The Franchise Never Dies

Anyone know if it’s the James Bond 50th Anniversary ? They really should let us know if it is or not. As usual, the Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli organisation are keeping their Walther PPKs close to their chests. The BBC have hardly mentioned a thing on their website – a mere four features a day of various hoary old Bond yarns.

On a recent wander past the magazine racks in Sainsburys, I saw Daniel Craig or a Bond Girl on no more than 78 different mag and newspaper covers.  From GQ, Vanity Fair and LIFE down to Woman and Home (which includes a knitting patter for an Aston Martin DB5), Wisden (“James Bond’s 50 Best LBWs”), The Daily Express: “Was Jimmy Savile the real Goldfinger ?and You Magazine‘s fascinating quiz “Best 50 Up the Skirt Shots of Bond Girls”.

It only serves as a reminder to me that once upon a time, every four years or so, I and everyone else in the press were charged with coming up with or working on terribly interesting and ,of course, highly original huge feature spreads on Ian Fleming‘s Character. For many of us, this meant dealing with the charmless EON Productions who make it their business to drip feed each ‘news’ organisation titbits and archive material for an 8-page “feature/advert relating the new movie – including rare shots of Shirley Eaton painted from head to toe in gold (there are only 93 different shots known to be in existence).

All this material is handed over under the strict understanding that you are doing them a favour. We slam the phone down, we say rude words and kick the desk, knowing that your rival publication has got that shot of Roger Moore that you really needed to finish your montage of “50 Best Bond Casual Attires” (Horse& Groom). But because Bond is sexy, alluring, ever-changing and the one of two British blokes on the planet with a sense of style (modesty forbids me to name the other), every few years we put that to the back of our mind and call Eon again to ask if they have a handy list of Bond Villains (they’d never thought of compiling one – honest). And “wasn’t it terrible that Adele’s song ‘leaked’ online ?”  Incredible.

And every few years the public swallow all this and lap it up. Our (or rather your) appetite for 007 has no end, apparently. I read with no interest at all that Friday 5 October 2012 has been declared ‘Global James Bond Day’ By who(m) ? Have a guess. There’ll be a “row” on TV about the name of the latest movie; endless phone-ins about who is the “Best Bond” are broadcast on radio (I once called up and suggested John Bond, who used to play for West Ham – I didn’t get on air), Ursula Andress’s swimsuit will be auctioned off again at Sotheby’s, and the BBC (again) will send Alan Yentob to do a documentary on Ian Fleming “The real James Bond“. Someone will write a “new” Bond book in the style of the originals. A debate on a late Arts show will show that David Niven and George Lazenby (who the producers worried was gay, d’you know ?) were bloody good actors and Sean Connery will be asked what he thinks of Daniel Craig, while we uncomfortably watch how old he’s suddenly become and realise that we really do Only Live Once.

So don’t worry if you missed this piece, I shall be re-publishing it in three years time, in time for the new movie “A View to an Overkill”. You won’t, of course, realise it’s the same piece as there will be new and exclusive pictures of Halle Berry and a rare interview with Gert Frobe where he told us that he couldn’t play cards after all ! It’ll be a thrill. Honest.

Sons (and Daughters) of the Desert

Morning Has Broken, Like my Right Ankle. Pic: Andy Preston

Those of you who have seen and loved (and I am assuming that’s all of you) Ice Cold in Alex, the epic, almost perfect 1958 British war movie, will remember the scene half way through where John Mills (as a brave British Alcoholic), Anthony Quayle (as a dirty nazi spy) Harry Andrews (salt of the earth sergeant) and Sylvia Syms (a stunning example of British womanhood) have to winch an ambulance up a hundred foot sand dune to escape from Gerry.

The scene takes ages, full of sweat, pain, close-up shots of vexed faces and bulging biceps, and then Sylvia buggers it all up by letting go of the crank handle, allowing the truck to roll all the way back down the hill. Silly cow. So they have to start all over again.

On the other hand, you may be more familiar with The Hill, Sidney Lumet’s classic 1965 flick about a British Military prison in North Africa during World War II. In the movie, Harry Andrews (he was in all of ‘em) shouts a lot at Sean Connery and Roy Kinnear and has them running, climbing and crawling up and down a dirty great mound of sand (‘The Hill’ of the title) as part of their punishment. It’s grueling stuff. Sean won’t let the buggers get the better of him, but poor old Roy’s only got little legs. Hot n sweaty stuff again. If you’ve not seen it go get it out (or illegally download it, as I hear you young kids are prone to do nowadays). It’s great stuff.

