In the week which celebrates the centenary of the birth of Ian Fleming, there has been lots of James Bond Stuff going on all over the place.
I’ve always been interested in James Bond Stuff – sometimes wide-eyed, sometimes appalled but mostly with the grudging boyish admiration that we grudging boys usually deny we possess.
So, yes, I bought the new book this week. ‘Devil May Care.’ Imagine Sebastian Faulks writing a new Bond novel – how could I not get it? I won’t go at it until I read Jim’s Book but I’ll let you know what I think of it then.
The’ Bond Thing’ I actually wanted to tell you about was BBC Radio 4’s new production of ‘Dr No’.
It was adapted from the Fleming novel by Hugh Whitemore and broadcast last Saturday.
One possibly-fun thing about this little review is that you can actually listen to the play, which is online at the moment, if you go here:
But I don’t think it’ll stay up there for long. (UPDATE - it's gone now, moved on to this week's play - if it appears somewhere else (legally) I will post a link here.)
So, is it any good?
Well, I enjoyed it but, as you may be ‘gleaning’ by now (little pun intended) I like quite a lot of things.
It’s all pretty faithful to the source material. That means there’s a quantum of received pronunciation and clipped military-style tones in evidence. This can be a little bit hard to take but it’s worth sticking with it. It’s mostly ‘M’, Ian Fleming (as occasional narrator) and a few others who dish it out. Bond himself may come across as clipped but Toby Stephens keeps him as earthy and real as possible, given the restrictions of the dialogue.
As a radio drama, the production leans a little heavily on narration to help carry the story along. Narration is the great crutch of radio writing, sometimes it is unavoidable but overuse is very tempting and very dangerous. It is necessary here though. Fleming writes so much background material around his characters that it cannot all be successfully carried through dialogue.
This all sounds a bit negative but there’s great fun to be had along the way.
Some of the neat set-pieces include a giant poisonous caterpillar inching its way up the Bond physique and Honey Rider’s initial appearance on the beach in significantly less attire than Ursula Andress was allowed in the movie.
The uneasy racism of the old books is also retained here – those pesky Chinamen are still as nasty and yellow as the 50’s told us they were and those jolly ‘ol Jamaicans will carry your gear every time if you order them to.
But the best of all, far and away, is a wonderfully, garishly, outrageous performance by David Suchet as Dr. No.
Even if you don’t fancy listening to the while ninety minute play, you really should fast forward through to about thirty minutes from the end to hear how this great actor interprets the role. If I had to describe what he does, I would say it is a cross between ‘I Claudius’, Fu Manchu and a castrated Dalek. Suchet doubtless realised that the role would just be pure parody unless something out of the ordinary was brought to it – he certainly did that and I, for one, loved what he did.
And therein lies the rub. James Bond in the movies is a naked male version of the Barbie Doll whereon the latest fashions, equipment and morals can be hung so as to appease the required generation. Bond in a faithful Fleming adaptation is much more of a validation of all the cruel parodies we all know so well.
So much so that, when the evil Dr. No talks about ‘One Milleen Dollas’, or shows off his Shark Tank or explains his entire master-plan to Bond before trying to kill him off in an excessively-complex-way, the crooked shadow of one Austin Powers is forever lurking in the corner.
But, ultimately, Austin doesn’t win the day. Bond wins the day. Mostly because, in the books, he was always so much more human than in the movies and that is how he is presented here.
While Connery in Goldfinger was wise-cracking his way around the laser beam which was inching towards his crotch, Bond in the book was crapping himself over the advances of a crude circular saw and trying to push himself down onto the blade all the quicker to achieve a mercifully quick death.
I’ve digressed, haven’t I? Old JB can make me do that.
How often can you read a little review and then go and sample the material being reviewed for free?
Go on, click, have a taste of it anyway. (UPDATE: They've taken it off now, sorry)
"Do you expect me to listen to it all, Meester Armstrong"
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to try."