Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan… Graham Rye? James Bond actors may come and go, but for almost as long as there have been James Bond movies, Graham Rye, editor and publisher of OO7 Magazine, 007 archivist and preservationist, and past president of the James Bond International Fan Club, has been a consistently familiar face in front of every film; reporting news and sharing his insights for an international audience of devoted James Bond fans.
Now the man who published interviews with such Bond luminaries as Peter Hunt, Desmond Llewelyn, and Timothy Dalton, gets the spotlight turned on him, and shares with CBn the highs and lows of a lifetime in Bondage.
Tell us about how you came to write The James Bond Girls book?
Well, now I think of it, it was as a direct result of my association with Raymond Benson. A then-fledgling publishing company, Boxtree, was publishing Raymond’s book The James Bond Bedside Companion in the UK for the first time in 1988. Boxtree had submitted an abysmal cover design for Raymond’s book (not unusual for them) and he was not impressed, so he suggested they contact me because of my experience in both Bond and design with a view to submitting an alternative concept for the book cover. I eventually sourced, and had made, a number of items which would create a visual impression of the James Bond character, which even included the Commander’s cap worn by Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice. Shot as a still life design, similar to the Pan Books covers of the Seventies, everyone liked the test shot I supplied first, so we ran with the idea. Boxtree liked the cover so much they later commissioned me to design and shoot a cover in the same style for Dave Rogers’ excellent book ‘The Complete Avengers’.
In 1988 Boxtree were a young hungry company and were looking for new ideas, so I pitched a few concepts to them, one of them being The James Bond Girls. The other ideas fell by the wayside, although some of them surfaced later on written by other authors, which taught me a lesson—‘If you have some marketable ideas, keep your mouth shut until you’ve signed a contract.’ With the release of Licence To Kill coming up in 1989, Eon Productions’ licensing arm were happy for the project to go ahead, so I introduced Boxtree to Eon and they sorted out their deal together, while as the author and designer of that first edition I finalized my percentage of the royalties, no King’s ransom by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I made a larger profit on selling the book like any other retailer than I did as the author.
The whole experience should have been a happy one but wasn’t. Boxtree pondered for months prior to the publication date regarding green-lighting the publication of The James Bond Girls. It was their first all-colour and licensed film book and was an expensive undertaking for them. They eventually gave me something in the region of eight weeks in which to write the text, believing I’d started to write the book from the date of our initial meeting, meanwhile I’d been waiting to learn whether they were going to run with it or not and was waiting to sign a contract before I typed one word! Needless to say, with the limited time left to me, the idea of interviewing the actresses who’d brought the Bond Girls to life went straight out the window, not that Boxtree had the budget or were keen to fly me anywhere anyway. I came up with a cover concept for the book, which was bounced by the publishers because it was deemed either to be ‘too sexist’ or ‘too violent’ or ‘too sexy’ or?… etc. etc. Political correctness can really get on one’s tits! I wanted the cover to carry a classy generic image, non-specific of any Bond movie, giving the book a longer shelf life. Quite naturally Eon wanted the cover to feature their latest Bond Girls. Needless to say—I was never going to win. The book was published with little or no advertising campaign. Other than Cubby Broccoli’s prestigious introduction in the book, Eon Productions did nothing to promote the book in any way. The James Bond Girls book escaped rather than was released. I suggested all kinds of publicity tie-ins; with the Licence To Kill Bond girls while they were in London for the premiere of the film at Harrods; having Harrods window displays geared to Bond etc. etc. etc.; being allowed access to the new Bond girls for interviews. All fell on deaf ears. Nobody cared enough. Never again. If I were to ever write another book I wouldn’t entertain the idea unless I self-published, because I’d undoubtedly make a lot more money, have a lot less hassle—and not be forced to deal with so many bloody idiots.
You’ve updated your Bond Girls book several times. The last update in 1999 contained a new assortment of never-before-seen photos. Where did you find all these rare photos?
The photos basically have come from many varied areas over the years and now form an integral part of my OO7 Magazine Archive. New photographs still come in all the time from different sources.
Are there any more updates planned?
