Monday, 28 October 2013

The rise and fall of Bondmanship

Reading the latest MI6 Confidential, which is excellent as ever, I was intrigued by the reprinting of a 1963 article on 'Bondmanship: the latest rage', which charted the rise of James Bond fan-clubs in 1962 and 1963. The James Bond phenomenon has been responsible for coining (or perpetuating) a number of words and phrases – Bond girl, Bond villain, kiss-kiss-bang-bang, among them – which have entered cultural consciousness and have to lesser or larger extents endured. Bondmanship (at least, in relation to James Bond) is one of those words which have proved less successful. But what is Bondmanship, and why is the word little used today?

In the MI6 Confidential article, Bondmanship is explicitly linked to James Bond fan-clubs. Unlike Bond fan clubs today, whose function is usually to publish newsletters and magazines, keep members up to date on Bond news, and offer forums for discussion of all things Bondian, some of the earliest James Bond clubs brought together people who wished to experience something of the James Bond lifestyle (or at least their version of it), whether that was gambling at exclusive casinos, mixing vodka martinis, drinking the best wines, or seducing elegant ladies (the MI6 Confidential article suggests that these clubs tended to have all male memberships). This was in essence Bondmanship.

The rise of James Bond clubs was so phenomenal, that the Daily Express published an article in February 1963 about the University of Oxford's own James Bond club. Members (presumably male) had identified one Joanna Hare, an undergraduate and daughter of a government minister, as the university's answer to the sort of woman that James Bond meets. And William Plomer, Ian Fleming's literary editor, mentioned the “admirers [who] have formed James Bond clubs” in his address at Ian Fleming's memorial service in September 1964.

But this definition of Bondmanship, emerging from the activities of James Bond clubs, is not the only one. An article in the US newspaper, the Daily Times, dated July 1963 has the headline, “Real 'Bondmanship': Film Makes The Brave Braver as James Bond Rides Top Herd.” For the author, Erskine Johnson, Bondmanship is what differentiates Sean Connery's James Bond, as portrayed in Dr No and From Russia With Love, from other film heroes. Thus, Bondmanship is sweeping “beautiful ladies off their feet” while outwitting “the bad men”, being “braver than Errol Flynn”, or, in the context of “James Bond vs. Russia”, turning "the borsht [sic] into bitter tea.”

By mid 1963, then, the meaning of Bondmanship, still a new word, had begun to diverge, possibly precisely because it was a new word. No one meaning was yet firmly embedded in cultural space, and the word, spreading without any associations except James Bond in a broad sense, was sufficiently adaptable to gain several meanings.

Ultimately, however, Bondmanship was a meme with a short life. It seems to have fallen out of use after the decline of 'Bondomania', which also halted the rise of James Bond clubs, and may even have been little heard by 1965. It is notable that Kingsley Amis' The Book of Bond (1965), which is devoted to what would be recognised as Bondmanship, uses the phrase '007ship'. And in The Bond Affair (1965), edited by Oreste Del Buono and Umberto Eco, there is a description of 'the Bond style'. Today we tend to talk about experiencing the James Bond lifestyle, rather than practising Bondmanship.

It is uncertain why Bondmanship as a phrase didn't catch on, but it seems that Bondmanship didn't achieve a sufficient level of cultural penetration to give it longevity. After all, the word cannot be passed on from one person to another if no one's using it.

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