James Bond

Sneak Peek: Bond Vivant

So the not-a-secret secret: work here at Teleport City has slowed down because I am writing a book. Building off the Bottled in Bond article I wrote some time back, I have spent the past few months doing research — sometimes at a library, more likely at a cocktail bar — on a more expansive study of James Bond’s drinks, the history behind some of his favorite sprits, and the impact 007 had on drinking culture. Prospectively titled Bond Vivant, I am so far pretty happy with the way it’s going, except for the fitful pace of my progress (that night of research at the Hotel St. Regis’ King Cole Bar really derailed me for a few days). In honor of Ian Fleming’s 106th birthday, I thought I would give readers here, who I hope will be patient with the way the book impacts the frequency of updates on Teleport City, a little sneak peek. It isn’t much — the first (very rough) draft of the introduction — but I hope it helps excuse my absence from Teleport City proper and gets two or three of you interested enough to stay on back about getting this thing finished.

Introduction: Make Mine a Double…07

“When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad.” — James Bond, Casino Royale

When retired British Naval Intelligence commander Ian Fleming retired to his modest villa, Goldeneye (“Goldeneye, nose and throat” quipped his neighbor, the entertainer Noel Coward, who was unimpressed with Fleming’s abode) in Jamaica to write his first novel, he didn’t expect it to be much more to society at large than a passing trifle. It was an attempt to make good on a desire that boiled up in him during his wartime service, perhaps as a way to try and one-up his popular brother, Peter, who was a well-known much beloved adventurer, war hero, and writer. It was also an attempt to keep himself occupied, his mind off his own anxiety regarding the one-time swinging bachelor’s impending marriage to his on-again, off-again girlfriend of many years, Ann Charteris.

So from February 17 to March 18, 1952 — just one month’s time — Fleming went about the task of creating “the spy story to end all spy stories,” writing 2,000 words every morning. Titled Casino Royale and drawing upon Fleming’s real-life experiences (as well, most likely, as those of his brother) during the war, the book was about the exploits of a British secret agent named after an American ornithologist of whose books on bird watching Fleming was fond: James Bond (as Fleming would later write in a letter to the Manchester Guardian, “One of the reasons why I chose the pseudonym of James Bond for my hero rather than, say, Peregrine Maltravers was that I wished him to be unobtrusive. Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous blunt instrument wielded by a Government Department.”).

Fleming referred to the manuscript as a “dreadful oafish opus.” A friend advised him to never attempt to have it published, or if he insisted on pursuing it, then to at least publish it under a pen name (Robert Markham, perhaps?). Fleming was indeed insistent, despite his self-deprecating assessment of his own work. In April of 1953, the first edition of Casino Royale was published by Jonathan Cape, featuring a cover designed by Fleming himself. Fleming missed his goal. Rather than writing the spy story to end all spy stories, he had written the spy story that inspired a million more spy stories. And movies. And comic books, and radio plays, and so on and so forth.

We needn’t dwell too much on what happened in the wake of Casino Royale. The fact that I am, in 2014, writing about James Bond, and the fact that you are, presumably, reading this at some still later date is testament enough to the enduring nature of Fleming’s little lark. James Bond far transcended the ambitions of Ian Fleming, becoming a cultural icon known, celebrated, and (as is the case with most cultural icons) in some cases reviled the world over. Every country, every culture, has their James Bond, or their spoof of James Bond, or their reaction to James Bond. And of course they all have Ian Fleming’s James Bond. And Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s (the original producers of the Bond films) James Bond.

When you become a globally recognizable cultural phenomenon, you invariably spawn a side industry dedicated to analyzing you. This analysis can range from the simple cataloging of your tropes and tendencies to psychoanalysis of your main character. What does Bond mean to global relations? What does Bond say about evolving gender roles? Pretty much every sociological question we can ask about ourselves and our society has been phrased multiple times in the context of what James Bond says about it or how James Bond might influence it. And given that since the first book, and continuing throughout both the literary and cinematic series, Fleming and the Bond franchise have been obsessed with very specific brand names, many of these non-fiction works are looks at the accoutrements with which Bond surrounds himself: the clothes, the cars, the tools of spycraft, the exotic locales, and of course what we’ve gathered here to explore: the drinks.

For as long as people have been around, they’ve been trying to figure out ways to get drunk, usually together and in a convivial environment, though I suppose there was probably a melancholy Piltdown Man sitting at a stone bar, staring pensively at the counter and grunting, “Pour Grok ‘nother one” to the surly barkeep manning the container of fermented elderflower and bark, or whatever it was Piltdown Man drank. From China to the United States, the ancient Egyptians to modern craft cocktail bars, you’ll find that people enjoy coming together for a drink, or celebrating with a drink, or commiserating with a drink, or trying to cure cholera with a drink. Any attempt to understand who we are and where we come from can’t com completed without understanding how we drink, what we drink, and why we drink — even if you yourself don’t drink. An indulgence thousands of years old obviously generates innumerable avenues of exploration, and just as there is a cottage industry around James Bond, so too is there one around alcohol.

