The Literary James Bond is the 80’s and 90’s

Part One –

-A quick look at the John Gardner era

“I’m always conscious when I’m doing Bond that he is not mine. I have to keep a slight distance from him because he is somebody else’s creation, and not my own.” 
– John Gardner interviewed in Bondage Magazine # 14

There has been renewed interest lately in the John Gardner era of James Bond books, and I thought I would throw my two pence in – not in a podcast, but via this blog.

John Gardner was born in Northumberland, England, on the 20th of November, 1926. He attended Cambridge University and was a member of the Royal Marines. After leaving the service, he eventually became a journalist and critic. His first novel, “The Liquidator” was published in 1964 and introduced the character of Boysie Oakes. It was adapted in a film in 1965, starring Rod Taylor as Boysie and Jill St. John.

The seventies found him resurrecting Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, for two novels known as the Moriarty Journals.  Finally, in the eighties, he was commissioned by Glidrose – holders of the James Bond copyright (later changed to Ian Fleming Publications) – to begin a new book series featuring 007.

Gardner updated Bond, aging him slightly from his mid – thirties to his early forties, and featured more realistic and political stories.  The first of Gardner’s Bond novels, “Licence Renewed”, was an immediate success; Gardner subsequently gave us a new Bond novel per year (except for 1985 ) until 1994. 
His 1995 offering was the film novelization of “Goldeneye”.   He penned only one more original Bond novel – “Cold”, which was published in 1996. This last book could almost be considered two short novellas, as it is divided into two parts, each taking place years apart, with a brief chapter detailing the years between.

After the publication of “Cold” Gardner “retired” from the series in 1996 and later replaced by Raymond Benson.  Gardner would die on the third of August, 2007.

The First Three Novels

The Chronology: 

  • c. 1978

The “Double O” section is abolished during the “so – called Realignment Purge”.  It is renamed the Special Section, with Bond as its sole member.  This most likely took place during the time of Prime Minister James Callaghan. His Labour Party received a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons in March of 1979 after months of Labour unrest in the United Kingdom. He was replaced in the following election by Margaret Thatcher.

License Renewed (1981)

  • June 12th to June 27th, 1981

Chronological Remarks:   The clincher for 1981 is the mention of the Festival of St. John taking place on a Wednesday. St. John the Baptists’ feast day is June 24th, which was a Wednesday in 1981.

My rating: Classic 
Quotes and comments:

…M. grunted that Whitehall had taken on the wrong man while he was still in charge. “As far as I’m concerned, 007, you will remain 007. I shall take full responsibility for you; and you will, as ever, accept orders and assignments only from me. There are moments when this country needs a trouble-shooter – a blunt instrument – and by heaven it’s going to have one. They can issue their bumf and abolish the Double – O section. We can simply change its name. It will now be the Special Section, and you are it. Understand, 007?”

The first of many changes in the department Bond works for, but by no means the least or the last… This scene with M. represents the first instance of Gardner having part of a story take place years before the main action. 
The rating is because this is Gardner’s first Bond book. The story is above average otherwise.

  • Fall, 1981

Bond participates in the clean – up of Operation Creamcake.

  • March to June, 1982

Bond helps in training and other activities in the Falkland Islands.

For Special Services (1982)

  • Summer / Fall 1982

Chronological Remarks: 
A difficult book to chronologize, as there are no real clues in the book to go by .   Takes place after the events of License Renewed, and there is talk of “last January”.  Most likely takes place in the late Summer / Early Fall.   We do know that it is not during the months of May or June, as (according to Icebreaker) there is mention of Bond participating in the Falklands War (April to June 14th, 1982 – according to Win, Lose, or Die he may in fact have been there before April). 

Cedar Leiter is in her early twenties, and yet Bond says he is “nearly old enough” to be her father (try adding about 10 years, Mr. Bond.)! Cedar must have been born around 1958 or 1959. This would make her around twenty-three for the events of the novel. This is also the first instance in the Gardner novels where Bond has to fight his way out of a building – in this case an elevator that has been booby – trapped.

My rating – above average
Quotes and comments

Her large brown eyes did not waver as they met Bond’s gaze. There was something familiar about the eyes; as though he had seen, or met the girl before “Come in, 007,” M. was saying, his voice edgy. “I don’t think you’ve ever met this lady, but she’s the daughter of an old friend of yours. Commander James Bond…Miss Cedar Leiter.” 
A single card, handwritten with great care. It read: “To James Bond: The gift of a daughter – or whatever you want her to be.”

