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James Bond

Legendary British secret agent 007, created by Ian Fleming

Main image of James Bond

Since the release of Dr No (d. Terence Young) in 1962, James Bond has been one of the few enduring icons of British cinema. Representing sophistication, style, predatory sexuality and unerring poise even in the tightest of narrative corners, Bond has given British audiences a comforting fixed point in a world which has become increasingly unpredictable.

James Bond made his first appearance in Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale in 1952. Fleming, a veteran of Naval Intelligence, created Bond in his own image and protected him jealously. This made bringing him to the screen a lengthy and delicate process. Casino Royale was produced for American television in 1954, and the rights were subsequently bought by American agent Charles K. Feldman. The rights to the other books were bought by Harry Saltzman, a producer who had co-founded Woodfall Productions with John Osborne and Tony Richardson. Saltzman's involvement in the British New Wave ended in 1960 after disagreements with his partners, but his influence on British cinema was soon to be sealed. He teamed up with Albert R. Broccoli, another producer eager to bring Bond to the screen, and, calling themselves Eon Productions, they found a sympathetic studio in United Artists, who offered a six-picture deal, beginning with Dr No in 1962.

Dr No was made for $1.1 million - a relatively small sum even in 1962 - and starred a little-known Scottish actor, Sean Connery, as Bond. Fleming was doubtful about the film, not least because he had wanted either Noël Coward or Cary Grant to play Bond, but he was surprised by the quality of the finished product. So were critics and audiences, and Dr No eventually grossed nearly $60 million worldwide.

There have been 20 'official' Bond films released by Eon Productions, the most recent being Die Another Day (d. Lee Tamahori), which was a major box office success in 2002. Five actors have appeared as Bond in these films: Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and, currently, Pierce Brosnan. Two other Bond films have emerged since 1962: Casino Royale (d. John Huston/Ken Hughes/Val Guest/Robert Parrish/Joe McGrath/Richard Talmadge, 1967), which turned the source material into an incoherent all-star comedy, and Never Say Never Again (d. Irvin Kershner, 1983), with an older but still eminently charismatic Connery in an amusing remake of Thunderball (d. Terence Young, 1964). These two films are not usually considered part of the Bond canon.

Each film uses a selection of narrative elements which can be juggled endlessly. Certain elements are mandatory: the 'Bond Girls', increasingly resourceful to reflect the changing perceptions of women but invariably beautiful and receptive to Bond's attentions; the megalomaniac villains with their plots for wealth, control, respect or revenge; the vast sets in which the explosive climaxes take place; exotic locations in which Bond invariably causes havoc; the bizarre array of henchmen put up against the super-spy; the expensive, ingeniously enhanced cars; lengthy chases involving anything from speedboats to tanks; and the various 'imprisonment/escape' scenarios, frequently involving piranhas, sharks or alligators.

Other elements have changed with time and taste; Q's gadgets for example, which began in low-key fashion and gradually escalated in importance before it was decided to return them to the background; the role of 'M', initially an avuncular guardian, then a bad tempered civil servant and finally a tough-talking, unsentimental woman; and the roles played by the Superpowers as Cold War turned into détente and, latterly, the fall of Communism.

But most important is the siren song of the character of Bond himself: unflappable, unfailingly resourceful and a commercially astute combination of the eternal English gentleman and the sardonic American private eye.

Mike Sutton

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Diamonds Are Forever (1971)Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

James Bond investigates a plan to hold the world to ransom

Thumbnail image of Dr. No (1962)Dr. No (1962)

James Bond goes on a mission to Jamaica, and a legend is born

Thumbnail image of From Russia With Love (1963)From Russia With Love (1963)

James Bond battles Russian dissidents for control of a vital decoding device

Thumbnail image of GoldenEye (1995)GoldenEye (1995)

Pierce Brosnan's debut brought the James Bond cycle back from the dead

Thumbnail image of Goldfinger (1964)Goldfinger (1964)

Sean Connery returns as James Bond in what may be the best of the series

Thumbnail image of Live and Let Die (1973)Live and Let Die (1973)

James Bond returns to the Caribbean, to investigate a voodoo plot

Thumbnail image of Living Daylights, The (1987)Living Daylights, The (1987)

The first of Timothy Dalton's two James Bond films

Thumbnail image of Man with the Golden Gun, The (1974)Man with the Golden Gun, The (1974)

James Bond becomes the target of a professional assassin

Thumbnail image of Moonraker (1979)Moonraker (1979)

James Bond investigates the disappearance of a space shuttle

Thumbnail image of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby plays Bond in one of the series' most underrated entries

Thumbnail image of Thunderball (1965)Thunderball (1965)

James Bond goes to Miami in search of stolen nuclear bombs

Thumbnail image of You Only Live Twice (1967)You Only Live Twice (1967)

James Bond goes to Japan to investigate the theft of spacecraft

Related Collections

Thumbnail image of James Bond: Sean ConneryJames Bond: Sean Connery

The original Bond star

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Barry, John (1933-2011)Barry, John (1933-2011)


Thumbnail image of Broccoli, Albert R. (1909-1996)Broccoli, Albert R. (1909-1996)


Thumbnail image of Brosnan, Pierce (1951-)Brosnan, Pierce (1951-)


Thumbnail image of Connery, Sean (1930-)Connery, Sean (1930-)


Thumbnail image of Craig, Daniel (1968-)Craig, Daniel (1968-)


Thumbnail image of Dalton, Timothy (1946-)Dalton, Timothy (1946-)


Thumbnail image of Hamilton, Guy (1922-)Hamilton, Guy (1922-)


Thumbnail image of Moore, Roger (1927-)Moore, Roger (1927-)


Thumbnail image of Young, Terence (1915-1994)Young, Terence (1915-1994)

Director, Producer, Writer