Monday, 21 May 2018

Does James Bond eat Jell-O? Historical menu collection provides food for thought

Can the James Bond novels be used as historical documents, a reliable source of information on people, places, and events? Almost certainly, given Ian Fleming’s journalistic background and his determination to get factual details right. Take the food represented in the novels as an example. I was recently alerted to the existence of ‘What’s on the Menu’, an online collection of historical menus, largely of American restaurants, hosted by the New York Public Library (NYPL). One can search by restaurant, meal or food type, and decade or year, and even download the entire dataset. Browsing through the vast collection, it’s clear that the meals Bond eats or considers during his American adventures accurately reflect what was served and consumed at the time.
 
Cover of 1958 menu from Voisin. Image: NYPL 'What's on the Menu' collection

For instance, in Diamonds are Forever (1956), we read that Bond has a meal of two vodka martinis, Oeufs Benedict and strawberries at Voisin’s in New York. One of the menus available in the NYPL collection is a lunchtime menu from Voisin’s (closed Mondays) dating to 1958. The menu doesn’t offer eggs Benedict as such, but it does list Oeuf Poché à la Reine (priced at $2.50). Berries in season with cream (presumably including strawberries if available) are also listed and would have cost Bond $1.75. The menu doesn’t show drinks, but a martini from the Hotel Astor (where Bond stays in Diamonds are Forever) cost 90 cents. 

I’ve tended to think of Bond’s choice of camembert, which Bond orders on the train to Jacksonville in Live and Let Die (1954), as being somewhat incongruous. However, browsing through contemporary menus, it’s clear that the cheese was a standard option in American restaurants. Bond regards domestic camembert as ‘one of the most welcome surprises on American menus.’ It was a surprise to me too: from low-price diners to fancy restaurants, it seems that there aren’t many restaurants where it wasn’t available. 

Another curiosity for me is the fact that the only meals for which prices are given in the Bond books are chicken dinners. At Sugar Ray’s in New York in Live and Let Die, Bond notes that the special fried chicken dinner cost $3.75. In an eatery near his hotel in Saratoga Springs in Diamonds are Forever, Bond orders a chicken dinner for $2.80. Looking through the menus, the prices are pretty accurate, although Sugar Ray’s appears to be on the pricier side. Perhaps its special was something very special.  

For contemporary British readers, a chicken dinner would have conjured up images of roast chicken served with roast potatoes, stuffing and vegetables and smothered in gravy, and was what people could win at village fetes and association raffles. Something approaching an English-style roast dinner was of course available in America. A menu dated to 1958 from Chickland, a chicken restaurant based in Massachusetts, lists among its many items a ‘roast turkey dinner’, comprising turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy. But, as we know from Sugar Ray’s, a chicken dinner could also involve fried chicken. Chickland naturally also served several fried chicken specials, such as the ‘General Lee Special’, comprising southern fried chicken, French fired potatoes and, to follow, ice-cream and coffee, all for $2.50. The celebrated Knotts Berry Farm restaurant in California offered a fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as a pudding and drink, for $2.25 in 1956 [menu not in the collection].
 
Cover of 1958 menu from Chickland restaurant. Image: NYPL 'What's on the Menu' collection

Interestingly, Bond declines another opportunity to have fried chicken. He rejects the chicken ‘French fried to a golden brown, served disjointed’, listed on the menu on the train to Jacksonville, as ‘eyewash’.

Puddings served with chicken dinners, incidentally, could include fruit pie, ice-cream, a hot biscuit or Jell-O. I wonder which one Bond had with his chicken dinner in Saratoga Springs. (My bet’s on ice-cream.)   

