London, early Summer 2019
If that young James Bond came up to him in the street and talked to him, would he recognize the clean, eager youth that had been him at seventeen… If the youth did recognize him what would his judgement be?
From Russia With Love, 1957. Chapter 13
When I became a father, and in an effort learn as much as I could about how to be a good parent, I read somewhere that the impressions formed in the first 5 years of a child’s life are the ones that stay forever. This has certainly been the case for me and perhaps explains the irrational obsession I have had with you for all these years.
My association with you begins in 1960s Liverpool. Along with The Beatles and The World Cup, the country is going mad for James Bond. As a naturally curious 4 year-old, I fleetingly glimpse the poster for Thunderball whilst staring out of the window on the 79 bus. A bright and surreal Robert McGinnis illustration; Connery in orange, the baddies in black. It jumped out in front of me, an exotic burst of technicolour glamour in the grey post-war streets of Wavertree. Around this time my father saw the film after a night-shift at the docks. He couldn’t wait to tell me about it. I insisted that next time he must take me.
The Hippodrome cinema was situated on the corner of West Derby Road and Walker Street on the eastern edge of Liverpool city centre. It began life in 1876 as Hengler’s Grand Circus until it became The Royal Hippodrome Variety Theatre in 1902. Chaplin, Houdini and Gracie Fields all played there. In 1931 It was refurbished for sound and converted into a cinema. It’s first screening was Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. In 1966 it underwent restoration and, in 1968, while Liverpool’s Odeon was being converted into a twin, the Hippodrome endured increased popularity, even holding the city’s premier screening of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Sadly, urban renewal and local redevelopment led to dwindling audiences and it closed for good in May 1970. Its final feature was the Paul Newman racing film, Winning.
One evening, in the cinema’s Indian summer of 1968, my father took myself and my older brother there to see a double bill of Dr No and You Only Live Twice. It was my first ever Bond film and my life was never the same.
That night has always been a deep well of happy memories: The vast, ornate wonder of the cinema, the comfortable deep velvet seats, Dad sitting between myself and my brother. More than anything else, my overriding recall is of incredible, sumptuous, colour. We had a black and white television at home; the contrast with the varied, fresh spectrum of these films at the cinema was breath taking. From the vivid red on Maurice Binder’s signature gun barrel to his ultra-modern title sequence and the rich tropical palette of Dr No’s Jamaican locations. Other notes: A ‘grown-up’ sense of excitement; Dad laughing at lads in the audience whistling whenever Bond kissed a girl; the flickering light beams of the projector in the smoky auditorium.
Raymond Hawkey graduated from The Royal College of Art in the 1950s and became an eminent Graphic Designer during the following decade. He worked as an Art Director for the Daily Express where he befriended Len Deighton, whose book covers he went on to create. It is Hawkey’s work for Pan books between 1963 and 1969 which really chimed with my butterfly collector mentality for all things 007, and perhaps even sowed the seeds for my future career.
School holidays, Summer 1973. Day-long football matches in Our Lady’s field and Roxy Music in the charts. My best friend Howie and I find a tea chest full of old books at the back of a cupboard in his Mum’s house. Among them are the Pan paperbacks Moonraker, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball. I am seeing Raymond Hawkey’s iconic cover designs for the very first time and it is love at first sight. There is a powerful yet simple revelation for me at this point, and I now understand that the design of these books spoke to me. They are part of a series; they are typographically consistent but differentiated by texture and image. They can exist individually but can also be seen as part of a collective. I knew immediately that I must find the complete set.
I devoured all three that summer. Starting with Moonraker, I expected to find the same vaguely flippant tone as the then current cinematic version of Live and Let Die, but soon realised that the books were different from the films; deeper and more expansive. I became intrigued and was ultimately taken by Fleming’s attention to detail, his descriptive sense of place, the deeply drawn character of the villain and the atmospheric glamour. Early on in the story, Bond and M play bridge against Drax in an old school club. I have never understood the game, and still don’t, but it doesn’t matter. The contest is described in tense and thrilling detail with Bond’s internal dialogue very much part of the narrative. Bond is more three-dimensional in the books, has feelings, doubts, and makes the odd mistake. I liked this.