Felix Leiter makes an all too brief appearance in this book. While Felix as aged – as witnessed by a daughter in her early twenties, Bond has not. This is arguably Gardner’s best book in the series, certainly one of my favorites.

It is of some interest to see the return of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.. Gardner will use this organization in three of his works to limited success. 
The rating is justified; Felix, His daughter, Blofeld, and the return of SPECTRE.  Interesting Plot. Good show!

  • November, 1982

Bond recieves a substanial “legacy” from a heretofore unknown Uncle Bruce Bond. So much for “no relatives living” in 1962!

Icebreaker (1983)

  • January 12th to January 22nd, 1983

Chronological Remarks: 

Bond comes into it on Wednesday, January 12th of 1983, although the book itself begins a year earlier. Bond has just completed two weeks in the Artic Circle, first with a Driving course and then eleven days on “Artic Survival Maneuvers”. He is on his way back to London, stopping over in Helsinki when the novel begins.  Later that week, Bond flies to Finland on a Saturday from Madeira, Portugal, arriving early Sunday morning. He goes that night back to Paula Vackers’ apartment. It is still Sunday, almost midnight. After searching it, Bond makes his way back to his car and then leaves the city. Once out of the City, it is stated that there was no moon. This must be January 16th / 17th or Jan 23rd / 24th.

The moon on January 23 / 24 did not set until 2:18 am Helsinki time and was 63% full. This leaves January 16th / 17th. The moon, only 4% full that day, had set at 6:08 p.m. on the 16th, justifying the statement of no moon that night. The novel ends with the villain’s death ten days after it begins, on Saturday, January 22nd. 
Bond will be in hospital for two weeks, and then gets two months leave for his work.

My rating – Average 
Quotes and comments

He woke around dawn, then drifted to sleep again. This time, as always when content, he dreamed of Royale – les – Eaux, as it had been long ago.

A nice bit at the very end of the book. Although the weakest of Gardners’ early Bond novels, it has two of Gardners’ favorite devices that he will use time and again:

  • At least one of the chapters takes place at least a year before the rest of the book.
  • There is a double cross – usually someone Bond thinks is a friend is in actually his enemy (Gardner started using this trick in “For Special Services” ).

The rating is because of the overuse of the “who is on who’s side” syndrome.  It may be a good spy novel, but not so much a good James Bond spy novel.

To Be Continued….


The Making of Casino Royale 1967

A very organized book about a very unorganized film.


#FilmReadingChallenge  #4

The Making of Casino Royale (1967)

(Telos Movie Classics #2)

By Michael Richardson  c.2015

Telos Publishing    Paperback, 240 pages

I should have gotten the message when I saw the subtitle – Telos Movie Classics #2.  Out of all the movies I have seen, the 1967 satire would not of entered my mind as a classic.   But then again, the Telos Movie Classic #1 happens to be Ang Lee’s take on The Hulk, so maybe by classic they mean classic mistake.

Michael Richardson is listed as a film researcher.  And I will say he does a decent job of collecting the information.  He has also done very well in citing where said information comes from.   However, that seems to be a problem as well.  The way the text reads is somehow item per item, with no real flow and a new header almost per paragraph.  It makes for very dry reading on one hand, while also makes it very easy to put this book down and take it up at the next item.  While it is divided into Chapters, you may question why.  As for the 240 pages, there seems to be padding at the end with very brief “bios” of the main people, as well as some talk and ever specualtion on deleted scenes.

Richardson doesn’t interview anyone for the book, but relies on past interviews and book passages.  Lastly, aside from the cover, there are NO photographs contained in this book.  This really could have helped when Richardson was describing sets, or naming some of the bit players such as the girls surrounding Orson Wells in the Casino sequence.


CasinoRoyale67CollectorsEdI suppose, in the end, this book is really for the James Bond film fan.For those who don’t want to slog (and yes, sometimes it feels like a slog), may I recommend, for most likely less than the price of the this book, you purchase the collector’s edition of the movie?  The film contains not only an audio commentary from Jay Rubin, author of “The James Bond Films”, but also a featurette on – you guessed it – The Making of Casino Royale.


Until next time –

Bring on the Empty Horses – a review

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Classic Film Reading Challenge –

Report #3

Bring on the Empty Horses
By David Niven, c. 1975, Dell Publishing.  Paperback edition – 352 Pages.


