By Helmut Schierer on 2018-04-13
Casino Royale first edition cover by Jonathan Cape; image courtesy wikipedia
‘The bitch is dead now.’
Actually, that depends very much, Mr Bond. With Vesper Lynd you might be excused to think she has just left the building for good, in so doing putting an end to a rather testing affair, even by the standards of the Secret Service. If you mean, however, your own illustrious career in said service, which could have taken a turn for the finish line with these memorable words … well, that career is still very much alive.
On 13th April 2018 it’s exactly 65 years since readers could pick up the Jonathan Cape first edition of Ian Fleming’s ‘Casino Royale’. Between the pages they met: a gruff figure of authority, reassuringly in charge of the British Secret Service; a physically revolting villain with a benzedrine inhaler, three razor blades and expensive false teeth, but minus a proper name; a beautiful lady who gets parcelled up in her own skirt; a cheerful Frenchman always happy to help out with a radio set and convenient kitchen sink psychology when needed; a cheerful Texan delighted to help out with 32 million francs and keeping the lady absolutely safe while the hero is playing games with the villain.
The hero. Of course the hero. Meet James Bond, no middle name that we’re aware of. No relationship to any other firm. Solely, exclusively there for our entertainment. A secret agent decidedly from the deadly branch of intelligence; if it wasn’t called 00-section it would be the Saint-George-Society, in the business of slaying dragons. Travels with no less than three guns to a mission that should only call for his dinner-jacket and counting to nine – but, in line with his flimsy cover as rich businessman, doesn’t fire a single shot. Avoids lifts as danger signals and prefers to open his hotel room with his gun drawn, like the professional he is. Plays cards as if it was for money, thankfully not his own. Take a closer look at him here.
That fateful April of 1953 readers discovered a rich and extravagant life at the side of this man Bond; drinking, smoking, dining with him; racing after cruel and despicable gunmen; winning, losing and then again winning fortunes; almost blown to pieces; almost beaten to pulp; almost caught in the talons of marriage. Escaping time and again the facts of death by his own resilience and the ingenuity of his creator. Fleming’s readers wanted more, much more. Thankfully, Fleming indulged them as long as he could.
There is today a vast assortment of anecdotes – or legends, depending how you look at it – floating around regarding Ian Fleming. One of them goes like this: one day in July 1944 Fleming and a colleague were eating Spam rations, sitting in their jeep in northern France, pondering plans for after the war. When the other had finished telling about his, Fleming simply said ‘I’m going to write the spy story to end all spy stories.’ Well, that didn’t go quite as planned.
While it cannot be said that Casino Royale invented the spy story, it’s certainly true that the book invented its own species of spy, the armchair consumer’s agent, puffing and boozing away on the pages, we with him, while on the next page there could be anything, anything at all: a love affair; an enemy agent; a dive to a treasure island; a bullet through the chest – or through an Ambler novel. Or death.
The recipe was so intoxicating it kept Bond busy way beyond even the wildest expectations of his creator. If Fleming today looked down on the success of his invention he’d likely have trouble believing it: films, books, games, numerous after shaves and soaps, music, toys, a film studio that consists now largely of Bond, countless websites, clubs and fora.
No, Casino Royale definitely didn’t end all spy stories…
‘Do you eggshpect me to die?’
No, Mr Bond, we expect you to live.