The fiftieth anniversary of James Bond has resulted in the predictable tsunami of tie-in Blu-rays, CDs, aftershave, mugs, auctions at Christie's, interminable streams of blog posts (sorry), and books. In fact as far as the latter is concerned, there are an estimated TWELVE THOUSAND new Bond books on the virtual shelves of your local Amazon waiting to be bought. However, only two of them are published by companies savvy enough to know that flinging a free copy at The Incredible Suit is the best way to get a review, even if both of those books came out several weeks ago.
"First up", as I believe I am legally obliged to say, is this memoir of sorts from comedy writer Mark O'Connell. It's a nostalgia-laden love letter to the Bond series told via O'Connell's memories of each first viewing of the films on TV, video and at the cinema. Aware that a book-buying public may wonder why they should read what is effectively the story of a man watching some films, O'Connell hangs his memoirs on the fact that his grandfather was, for many years, Cubby Broccoli's chauffeur. This allows him to slip in a few insider details to spice up his book, and while that's what the publishers are hoping will make you choose it over the 11,999 other Bond books out there, its real selling point is the intricate detail with which O'Connell remembers the events surrounding his first experiences of each 007 adventure.
Being almost exactly the same age as O'Connell, and equally obsessed with the world's greatest secret agent (except possibly Dangermouse), I occasionally felt like he was recounting my own childhood rather than his. Tales of bolting down mid-'80s Christmas dinners in order to get into the lounge to watch Moonraker on ITV while recording it on VHS (and pausing during ad breaks to ensure uninterrupted future viewings) are uncannily familiar. But his book isn't just memories of a Bond-flavoured childhood; O'Connell also evaluates each film (in the order in which he saw them, uniquely) with wit, charm and the expertise that comes from eating, sleeping and breathing Bond for over thirty years. He even makes a good case for the defence of his favourite Bond film, A View To A Kill, which is no mean feat.
Catching Bullets is bound to be of far more interest to fully-fledged Bond geeks like me than anyone with just a passing interest in the films, and O'Connell's extensive use of often-tortuous metaphors (and an infuriating amount of wayward apostrophes) might easily get on some readers' wicks. Regardless though, it's a sweet, charming and occasionally hilarious trip down memory lane and a refreshing addition to the endless stream of officially-sanctioned collections of plot synopses and lists of gadgets that make up most Bond books.
All About Bond
Slightly higher up the price range is this inaccurately-named but admirably glossy collection of Bond-themed essays, illustrated exclusively with photographs by regular Bond snapper Terry O'Neill. It's a bit of an oddity, in that its contributors amount to a handful of writers, a few former Bond girls and legendary set designer Ken Adam, while O'Neill only gets a mention in the captions of his photos. Still, as photos go, these are glorious. Packed with candid shots of a shirtless, Diamonds Are Forever-era Sean Connery lounging around in Vegas, Roger Moore larking about with tailor Doug Hayward, George Lazenby relaxing with then-squeeze Jill St John and dozens of Bond girls in various states of undress, All About Bond boasts a boatload of behind-the-scenes Bond shots I've never seen before, which is a not inconsiderable achievement.
Sadly the words which accompany the pictures are less impressive. Recollections from actresses of their time spent lying underneath James Bond yield little that hasn't been heard before, although Britt Ekland's fond memories of her Wicker Man mammaries ("I was 4 months pregnant and had very nice big breasts") do raise a Moore-esque eyebrow. Meanwhile various other writers offer passable but entry-level contributions, some of which could have done with a more thorough proofing - one author recalls that "fourteen years later [than 1961], in 1975 after six official (and one unofficial) turns as 007, Connery decided to step down". A cursory knowledge of Bond history will tell you that Connery stepped down in 1971 (Moore had made two Bonds by '75) and his unofficial turn wasn't to occur until 1983. And when Joanna Lumley spells Blofeld as 'Blowfelt', it's enough to drive a pedant to distraction.
Still, as an addition to the straining coffee table of Bond paraphernalia, All About Bond is a delightful browse. And it's almost worth the asking price for the shot of Roger Moore on page 132, but I'll leave you to stumble upon that at your leisure.