Imagine you’re at a classic Dinner Party, and it’s after the meal.  Relaxing with Coffee and what have you, you find yourself sitting with David Niven, and you ask,
“David, tell me how it was Hollywood, just a few stories, please?”

In this book, Niven does just that.  For those of you who do not recognize the name, David Niven was an actor from 1932 to 1982, the year before he died.  He started out as a film extra, including a part as an uncredited “Able-bodied seaman” in the 1935 “Mutiny on the Bounty”, a role also shared with Jimmy Cagney and one which starred his fishing buddy Clark Gable.  He rose thru the ranks, mainly thru a contract with Samuel Goldwyn Studios, and appeared or starred in such films as “The Bishops Wife”, “Dawn Patrol”, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”, “The Guns of Navarone”, as the title role in “The Pink Panther”, and the ‘original’ James Bond in the 1967 version of “Casino Royale”.   He was also supposedly the only British Actor in Hollywood to put his career on hold to go back and enlist in the British armed forces when World War 2 broke out.
David Niven Normandy 1944 RMCommando

This picture, originally shown in his autobiography, shows Royal Marine Comanndo Lt. Niven in Normandy soon after D-Day.

Niven’s autobiography, “The Moon’s a Balloon” was released in 1971 and sold over 5 million copies.  There are a couple of anecdotes that I recognized from the autobiography, but most of the content in “Empty Horses” is brand new.  It should also be known that are two chapters (‘Our Little Girl’ parts one and two) where care is taken not to reveal the identities of the main subject.  The second of the two a harrowing story of Niven being dragged in to care for an actress undergoing a full-blown mental breakdown, since the publication of this book sources have revealed the actress to be Vivian Leigh, suffering a bipolar episode.

David doesn’t hold back. There of Chapters of joy and chapters, such as the two mentioned above, of sadness.  He reveals a softer picture of Clark Gable, the joy of Fred Astaire, and the sadness inherent in the life of his close friend Errol Flynn – “He was not a kind man, but in those careless days he was fun to be with, and those days were the best of Flynn.”

But of what this makes “Bring on the Empty Horses” enjoyable for me was when I was reading it, I could hear Niven’s voice in the words  (and if you buy the audio version you can too!).  I highly recommend this book for the behind the scenes stories of Hollywood from the 1930s to around the mid-sixties.  There are stories about the system, Hearst Castle (although to be fair, the stories of Hearst Castle are funnier in “Harpo Speaks”), and the celebrities of the time – oh, the celebrities, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, and Humphrey Bogart are just of few you will find sections on, not to mention a cameo by Candace Bergen.  You will visit the Brown Derby and Romanoff’s, and visit with Hedda and Louella.

empty horses cover
5 out of 5 stars for me. 


And now I find I’m halfway thru the #ClassicFilmChallenge!


Or, Bonding in the Swiss alps


If you are a James Bond fan, then Shilthorn is a destination you must visit.  The 360 degree revolving restaurant served as Blofeld’s Alpine fortress in the 1969 film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.  It is a film that Shilthorn has embraced and through the years has added to via a new “007 Walk of Fame” last year on 31 July 2015.  You can see a short video of the event here – Opening of the 007 Walk of Fame at Schilthorn

Located at nearly ten thousand feet above sea level in the Berner Oberland area of Switzerland’s Alp you can only get to Schilthorn via Cable Car from Mürren, or Stechelberg below.

I have visited Schilthorn a few times, usually in fall or winter – although the berg offers a fantastic ski run (called the ‘Inferno Run’) and can become quite crowded in the area between Christmas and New Year.  I arrived by train from Interlaken Ost, the eastern station that connected the valley via private railway (meaning anyone with a Eurorail pass needs to get a ticket at the station!).

As the first couple of times I visited I was staying overnight, I arrived at a quaint Swiss railway station, now sadly replaced by a more modern steel construct that shelters the passengers.  From the station I walked pretty much across the street and rode a funicular (a rather steep one too!) up to the small village of Mürren, which has no cars whatsoever.  Any deliveries that need to be made are down via an electric cart – think golf cart with a small flatbed to hold packages and such.  Everything in this small town is within walking distance, and the cable car leading further up the alp is centrally located.

It was strange visiting Schilthorn, as I had recently viewed the Bond movie and was noticing where different scenes were filmed.  From the Helicopter landing pad (which the Bond producers built as part of the agreement to use the site for filming, to the entrance hallway which still has Blofeld’s coat of arms on the wall, and, of course, the revolving restaurant itself.  Although parts of Shilthorn were recreated in Pinewood Studios for interior shots, as much as possible was filmed on site.