I only mention this because this time about a week ago, I was merrily drinking my own bodyweight in duty free booze when someone had a brilliant idea:
We were sat in a camp in the Omani desert, having arrived far too late to sit on top of a dune and watch the ‘spectacular sunset’, as it says in all the guide books. “We’ll sod that, then” piped up someone, who may or may not have been me, “Let’s get up, sparrows, and climb up top and watch the sunRISE!”. Hurrah said a few of the gathered pissheads, and we set about drinking ourselves into an oblivion that only British tourists go to when they are in a “dry” country.

The party finished (I am told) when the booze ran out. By a later count it would seem we’d averaged about a litre of something each (I’m sure someone else must have had my share). Anyway, apparently I nodded off because I was woken by the incumbent who announced we were off up the dune. It was about five in the morning. I’d been on it for around ten hours, followed by seventeen minutes sleep. I rose and wobbled off into the darkness. Like Saladin, T.E.Lawrence and Michael Palin before us, I and a few close, pissed friends strode out, with only the moonlight to guide us. Saladin, I’m guessing, was teetotal, Lawrence had the help of the Bedouins, Palin a BBC lighting and camera crew. I’d enlisted the help of a bottle of Tanqueray gin and a couple of Nurofen. My fellow trekkers had done similar but also had this fat pissed old bloke to look after. And not a Harry Andrews in sight.

The dark, intimidating dune loomed ominously in front of us. It was huge, A hundred feet, maybe 150. (I say this NOW, but I honestly have very little memory of any of this, most of it is first and second-hand testimony from people who were considerably less pissed than I was). I can remember the first twenty yards-or-so not being too bad. Perhaps I wasn’t so drunk after all? Perhaps all that pre-tour training had finally paid off? No, hang on: I was very pissed and I hadn’t done any training. I was just numb and stubborn.

The Incumbent and I stop for a breather

The next section was another story. Softer sand, steeper climb, I was beginning to sober up rapidly. Several of those above me made the unmistakable sounds of fit people having fun. They laughed, they gasped, they talked about stuff OTHER than how much pain they were in. I made no such polite chitchat. I was pleading with my legs to keep pumping, and for the Incumbent to give me a piggyback. She politely refused and suggested we stop to catch our breath. Too late for me. I’d left my breath back at camp during a recital of Status Quo’s finest at the party earlier that night. However, we dug in half way to the summit to rest.

It was steep, and damp, but the sand was cool and soft. I could have stayed there forever, or until after I stopped hurting- whichever came sooner. The incumbent took off her flip-flops which she’d nearly lost several times on the way up, I thought about writing a will. But for reasons beyond me we were soon on our feet/knees and heading slowly for the top. Our friends had already disappeared from view, and were presumably readying themselves for the great spectacle to come. I didn’t want to miss it, having come so far. So gasping, coughing and swearing at myself (well, it saved anyone else doing it) I gradually emerged over the brow of the hill to see such a wondrous sight: my mates sitting on top of ANOTHER dune 40 yards away. After a brief pause for a word with my sponsor, we made our way over to the other peak and collapsed. Some took photos, some looked for their flip-flops, some merely closed their eyes and wept at the pain and the heat that their quadriceps and lungs were emitting.

And there we sat, like that bunch of old gits in Close Encounters, waiting for something to come over the hill. We didn’t have to wait long. Five or six minutes later a beautiful, perfect yellow sun came up over the horizon and shed it’s pale golden hue on all around. It gave us a warm glow to know we, out of all others left down below, had made the effort to come up top and witness this sight. It gave me a warm feeling in my heart, though that could have been from the gin and a dodgy prawn earlier.

Like Hillary and Tenzing, just a little more dignified. Pic: Andy Preston

But we’d done it, without the aid of 4×4, guide or even Harry Andrews. We stood there and gawped for minutes.

Then we went back down the hill for brekkie.

Days later by a hotel swimming pool I suddenly sat bolt upright and remembered what a prat I’d been to attempt such a thing in such a state. I could have killed myself and been left up there on the desolate peak, like a discarded flop-flop. Such was my distress that I had to order another gin. “Better make it a large one, I’ve got to play cricket tomorrow.”