The NYPL’s ‘What’s on the Menu’ collection is a treasure trove of information on dining and food culture mainly in the US from the 19th century to the present day. For the Bond aficionado, the resource provides useful background and context to Bond’s American adventures. The collection isn’t comprehensive; so far, the collection does not include many restaurants and hotels that Bond frequents and even fewer menus from those establishments that date to the year of publication. However, there is more than enough information from contemporaneous menus to show that Bond’s food choices (probably based on Fleming’s own experiences) accurately reflect the cultural environment around him. Time to go back to the online resource for a second helping!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Casino Royale's lookalikes

I’m enjoying Dynamite’s version of Casino Royale, adapted from Ian Fleming’s novel by Van Jensen and Dennis Calero. The story is, of course, familiar, but so too are some of the faces. As Bond aficionado Mark Ashby pointed out in a Facebook post, Felix Leiter appears to be based on Jack Lord, the actor who played Leiter in Dr No, as this image demonstrates:

Jack Lord                        Felix Leiter

The artist seems to have used other well-known faces as reference material, especially for some of the minor characters, and so, in the spirit of a running feature in the satirical magazine, Private Eye, here are some of the other Bondian ‘lookalikes’ that I’ve spotted.

James Bond’s opponents on the Baccarat table include a star of the silver screen and acquaintances from his cinematic adventures. Appropriately enough, Carmel Delane, an American film star, seems to be modelled on Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly                  Carmel Delane

Monsieur Sixte, the wealthy Belgian, has more than a passing resemblance to Kristatos, as played by Julian Glover in For Your Eyes Only.
 
Kristatos                     Monsieur Sixte
Meanwhile, the Greek, owner of a profitable shipping line, has a similarity to Columbo, as played by Topol in the same film.

 
Columbo                   The Greek

John Cleese has already appeared in two Bond films, and here he makes his debut in the artwork of Casino Royale, this time as the croupier.
 
John Cleese                   The Croupier

Finally, as Ian Fleming’s first Bond heroine, it is fitting that Vesper Lynd has some of the appearance of the most significant woman in Fleming’s life, Ann Fleming. Vesper’s facial features are a little different, but the hairstyle is a very close match.
 
Ann Fleming                Vesper Lynd

The appearance of famous faces in Casino Royale, presumably intended as Easter eggs for the reader, provides added excitement to what is a thrilling read. Does that mean that we can call Grace Kelly a Bond girl?

Sunday, 6 May 2018

On location: James Bond's New York

A recent trip to New York to speak at a conference at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World gave me the chance to look up a few of the locations mentioned in Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’ and experience something of James Bond’s adventures in the city.

Arriving into JFK (formerly Idlewild), I didn’t quite get the red-carpet treatment that Bond received (LALD, chapter 1), but I beat the worst of the queues and got through passport control in less than half an hour. I had been a bit worried, because I reached the passport control booth without having filled out the customs declaration form (I had no pen), but the passport control officer kindly lent me a pen so that I could fill in the form then and there (I was afraid he would send me to the back of the by now very long line), which I reckon is as red a carpet as one is likely to get these days.  

I jumped into a taxi and headed towards downtown Manhattan via the Van Wyck Expressway and the Triborough Bridge, following Bond’s routes into the city in Live and Let Die and ‘007 in New York’. Alas, staying at the St Regis was out of the question, but my first New York breakfast – in a diner on Broadway – was inspired by Bond’s breakfast in that hotel. I ordered coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, and rye toast, and had to make do with grape jelly, rather than marmalade. The eggs and bacon, incidentally, arrived with fried potatoes, which I hadn’t ordered, but seem to come as standard. My eggs Benedict that I had the next morning were also served with fried potatoes.
 
Scrambled eggs and bacon, US style
Conference business didn’t give me a lot of time for sightseeing, but I took the opportunity of a few spare hours in the morning of my second day in New York to find 33 East 65th Street, located in the city’s Upper East Side just off Madison Avenue; the ground floor and adjoining garage doubled for the Oh Cult Voodoo Shop in the film of Live and Let Die.


Oh Cult Voodoo Shop

With conference proceedings over by my third and final day in New York, I was at last able to do some proper exploring. Armed with copies of the relevant novels and a print-out of a map of Bond locations created by Bond Maps (if you haven’t already done so, I urge you to check out Matt Bunnell’s excellent Google map and blog), I rode the Subway to Times Square-42nd Street and began my walking tour. 

