A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart
A famous episode of Hancock’s Half Hour is “The East Cheam Drama Festival”. Hancock, Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr and Daniel Craig Sid James grapple “Look Back in Hunger” and “The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven and the songs that made him famous” and, titweepingly magnificently, “Jack’s Return Home.” In a coruscating exposure of the zeitgeist, poverty-stricken Joshua (Hancock) and wife Martha (Hattie) are menaced by landlord Jasper Stonyheart (Sid). It’s complex. Their son Jack is presumed dead – impaled by “the Zulus” – but Martha claims she insured his life, so all is well. Inopportunely, Jack (Bill) returns home, penniless. So Martha shoots him. ©BBC Worldwide, amongst others (prob’ly).
Hancock: Aha, me old darlin’, you’ve shot Jack.
Hattie: Yes, and I took out a policy on you as well, so watch it.
Hancock: Wait a minute, I have a surprise for you. For thirteen years, you have thought I am Joshua, your husband.
Hattie: Well, aren’t you?
Hancock: No; stand back while I take my wig off. There…
Hattie: Good heavens! Frederick!
Hancock: Yes, Frederick. What do you say to that, Jasper Stonyheart?
Sid: I’m not Jasper, I’ve been wearing this wig and pretending to be Jasper. This is who I really am. There!
Hancock: Good heavens! Jonathan!
Sid: Yes, Jonathan. I didn’t trust either of you, especially you, Martha.
Hattie: And you were right not to, Jonathan, for you see, I am not Martha!
Hancock: Not Martha?
Hattie: No! There, now do you recognise me?
Hancock: Gad! It’s Gladys.
Hattie: Yes, Gladys, the girl you wronged.
Hancock: Then who pray is the poor wretched we’ve killed?
Bill: Fear not! You didn’t kill me! I was saved by my silver cigarette case. There! Do you not recognise me without the wig?
Sid: Yes, I should have guessed – Ronald!
Welcome to Icebreaker.
We’re in a hotel room. Again. A formula emerges.
Some label Bond “formulaic”, usually to disparage the films and/or books as poorer endeavours than ventures that would assault their Gran to grab a tenth of Bond’s money attention money. Optimistic rivals occasionally claim to better 007 with “reality” or “pop music”, then implode into obscurity whilst Bond rumbles on, chiselling the best ideas from their lukewarm corpses but otherwise as untroubled in its way as a triple-hulled supertanker is by one sickly anchovy. “Formula” – the disdain clinging to 007 films for decades, grot from the Bond factory family, complacent and undeserving of serious critique or awards. Populist with a capital Pee, consumer goods as soulful as a hubcap in a hedge, made for a stunningly plebby denominator that can’t do hard Italian neorealist cinema and sneered at as anti-artistic crap. F’rexample, every decade Sight & Sound conducts a poll of the greatest films of all time: A View to a Kill’s never on it. Some say that’s their loss (the same some who can’t have seen any other film ever made, mind), but indicative of an attitude as lofty as the hillock of cash sat upon by those making 007.