I’m afraid there are no future plans for any updated versions of The James Bond Girls published by Boxtree because the title has been ‘killed’ by Eon, who no longer want my name ‘officially’ associated with their James Bond films. I imagine Boxtree had little choice in the matter, although they’ve always been a pretty spineless bunch, because they are now the ‘official’ James Bond film book publishers. It’s all rather sad considering I brought the two companies together in the first place. Still, The James Bond Girls had a pretty good run and appeared in no less than nine different printings from 1989 to 1999. It’ll be interesting to see if the Maryam d’Abo/John Cork tome Bond Girls Are Forever matches this record.
You were directly responsible for the 1991 reprint of Kingsley Amis’s Colonel Sun, which was the first reprint of this novel in almost 20 years. How did this happen exactly?
No big deal really. Coronet, the paperback publishers at the time originally only intended to reprint the Fleming titles. But when I waxed lyrical about how great a James Bond novel it is and sent their marketing manager an old copy of the Pan edition to read, I think this did the trick. Coronet even used an airbrushed illustration of the Pan cover shot for their own edition—naughty! By the way, the oriental actor who modeled for the original Pan cover also appeared in Goldfinger, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. Coronet’s marketing manager enjoyed the book so much that he included it in their release schedule. For me, Colonel Sun is the only Bond continuation novel that successfully captures the ‘Fleming sweep’. It’s a great book, and I would urge any Bond fan that hasn’t read it yet to seek it out immediately—they’re in for a real treat! And in this post-Brosnan/Bond age it also illustrates how the filmmakers criminally overlooked this novel, which could have easily made one of the best Bond films in the entire series—a great title too!
You are also responsible for unearthing and restoring many old props from the Bond films. Can you tell us about some of these discoveries and where these props are today?
Many of the props that formed that area of my OO7 Magazine Archive were either donated by people who worked on the movies, or in some instances purchased from third parties. After the first CHRISTIE’S James Bond Auction in September 1998, not surprisingly, prop donations dried up when people began to realise their potential sale value in auction. I had a bit of a result in CHRISTIE’S 1998 auction when Oddjob’s square-crown bowler hat sold for £62,000. Imagine my surprise when I later discovered it had been purchased by Eon Productions, who only a month earlier had approached me to ask if I was interested in selling them the item. I explained to their archivist Meg Simmonds over the telephone that it was available for £25,000 (the reserve price in auction) and she said she would talk to Michael (G. Wilson) about it, but I never heard from them again about the matter.
Unfortunately due continually to having fund a struggling OO7 Magazine over the years, sadly I had to sell off all the props I’d worked hard to assemble in order to keep myself and the publication afloat. The Moon Buggy from Diamonds Are Forever and Blofeld’s Coat of Arms from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service plus a few last other small items were finally sold in CHRISTIE’S auction in December 2004. So now I’m afraid all the contents of the prop archive are now long gone, and with them my dream of personally establishing a permanent James Bond museum. The idea was to have a museum, cinema, restaurant and retail area linked to each other in the same building—‘The World of James Bond 007’ if you like. It would probably have been possible to have four separate franchise sites, one in London, two in America (on the East and West Coasts), and one in Japan. It remains a mystery to me, as it did to dear old Desmond Llewelyn, why MGM didn’t realise the financial possibilities of this project, together with the cleaning up of the film prints and re-releasing the Bond movies as double-bills. When you think how many generations of James Bond fans have never had the wonderful opportunity to see the majority of the series in the cinema, it’s criminal, and I don’t think it really makes a great deal of business sense either. When you look at what George Lucas and 20th Century Fox have achieved in new box-office takings with the various re-releases of the Star Wars saga, you’d think the penny would eventually drop with the Bond franchise holders. As great as the films can look played from DVD on a large plasma screen, until you’ve seen them in a large cinema like the Odeon Leicester Square, you’ve never seen them at all. Only a screen that size can do justice to something like Ken Adam’s volcano set in You Only Live Twice or the interior of the Liparus supertanker in The Spy Who Loved Me. I’d certainly be first in the queue to see them again at that cinema.
