For Your Ears Only

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."


Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't realize they had Bond on radio. I enjoy the bond movies, though they are unrealistic, it's also very entertaining.
The latest film instalment with Daniel Craig was less glossy, had a harder edge and the story line had a lot more depth to it.

Jim Murdoch said...

I was more interested in the cast list than anything especially the inclusion of his niece, Lucy Fleming. I also note it was directed by the actor Martin Jarvis. It looks like it's too late to hear it now but the David Mercer play that's on just now might be worth checking out. I can't pretend I'm a great fan of Bond but, like Agatha Christie, I only know the writer through screen adaptations. And I'm flattered you'd put off reading the novel to finish my book.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Marie, I like Craig - I thought Casino Royale was a good film and I have high hopes for Quantum of Solace in November.

Jim, I meant to mention Lucy Fleming, thanks for that. Martin Jarvis is, for me, one of the great radio actors. He did great work on 'Just William' quite a few years ago.

First of a two parter in Dr Who tonight, maybe it will up the ante on this series a little. Up until now I have found it a bit dull.

Jim Murdoch said...

I think Dr Who has to a certain extent been a victim of its own success. They have produced a few stonking episodes so that when we get what by anyone's standard would be a great episode there's a tendency to be disappointed. I felt Buffy the Vampire Slayer suffered from a similar problem although if it had folded at six seasons I could have lived with it.

I do feel a bit sorry for Catherine Tate though. Not only does she have her previous character parts appearing through the cracks, she has also had to contend with appearances from both of The Doctor's previous companions who have each morphed into Action Woman. I've actually taken to the character of Donna and I'm glad they've done away with the love interest angle. Dr Who never needed it before so why should it now? And she delivers some cracking asides. I'd like to see her last another season to give her a good run at the character.

And I do wish they'd give the Daleks a rest. Most of the other incarnations of The Doctor got to face them once or twice but they're cropping up far too often for my tastes.

Tonight's show does look good though. The writer is Steven Moffat, who brought us "Blink" and "The Empty Child" amongst others so he's set the bar high for himself.

Ken Armstrong said...

Steven Moffat has just taken over as executive producer for the next series. I thought his previous writing forays were among the very best so I'm quite looking foward to tonight's one.

It's nice to hear positive thoughts about Catherine Tate - I haven't quite taken to her as I thought I would. Perhaps she just needs a defining moment or two.

Jena Isle said...

I watched a novel-turned movie, written by Ian Fleming and I liked the book more.

James Bond's movies are good (action stunts and all). I would like to hear its radio version too.

Thanks for sharing.

Donnie---Darko said...

Hehe, well i wanna try now but seeing as its gone... you are right though about the character in the films versus the character in the books.. unfortunately what with us now being in the 21st century and the films having been changed to incoporate a bond of that era, we probably won't see exactly what fleming wrote bond like in the films again. But Connery did get damned close and now Craig i think will really create a new bond for this generation whilst keeping as faithful to the novels as possible.. I've gotta say i've got high hopes for DC bring on QOS!!:)

Ken Armstrong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Richard - I think Ian Fleming might have liked Lazenby best of all. I think Connery was a bit 'rough' for him. :)

Jena - I think the movies are great fun when they come out but, like a loaf of bread, they often age poorly. The one's which try least hardest to be 'Mod' and 'Contemporary' suffer the least from this - which puts 'From Russia with Love' as my current favorite.

And Jim - wasn't that the best 'Dr Who' episode this season by far?? I think I can guess who that lady is and I fear the fact that I might be right - I fear it!! :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Without the shadow of a doubt. My wife even fell out with me for shushing her so I could hear every syllable. And don't tell me you think it's Rose all grown up.

The episode also underlines the point I was making about Donna. Here we have The Doctor and a future companion to detract from her. There were several instances where Donna was literally standing around twiddling her thumbs.

Ken Armstrong said...

I don't think it's Rose all grown up and I don't think it's a new companion. I'm reluctant to say what I think cos it might constitute a spoiler ('funny, that, in the context - 'Spoiler').

I did tell my son my theory and he looked at me in absolute horror and my wife said 'no way, you're crazy'.

There, I think I've dropped enough hints that, if it comes to pass, I can say, "I told you so (sort of)".