If we are to complete our cursory exploration here in under two decades and ten thousand pages, certain ground rules had to be established. For my sanity, of no one else’s. First, this is neither a comprehensive exploration of the James Bond universe nor of the universe of alcohol. Although I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time poring over Ian Fleming’s 007 stories –as well as those of Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, and William Boyd — for mentions of liquor types, liquor brands, and notable cocktails, my goal here isn’t provide a complete catalog of every mention of every drink James Bond and his associates consume. If that’s what you are looking for, I highly recommend David Leigh’s The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. He’s done a bang-up job of cataloging 007’s drinking habits. Also invaluable is the website Make Mine a 007, which is sadly defunct but lives on thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The obsessive research done on that site and in Leigh’s book is impressive. I leaned heavily on both of them when writing this one.

My initial plan was, actually, to cover everything, but I soon realized that the way in which I wanted to tell this story made being so thorough in that regard unrealistic for a man with my sometimes truncated attention span. As I became more deeply mired in research, and as I began to follow more and more side-paths and tangents, I realized certain elements had to be excised, or as I tell myself, moved to a hopeful “volume two.” Chief among these was wine and champagne. As anyone familiar with Bond knows, 007 consumes a ridiculous amount of champagne in both the books and the movies. As much as the martini (and bourbon), champagne is a signature James Bond drink. Leaving it out seemed wrong, but at the end of the day, my “expertise,” such as it is, was in spirits, and so I decided wine and champagne — and beer, incidentally — would have to be — temporarily — put on hold until I could do them justice.

And this is largely because I have no self-control.

“I’d offer you a glass of champagne, but you see it’s very bad for you in small quantities.” – Jason King, Department S

Since Bond was equal parts autobiographical, biographical embellishment, and wish fulfillment for Fleming (as well as for many of the people who read the Bond novels and watched the Bond movies), it’s no surprise that many of Fleming’s personal preferences became the preferences of James Bond. Fleming was a drinking man, so Bond was a drinking man. Bond’s taste in alcohol are a reflection of Fleming’s own tastes, of the evolving and ever-changing tastes of popular culture, and once the films turned the franchise into a global juggernaut, the demands of corporate sponsors falling over one another and throwing money around in hopes of having their name associated with Bond, their product prominently placed on a bar next to the world’s best-known secret agent.

So my initial plan — you’re getting an idea of how laughably short a lifespan that initial plan had, I hope — was to stick very strictly to the brands called out by name in the series, discounting the ones that only appear as background dressing in the movies. But to me, the history of spirits is a very fluid (har har) thing, with the development of one flowing from the existence of the previous, and with a lot of people doing the same thing only slightly different. And I realized I wanted this to be as much a journey through spirits as it was a reference book on James Bond. Because the history of spirits is fascinating. Wars have been waged over them. Economies built or wrecked by them. I wanted to tell that story. After all, Bond was a bit of a know-it-all, and in that spirit, I thought, well, you can’t write about the martini without discussing it’s history. And you can’t really discuss its history without talking about gin. And you can’t really understand gin without learning about jenever…and before I knew it, things were getting sloppily drunk. But it was important to me to delve that far into the history of these things we take for granted, if for no other reason than being able to counter Bond at the bar. He may be able to identify the brand and vintage of a particular champagne from fifty yards, but maybe I could stymie him with with the story of Old Time style gin and what it has to do with drinking out of a cat’s butt.

I also wanted to look at the way drinking culture influenced Fleming, and how he went on to influence drinking culture. Fleming, the prodigal son of an otherwise respectable and well-connected British family, was a man who, like Bond, had a tremendous appetite for the finer things in life while, at the same time, never seeming fully compatible with the respectable upper-crust who consumed such things. So Bond drifts easily from the world’s rarest and most desirable champagnes to a bottle of Miller High Life, from the world’s most exquisite hotels to threadbare roadside motels in the middle of nowhere, upstate New York. This duality in both men translates to their drinks and their drinking habits, and these habits were informed by cultural norms (and abnorms, to use a word that doesn’t exist) even as they began to influence them.

The end result is a bit like rummaging through a particularly dingy and ill-organized curio shop. Rather than splitting the book up by spirit or by Bond book, as would have been the most sensible way of doing things, I chose to weave drunkenly in and out of stories, following threads as they arise and hopefully, at some point, knitting them back into some semblance of a nice holiday sweater. I won’t make claim that what I am setting out to do in this volume is a particularly deep dive into the psyche of humankind or an enlightening dissection of vice and temptation. Like Fleming, my only real hope is that I might stitch together an entertaining yarn woven from Bond and Fleming’s predilection as pertains to alcohol, in book and film, as well as a look at the history of the particular types of alcohol and brands favored by 007 and 17F and what might have been happening in drinking culture that would have caused those choices to be made — and how later drinking culture would make its own choices based on Bond. With all of the films available on home video, with all of Fleming’s books back in print, and with most of the subsequent Bond books by other authors in print as well, we can really dig into this this topic with a level of obsession that would please, or at least be understood by, Ian Fleming.