Nobody Does It Better
Roger Moore died on Tuesday, bringing his remarkable life to a close. But instead of another eulogy, I’d like to offer something else – a defence of the James Bond concept to which Moore gave so much of his life. The debate over whether Bond remains relevant in the 21st century re-erupts every time a new film comes out, but with at least 18 months until the next instalment it seems a shame to wait. There are lots of reasons why we still need Bond, and here are the three I believe to be the most important.
We need Bond because he is one of only a few remaining characters known to almost every British person. The fragmentation of the media means that it’s become very difficult for anybody to transcend their genre and become a truly national figure. Tom Baker tells a story about driving through the suburbs of Preston and realising the latest episode of Dr Who was about to start. He pulled over, knocked on the nearest front door and found the occupants about to sit down and tune in. That episode pulled in 12m viewers back in 1976. These days Saturday night prime time royalty Ant & Dec are happy to get 7m. There is value in having a pantheon of characters, fictional or otherwise, who are known to everybody in a culture.
So it isn’t a coincidence that Danny Boyle put James Bond and the Queen together in his London 2012 Olympic extravaganza. Bond, like Her Majesty, is like an ancient oak tree – he has in roots sunk deep in a halcyon past and is a reassuring part of the cultural furniture.
Not that he’s immune to change himself. The continuing success of the character depends on him being an ‘extremely dull, uninteresting man’ that does remarkable things, and that means that the character must be about as up to date as his audience is – otherwise how could they empathise with him? As Kingsley Amis pointed out in his excellent ‘James Bond Dossier’:
“Bond should be a simple pro forma we can all fit ourselves into… [he] could be duller than he is and still acceptable. We don’t want to have Bond to dinner or go golfing with Bond or talk to Bond. We want to be Bond.”
If the Bond we see on the screen was as much of a relic as people like to suggest, then he’d still be stealing microfiche, seducing people by stealing their bikinis and drinking Kina Lillet – and nobody would bother buying a ticket.
The other main reason we need Bond now more than ever is that he, alongside Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter, is perhaps the most internationally recognised fictional British person. Regardless of what happens politically in the years to come, it can’t hurt to have such a prominent emblem of Britishness out there on the world stage. Unless you can think of anybody you’d rather have representing us?
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