I couldn’t see everything, but I visited the principal sites. Sardi’s, the restaurant in which Felix Leiter introduces Bond to Brizzola in in Diamonds are Forever (chapter 8), is still there on West 44th Street in the heart of New York’s theatre district, but unfortunately, Brizzola is no longer on the menu.
 
Sardi's

The restaurant is famous for its caricatures of its famous patrons, and I could see that James Bond had actually visited – a portrait of Daniel Craig was hanging in the window.
  
Daniel Craig in the window of Sardi's

A few steps away, on West 45th Street, is the site of the Hotel Astor, where Bond stays in Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’. The hotel is no longer there – the site is now taken up by One Astor Plaza – but the Marriot Marquis hotel next door provides an alternative place to stay. I walked along to 6th Avenue and headed to the site of House of Diamonds on West 46th Street. The area remains an important diamond centre, and diamond stores line this and neighbouring streets.

I walked up 5th Avenue (just as Bond does in Live and Let Die), and turned into West 52nd Street and found 21 Club, the bar and restaurant where Bond and Tiffany Case dine in Diamonds are Forever and where Bond considers having lunch in ‘007 in New York’. The restaurant, nestled somewhat incongruously between modern office blocks, was closed for refurbishment, so unfortunately, I couldn’t follow Bond and indulge in a martini or stinger.
 
21 Club

My next stop was the St Regis on East 55th Street, Bond’s hotel in Live and Let Die. The hotel’s King Cole Bar, is curiously not mentioned in the book, but was a favourite haunt of Ian Fleming’s. Opposite the hotel, I spotted another place with a Bondian connection – a branch of Crockett & Jones, bootmaker to James Bond in the film Spectre.
  
The St Regis hotel

I saved the best till last for my final stop – the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal. In ‘007 in New York’, James Bond considers the restaurant’s oyster stew (with crackers and Miller High Life beer) to be the best meal in New York, echoing Fleming’s own view, expressed in Thrilling Cities, that oyster stew is perhaps the only dish ‘that has maintained its integrity in the New York’ of his experience.

The Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal. (The youth in the corner hasn't been a naughty boy, but is listening to the station's famous whispering walls.)

Naturally, I ordered the dish, and I wouldn’t disagree that it is superb. (A recipe for oyster stew inspired by the Oyster Bar version can be found in my James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook.) Miller High Life is no longer available in the restaurant, so I had a Brooklyn beer, which is more like an English ale, instead.
 
Oyster stew from the Oyster Bar

I was pleased to see a little nod to James Bond in the oyster bar – the Vesper martini was on the menu.
The Oyster Bar's Vesper

Then it was straight into a taxi and back to the airport. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in New York, and I would like to go back. My Bond sightseeing was a whistle-stop tour, and there is plenty more to see. Still, it was thrilling to see just some of the Bond locations, and the visit has helped me to picture the scenes in the books much more clearly.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Who did Number 2 work for before SPECTRE?

Anyone who’s read Thunderball or seen the film will be familiar with how SPECTRE conducts itself at meetings. Members of the criminal organisation are identified by number (in the novel, numbers are changed monthly, Blofeld being Number 2 during the events of the novel; this contrasts with the film, in which Blofeld, as chairman, is always Number 1) and quizzed about their criminal fund-raising activities before getting down to the main item on the agenda, in this case the theft of two atomic bombs. This set-up has been imitated and parodied since – Austin Powers hit the mark pretty accurately – but apparently SPECTRE wasn’t the first criminal organisation to adopt this model.
 
Cover of the first edition, published by The Bodley Head (artwork by Ernest Akers)
Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, published in 1922, features the pair of amateur sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence. In the novel, they’re on the search for a young woman, who’s gone missing after taking possession of a packet of secret documents, the contents of which would be dangerous in the wrong hands. 


The adventurous pair soon run up against members of a secret organisation who have a nefarious interest in the documents. At one point, Tommy follows one of the criminal agents to a house that transpires to be organisation’s headquarters, and finds himself eavesdropping on a meeting of the agent’s fellow members, an international cast of criminals that includes a Russian, an Irishman and a German. 

