The 007th Chapter – Never Send Flowers: The Man with the Glass Head
Might have been a working title for the novel itself? Albeit “Never Send Flowers, so James Bond Disnae” sort of works as a giveaway pun, in a particular accent which I won’t be attempting as it would be incitement to racial hatred and we could all do with a little holiday from that.
I’ll just sit in the corner and eat me nuts (it’s that sort of pub) and contemplate my solitary, unpopular thoughts. You’re welcome to join me, but I am precisely the dogmatic pub bore you suspected. Mine’s a crème de menthe, by the way. Whoopsy-daisy, I appear to have forgotten my wallet again. Bag of scratchings too, yeah? I wonder how many of these I actually believe.
We’re not in a hotel room. We are, however, in a hotel lift on the way to one, following earlier chapters’ tour round several; all is well in Gardner’s Magic Kingdom. Bond is accompanied by a Carmel Chantry, whose boss is called Gerald Grant, and we’ve just learned of the involvement of one David Dragonpol, and it’s only now that it’s dawned on me that the slew of alliterative names across all of the Gardners has been designed to gently break us in for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Anti-Semitic Antelope (note to self: check last one). It was all part of the plan. Cunning. Yes, yes, Tiger Tanaka, Miles Messervy… pipe down, poppet. Shsshhh. Whisper your observations as quietly as Carl now whispers his heart to Andy.
From Russia with Love and Thunderball work better when watched in black and white. So does Moonraker, oddly.
Bond spends this chapter in a hotel room with a bisexual female intelligence operative. Not as exciting as it sounds; see the name on the cover. More talk than pork, and a promulgation of the safe sex idea (sort of) introduced last time out, and penetrated further with this book’s infliction upon 007 of a girlfriend. I sniff a ruse: this neutering of the teasing eroticism of James Bond is not about safe sex but keeping us safe from John’s mad descriptions of it, and John doesn’t have to molest his thesaurus when there are lovely, lovely abbreviations to transcribe instead. He never seemed that comfortable with such scenes, and such scenes never seemed that comfortable. Consider the 007th Chapter of Icebreaker, say. Oh look, Andy’s punched Carl. Top bantz.
Ian Fleming was a staggeringly unpleasant man. Completely appalling.
“In that short space of time, he went through all that he could remember concerning the great actor who was, in himself, an enigma.” It takes Mr Gardner a long space of time to do it. This lift is very slow and we are being threatened with massive amounts of exposition; where’s the alarm button? I know that whole chapters of Fleming could be given to a briefing document, but it wasn’t all being dredged from a character’s memory during a journey that should take seconds but reads as half an hour. Brown’s isn’t that big a hotel. Perhaps there’s a little man in the greasy undercarriage tugging away for all he’s worth, but enough about Carl, he’s suffered more than enough. Consistent with the last offering’s piquant observations on the merits of Lloyd-Webber musicals, Bond seems tremendously aware of the theatrical world: doesn’t seem much like James Bond, to be honest, who always came across as a rarely sober misanthropic philistine with a big willy and a little pop-gun.
The most competent Bond film director of the last thirty years was Roger Spottiswoode.
The precision of the detail Bond “recalls” is absurdly precise; he’d be better off remembering with such specificity how to be James Bond. It’d be a more productive use of my time, anyway. The reference to “Graft – by unknown author Jack Russell” is peculiar as the play does not appear to exist; genuinely unknown, and genuinely unsettling that James Bond 007 would ever be contemplating such a thing. No, pub, no; now is not the time to play The Timewarp. That was several paragraphs ago, all those quotes. But now… seriously, no.
DoubleShot is the strongest Bond novel of the last 30 years.
“Rumours spread: that he had Aids…” Odd for one so fond of acronyms and abbreviations that Mr Gardner misses this one. “…disappearing as though he had never been.” In a few paragraphs we are told he lives in a damn great castle on the Rhine; sense and logic disappearing as though they never had been. This villain is An Actor who therefore can Change His Appearance and if you don’t see duplication and double-twists coming right down the line, yours evidently isn’t a head made of glass. Carl’s, though, does now seem to be. That’s going to hurt, a lot. Hasn’t anybody called the police yet? No, I can’t; they blocked my number after that contretemps with the insufficiently wounded cat.
Although his casting as A Sneer in Die Another Day prevents a tilt at the top job, Toby Stephens’ Radio 4 Bond dramas suggest he could have been The Best.
