Millions of book sales, 23 feature length movies grossing $4,809,157,447 and counting, six actors, one dry martini, “Bond, James Bond.”
Seemingly encapsulating all the traits associated with MI6 secret agent 007 in three succinct words, it is a phrase that every man has said once or twice while straightening his tie, but this legendary catchphrase may have a less glamorous origin than you might think.
Today if you introduce yourself as “Smith, Paul Smith” everyone would think you where deliberately mimicking Bond, but if you went back to the 1900s or even further, you would find that the charismatic introduction is not in any way organic to 007 but actually reflective of an almost bygone social tradition typical of Fleming’s generation.
Born in 1908 the great spy writer grew up in a world where your first name was not specific enough to properly introduce yourself. Enrolled at Eton College in 1921 he would have learned that you where known by both masters and boys by your last name, “Hi Fleming if a Beak catches you smoking you’ll be for the high jump!” that sort of thing. This is a trait which today seems cold and harsh, but if you read books pre 1970 say, they will tell you that people of the war generation, would when introducing themselves, identify their family name first and then personalise it with their Christian name afterwards.
The accidental use of the automatic habit of an early 20th century mind in a mid 20th century movie instantly added a layer of class to secret agent James Bond that singled him out as an
individual of note because in 1960s Britain the usage had fallen, or was falling out of practice, what panache that Bond had!
When Ian Fleming wrote Bond introducing himself he was not thinking any different to when Francis Durbidge introduced Paul Temple as “Temple, Paul Temple” or Leslie Charteris wrote the Saint “Templar, Simon Templar” this is also why PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster has almost no chums that do not have a nickname jammed in between the two and why he is generally known by others in the books as “Wooster” and why Jeeves is called Jeeves. Little did Fleming know that 9 years after writing Casino Royale, Producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli would make a movie of Dr. No. The writers, reading the book for inspiration saw the line and added it to the movie, by accident or design, creating a legend in three words.
In my opinion the success of the Bond phenomenon is down to the fact that the books are pure entertainment which the movie makers took and vamped up, the example of the of the famous intro mirroring the successful transition from book to screen. Mixing the blend of fantasy and reality as perfectly as a Vesper Martini to create a character you never tire of, leaving audiences the world over always wanting more. So long as this mix is continued Bond will remain the crown jewel of British cinema.
See you again sometime, From Russia with Love.