“James Bond And His Accessories: Book Review Of “Equipping James Bond: Guns, Gadgets, And Technological Enthusiasm”
John Greenya, a Washington writer and critic; and, the author of “Gorsuch: The Judge Who Speaks For Himself,” 2018 by Simon and Schuster, reviewed Andre Millard’s new book, “Equipping James Bond: Guns, Gadgets, And Technological Enthusiasm,” just published by Johns Hopkins University Press, in today’s (Nov. 22, 2018) Washington Times. Mr. Millard is a Professor of History at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and the author of numerous books, including: “Edison And The Business Of Innovation;” and, “Beatlemania: Technology, Business And Teen Culture In Cold War America.”
Mr. Greenya begins, “while this highly readable book will not tell you how to make exploding pens, shoes with hidden knives, or shoot death rays out of the back of the family Buick, it does tell you how and where Ian Fleming, the author of 12 James Bond novels, came up with these “fiendishly clever” devices. In other words, this book resembles the old bait and switch; The title over-promises, but the subtitle is more accurate.”
“Along the way,” Mr. Greenya notes, Professor Millard “provides one of the best capsulized histories of technology in warfare I’ve ever read. It also traces the development of the Bond character from the books of the 1960s, to the movies of the present day, or to put it differently, from George Lazenby, to Daniel Craig.”
Professor Millard “puts Fleming in historical perspective: “Winston Churchill and Ian Fleming were perfect representatives of two generations of Englishmen — the Victorians and the Edwardians — who saw their world transformed,” Mr. Greenya wrote. “Churchill, (born in 1874), and Fleming, (born in 1908) lived through the Second Industrial Revolution, which brought a host of wonderful new inventions that changed life in ways large and small….The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, argued that the “greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of inventions.” “The technological enthusiasts thought believed they had the cure for all of mankind’s ills,” Mr. Greenya noted. “For those who lived through it, the Second Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of a new modern age.”
“While most modernists praised the positives of this new age, Ian Fleming, a British Navy commander-turned-high-level bureaucrat-turned-journalist-turned-spy-turned-world-famous-novelist, chose to explore the dark side,” Mr. Greenya wrote. “Like Churchill, a gentleman born into privilege, Ian Fleming was, also like him, fascinated with inventions, fast planes, cars, boats, and was known as a tinkerer. He was also nostalgic for the good old days of Her Majesty’s Secret Operations Branch, which in the books, Fleming called – MI6.”
“Having been deeply interested in clandestine operations, both as a naval man and as a journalist, Fleming admired the rough-and-tumble, WWII-era British rouge who was, of course, at the same time, a proper English gentleman from the upper classes – who’s passing Fleming mourned,” Mr. Greenya explained. “Chivalry may be dead, but snobbery is always with us.” Isn’t that the truth.
“In the Bond books, and the many highly successful films made from them, there’s always a strong hint that the ever-more-clever technological advances may pull — push? — civilization over the edge and into the abyss,” Mr. Greenya wrote. As Andre Millard writes: “Audiences also saw a wide variety of nuclear weapons in the Bond films – the device Bond must defuse [in “The World Is Not Enough”] is a much more complicated, and dramatic looking device; shaped like a satellite, with a metallic, spherical head, and filled with a mass of wires, the sllvery, futuristic device owes a lot to the aesthetic of space travel.”
“And, he notes that the movies sometimes upped the technology,” Mr. Greenya wrote. “Fleming described several homing devices in the books that work with vacuum tubes and dry batteries. But, in [the film version of] ‘Goldfinger,’ the clumsy vacuum tubes have been replaced by transistors, which reduce the size of the equipment, allowing Bond to place a signal generator in the sole of his shoe. In the book, “Thunderball,” Bond and his colleagues fight underwater battles with knives tied to broom handles; but, in the film he has a multitude of specially designed weapons.”
“The later Bond books, and especially the films,” Mr. Greenya wrote, “mirrored the world’s growing fear of a nuclear holocaust; but, the reliance on machines rather than men to combat evil did not sit well with Ian Fleming, and while he used them, he didn’t like it,” Mr. Greenya added. As Andre Millard writes toward the end of the book, “old soldiers like Churchill would lament the mechanization of their trade, and the replacement of their heroes with quiet men who listened to telephone calls, or examined photographs taken by satellites.”
Professor Millard “makes an interesting point,” Mr. Greenya wrote, “that while James Bond never changes, the bad guys do, morphing from leftover Nazis, into corporate master criminals, from Le Chiffre, to SPECTRE.” “The final three short chapters are each worth the price of the book,” Mr. Greenya writes, “which in this case is saying something. In addition,” he adds, the book’s readability is enhanced by 15 pages of excellent source notes.”
Mr. Greenya ends his article with a question. “Did Ian Fleming write fantasies? Consider this,” he wrote: “Toward the end of his writing days he remarked,” “Personally, I am sufficiently in love with the myth [of the British Secret Service] to basically write incredible stories with a straight face.”
Looks like another fascinating read over the holidays. For a more thorough; but, also engrossing examination of special operations/intelligence during WWII, I refer you to, British historian Max Hasting, “The Spooky Side Of WWII.
For those of you who don’t know, Ian Fleming and his colleagues played an important role in Britain’s denial and deception operations against Nazi Germany. According to his Wikipedia biography, Mr. Fleming worked for Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division during WWII, and conceived of Operation Goldeneye, a covert operation designed to monitor Spain after a possible alliance between Francisco Franco and the Axis powers; and, to undertake sabotage operations. It was operations like these that were critical to saving countless Allied lives during WWII. Of course many of you Bond fans know, Goldeneye was eventually made into a Bond film; but, it had nothing to do with this real operation. Fleming’s first Bond novel came seven years after WWII, in 1952, with Casino Royale.
Fleming’s Wikipedia biography notes that he “was recruited by Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy to be his personal assistant. He joined the organization full-time in 1939, with the code-name, “17F,” and worked out of Room 39. “On September 29, 1939, soon after the start of the war, Adm. Godfrey circulated a memorandum that, “bore all the hallmarks of….Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming,” according to historian and author Ben Macintyre. Wikipedia adds that “the memo contained several schemes to be considered for use against the Axis powers — to lure German U-boats and German surface ships towards minefields. Number 28 on the list was an idea to plant misleading papers on a corpse that would be found by the enemy; the suggestion, similar to Operation Mincement, the 1943 plan to conceal the intended invasion of Italy from North Africa, which was developed by Charles Cholmondoley in October 1942.” “Operation Ruthless,” “a plan aimed at obtaining details of the Enigma codes used by Nazi Germany’s Navy, was instigated by a memo written by Ian Fleming to Adm. Godfrey in 1940,” Wikipedia noted. “The idea was to “obtain” a German bomber, man it with a German-speaking crew dressed in Luftwaffe uniforms, and crash it into the English Channel. The crew would then attack their German rescuers and bring their boat and Enigma machine back to England. Much to the annoyance to Alan Turning, and Peter Twinn at Bletchley Park, the mission was never carried out,” Wikipedia noted.
Fleming also “worked with Colonel ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, and assisted in writing a blueprint for the Office of the Coordinator for Information, which turned into the the head of the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA), led by Donovan.Fleming was a remarkable man; and those like him, those ‘sick-and-twisted, creative geniuses that helped save countless lives and contributed to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. I look forward to reading this book. RCP, fortunascorner.com