For a sightseer, the views from Schilthorn are magnificent.  You have the Eiger, the Jungfrau, and the Mönch alps surrounding you, and the view over the valley is magnificent.

Fahrplan_1 von Interlaken

For more information about Schilthorn, you can visit Schilthorn home page
For information about Mürren itself, try the Murren and Vicinity information page


What’s your favorite James Bond location?  Drop me a line and let me know!


Cliff notes would have been better

The Classic Film Reading Challenge –

Report #2

 Fred Astaire

By Stephen Harvey, c. 1975 Pyramid Communications, Inc – Paperback edition, 158 pages*.


Let me start by saying this, I love Fred Astaire, his style, his grace in his dancing just blew me away in his films.  I suppose the first I saw was his last “major” musical, Finian’s Rainbow, first run.  I soon discovered his earlier works, especially the ones with Ginger Rogers.

I can’t recall how I obtained this book, one in a series of Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies printed in the seventies of classic stars and genres.  But I know I never read it thoroughly until this month.  And I have to say I am disappointed.

Let’s start with the word count.  You notice I have an asterix after the page count.  It’s misleading.  The actual contents start on page 10 and ends on page 146, followed by a bibliography, filmography, and index.

Let me start with the positive.  The introduction and the first chapter covering Fred’s career with his sister up to his departure for Hollywood is very good.  That’s from pages 10 to 36.  And remember, since this is an “illustrated edition”, there are lots of pictures, including full page pictures.  And the content is provided in two column format.

The next chapter detail Fred’s early Hollywood films, including the ones with Ginger.  Here’s the problem – this is covered much better elsewhere.  There is nothing new about Fred (and merely a mention of his work with Hermes Pan on page 50.  In passing.) and most of the talk is about the plot of the film.

What this book is when it’s boiled down, that one you get pass the chapter about Fred before Hollywood, is an almost “Cliff notes” version of Fred’s films.  And I say almost because Cliff notes would have been better.  I hate the layout of the book.  Especially when the text is talking about The Bandwagon (1953) and the pictures are showing Funny Face (1957).  My other gripe is how one film blends into another – and this is especially bad when talking about the Fred – Ginger series.

There are many books on Fred Astaire, including his own biography, “Steps in Time”. There is an excellent book – “The Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers Book” by Arlene Croce.  Find those books.  Skip this one.

Until next time –


Son of Harpo Speaks!

Harpo and Bill Marx       

The Classic Film Reading ChallengeReport #1

Son of Harpo Speaks

By Bill Marx, c. 2010 Applause books – Kindle edition, 328 pages.


I decided to join this challenge to goad me into doing more reading, and with my rather large home library, I had a lot to choose from.  The challenge is rather simple, over the summer, read and write a report on the six books dealing with cinema, including actors and actresses.  This is my first report.

I had only recently learned of this book, that being via an old podcast that featured Bill Marx, the aforementioned (adopted) son of Harpo and Susan, nee Fleming, Marx.  I knew I wanted, nay, needed to read this.  Harpo’s book – Harpo Speaks, is one of my favorite biographies, and I wondered what this would add to the story.

Add to this the fact that I did not know what to expect from this book, aside from a couple of stories mentioned in the podcast.  I will say I quickly got caught up in Bill’s story, beginning at the old Dino’s Lounge (sadly demolished in 1985) and then flashing back to his earliest memories. Alex Wollcott, Harpo’s friend and Bill’s godfather and middle name namesake is here, singing the “I’m a little wabbit in the sunshine” song, also mentioned in Harpo’s book.  Bill has a habit of casually dropping names, such as “Uncle George and Aunt Gracie”, or George Burns and Gracie Allen to us lesser mortals.  Or Margaret Thomas, Danny Thomas’s daughter, who Bill takes to a prom, and who a few years later would change her name to Marlo.  And then there is Marion Davies, a friend of Harpo and Susan and who was very important in helping them being able to adopt in the first place.  Another favorite of mine is when Bill, now out of high school and moving to New York for college, spends his first away from home Christmas at the home of Margaret Hamilton.  Yes, Christmas with the Wicked Witch of the West.

And yes, his father and uncles are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, from working with his Dad as his prop man when Bill was twelve, from being Groucho’s piano man at Groucho’s home parties near the end of Groucho’s life.