Another idea I committed to paper, but in reality its scope would probably make it financially prohibitive for most organisations, was a James Bond themed ride (the central attraction of a theme park based in the USA) that literally took you on a journey through Bond’s world via the memorable sets/sequences in the films. Imagine a monorail taking you on a physical journey through all the major Bond sets rebuilt that includes a stop off inside the volcano set (rebuilt at actual size) to witness the ninja assault on Blofeld’s headquarters. Having walked on the actual set at Pinewood I know how impressive a crowd-puller this would be. Perhaps this is something Sony may like to consider when they have eventually released Casino Royale?
Can you tease us with what other treasures might be tucked away inside the OO7 Magazine archive?
I prefer to keep people guessing. But needless to say, every edition of OO7 Magazine will feature a fair number of surprises.
You and The JBIFC have been involved in many major James Bond events. Can you talk about some of these events—both the successes and the failures?
During the Nineties I usually organized an event (sometimes two) every year. Mostly at Pinewood Studios, and sometimes at Planet Hollywood. Our last event was in 1999 at the Café de Paris in London. I think all of them were a huge success as far as the attendees were concerned, and I certainly used to get a kick out of seeing everyone enjoy themselves so much. But on purely a business level the events were just too labour intensive for the financial rewards. I used to consistently exhaust myself in organising each event, and after 1999 promised myself never again—and this time I meant it! While James Page of the MI6 website criticized me on various news groups for “doing bugger all for Bond fans” around the release time of Die Another Day and the ‘007’ 40th Anniversary in 2002, at that time I was trying desperately myself to die another day in both my personal and business life, and didn’t really feel it was ‘my shout at the bar’. Anyone who wanted to step up to the challenge was more than welcome as far as I was concerned. So when I attended The Ian Fleming Foundation’s ‘James Bond Celebrity Golf Classic Gala Dinner’ at Stoke Park with my wife Christina, it came as a glorious relaxation from all the hassle and heartache associated with event organisation, which on this occasion was handled with great aplomb and diplomacy by Doug Redenius.
In two of the more recent editions of OO7 Magazine (#43 and #44) I’ve written a detailed account about the history of the magazine and ‘The James Bond International Fan Club’, which features many great photographs of the people who made those events possible, both celebrities and organizers. So I hope many of your readers will invest in purchasing those two issues—hopefully more.
I’m proud of what was accomplished in that decade, and I think the two-day event we staged in 1990 at Pinewood Studios where we hired a soundstage and displayed every single James Bond movie prop in storage there is still spoken about with affection by many of those who attended. We also had a great day when George Lazenby attended our Christmas lunch themed around On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1994. George must have signed his autograph for nearly all-200 guests.
I’m pleased to see that other enterprising ‘young guns’ have now jumped into the vacuum created when I retired from organising events and are now holding various screenings, autograph signings and the like, and I wish them the best of luck in all their endeavors. It’s certainly good news for Bond fans.
In 2002 The JBIFC abruptly shut down, but then reopened in early 2003. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened?
Basically both my business and personal overheads became higher and higher while the incoming turnover couldn’t keep up. Add to this that the sales from our online collectables store almost totally dried up overnight for an extended period (the reason for which still remains a mystery to this day); I fell in love and got married for a second time, also inheriting three children. Unfortunately the marriage failed and the finance eventually just literally ran out. No one’s fault but my own. My own bad management coupled with some bad luck and the more-than-possible interference from outside forces undid all I’d achieved in the preceding 25 years. Success covers a multitude of blunders, and I made more than my share. I then had the agonising task of making my exceptionally loyal full-time staff member Alex-Pow Williams redundant; my personal assistant Jamie Beerman also left —and I also lost my 1,400 square foot offices and had to condense its contents into the extremely cramped conditions of my Dad’s 2-bedroom bungalow. I lost nearly everything. During this time I realized that like Hamlet, my experiences simply could not have happened to a plumber.
A few months later I was approached out of the blue by David Black, a Yorkshire businessman who also happened to be an enthusiastic Bond fan, who purchased the rights to the JBIFC name, its website, and the club’s membership database. He injected limited finance into the new business and I became able to publish OO7 Magazine once more. I published the fifth issue (#45) of the publication’s rebirth in December 2004.
