James Bond is a fictional British secret service agent whose name is even more famous than the man who created him, Ian Fleming. Fleming featured the spy in 12 novels and two short-story collections, and even after the author’s death Bond continued to live on through authorized Bond novels and one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Even if you’ve never read a Bond novel, there are things about the character that have just become a part of the cultural zeitgeist. For instance, you probably know that Bond is also known as 007. You know he loves his expensive cars and spy gadgets. And you know he loves his martinis shaken, not stirred. But what’s the story behind Bond, and how did the character become a legend?
Ian Fleming based the character of Bond on several real people the author met while in the Naval Intelligence Division and 30 Assault Unit during the Second World War. One of the biggest influences on Bond was Fleming’s older brother Peter Fleming, who was a journalist, soldier and travel writer. The name James Bond was actually directly taken from American ornithologist James Bond. Fleming had a copy of Bond’s book Birds of the West Indies, and he thought the author’s name was perfect for his spy character. In an interview with The New Yorker, Fleming explained, “When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened…when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, [James Bond] is the dullest name I ever heard.'”
There are many of Bond’s character traits that are also directly lifted from the author himself. For instance, just like Fleming, Bond enjoys golf and gambling. And just like Fleming, James Bond prefers his cocktails shaken and not stirred. A traditional martini is stirred rather than shaken, but Fleming’s biographer Andrew Lycett said that the author preferred his martinis shaken because he believed it preserved the flavor of the drink.
“Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel…This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.” Later, in chapter 8, Bond names the drink Vesper after the beautiful Vesper Lynde, a character who was apparently based on a real Polish agent named Krystyna Skarbek, who was working for Special Operations Executive.
Aside from Bond’s love of golf, gambling, beautiful women, and shaken martinis, the character is also known for his love of cars, food, and fine wine. He’s an independent man who sometimes comes off as arrogant, but he is highly intelligent and quick on his feet. These characteristics tend to remain true of Bond throughout the film adaptations of the literary character, from Sean Connery in the 1960s to Roger Moore in the ’70s and ’80s, Pierce Brosnan in the ’90s, and Daniel Craig from 2006 to 2021.
In some ways, newer Bond films have adapted the character to contemporary times. Some of Bond’s social and political views in the early novels would not sit as well with contemporary audiences. For instance, women have always played a significant role in the world of Bond, but Bond’s treatment of women in more recent films has been more respectful compared to earlier adaptations. Additionally, Bond used to smoke quite a lot, but starting with Pierce Brosnan in the 1990s, Bond smoked only a few times throughout several films. As of 2006, Bond no longer smokes at all.
2021’s No Time to Die is the most recent Bond film, and it marks the last film starring Daniel Craig as the MI6 Agent. So far, the film has received generally favorable reviews from both audiences and critics, and it seems like a fitting farewell to Craig, who has played the Bond character for five films over the course of two decades. What will be next for James Bond, and what will the next iteration of James Bond films bring to the legend and lore of the world’s most famous spy? Only time will tell.