Bill’s story has a fantastic element to it when we return to Dino’s lounge and something happens (trying for no spoilers here), that will result in Bill discovering why he was originally put up for adoption, a sad story that would have made a great Hollywood movie in the 30’s.    One of the things I appreciated in this book is when he writes about his adoptive mother,  Susan Fleming Marx – or “mom” to Bill.  I discovered more about her than we did in Harpo’s book.

Lastly, there is Harpo.  Bill share’s his life with Harpo and revealing, at the time of the writing, he still had the trunkful of props Harpo used in his act.  He also shares something that I sure most son’s have had…imaginary conversations with his long dead father.

So, in a sense, Harpo speaks again.

Creating a Character: 6 things I look for.


They say Character is everything.  A good character drives the story forward, almost telling the writer where to go next.  So the creation of a character is something every writing deals with.  Here’s a look into the process I go through when creating my cast of characters for a story.

1.  What is the character’s function in the story?

Is this the main character?  A major – but not main- Character?  Good guy or bad guy?  I tend to spend a bit more time getting to know the main characters then a minor or one scene character.  Some can just be a generic title.  “The salesclerk”, “the Traffic cop”, “the waitress”  can all be generic – however –

1A.  If a minor character, how minor, for how long?

Let’s take, for example, a servant girl I had written in to serve as a minor obstacle for the main characters in my story “Sidestepping Home”.  I gave her a name because she would appear in at least two scenes, or chapters, of the book.  So I thought.

I gave what I thought would be a minor twist and suddenly found my main characters with a new servant girl.  The minor obstacle had been elevated to almost sidekick status.  So instead of writing about a party of three in the household, I now had a foursome.  And the servant girl became important for the end of the novel.

2.  What do they do in the story? What’s their “job”?

The Hero has a job.  What is it?  Knowing their job helps you to figure out their breadth of knowledge.  An accountant may not know how to hot-wire a car, but a spy could hot-wire a car and be lousy when it comes time to do their expense reports.

  1. What’s their backstory for the last two months??

I don’t need to know who their first pet was, what their Grandparents did (unless it’s crucial to the story), or the name of the first person they kissed.  I do want to know what’s happening NOW in their lives, what type of mindset and mood they’re currently in.  It gives me a jumping point in the story for them.

  1. What’s their motivation in the story?  Is it to woo the fair maiden?  Avenge a great wrong?  And why is it important to them?

Once I have these four things, I can flesh out other details as needed, starting with

5 & 6.  What’s their name and age?

As I said above, I usually take my time with my main characters.  The name of the character sometimes being most important, as it is something you’ll be writing down a lot during the course of your story.

Age becomes important because it also helps set how much knowledge they may know, as well as social attitudes.

If I know their approximate age, I can find the top 25 names for their birth year (assuming you know the current year your story is taking place.) by using Google or another search engine.  Last names can be more difficult.  But there I have a resource –

This is a great site, as it can give you names from around the globe, as well as for names for fairy, myth, biblical, or fantasy.  One of the best features it the random name generator, where with a few clicks will deliver you a name.  Don’t like it?  Click “generate another”.  You can even decide you like a first name, then generate another and take the last name you decide upon.  A great writers resource.

Speaking of resources, check out Popcornbytes on Pinterest.  I have writing and writing research boards with many articles for your perusal, and of course, there’s the

Popcornbytes Concession Stand on Amazon!




The Manly Art of Rewrites

That hard part is not what happens when one finishes a story.  It’s getting there first.  I have at least two books in limbo right now, started but stopped for various reasons along the way.  One I look forward to getting back to, the other I may need to go back to square one.  It took me over a decade to finish “Sidestepping Home”, two false starts, and then finally I sat down and finished it over the course of six months.

So what I am doing instead? Rewriting.  I have two books that I have the first draft completed.  The story is there, spread out over Chapter after chapter.  Now I revisit, show it to my writing group (getting another’s feedback is invaluable at times), and sit down with it and rewrite.  It helps the story, and hopefully improves it to the point when somebody reads it, they feel satisfied with the money spent buying it (or at the very least, checking it out of the Library).

It’s a process. Sometimes it’s a grind, but like coffee, the better the grind, the better the flavor.



In writing today we’re told Flashbacks are out.  It’s a tired conveyance that many people overuse.  I say balderdash and Poppycock!

We’ve had flashbacks in our literature since we were small children.

“Once Upon a Time…. ”  remember that?

How about this one –

“A Long Time ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far, Away….”

Flashbacks are with us still, strong as ever.  It’s how the writer handles them that determines their effectiveness.