Regardless of what any JBIFC member may have read in their emailed newsletter from Mr. Black, the truth of the matter is that the breakaway was entirely my decision. Unfortunately, due to David Black’s inability to live up to his initial claim of increasing the database to 10,000 club members over a two-year period—not particularly assisted by his non-promotion of The JBIFC in any marketplace whatsoever—I found it necessary to break away from the confines of my contractual agreement in order to increase the circulation of OO7 Magazine under my own initiative, thereby hopefully protecting the survival of my publication—and myself! If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this most difficult period of my life is that the golden rule is that there are no golden rules.
How do you respond to criticisms on various newsgroups in the past that The JBIFC was run to meet its own aims rather than cater to the wishes of the fans?
The James Bond International Fan Club Limited and OO7 Magazine & Archive Limited are separate organizations that are organized like any other commercial enterprise. If someone purchased a Ford motor car they wouldn’t expect to have any say in running the company would they?
The new OO7 Magazine has promised to be much more aggressive, and even controversial in its editorial opinions. In that spirit, what do you think about the current Bond films and the direction the series is taking?
“Caricature is the tribute that mediocrity pays to genius.”–this Oscar Wilde quote just about sums up the current state of affairs for me. Anyone reading my article in OO7 Magazine (#41) will know exactly what I thought about Die Another Day, which I don’t want to labour here—but for me it’s still the worst movie in the series!
I like Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. He’s got all the right qualities a good Bond should have: he’s tall dark and handsome, he handles the humour well, he’s believable in the action scenes—and the cinema-going public love him! Unfortunately I don’t think the films measure up to his ability as an actor to do something more with the role than he’s been allowed to show to date. In GoldenEye, a colourless drab looking film, he was given little to do except react to the other characters and situations around him. Tomorrow Never Dies was his finest hour as Bond, and I do mean hour. The first half of the movie is the best Brosnan/Bond to date, with some nice Bondian touches, up until the model of his BMW crashes off the hotel roof through a flurry of polystyrene bricks, then the film just simply rambles until it falls apart. I thoroughly enjoyed The World Is Not Enough, which had the best narrative structure of all the Brosnan/Bond films, and the story unfolded much more in the style of a Sixties’ Bond. Although the film is uneven, it’s about 200% better than the dire Die Another Day—quasi science fiction badly executed and acted by everyone but Brosnan.
If MGM/SONY are currently trying to make James Bond a character that will appeal to younger audiences, I personally think they’re flogging a dead horse. I’m still not convinced that we’ve seen the last of Brosnan regardless of what’s been said or reportedly said and printed in newspapers, websites etc. I certainly hope he’ll return because he’s still the only man for the job! He has no natural successor. And as for the short list that’s been dragged out in various publications and on websites—it’s laughable. But when you consider the filmmakers and United Artists nearly ran with John Gavin as James Bond in 1971, and have tested James Brolin, Sam Neill, and Lambert Wilson for the 007 role in the past (shakes head in amazement and laughs demonically)—anything could happen! If they do eventually recast the role with the wrong actor (if indeed there is a right actor—and I really doubt there is after Brosnan) it could prove the death knell for the series. But anyway—how much longer can it really last? MGM/SONY need Bond—he’s their cash cow. And with Die Another Day tipping the box-office scales over the $400 million dollar mark worldwide they’re hardly going to shunt it off to the abattoir. Eon? Who knows? Do they really need the entire hassle? Personally, I’d have sooner stayed in Tunbridge Wells.
What would you do with Casino Royale if you were Eon?
I’m not Eon so I’d definitely play the game differently. I would certainly avoid the title Casino Royale like the plague in the first place. It probably doesn’t mean anything to the cinemagoing public, but if it does it’s the bad memory of the 1967 spoof version. and believe me, when the new Casino Royale movie opens, every film magazine and newspaper on the planet will resurrect the 1967 spoof by running stills of the film together with the Barry Nelson TV play alongside the new movie—not a comparison anyone will enjoy, I’m sure.