Hidden away, Tommy notices the arrival of another individual, who is allowed to enter the meeting room when he reveals his identity – Number 14 – to the doorman. Someone else arrives, gives his number, and gains access. Within the room, and at the head of the table, is Number 1, who, like Largo in the novel of Thunderball, is not himself the head of the organisation (who is known mysteriously as Mr Brown). 

Once everyone is assembled, they get down to business. One of the members requests more money from the organisation to pursue his part in the grand scheme. They read reports from various unions, which they have been infiltrating in order to spread discord and lay the foundations of revolution, which will be achieved with the release of the information contained in the missing documents. They agree that a certain union member, who might be a fly in the ointment, ‘must go’, and they discuss how they could induce the young woman to reveal the whereabouts of the package (‘In Russia we have ways of making a girl talk’).

Reading this, naturally I was reminded of Thunderball, and certainly there are similarities between the organisations in Ian Fleming’s and Agatha Christie’s novels: the use of numbers, the discipline, the international membership, the involvement of the unions, the threat of violence, and the business-like manner of planning world chaos. 

It seems that even in criminal organisations, there’s a standard way of doing things. Now there’s a thought – did Mr Brown and Blofeld attend the same evil business school?

Saturday, 21 April 2018

James Bond volcano erupts

The stack of rock that featured in The Man With The Golden Gun has long been known as James Bond Island, and it seems as if another natural feature is swiftly gaining a similar name, at least unofficially.
 
The crater of Mount Shinmoedake. Photo: Motamota [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
The eruption of the Mount Shinmoedake volcano in Japan in March captured the attention of the world’s press. The sight was spectacular, of course, and it was the first time the volcano had erupted for seven years, but the event was also notable because the volcano doubled as the exterior view of Blofeld’s subterranean lair in You Only Live Twice (1967). Activity has continued, and this week the eruption has again featured in the press and other media outlets. 


Many of the articles published since last month have mentioned the volcano’s connection to James Bond, and inevitably the words ‘James Bond volcano’ have been used. ABC News had the headline, ‘Lightning seen over Japan's so-called James Bond volcano’. Jakarta Post ran with a story with the headline, ‘”James Bond” volcano erupts in Japan, no-go warning issued’. BBC News headlined its story with ‘Mount Shinmoedake: Warning over Japan's James Bond volcano’. The headline on the Forbes website was ‘Japan's 'James Bond' volcano erupts in a spectacular display of fire and smoke’. The Telegraph simply wrote: ‘Shinmoedake, Japan's 'James Bond volcano' erupts.’ Yahoo News reported that ‘Smoke Billows from Japan's 'James Bond' volcano’. The Sun didn’t use the phrase, ‘James Bond volcano’ in its headline, but still referenced James Bond: ‘Japanese volcano used in classic 007 movie starring Sean Connery erupts.’

While Mount Shinmoedake is unlikely to be renamed officially, the references to the James Bond volcano show that You Only Live Twice and SPECTRE’s secret base continue to have a significant place in the cultural environment across the world.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Bond memes in Action Team

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does the cultural environment abhor the absence of a Bond film. In the two-and-a-bit years since Spectre, we have been treated to various Bond-like or Bond-inspired secret agents on both the big and small screen. Recently, for instance, there has been Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Atomic Blonde, and trailers for Johnny English Strikes Again and The Spy Who Dumped Me are currently doing the rounds. I’ve also been enjoying Action Team, a six-part comedy written by Tom Davis, James De Frond and Nico Tatarowicz, that’s just finished its run on ITV2.
 
Action Team, in action

Action Team follows a unit of MI6 comprising leader Logan Mann, sniper Graham Hooper, Monica Lang, who has a particular set of skills, and a kid on work experience called Huxley. The team is up against a Russian evil mastermind, Vladimir Schevchenko, who heads a criminal organisation called Abacus, and is overseen by the head of operations, Ruth Brooks. There is also the necessary assortment of henchmen and fellow MI6 officers who are not quite what they seem. 

