On February 25, an article in conservative UK newspaper The Telegraph informed readers that upon the reissue of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, certain “updates” have been made to them. An introductory note in the collection states that a committee of “sensitivity readers” has expunged “terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers”.
What is the offending language? The publisher states: “We have made changes to Live and Let Die that [Fleming] himself authorized. Following Ian’s approach, we looked at the instances of several racial terms across the books and removed a number of individual words or else swapped them for terms that are more accepted today.”
The reissue and its much-hyped editorial announcement coincide with the 70th anniversary of 007, pop culture’s most glamorous spy. But how did this series, at the heart of a heated controversy today, first come about?
Elegant and enigmatic
Enjoying a golden early retirement in 1952, at the age of 44 Fleming was living happily in his Jamaican home by the sea, built according to his instructions and sitting in a flower-filled estate, where mimosa grew in abundance. He named this paradise Goldeneye, after a military operation he had been part of during the Second World War. Educated at Eton, he had been a journalist at news agency Reuters and an investment banker, before being recruited by the British secret service during the War. Inspired by his experience, he started writing spy novels, sitting at his desk in front of his portable Imperial typewriter, coffee in one hand, cigarette holder in the other.
In 1941 he had crossed paths with the elegant and enigmatic Serbian spy Dusko Popov – code name Tricycle – in a casino in Estoril, Portugal. Fleming was impressed by Popov’s bluffing during a card game. He had found his model.
He also drew inspiration from his personal library. In an 1897 short story by Rudyard Kipling about steam locomotives, he was intrigued by the name of one of the railroad engines: 007. When Fleming came across the illustrated pages of Birds of the West Indies, an ornithological volume on the birds of the Caribbean Sea, he liked the zoologist’s name: James Bond. Twelve novels and nine short stories later, he had reinvented spy literature.
Sexist remarks and racist insults
Written in just two months, Casino Royale, the first episode of the 007 saga, released in April 1953, would be adapted for the screen several times: in 1954 on American television channel CBS, with the actor Barry Nelson; in the cinema in a 1967 John Huston parody, starring David Niven and Peter Sellers, and in the 21st film of the saga in 2006, which relaunched the series with a new Bond, Daniel Craig.
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