If I was in control of the franchise I’d cast Pierce Brosnan in a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice (based more on the themes featured in Ian Fleming’s novel), and film them back-to-back in the correct order—if it can be done with Lord of the Rings, I’m sure it can be achieved with Bond. Both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice mean next-to-nothing to today’s cinemagoers, so I don’t see a problem with remakes being accepted by the general public who make up the majority of the paying audience. Some Bond fans may balk at the idea of meddling with Peter Hunt’s classic OHMSS like it’s the Holy Grail, but I think that would be denying the possibility of another great Bond film, rather like saying why on earth are they remaking The Thomas Crown Affair, they can’t possibly top the original McQueen/Dunaway version – well didn’t they just!
Re-use/arrange the original musical soundtracks (because no one is ever going to equal John Barry’s eternal scores, let alone better them—and certainly not David Arnold). Have Bond lose his memory at the end of You Only Live Twice and heading off for Vladivostok (which he sees on piece of makeshift toilet paper [i.e. newsprint] in Kissy’s outhouse as in Fleming’s novel). The result: Brosnan leaves the series on a classy high, which opens the door for Bond Actor Number Six to return as the new Bond who’s been brainwashed (hence his different appearance) and who attempt’s to kill M like the beginning of the following novel in Fleming’s series, The Man With The Golden Gun. Then to redeem himself M gives Bond an almost impossible/suicide mission which would be a completely new screen story. I’d prefer to see an older main villain, say the very classy Christopher Plummer, and an older Bond Girl, say the very sexy Monica Bellucci, and the svelte and sinister Lambert Wilson as Plummer’s henchman. For my own entertainment I’ve written a treatment with those actors in mind. I wouldn’t reproduce it anywhere because it may still prove useful as a treatment for another movie. A while back I met with Jean-Claude Van Damme and his business manager in an attempt to sell them a treatment for a movie tailored to Van Damme’s screen image. Your guess is as good as mine is whether anything will pan out or not. But knowing the business—probably not.
What are your thoughts on Ian Fleming Publication’s new ‘Young Bond’ series of novels? [Ed NOTE: This interview was conducted before the release of SilverFin.]
As I mentioned earlier, I think the whole thing reeks of ‘Harry Bond & The Whimsical Nonsense’—and desperation in an ailing literary franchise with a woefully inadequate lack of creative imagination on the part of the copyright holders, coupled with a complete disrespect for Ian Fleming’s original unique, and rather special, literary character. While I would never have the slightest objection to Charlie Higson increasing the size of his bank balance or Ian Fleming Publications accruing even more coinage to their already overflowing pot of gold, I do object to the further denigration of Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. As if the evolution of the film series through the 70s into the 2000s weren’t bad enough, eventually bringing the whole game down a peg or three, now the final nail in the coffin must surely be YOUNG BOND: SilverFin. I would urge any parent who is considering purchasing this book for their 10 or 12-year-old son to think again, and instead, look beyond this new unnecessary nonsense to the original wonderful Ian Fleming stories. Although considered anachronistic by many, including even their British publisher, Fleming’s novels remain a masterclass in concise writing, and long should have been included on the National Curriculum in British Schools, not that it would matter now, as there’s probably barely anyone left who can read. SilverFin—‘Suits you sir!’ Don’t think so.
What do you think of the new cover designs of the Fleming books, particularly the ‘retro’ covers by Richie Fahey?
I love ’em! Every so often in the sea of mediocrity perpetrated in the name of James Bond 007, something of worth is produced which is not only a joy to behold and own, but in time will become a desirable and much sought-after collectable. This set of the 14 Ian Fleming James Bond titles published by Penguin Books (U.S.) is one such case in point. Designed by Rosanne Serra and Richie Fahey in broad stylish strokes, the flair and tongue-in-cheek humour—dare-I-say-it—bordering on camp that pervade these designs, enable these covers to succeed exactly in their intended purpose—they actually make you want to handle the book to discover ‘what’s this all about!’
