Friday, 6 May 2016

It belongs in a museum: James Bond's Walther PPK

Mention the words Walther PPK to anyone, and the chances are they'll identify it as James Bond's gun. There can't be many fictional characters whose handguns are so deeply embedded in popular culture. Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum is the only other example I can think of off-hand, but there may be others.

The Walther PPK is so closely associated with James Bond that any description or history of the weapon is likely to allude to its most famous user. This occurred to me when I visited the Royal Armouries in Leeds last week. The museum has been home to James Bond in the past – in 1997 it hosted the World of 007 exhibition – but it also contains a permanent display of guns that feature in the Bond novels.

 
The 007 display at the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Naturally there is a Walther PPK, but there is also a Beretta 1919/318, as well as a Luger Model 1908, Sauer Model 38-H, Colt Hammerless Pocket Model, Smith & Wesson Airweight Model 12, and others guns that are mentioned in the books.

It would have been reasonable to display the guns without reference to Bond – each no doubt has an interesting history in its own right – but Bond is useful and popular common factor that brings them together. It seems unlikely, however, that the display would have been considered had the Walther PPK not been so synonymous with Bond.
A Walther PP at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
James Bond is referenced in another display of handguns, this time in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford. Information next to a Walther PP again mentions that the PPK model was Bond's weapon of choice.

It is interesting to note that in both museums the Bond references are literary, with reference to the books, although it should be said that the display at the Royal Armouries includes posters from the Bond films. Arguably, however, it is the films which have done most to introduce and perpetuate the Walther-PPK-is-James-Bond's-gun meme in people's minds.

Bond's reluctant acceptance of the Walther PPK, replacing his beloved Beretta, at an early point of the first Bond film, Dr No, is likely to have been a factor; the scene is imbued with significance, and it established a link that hasn't been rivalled. If the gun had been introduced several films later, then chances are the link would have been weaker, because there would have been other, well-established guns, particularly the Beretta, and the Walther PPK would have been required to compete for recognition. In addition, the link has been reinforced by occasional on-screen acknowledgements, for example in For Your Eyes Only ('A Walther PPK. Standard issue, British Secret Service') or GoldenEye ('Walther PPK. Only three men I know use such a gun').

Incidentally, in the gift shop at the Royal Armouries I saw further proof of the strength of the Walther PPK-Bond connection when I picked up Guns: A Visual History by Chris McNabb and published in 2009 by DK Publishing. The book is an illustrated guide to guns through the ages and the information presented is largely technical. Yet, flick through to the section on the Walther PPK and you will see a double-page spread on its role in the Bond films.

As with the vodka martini or the Aston Martin DB5, the Walther PPK is inextricably linked with Bond. The association is so close that no museum display or reference work that features the gun is complete without acknowledgement of it.

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