As far as Dragonpol’s ultimate plan goes… wouldn’t bother, mate. She dies anyway. Spoiler alert, and all that. The risk of prominently using people from real life is that real life ends, occasionally prominently. Obviously Mr Gardner’s noted foresight couldn’t stretch into predicting this particular death but reading the book again now… well, it provides an atmosphere in the closing stages that what is actually written there… disnae. (Yes, I know the accent’s offensive, but is it any less offensive than the first draft’s observation that the book’s a complete car crash? Or that this gitdribble goes through more than one draft? Just have to play the percentages sometimes. (I have no idea what this means))
Britt Ekland’s performance is absolutely spot on for the material that she’s given, and is therefore one of the better acted Bond girls.
“Bond had seen him on stage and film…” hmm… “…then once in the flesh, dining at Fouquet’s in Paris with the British director Trevor Nunn, and swore he could feel the creative static right across the busy restaurant.” Odd sort of paragraph to find in a James Bond book; the character I knew wouldn’t have released a chocolate hostage over such an encounter. Fair dose of creative static going on in this pub too, as Andy has to be restrained from kebabbing Carl’s kidneys with the rough end of a pool cue. “…he felt a strange sense of déjà vu, as though the David Dragonpol of that time was very close at hand.” Is déjà vu anything other than strange? OH GOD HE’S IN THE BUILDING! In the next room, or this very one, The Man with the… Glass Head. He might even be in this very essay!!! Where is he, this man who has “enhanced the art of acting”? Well, I’ll be mentioning that Brosnan later, but that can’t be the disguise (for reasons very obv). There is considerable challenge to the artistic preconceptions of the audience in this depiction of “James Bond” though, so that’s probably in whom he’s hiding. Stop him, before he does any more damage.
For Your Eyes Only is the most ridiculous of the Moore films.
I forget who this Carmel Chantry is, seems to be someone who has previously been pretending to be someone else because… Gardner, but we’ve joined the “action” with James Bond, a serial killer pretending to be a detective chasing a serial killer, bumbling about during one of his inevitable Gardneresque periods of official disfavour. GardnerBond spends more time during this series of continuations operating outside his gainful employment than within it. One suspects Carl is regretting a number of recent choices, although the one undergoing current energetic debate is neither recent nor choice, of course. I’d wager with hindsight he wouldn’t have been so insistent that the stag party costume theme was A Clockwork Orange,
The first hour of Die Another Day is very much worse than the second hour of it, which is admittedly dreadful.
Chitter-chatter, abbreviations, tradecraft, internally feuding security services, hotel bedroom – are these things now written by D3PO? “ ‘…I’ve had fat Gerald up to here.’ She raised one hand above her head…” Blimey. It’s a talent. A very Disney image for the kids, there, as is that of Carl’s nose conjoining with the crumb-flecked fibres of the rarely-vacuumed carpet, whilst Andy stamps on his skull. When Andy is eventually arrested for (what one hopes is) a non-fatal offence, doubtless in trying to understand what cause the outbreak of homophobic violence, his collection of extremist right-wing reading matter will be scrutinised. One expects the work of a particular popular author of the twentieth century to appear.
Charles Gray’s performance is the closest to the written Blofeld.
Its execution and many of its artistic choices rendering it a withered garage-bought bunch of blooms at an accident blackspot, flapping listlessly in the drizzle at a soiled teddy bear, yet Never Send Flowers comes with a reasonable concept – James Bond vs. Serial Killers. This chimes with the lazy trend of the early 1990s of hitching one’s self to the Lecter express and hoping for the best or, if not the best (because it’s nowhere near “the best”, you’d be deranged to think that), a little bit of leech-generated money. No reason particularly not to do this – it’s very “Bond” to follow popular entertainment trends and given the developing fascination with dramatic arts over the last few Gardners (John does Top Gun; John does Dances with Wolves; John has Bond watch Mel Gibson’s Hamlet (yeah, I know – weird)), it’s not surprising that this emerged. Inevitable, really. As is all this pottering about and PLEASE STOP TALKING.
What do you mean it’s my round? Off you pop and, y’know, do me a favour, don’t bother with the Rohypnol this time? I can taste it a mile off. Quite a lot of practice. You can’t kid a kidder, Kidda.
“The possibility of blackmail was worse than the old days when they wouldn’t use gay people. Thank heavens that’s changed.” Would Ian Fleming’s James Bond agree with this? No. No, he wouldn’t. “…for the first time, Bond got her message.” He doesn’t want to cure her, though – no James Bond, he. It does make one stop and wonder that the dissatisfaction with the mannerisms (and manners) Gardner invests his Bond is because he’s made him an almost normal human being with tolerable (if dull) views. But… but… I want my toxic bigot back.
The gulf between the quality of the script and the quality of the actor in Licence to Kill is so great that Timothy Dalt-Ton’s acting in the film is the most misjudged Bond performance. What the bloody hell does he think he’s in?