Significantly sexier than their Penguin Books (UK) counterparts, whose pointless abstract cover designs wouldn’t look out of place on the walls of the Holiday Inn hotel chain, Penguin Books (U.S.) have succeeded in breathing ‘old life’ back into the Bond novels with the decidedly ‘retro’ look of their new printings. I can think of no better way of introducing Ian Fleming’s wonderful novels to a friend or relation than purchasing the set as one of the most enjoyable and impressive gifts they may ever receive.
In contrast, Penguin Modern Classics (UK) should have taken heed of their American cousin’s flair for art direction. The first 10 Ian Fleming 007 titles were newly republished in June 2004 as Large Crown format paperbacks (198x129mm) and are as ineffectually designed as a glass hammer. Absolutely dreadful!
With your expertise in Bond and graphic design, what advice would you give MGM marketing in regards to designing the ad campaign for Casino Royale?
These days most all movie posters are produced using photographic reality. It’s as though if the public can’t see their favourite star’s face up there on the billboard then they’re not going to realise that they’re in the movie and subsequently won’t visit their local cinema. There may be something in that—but who knows unless someone tries a different approach. While other films fighting for their audience may need to slap retouched photographs of the main actors on their movie 1-sheet posters and mega-size billboards, the James Bond movie series is an all together different animal. I could think of nothing better than designing a campaign for Casino Royale that relies on a series of teasers and final posters that feature an illustration of Pierce Brosnan in a tuxedo holding a gun across his chest with a variety of nubile long-legged busty young ladies, similar in style to the wonderful campaigns overseen by Donald Smolen for Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. It won’t happen—but it’s nice to daydream.
What do you think of online James Bond websites like CBn? Are you concerned that fan sites are in danger of replacing the traditional fan club and fanzine?
For news, you can’t beat an Internet publication. The speed by which information can be disseminated these days is staggering. The day of the printed newsletter is long gone. Sites like CBn, and to a lesser extent MI6, seem to be the front runners these days, with MKKBB having lost the high ground after kind of starting the snowball rolling, which is a shame because they really set the standard when they first appeared. Everything in a professional life, a career, is very much like a race, so you have to pace yourself, but you also have to have a great deal of stamina if you’re going to enter the race and stay the course—and hopefully win! I’ve been around for over 25 years in this business and have seen many organisations and companies, publicity managers, marketing managers, personal assistants, licensees, producers, writers, actors, you-name-it, come and go. I’m still here—so I must be doing something right.
As entertaining as many of the James Bond-related websites are in 2005, and I think they make a real and worthwhile contribution to what I can only describe as ‘the James Bond phenomenon’, I still believe that people will always enjoy handling a high-quality deluxe glossy publication like OO7 Magazine. I’m sure there’s still many subscribers whose hearts race when they hear the magazine slip through their mailbox and hit the doormat. I know mine did many years ago when my Dad took out a subscription for me to the National Geographic magazine.
Has running The JBIFC and OO7 Magazine made you a wealthy man?
Someone once wrote, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Believe me, I’m wealthy beyond my dreams in experience. But financially, no. Just the opposite I’m afraid. It has drained my bank balance and my life-force. Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough, and I’ve certainly had time enough in this game for everything to happen to me—and it has!
Finally, are you still a Bond fan?
I suppose I must be. I still get a great thrill out of producing OO7 Magazine and when I first see that gun barrel at the opening of every Bond film. I suppose I wouldn’t get so angry about a bad James Bond film if I didn’t care. It’s something that I’ve always loved dearly, and it’s given me so much to remember with great affection. When I sat in that dark smoky cinema in Southall over 40 years ago I could never have imagined that one day I would meet, entertain, and become friends with many of those names up on the screen. It still remains a wonderment to me. So yes—I’m still a James Bond fan, and will almost certainly remain so until my dying day, regardless of wherever the franchise holders decide they’re going to drag Ian Fleming’s James Bond character in 2006 and beyond. Just lock me in a rubber room somewhere with the first six films in the series and I’ll be as happy as only a ‘traditionalist Bond fan’ will ever be.
Thank you so much for sharing your time and answering so many questions. We all look forward to many more years of OO7 Magazine.
- The Graham Rye CBn Interview (Part I)
- ‘OO7’ Magazine: A Complete Bibliography
- ‘OO7’ Magazine #46 – Roger Moore Special