How James Bond Works


James Bond first appeared in Ian Fleming's 1953 novel, "Casino Royale."
James Bond first appeared in Ian Fleming's 1953 novel, "Casino Royale."
2008 HowStuffWorks

With his dry wit and impeccable style, James Bond has been defying death and ruining the plans o­f mega­lomaniacal madmen in service of Queen and country for more than 50 years. From his first appearance in a 1953 novel to his leading role in one of the most successful franchises in film history, Bond has traveled to more exotic locations, romanced more women, escaped from more harrowing death traps and saved the world more times than any other secret agent, real or fictional.

Much about the early life of James Bond remains murky, befitting a secret agent. Even the date of his birth is in dispute -- early accounts suggest various dates in the 1920s, implying that modern-day chronicles of his exploits recount the events of decades past. His Scottish father worked for a British arms manufacturer and was killed while mountain climbing along with Bond's Swiss mother when James was eleven. The orphan attended several prestigious schools before enlisting in the Royal Navy during World War II, where he rose to the rank of commander. Following the War, he entered the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, short for 6th Branch of the Military Intelligence Directorate. His first two assignments were assassinations, which led to his permanent designation as a "double-0" agent, one with a license to kill in the line of duty. As the seventh such agent, he was designated Agent 007.­

Advertisement

Bond is no mere foot soldier. His undercover assignments have taken him to exotic locales that include volcanic islands, Las Vegas, Paris, India, Azerbaijan, Tokyo and even a space station in orbit. He usually operates under an alias, usually as a representative of Universal Exports. His charm and charisma are reinforced by his taste for fine suits, fast cars and his signature beverage: a dry martini, shaken, not stirred. Bond's missions bring him into contact with both sophisticated elites and shady underworld figures. In both situations, he has repeatedly demonstrated (and overcome) his one true weakness -- he can't resist a beautiful woman.

Although Bond is a gifted athlete and well-trained in martial arts, he doesn't have to rely on his wits and physical prowess alone. The Q Branch of MI6 regularly outfits 007 with clever devices, usually in the form of a mundane object that hides an explosive, a gun or another key item. He also has access to heavily modified experimental vehicles, and often carries a hidden escape device or a means of communicating with his handlers in an emergency. When all else fails, he keeps a Walther PPK .32 caliber handgun tucked into a shoulder holster, though he also uses other weapons when needed.

Bond's missions have varied wildly, but one thing is always consistent: MI6 deploys him when nothing else matters more than getting the job done. Bond is considered a "blunt instrument" of the crown, a man who can accomplish difficult missions regardless of the political, financial or personal consequences. When the fate of the world is on the line, his superiors know that Bond can't take time to worry about offending an ambassador -- or blowing up an embassy.

The Spy Who Loved Me: Allies, Enemies and Origins

Dame Judi Dench as the newest "M" in the 2006 film "Casino Royale."
Dame Judi Dench as the newest "M" in the 2006 film "Casino Royale."
Image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Just as James Bond is far from your average spy, his opponents and allies have certainly been more than faceless minions. The most prominent opponent in earlier years was the diabolical Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Blofeld headed the organization Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE), which he used to further his own aims -- mostly world domination or raking in huge sums of money.

Blofeld was known for his bald head, conspicuous facial scar and, in some accounts, his attachment to a white Persian cat. However, he was known to resort to extensive makeup, masking and even plastic surgery to alter his appearance. Blofeld was directly responsible for the murder of James Bond's only wife, Teresa di Vicenzo. He is presumed dead after a fall resulting from a struggle on a helicopter with Bond himself, though with Blofeld, appearances are always deceiving.

Advertisement

Other notable Bond enemies include:

  • Dr. Julius No -- an atomic scientist who reportedly lost both of his hands
  • Auric Goldfinger -- a gold-obsessed smuggler who also works for SMERSH, a Russian espionage agency
  • Oddjob -- Goldfinger's henchman
  • Max Zorin - a genetically engineered psychopath
  • Jaws - a massively strong, steel-dentured man
  • 006 -- a former MI6 Agent
  • Elliot Carver -- a warmongering media mogul

Fortunately, Bond has not been alone when facing these villains. Allies from within and without MI6 have come to his aid at crucial moments throughout 007's career:

Carey Lowell as Bond Girl Pam Bouvier and Desmond Llewelyn as the original "Q" in the 1989 film "License to Kill"
Image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
  • M -- M is the head of MI6. Bond has served under several different "M"s during his tenure at MI6. M typically finds Bond's personal habits exasperating, but respects his many talents.
  • Q -- Q is the Head of Q Branch, MI6's research and development division. Unlike M, for many years there was only one Q, Major Boothroyd. As MI6's resident mad scientist, he developed the gadgets and weapons systems that often saved 007's life. He also fretted about the damage Bond always seemed to cause to them. Sadly, Major Boothroyd passed away after decades of service to his country. He has since been replaced by a new Q, formerly his assistant, R.
  • Moneypenny -- M's personal assistant, Moneypenny is known for her flirtatious verbal jousting with Bond, but it never gets in the way of getting her job done.
  • Felix Leiter -- Bond's missions often bring him into contact with his American counterparts in the espionage field. Leiter has assisted Bond on at least eight missions. Sources disagree as to whether Leiter works for the CIA or the DEA.
  • General Anatol Gogol -- This former KGB head opposed 007 at times, but Bond came to know him as a man of principle who could be counted on to help defeat schemes that threatened world security.

Bond's Beginnings

Of course, James Bond is a fictional character, created by British author Ian Fleming. Fleming's early life mirrors that of Bond in some ways -- his journalism and stock broker careers were interrupted by World War II. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1939 and worked in an administrative position in Naval Intelligence. Fleming also occasionally did field work, including breaking and entering to photograph sensitive documents. The character of Bond as he appears in Fleming's novels is probably a romanticized version of Fleming himself, with additional traits from others. Even after leaving the Navy, Fleming craved adventure both as a reporter and as recreation, diving with Jacques Cousteau, skiing and mountain climbing and leading "expeditions" with friends to exotic destinations.

After the war, Fleming again took to journalism, and retreated annually to an estate in Jamaica that he had christened "Goldeneye." He wrote "Casino Royale" and all the subsequent Bond novels at the estate. After showing "Casino Royale" to a friend who read for a publishing house, the novel was accepted and achieved modest commercial and critical success. Fleming wrote a new Bond novel almost every year, eventually completing 13 of them. After Fleming died from a heart attack in 1964, a book of Bond short stories was released. Other authors were given license by his estate to write additional novels based on the Bond character.

The Bond depicted in the novels is an earthier, darker character than the flippant charmer familiar to the films' fans. Absent are the science-fictional superweapons and gadgets, and while the Bond of the novels does not relish killing, he doesn't seem to mind it all that much, either.

Bonds on Film: Actors and Elements

Sean Connery, the first "official" James Bond, in action in the 1967 film "You Only Live Twice."
Sean Connery, the first "official" James Bond, in action in the 1967 film "You Only Live Twice."

The first screen appearance of James Bond was in a pilot for a CBS TV series. Based on the novel "Casino Royale," the pilot flopped and the series was never made. Fleming's novels would eventually be made into a successful series of films, starting with "Dr. No" in 1962. The 20 official Bond films released since then (prior to the release of 2006's "Casino Royale") have made about $3.8 billion worldwide, and over $1.2 billion in the United States [Source: Giammarco]. Five different actors have played the role of James Bond in the official films (There are three unofficial films: the CBS pilot, a 1967 spoof of "Casino Royale," and 1983's "Never Say Never Again," a remake of "Thunderball" that arose from a complicated copyright entanglement). Daniel Craig is the sixth Bond, appearing in the 2006 "reboot" of the franchise.

Sean Connery was the first James Bond, playing the role in six movies from 1962 to 1971. Although Fleming reportedly disliked Connery at first, he was eventually won over, even working a Scottish father into the literary Bond's ancestry to reflect Connery's own background. Connery's Bond was closer to the version depicted in Fleming's novels, though he did inject more humor into the character.

Advertisement

George Lazenby took over the role for one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," in 1969. Having had no prior acting experience, Lazenby's performance is largely derided by most Bond fans. In fact, his acting career virtually ended after that film, and Connery took the role back for one more official Bond film in 1971.

From 1973 to 1985, Roger Moore left an indelible mark on the Bond character. Moore’s Bond is generally kinder and more genial than Connery's, and this era gave birth to some of the more outlandish exploits, involving space stations, superlasers and other science-fiction elements.

Timothy Dalton's two-film run in the late 1980s was seen by many as a return to the character's roots. The Dalton films are darker and more cynical. However, lawsuits tied up the Bond franchise for several years, and when they resumed in 1995, it was time for a new Bond.

Pierce Brosnan, the fifth James Bond, in the 1999 film "The World is Not Enough."

Pierce Brosnan played Bond four times from 1995 to 2002. For younger fans of the series, he is the only Bond. His wry smile and dry wit are reminescent of Roger Moore's portrayal of Bond, but Brosnan also guided the character forward.

Daniel Craig is the sixth actor to play Bond and is also the only blond to take the role. Including 2006's "Casino Royale," he is signed to a three-film contract. Like all other "new Bonds" before him, Craig's selection caused some controversy and angered some fans of the series.

