(a book review by Mark R. Leeper)

Simon Winder's 2006 book THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN: A PERSONAL JOURNEY INTO THE DISTURBING WORLD OF JAMES BOND (ISBN 978-0-312- 42666-8) is a meandering but nevertheless engrossing quadruple history. The cover of the American edition is an early piece of James Bond poster art. Sean Connery is looking suave with a long gun and a half-naked blond. The book itself is a little more serious than the cover makes it look.

Simon Winder informally goes back and forth among four threads of history:

  1. British history in two World Wars and since;
  2. Ian Fleming's life;
  3. the James Bond character and series from its antecedents in the works of H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, Sax Rohmer and W. E. Johns through a history of Bond in books, films, comics etc. and other series that were inspired by Bond; and
  4. Winder's own life and his experiences with the James Bond series.

Winder's main thrust (if there is one) is to explain why the James Bond series in books have meant so much to him, his friends and to the people of Britain in general. In a nutshell, the 20th century did not go well for Britain, as their empire dissolved and the wars seriously damaged their economy. Bond was a hero and object of admiration and envy in multiple ways. He was obviously used to the finer things in life. He had the finest cigarettes, the finest wines, and the finest women. He was the man many men in Britain (and the United States for that matter) wanted to be. And Bond was all these things in the 1950s when the British economy was still reeling from the war. Britain had large debts from the war and a stagnant economy. They lacked basics like sugar, meat, eggs, and fruit long after the war was over. James Bond had not just these things but a taste for the better things in life and was a sort of suave consumer. Winder sees Bond's eating of an avocado in the book CASINO ROYALE as an important event for Fleming's readers. Avocados were apparently little known and unobtainable in Britain to that point. People emulating Bond may have acted as a jumpstart to the economy.

And Bond had the privileges of a hero. Winder succinctly sums up much of the situation in one paragraph on page 190. "As the 1960s progressed, Bond's ability to maim and kill foreigners became a great consolation to millions of embittered and confused people whose traditional world picture had changed with alarming speed. Bond in fact became in the 1960s pretty much the only British national capable of damaging anybody at all." Fleming's James Bond books and the films made from them were a salve to British pride. They were a relief from the precious tweedy-ness and cable-knit sweater and coin boxes on heaters.

The film LIVE AND LET DIE was Winder's first exposure to Bond. And he loved it at the time and now rightfully sees the film as inferior. In my opinion he got interested in Bond films at just about the wrong time. The whole stretch from the previous film DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER through MOONRAKER are in varying degrees all dreadful. Ironically, Winder wrote his book between the releases of the films DIE ANOTHER DAY and CASINO ROYALE and he dreads seeing the possibility that CASINO ROYALE would have John Cleese's Q giving Bond more features on the invisible car. It did not and one rather suspects that Winder would have been rather pleased with CASINO ROYALE's new approach.

The author's observations seem to wander. The book is informal and conversational in tone. Winder discusses the books' love- hate relationship with the United States. He will discuss how Bond's Epicurean tastes work well for the readers, but seem out of place in such a hired killer who would need to maintain a low profile. Characters like Rosa Klebb and Oddjob seem less likely to be interested in the quality of pots of jam. Winder goes on at length about Bond villains and how nuclear weapons made global domination actually possible where it had not been before. Some of his fact-checking could be better. For example he does not think Joseph Wiseman had much of a career outside of playing the title character in DR. NO. Wiseman actually had a fairly busy career in both film and TV.

THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN by Simon Winder rambles quite a bit. It rambles more than it should, perhaps. But it is entertaining for those of us who enjoyed the whole James Bond mythos. A more serious and better book was quite possible, but Winder apparently wanted to keep the book engaging. Winder does commit one of transgressions that frequently bother me with non-fiction books. His book really needs an index. He very much limits its use as a source of information by making that information so hard to find.

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper