's what I call it, although its actually a shelf unit I made this year... already hopelessly overstacked.)

Sean Egan's secret weapon would seem to be research; he's won awards for it and it shows; the citations at the end of James Bond – The Secret Agent are testament to that, including a healthy amount of on-line sources, the Author making full use of the Worlds Biggest Library. There are problems with the book; he appears not to recognise Michael Billington from his appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me, he missed the ramp used by the Mustang in Diamonds are Forever – claiming all Connery made it drive on two wheels by “simply barking 'lean over'” and he needs to re-watch the opener from Goldeneye. Bond jumps off a motorbike, freefalls and then enters the plane. (It's total crap, of course, he'd have made strawberry jam of himself.) At the risk of going on some sort of death-list there's more. The dojo in Golden Gun wasn't in 'Hong Kong', nor was the Aston Martin in Skyfall intended to be the same car from Casino Royale. Personally, I'd have wondered where Craig's Bond got that car; my Dad didn't leave me a car filled with death-dealing gadgets. Was his old man a Double-O?. A final whinge – Egan seems to think Bond had a bug in Sciarra's room in Mexico City. Watch closely and you see it's a laser-mic attached to Bond's (ridiculous) weapon which bounces sound off the window to be decoded by the receiver and transmitted to his earpiece. As these things need anchoring securely, the audio usually stinks and can be defeated by such trickery as having double glazing, we might forgive the author for this last gaffe. When he makes as many as me, he's in trouble.


So, should you hie yourself down to the nearest Waterstones and blow £16.99? (Or even £9.99 at Asda). Yes; Sean Egan's book is a crisp, concise read, despite some errors in the second half. It fills a lot of gaps for the Bond-fan and as such, is essential reading. ISBN 978-1-78606-020-4 John Blake Publishing Ltd. Visit their site on www.johnblakebooks.com


https://sites.google.com/site/seaneganjournalist/

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