Moonraker is unique among Bond novels as it is the only one completely set in the UK, and the only time he doesn’t end up with the girl. In many ways, it’s an old fashioned ‘boy’s own’ classic novel about how Bond uncovers a plot to destroy London. It features Nazis, mad scientists and the white cliffs of Dover. Perhaps this is why none of these plot elements have ever made it into the films. In my view, the Bond producers are missing a trick here – with the right art direction and costume design, Moonraker, as originally written in 1955, would make a fantastic period film. More interesting, perhaps, than the slightly ridiculous 1979 Roger Moore version.
Once I had learned of the full list of 14 Ian Fleming Bond books, including titles that had not yet been filmed, I started collecting them. I would scour the jumble sales and second hand bookshops of Liverpool in my quest to obtain them all. It soon became apparent that there were many different sets of cover designs available. And hardbacks. Book club editions. Foreign language editions. My great friend and school alumni Steve Boyle is a fellow Bond aficionado, and we still make a point of seeing every new Bond film together upon release. When Steve passed his driving test, we’d motor far and wide in search of copies we didn’t have. Our favourite is the 1970s Pan ‘Still Life’ editions, on which real life objects and brands from the novel are arranged in a photographic tableau across the front and back of the book. The design hasn’t dated and still feels contemporary.
Another Summer. This time it’s 1985. I am a first year Graphic Design student at Central Saint Martins in London. My trendy classmates are enthusing about the films of Martin Scorsese and David Lynch whilst I am sleepless with anticipation of John Glen’s A View To A Kill which will feature a 57 year old Roger Moore playing Bond for the last time. I eventually see it at the Leicester Square Odeon. Tanya Roberts plays the love interest. Roger looks like her Dad in this film but I enjoy it anyway. He played 007 in his own dashing way with a winning smile and a great deal of charm. Two years later, I take time out from my hectic final degree show preparations to watch the new harder-edged Bond, Timothy Dalton, in The Living Daylights at the same venue.
My life has been measured in Bond films.
In 1999, whilst working as a Graphic Designer at the BBC, I am asked to design a project for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: a special DVD aimed at the global film Industry, showcasing all the great locations and facilities the UK has to offer. Upon its completion, I get to go to the launch in Los Angeles. The occasion is commemorated by a special screening of the not yet released third Pierce Brosnan film, The World Is Not Enough, at the beautiful Writers Guild Theatre. Naturally, I am a happy and excited boy once again. From the Hippodrome to Hollywood.
Autumn 2006. I am flying to Glasgow to visit Steve. We are both feverish at the prospect of seeing Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s first interpretation of Bond, released that weekend. It will be the highlight of the trip. For some time we had been yearning for a cinematic Bond with more depth, played by a proper serious actor. More like the books. We weren’t disappointed.
I have tried to work out what the attraction is, what fuels this obsession. Is it some deep-rooted wish to call back to my childhood? I know that when I close my eyes and smell those old Pan paperbacks I am transported to those early 1970s summers… Or is it something to do with my profession? I still get excited when there is a design reason to keep me interested. The books are always in print and different publishers have released them over the years. The Roseanne Serra/Richey Fahey designed Penguins of 2002 were brilliant – a modern twist on the illustrated Pans of the 50s and early 60s. Two years later, it was lovely to see them appear in the beautiful, understated design of Penguin Modern Classics. The use of photography in these versions was fantastic, although with perhaps a little too much reliance on images of Connery. More recently, the Folio Society have been issuing the novels as gorgeously crafted hardbacks with wonderful, mid-century inspired illustrations by Fay Dalton. I can’t help but snap them up.
At a D&AD lecture in 2003, I was fortunate to meet the great Ken Adam, two-times Oscar winner and Production Designer on six Bond films. Adam is largely considered to be the person responsible for the immensely stylish and iconic Bond cinematic visual style. He signed my book. I was awestruck.
This madness has afflicted me for over 50 years. I have accumulated hundreds of books, with ten Fleming first editions on the shelf and an original McGinnis one-sheet framed on the landing. I’m still as keen as ever. Steve and I are looking forward to Secret Cinema’s take on Casino Royale later this year, and I’m counting the days until the release of Daniel Craig’s final Bond film next year.
2019. A quiet spring afternoon. I am back home visiting my Mother. I take myself to the corner of West Derby Road and Walker Street on the eastern edge of Liverpool city centre. I am hoping to unearth a sign, maybe feel some sense of history, of cultural significance. Sadly, all I find is a forlorn patch of overgrown wasteland where the Hippodrome once stood.
Despite this, I know in my heart that while buildings decay and eventually disappear, the world still turns, people still watch films and read books, and happy memories last forever.