The Cold War and anti-Nazi plots of the '60s and '70s were outdated by the time the franchise started up again in the mid-1990s, so the modern Bond became tied up in media wars, terrorist plots and high-technology threats. Although each film is unique, they tend to contain certain elements:

Fast-paced Action

The core of any Bond film is the fast-paced action. Car chases, daring leaps from buildings or mountains, hand-to-hand combat, gunfights, narrow escapes from death traps, even boat and airplane chases are all vital to the success of a Bond film. Bond always pulls off these sometimes preposterous sequences with panache and style.

Humor

A Bond film is not a gritty exploration of the espionage underworld or a high-minded glimpse into global politics. Even at the most tense moments, Bond finds time for a one-liner, dryly delivered with a half-smile.

Sexual Innuendo

There is never any graphic sex or nudity in a Bond film, but 007 is with a gorgeous woman at least once in every movie. Even more conspicuous than these tame scenes is the dialogue between Bond and his female co-stars. Puns, innuendos and barely-veiled references to sexual activity are sprinkled liberally throughout the script.

The newest James Bond with one of the newest "Bond Girls": Eva Green as "Vesper Lynd." All Bond films have at least one of these beautiful, dangerous women. Bond's interaction with her is a crucial element of the films.
Image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Visual Beauty

James Bond doesn't get into a car chase while driving a Pinto through Detroit. He drives a Lotus Esprit along a winding mountain road that overlooks a stunning rainforest. His cases take him to golden beaches, vibrant jungles, even crystalline ice palaces. A mission might require him to attend a high-cost charity auction held in the penthouse of an expensive hotel.

Bond Girls

The selection of each Bond Girl is almost as anticipated as the casting of a new James Bond. A Bond Girl is not just beautiful -– she is also a "femme fatale," a woman that will cause Bond great trouble when he inevitably finds himself attracted to her. Some of them are outright villains, while others have their own tragic stories and vulnerabilities that make Bond feel protective. Bond usually wins the girl, but sometimes she betrays him and sometimes she dies in his arms.

Next, we'll look at the world of James Bond beyond the novels and films.

The World is Not Enough: Comics, Games and Parodies

The James Bond franchise has spawned three popular video games: "Goldeneye 007," "Everything or Nothing" and "From Russia With Love."
The James Bond franchise has spawned three popular video games: "Goldeneye 007," "Everything or Nothing" and "From Russia With Love."
Image courtesy Amazon

James Bond has found success outside of films and novels. A radio adaptation, a series of newspaper comic strips and numerous graphic novels have all featured Bond, either in original stories or versions of the films or novels. However, the most successful non-film medium for Bond has been video games. 1997's "Goldeneye 007" for the Nintendo 64 was a smash hit -- many people continue to play it, although the system itself is outdated.

Numerous variations on that game's "first-person shooter" formula attempted to recapture that success, but 2004's "Everything or Nothing" was the next big success. The use of popular actors (including Pierce Brosnan) to perform the voices boosted interest. The concept was taken a step further with a video-game version of "From Russia With Love," which featured the voice and likeness of Sean Connery.

Advertisement

Bond's popularity has inevitably led to imitation and parody. Comedy series like the cartoon "Inspector Gadget" took elements of James Bond and mined them for material. The 1967 parody of "Casino Royale" even featured multiple James Bonds (including a villainous one played by Woody Allen), and part of the plot involved recovering the hairpiece worn by the deceased M.

Perhaps the most well-known Bond parody is Mike Myers' "Austin Powers" series. In these films, the secret agent is thawed out after several decades of being cryogenically frozen, which explains why he retains his "swinging '60s" attitude and fashion sense. Powers twists around Bond's way with women: instead of a suave one-liner, Powers simply waggles his eyebrows and asks overtly sexual questions. The lead villain, Dr. Evil, looks and acts much like Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

James Bond is more than just a fictional character: The franchise has defined the espionage thriller and will surely influence this genre for decades to come. For more information on Bond and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Benson, Raymond. "The James Bond Bedside Companion." PublishingOnline, September 16, 2001. ISBN 1401102840.
  • Dougall, Alastair. "James Bond: The Secret World of 007." DK Adult; Revised edition, September 25, 2006. ISBN 0756623049.
  • Giammarco, David. "For Your Eyes Only: An Insider's View of the Bond Films". Ecw Press, September 28, 2002. ISBN 1550224999.
  • Glen, John. "For My Eyes Only." B.T. Batsford Ltd, March 30, 2001. ISBN 0713486716.
  • "SIS or MI6: What’s In a Name?" Secret Intelligence Service http://www.sis.gov.uk/output/Page50.html