In honour of today being James Bond day, aka the 50th anniversary of Dr. No's release, I thought I'd post this article originally written for Flixist, which tells the story of how a youthful encounter with a certain debonair spy changed my life and turned me into one of the biggest Bond geeks you'll ever meet. For more Bond coverage, check out Flixist's Across The Bond feature, written by Matthew Razak and myself. I'll be posting collections of my individual contributions on this blog closer to Skyfall's release.
Real life at the age of six comprised mainly of three things for me: falling out of trees, falling into stinging nettles and running into lamp-posts. Since the loud, anarchic existence of a young boy is rarely conducive to interacting with the adult world, my mum would sit me down in front of the television whenever visiting her friends, issuing strict instructions to Not Move! On one such occasion, I had been perched on the white duvet of a bed facing a small television, three floors above being able to destroy the polite adult luncheon my mum had been invited to. After rummaging through her bag, she realised with horror that the Postman Pat video designated as my afternoon viewing had been left behind.
Horror struck on both sides: my fear of trying to sit quietly and endure the boredom of civilised conversation, with her resigned acceptance that it would only be a matter of time until my contribution to that conversation descended into a cacophony of appalling jokes and eructations. In that respect, not much has changed. Fortunately, my mum's friend had a small video collection and brought out one he thought I might enjoy. With no other choice, the television was turned on and the cassette accepted into the VCR. I was alone, certain there was no way this new video could live up to the powerhouse that was Postman Pat and looking for some other way of entertaining myself until the adults had finished being boring downstairs.
Six bars of blaring music pulled my attention back to the screen. A single white circle rolled across, ballooning at the opposite end into a broad lens following a mysterious man as an electric guitar roared in the background. He turned, jumped and fired! The screen bled as the lens dropped into the corner and died.
The sequence is now so iconic it's easy to overlook what a powerful and electrifying way to open a film the James Bond gunbarrel is, evoking so many elements vital to the appeal of spy fiction: being targeted by an unknown assailant, sudden bursts of violence, the inevitable outcome of death. The beauty of that simple imagery contrasted against the mercilessness of life on the other end of the barrel. As an adult, it's a taste of action to come. As a six-year old boy, sitting on someone else's bed and waiting to sit through the same pacifying ritual as on any other number of dull days, those twenty-three seconds tore open the doors of my young mind to the side of life existing beyond the parental safety net. A level of danger and adrenaline surpassing even stinging nettles and tall trees.
Where my life up until that point had been primary colours, building blocks and playgrounds, Goldfinger offered brutal fights, golden girls and a Korean butler with a murderous hat being electrocuted in a cathedral of gold! Who could have imagined what would happen should an aeroplane window be smashed? That a car could hide machine guns, or eject its front passenger seat through the roof? The most mundane areas of everyday life were suddenly bursting with excitement.
I can't remember much of what happened once the film had finished. Everything after Shirley Bassey bursting her lungs over Maurice Binder's title sequence is a mental mess, more a series of feelings playing over a scrapbook of moments and images than a single cohesive memory. I almost certainly said 'Wow!' at some point, because I used to say 'wow' about everything from big puddles to shaking dogs or particularly delicious sweets. Marvellous though those things are, none are in the same league as those first two hours in the company of Mr. Bond and his duel with Auric Goldfinger.
What I do know is what happened in the subsequent years. After the astonishment of finding out that there was more than one Bond (or should I say, Moore than one Bond) and the mystery of Licence To Kill being the only film I wasn't allowed to watch due to its '15' rating, my life seemed intertwined with the Bond legacy at every step. I discovered that the house I grew up in had been where Ian Fleming had lived until his death in 1964. The first novel I read on my own was From Russia, With Love (a piece of geeky trivia: only the book title has a comma after Russia). While having tough time at school, I'd hide Bond novels in my textbooks and make my friends jealous that while they were memorising passages of French and physics, my reading featured a girl walking out of the ocean with only a knife-belt to disguise her nakedness. At boarding school, free time would be spent exploring the maddest and most wonderful corners of cinema, fuelled by a desire to recapture the elation that came from being pulled into Bond's world for the first time.
At university, I started work on a series of spy fiction novels of my own and began the search for an agent and publisher this summer. Should that search prove successful, another bind will be strung into the rope tying my life to Ian Fleming's greatest creation. On that inconspicuous day so long ago, sparked by a lapse of parental memory that left a videotape and another life behind, not only was an enduring love of cinema, reading and storytelling seeded in a young mind, but a little boy found a hero.
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