The series parodies tropes from the world of screen spies – the unit of Action Team perhaps owes more to Mission: Impossible than Bond – but James Bond is the key reference. Logan Mann (played by Tom Davis), clearly the Bond figure, is dynamic, in control, suave and knowledgeable (or he thinks he is) and arrives at any situation armed with a gun and a quip. There are gadgets (though no Q-like character), big, gratuitious explosions, car chases, Mann on top of a moving train, femme fatales, and globe-trotting adventure. Then there’s the inside of the MI6 building, which looks much like the inside of headquarters as portrayed in Skyfall and Spectre – open plan with arrays of computers and screens – and a freestanding glass prison cell, the sort that held Silva in Skyfall, for captured enemy agents.

As for the villains, Vladimir Schevchenko (also played by Tom Davis) looks like the lovechild of Dr Evil and a Russian Hell’s Angel. He is, as usual for spy villains, capricious, childlike (in that he likes toys and throws tantrums) and psychopathic. In one scene, and in the best Spectre tradition, Schevchenko leads a meeting of his criminal partners. One of his Abacus agents, who, appropriately for a No. 2, wears an eyepatch, wants to walk away, having fallen in love. Schenchenko appears to allow him to leave with good grace, then shoots him in the back. The whole sequence reminded me of the meetings in Goldfinger’s rumpus room and Zorin’s blimp, where those who wish to pull out of the evil scheme come to a sticky end. Schevchenko knows the evil lingo, too, at one point practising the phrase, ‘I’ve been expecting you, Mr Mann’.

The music accompanying the series has familiar Bondian notes, and the music that plays over the end credits has the distinct ring of the Skyfall theme song. 

The series is funny and crude, rather like a British, live action Archer. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Time for another series before Bond 25 hits the screen?

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

On literary location: Salcombe, Devon

The beginning of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service finds James Bond on the beach at Royale-les-Eaux reminiscing about his childhood holidays at the seaside – the hot powder sand, the grit of wet sand between the toes, the collection of seashells and ‘wrack’, the small crabs scuttling out of the way of fingers groping in rockpools, the endless swimming and sunshine, the bucket and spade, the Cadbury chocolate Flake and fizzy lemonade.

North Sands, Salcombe

Biographer Andrew Lycett reveals that Ian Fleming was describing Salcombe in Devon, where he had spent three summers in a row as a young child, holidaying with his brothers, his mother, Eve, and Primrose and Dido Harley, the daughters of a friend of Eve’s.

A holiday in south Devon this Easter gave me the opportunity to visit this literary location for myself. Salcombe is a picturesque fishing town on the mouth of the Kingsbridge estuary on the south-west coast. The town is characterised by narrow, hilly streets of brightly painted Victorian houses and tourist shops that look out to the boats moored in the harbour. Art galleries and high-street fashion boutiques compete with fish and chip restaurants, ice-cream parlours, and shops selling the accoutrements of a fun day at the beach.

A view of Salcombe towards the harbour

Salcombe has several beaches, which are situated on the east and west sides of the estuary. I happened to visit North Sands, which is to the south of the town on the west side of the harbour. This is a popular beach, and I expect Ian Fleming and his family sought something more secluded. There was something familiar, though, about the steep, zigzag road down to the beach. It reminded me of the equally steep road that zigzags to the beach at St Margaret’s Bay near Dover, where in later life Ian Fleming had a home. I wondered whether the similarity struck Fleming as well. Possibly the reminder of his childhood holidays added to the attraction of St Margaret’s Bay. 

One of the many rockpools

Whether or not the young Ian ever frequented North Sands, the beach (no doubt along with others) matches the description in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with its soft sand, seaweed-fringed rockpools, and fine swimming. And yes, I did have a chocolate Flake and fizzy lemonade.
 
A Flake and (rather posh) fizzy lemonade
There was one other piece of Bondiana in Salcombe. I noticed a card for a local taxi firm in the parish council noticeboard. The name of the firm was Moonraker Taxis. Of course, the firm was named after the type of sail, rather than the novel or film, but I don’t suppose the association of the name with James Bond does any harm to the bookings.

 
Moonraker taxis