If you were to pop into a Leicester Square cinema to watch the latest episode of the James Bond saga (Skyfall), and notice a small group of non-descript people pissing themselves with laughter at the most inappropriate moments it is entirely possible you have spotted a works outing from SIS. Because James Bond is about as far as you can get from a genuine SIS intelligence officer as you can possibly get.
That is not to say that Ian Flemming was not aware of what he was doing when he created the James Bond character – he was part of Naval intelligence during the war, and undoubtedly met many intelligence officers as well as officers from more “activist” agencies. The closest British agency that James Bond might be a member of is the old war-time SOE. And even there, his activities are far too public and extreme.
If anything, James Bond most closely resembles another fictional character: The Cleaner from the film Nikita. Whilst James Bond seems charming, he is in fact a cold blooded killer. A psychopathic tool wielded by the British government, and sent into situations where a “cleaner” is required.
James Bond was always envisaged as an entertaining character getting involved in many exciting adventures whereas real intelligence work is probably quite boring … ignoring the possibility of getting caught of course! Intelligence agents on the other hand may be involved in slightly more exciting activities, but any agent who starts to live too an exciting life is likely to get dropped by his or her controlling officer like a hot potato.
Real intelligence work is supposed to be secret; any operation that becomes public knowledge can be considered to be a failure. The purpose of an intelligence service is to gather intelligence. And to do so secretly.
That is not to say that covert operations are not always a bad idea, although they do have a poor reputation. Perhaps because only the poor ones get known about. But such operations are not what intelligence services are about, or what they are good at. The clearest demonstration of this were the strained relations between SIS and SOE during WWII which were not simply because some SIS officers did not like the young upstart, but because SIS and SOE operations were different and could sometimes have a negative impact on each other.
And back to James Bond. Does the fact that he has very little to do with the real SIS mean anything? Only if you want the James Bond films to be a documentary on the activities of SIS; if you want entertainment, he certainly provides that.
Everyone has their own favourite actor playing James Bond, but I think this is a mistake. All of the actors playing Bond have been quite talented; it is the story that makes the difference, and the tone of how the story is told. Different Bond eras have different flavours; the Sean Connery era was serious with a touch of humour, the Roger Moore era become so humorous that it was verging on becoming “Carry On Spying”, and the later Bond films went back to being serious. Perhaps even more serious than the early films.
Which you prefer is down to your personal tastes, but my liking is for the more serious films.
There are claims that James Bond is misogynistic, which is understandable but completely wrong. He is a mirror of the society that he finds himself in – if he seems misogynistic, it is the society that is misogynistic. After all we never see the real Bond; he is always playing a role to fit in as an upper-class twit.
And as for his sexual adventures, there is more than one hint throughout the films that more than a few of his “conquests” are to do with his job, and that he might prefer to have nothing to do with certain women. It is interesting to compare how people react to real characters such as Cynthia who also exploited her sexual conquests.
We always seem to think of upper-class twits as being like Bertie Wooster, but they were not all like that. It is easy to overlook the past when the upper-class twit actually had considerable power, but that is when the world’s largest empire was built – the British Empire. And upper-class twits had a considerable amount to do with the foundation of that empire.
Whether James Bond is an upper-class twit or is just pretending to be one, we will never know. But it is a good disguise.
As to how he is invulnerable to bullets, we will never know.