“Possibly I’m an egomaniac…”
George MacDonald Fraser
First published in 2002, The Light’s on at Signpost, the memoir of George MacDonald Fraser, could not in all conscience be labelled dull; “challenging” is perhaps its most realistic description. For amongst entertaining anecdotage extending into and beyond his involvement with Octopussy, Mr Fraser has indulged himself in delivering of his views upon modern British society, in particular the Blair administrations and prevailing social attitudes.
One wonders of a man who describes himself as “a liberal myself” but proceeds to deliver of the following:
“Who would have believed, fifty years ago, that by the end of the century, it would have been deemed permissible, by the BBC of all people, to call the Queen “a bitch”, or that the foulest language and vilest pronography would be commonplace on television, or that we would have a government legislating to break up the United Kingdom, barely bothering to conceal their republican bent, guilty of atrocious war crimes, rashly declaring war on Muslim terrorism which did not threaten us, while crawling abjectly to the IRA and even assisting it by releasing murderers from prison, making a criminal out of an honest shopkeeper because he sold in pounds and ounces, and jailing for life a decent householder who dared to defend his home by shooting a burglar, refusing to take any effective action against violent crime, encouraging sexual perversion by lowering the age of consent and drug abuse by relaxing the law on cannabis, legislating for women to serve on the front line (while the gallant warriors of Westminster sit snug and safe), showing themselves dead to any notion of patriotism and even discouraging the use of the word “British”, falling over themselves to destroy our institutions simply because they are frightened of offending hostile aliens, seeking to deny the right of habeas corpus, pandering to the bigotry of black racists and encouraging racial strife by their timid stupidity, letting foreign interests wreck our farming and fishing industries, and allowing the children of those wonderful people who gave us Belsen and Dachau a vital say in making our law and undermining our constitution…”
He lives on the Isle of Man; perhaps these are relatively liberal opinions – the Isle of Man is not noted for progressive thought and its social enlightenment and has failed to make it a substantial world power, funnily enough. The thinkpieces within the book could be labelled “Fings ain’t wot they used to be” and read and agreed with or ignored as the last roar of the jurassic. Can’t say he’s wrong, for that would be so very arrogant, and all of it is engaging, but one wonders how such opinions would go down on a message board such as CBn’s, for example.
No matter; a man’s views are a man’s views and of no more consequence than ripples in the stream. They might be barking, they might be brilliant. All I can venture is that although I read the book a week ago, some of what is written made me drop the book in the bath in either amusement or outrage or a combination of the two, and it’s been drying out in the airing cupboard all that time.
Of more interest, and what combine to be the (rather cynical) usp of the book (he’s probably right in implying that had the book simply been the collection of “me thoughts”, in which he appears far more animated, it wouldn’t exist), the reminiscing about some films and some film stars, Octopussy included.
Things we learn, before the Bond stuff:
Guy Hamilton is a favourite of his, and had (with GMF) substantial input into Superman, although Alexander Salkind’s suggestion that Muhammed Ali would be cast as the Man of Steel seems to have been Salkind’s own work; GMF claims no credit and one can’t imagine why.
Guy Hamilton used to show rough cuts of his pictures to the support staff and cleaners at the studios, to make sure the popular audience “got it”.
Ali visited the set of The Man with the Golden Gun to pay homage to Christopher Lee; indeed, it is suggested that he dedicated his victory at the Rumble in the Jungle to Lee.
The supervillains in Superman/Superman II eventually played by Terence Stamp etc were initially to be played by Christopher Lee as Zod (wow), Ursula Andress and Charles Bronson, with Mickey Rooney (?) as a fourth, “jester” character.
Alexander Salkind considered Brando’s Jor-El might enter his scenes as if “coming in from golf”.
Edward Fox was brought into Force Ten from Navarone as a last-minute substitute for an actor who was so displeased with the producer that he had wrenched the ‘phone from the wall; that actor being a “volatile Scot”…hmm…
Both Sean Connery and Roger Moore were in the running for the lead in an adaptation of Taipan that never happened (the later production was not GMF-related)
“There may have been nicer people in Hollywood than Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, but I never met them…generous and considerate, and his staff and colleagues regarded him with an affection which I suspect was unique to a movie tycoon…it was simply that they liked him, and Cubby knew it and was touchingly grateful for it.”
Now, whilst the Eon backed DVD documentaries have birthed the suspicion of revisionist history of Mr Broccoli, what we have with this memoir is a Fraser unafraid to let fly with sourness when he feels like it; for this sort of glowing testimonial, therefore, it suggests there’s some truth in those rumours…
The picture of Broccoli created is one of a man extremely defensive of his output, and exceedingly protective of it too (his is the quote appearing at the top of this piece; GMF seems to have won him over). The overall experience GMF had was positive; albeit nervous at handling Bond, “it had immense advantages all too rare in the film world: you knew it was going to get made…”
Things new (to me, anyway):
It was GMF who suggested India (is this contradicted by a vague memory I have of India being suggested since Moonraker?)
GMF suggested Kabir Bedi for the role of Gobinda.
Broccoli considered filming GMF’s Flashman series, but expense and contractual difficulties proved prohibitive. [For what it’s worth, a personal view is that Roger Moore would have been great as Flash].
GMF proposed a pre-credits sequence set at the Isle of Man TT races, a duel-to-the-death motorbike and sidecar race between Bond and a villain, two Bond “dollies” kicking about, “Swedish and German girls” in “leathers”; sounds something like our own John Cox’s proposal for the pre-credits of his treatment “Shatterhand“, in the fan fiction section here on CBn.
When Bond is in the village in Germany, trying to get into the ‘phone booth, he would seek change for the call from a passer-by – cut to Gert Frobe claiming, “Sorry, I only have gold”. (!!!)
But the key passage and something to dwell on in whatever criticisms we all have of Bond, some more vocal than others, is one where he describes how Bond, basically, is “the biggest thing in Hollywood”
“This was brought home when Michael Wilson joined Kathy (Mrs GMF) and me at breakfast in our hotel on the first morning. The coffee shop was full of young Hollywood bravos talking deals, exchanging gossip, butchering characters… ‘taking meetings’… ‘doing lunch’… and bandying big names – until Wilson got to his feet and said: ‘Well, we musn’t keep Cubby waiting.’ Silence descended like a great blanket; heads turned on the magic name; and then the whispering started and continued until after we had left, followed by respectful stares, and an echo of the magic word ‘…Bond‘.”
Infuritating, fascinating, appalling and exhilirating, a fun memoir, well worth a few moments of your time. Dries out remarkably slowly, though.
You can purchace The Light’s on at Signpost by George MacDonald Fraser on Amazon.co.uk…
Or on Amazon.com…
- Hardcover: Lights on at Signpost (release date: December 2004)