You don’t know who they are. You don’t know where they come from. You have no idea of their actual name or age. I could be one right now, and you would never know it. But that’s kind of the idea.
In the world of spies everything is supposed to be shrouded in secrecy. Traveling in the most expensive cars, living in the most extravagant hotels and having the most fantastic gadgets and accessories to go along with it.
It’s secret agent month here at The Mustache and The Beard and we are going to dive deep into the world of spies in the fictional world and take a look back at where they came from and where they’re going. But before we get too involved, it must be said, I have fooled you all as I am neither The Mustache nor The Beard. I am Lance The Obscure Movie Guy, lending a helping hand to those in need as The Beard is currently out of commission, and The Mustache is a bit overwhelmed so I will be your tour guide on what will surely be an obscure journey.
When it comes to espionage in the fictional world we have no shortage of stories, movies or characters to choose from. Austin Powers, Johnny English, Maxwell Smart, The Avengers (not the Marvel Superheroes), The Kingsman, Jason Bourne, Mission Impossible and so on.
But let’s be honest, we really need to start with the man, the myth, the legend… James Bond. The most famous spy of them all and really the catalyst for the modern interpretation of the spy itself. But in order to find out more about Bond, we need to look at his creator, Ian Fleming.
Ian Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels and 2 collections of short stories between 1953 and 1966. Obviously, the Bond franchise has gone to have many more novels, 23 films, comic books, and multiple video games. With such a successful franchise it makes you wonder where Fleming came up with such fantastic ideas to begin with. Well in a sense, Ian Fleming was James Bond.
While Fleming was never a “spy” per se, he had an interesting military career during WWII. He was recruited in 1939 to the Royal Navy by the Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral John Godfrey. He worked by Godfrey’s side as an assistant and was often used as a liaison with other branches of the Military including the Secret Intelligence Service, and Joint Intelligence Committee.
Between 1941-1942 he headed Operation Goldeneye (sound familiar), also in 1942 he formed the 30 Assault Unit composed of special intelligence troops. In ‘44 he started T-Force which was responsible for securing documents, persons, equipment and other important items after the capture of large towns or ports that were occupied by enemy forces.
We can then start to see where Fleming came up with such phenomenal ideas. It would seem that he actually lived some of the things that he wrote about in his novels. Makes you wonder why they never made a movie about Fleming instead……or did they?
Fleming has actually been the subject of no less than 6 biographical films. Goldeneye: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, was a 1989 made for TV movie starring Charles Dane as Fleming. In 1990 Jason Connery (son of original franchise Bond, Sean Connery) portrayed Fleming in, Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming. In 2005, Ben Daniels would star as Fleming in the BBC docudrama Ian Fleming: Bond Maker.
In ‘08 BBC would once again have a broadcast of Fleming. This time it was an actual documentary, Ian Fleming: Where Bond Began, presented by Joanna Lumley who was a “Bond Girl” in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The 2011 film “Age of Heroes” was a film about the exploits of the 30-commando assault unit, headed by Fleming during WWII. James D’Arcy would portray Fleming in that film. And my personal favorite, Fleming: The Man Who Would be Bond, is a 2014, four-episode mini-series, BBC America production starring Dominic Cooper as the titular character.
Ian Fleming and James Bond are very much like Bruce Wayne and Batman. It’s a constant struggle between who’s really the normal guy and who’s really the hero. It should be noted that Fleming landed on the name James Bond because he originally “wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument. . . When I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard.”
Bond of course was an actual person. Fleming saw the name on the side of a book that he owned, a field guide titled, Birds of the West Indies, written by American ornithologist James Bond, so it begs the question, was Bond dull like Fleming, or was Fleming as fantastical as Bond? Who’s the Hero? And while we’re on the subject of spies and Batman, one could also argue that Wayne’s butler could also fall into the same category as Bond and Fleming.
In the most current iteration, Alfred Pennyworth appears in the Epix TV series simply titled “Pennyworth.” Here, Alfred is portrayed as a former British SAS soldier who forms his own security company after serving in the military during the Malaysian Emergency. Alfred becomes the target of the Raven Society, which is a group conspiring to take over the British Government. He begins to work alongside two American Agents from the No Name League, Martha and Thomas Wayne, the future parents of Bruce Wayne.
This series has 2 seasons already through Epix and the 3rd season is set to debut on HBO Max. It also seems to serve as a precursor to the Fox TV series, Gotham, in which he becomes Bruce Wayne’s Guardian after Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered.
In Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Pennyworth is played by Michael Caine and is a former SAS (Special Air Service) soldier for the British Army, who did tours in Malaysia, Cyprus, West Germany, and Northern Ireland.
Whatever the case may be, Bond will always be the standard by which we measure secret agents. As it is, no one else measures up. But all spies seem to share some sort of characteristics with Bond. Mission Impossible’s, Ethan Hunt certainly has the sense of adventure and danger. The Man from U.N.C.L.E has the sense of secrecy. And Maxwell Smart certainly had the most extraordinary and incredible gadgets. (I still think the shoe phone is still ahead of its time.) But realistically in the end, if you mix them together you always end up with some variation of Bond.
Even something as extreme as XXX’s Xander Cage played by Vin Diesel shows a complete disregard for authority but is willing to do what needs to be done to complete the mission. Sounds a lot like Bond to me. So just remember when watching any spy movie, show, cartoon, or reading any novel, remember the man, the myth, the legend. And I don’t mean Bond. The name is Fleming. . . Ian Fleming.