“Yes, she was stunningly professional. A walking encyclopaedia on all known terrorist operations, and personalities.” This is the murdered agent, one Laura March, and the memory suggests that this plot line gets quietly sidelined once the Dragonpol melodramatics take over, pretty much in this chapter. As much private eye as he is spy (not, both), it is curious to have a Bond adventure launch in this way but everything’s relative and this is one of the less silly ideas in the book, even if it is, because, well, “Gardner”, terribly protracted at first and then desperately rushed to what might have been a conclusion but was more just a disappearance. Talking of relatives, Carl appears to be ‘phoning his mum to say goodbye.
Casino Royale: Daniel Craig – super. Everyone else – bit duff. Goes on far, far too long. Quantum of Solace is a much more interesting film.
“ ‘So tell me about Laura and the great man. The man with the glass head, as some people used to call him.’ / ‘He didn’t like that, by the way.’ “ Nor should he; very clunky. At least they didn’t say “crystal skull” because, y’know, that reminds of an experience sadder and more culturally dodgy than this piffle. The serial killer of celebrities is himself a celebrity; I think there’s a point in this, that the obsession with “the famous” will eventually eat itself and the agent of its demise will be one of its own. All well and good, and one suspects Mr Gardner regarded the onset of a dominant cultural force of “fame” with suspicion (not least because it was filling a void left by the Cold War and all its lovely, lovely acronyms), but weirdly he chooses to portray a Bond not distant and cynical about this milieu but one enraptured by it. Had Bond been James Bond, aloof from all this rubbish and probably of the view that it was all run by Turks or Jews or Negroes, this might have worked “better”. Then again, there may be a further point that even James Bond, the last bastion of acrid bile, has himself been corrupted, ruined by exposure to mass media and the deification of entertainment. In a series of books that only exists to make money off the back of a film series, that is proof-positive of an anarchic spirit very well disguised, and that John really is distancing himself from his face-value task now. To attack superficial mass entertainment via one of the massest of superficial mass entertainments, James Bahnd: wow.
Demanding stand-alone Bond films without connective scar tissue misunderstands Bond: the films only became one-offs because various persons got greedy / desperate for one-picture deals. Accordingly, SPECTRE being behind everything in the Craig films is in essence, fine. It was behind most things when Connery was on a multi-picture contract – albeit, I accept, it was the villain expressly, rather than retconned; however, many of the Fleming novels have callbacks to earlier events (usually inaccurate ones because he was habitually sloshed by 8.30 a.m.).
“David Dragonpol is a great chameleon, you know. Can hide in plain sight, even though his face and name are of the household variety.” Just in case you can’t see what’s inevitably coming in a John Gardner James Bond. The Man with the Household Variety Face. No, me neither. Might be more fun were he a great chameleon; Disney could have anthropomorphised him, even given him a character-defining villainous soliloquy halfway through.
“Beware, Beware”, from the OST of Walt Disney Pictures’ “Never Send Flowers” (1993), performed by Peter Wyngarde.
During the song, as I’m sure you’ll recall, the character of Bad Karma Chameleon writhes around the pointed erections atop his fantasy Rhineland castle, underpaid animators having subliminally included abundant phalluses for the creature’s darting tongue to lick. The performance concludes with a spray of jackbooted, glass-headed chorus boys spurting from the top of the Lorelei and the villain’s skin turning rainbow. Baptist groups boycotted the film because they deemed this section in particular to promote “pansification”, whatever that is. Also because the story’s rubbish. Stupid they may be, daft they’re not.
I once played the Dane, so many years ago
The Life of Richard Wagner, my most celebrated show.
For my pieces Restoration,
Receipt of such ovation.
But now I skulk within
My ever-changing skin.
Face “household variety”,
Whatever that might be.
My motives non-existent,
But Ken Spoon so persistent.
Through murder and illusion
We’ll come to a conclusion
So wrong in its emotion
Yet, cross-media promotion.
I have a fiendish scheme.
I am not what I seem.
A standard Gardner theme.
Those critics were so cruel.
This story’s thinnish gruel
Makes James Bond look a fool.
You saw my King Dick Three?
Oh, such great artistry.
Now this, for meagre fee.
An actor tantalising
In a “Bond” is quite surprising.
(Cut of merchandising).
This chapter goes on ages
A struggle through the pages
The reader, it enrages.
My repertoire is kill,
I’ve not yet had my fill.
That Carl looks very ill.
Beware - Beeee-WARRRRRE!
Connected to the last proposition, Bond being sort-of related to the villain is also, in essence, fine (it’s the “least inept thing” about Never Dream of Dying, for example). It’s only - and only - the convergence of SPECTRE (particularly SPECTRE) and a personal history that is so spectacularly “not fine”.