John Gardner is something of a forgotten man in the overall picture of the James Bond phenomenon.
Everybody knows who Ian Fleming was, but how many non-Bond fans know Gardner's name? Of course, it's not fair to compare a continuation author with the man who created the character and every aspect of his world, but Gardner's contribution was nonetheless significant and, I believe, he deserves more credit.
Over a period of 15 years (1981-1996) he wrote 14 original Bond novels, plus novelisations of the movies Licence to Kill and Goldeneye. Fleming wrote the same number of books (counting For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy & The Living Daylights as two books) over an 11-year period, with his last two Bond books being published posthumously.
It was widely assumed that the producers of the Bond movies would turn to Gardner's books once they had exhausted the supply of Fleming's original material, but, to date, this has not happened.
Gardner wrote the novelisation of Licence to Kill to accompany the release of the film in 1989, but the story contained major elements from Fleming's Live and Let Die (Felix disagreeing with something that eats him) and the Milton Krest storyline from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity. The bulk of the story was written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.
Gardner was also commissioned to write a novelisation of Goldeneye (1995), which became the first movie not to include any of Fleming's storylines. Although Gardner inserted one of two small scenes, his novel essentially followed the screenplay written by American screenwriter Michael France.
There was every opportunity to use Gardner’s books for the later Pierce Brosnan films, but they were overlooked in favour of new stories by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. When you consider the dreadful storyline for Die Another Day, it seems almost perverse that Gardner’s work was not used.
The influence of the films is evident throughout Gardner's books. You get the feeling from the pace, plots, characters and action sequences that he was writing with a big screen adaptation in mind, rather than crafting a literary thriller in its own right, as Fleming had done. This makes it all the more ironic than none of his novels have made it to the screen as yet.
Admittedly, Gardner lacks the colourful turn of phrase, journalistic detail, and the casual snobbery of Fleming’s work, but that is irrelevant in adapting his work for the screen. The 1980s/1990s settings can easily be updated, as can the political and social elements that many of his novels cover.
You could reasonably argue that Raymond Benson’s Bond novels should be used (or even the more recent books by Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz), but Gardner devoted such a large part of his career to Bond that adapting his books into films would introduce a whole new generation to his work, and give him the credit he deserves.
In returning to Casino Royale for Daniel Craig’s debut, the producers understandably created a new story arc, which will presumably conclude with No Time to Die. With Craig now expected to hang up his Walther PPK, there is time for a re-boot of the franchise, and I think John Gardner’s books are worthy of consideration.
Queen Anne Press have announced the forthcoming publication of the notes that John Pearson made in 1965 while researching The Life of Ian Fleming.
The QAP website reveals: "They chart not only Fleming’s life – with details that never made it into the finished biography - but John’s own journey while investigating his subject. As such they form less a series of aides memoires than a book about writing a book. Compelling, insightful, irreverent and written in John’s inimitable style, they make an outstanding read. Never before published, they are available in two limitations:
A Regular Edition numbered 001-150 – £125
A Deluxe Edition lettered A-Z, signed by the author – £275 (fully subscribed)
376pp. Royal. Typography by Libanus Press. Covers by Prof. Phil Cleaver, Etal Design. Introduction by Fergus Fleming.
We expect the Regulars to be available late April. It will take a further three weeks to bind the Deluxe. In both cases, pandemic permitting. To register interest please email firstname.lastname@example.org
As a taster, here’s a clip from John’s interview with Admiral Godfrey, Fleming’s boss at Naval Intelligence and reputedly the model for ‘M’.
‘I’ll be wearing a check cap and will meet you off the 9.45 at Eastbourne Central,’ he had said. And there he was, a large, pink-faced man in his early seventies with heavy brown shoes and a grey Rover car. ‘Don’t judge John Godfrey by what he looks like now,’ Harling had said. ‘In his day he was formidable. Very formidable indeed. Since then, of course, he’s had a heart attack and he’s nothing like the man he was.’
But it wasn’t just a heart attack and the passage of a quarter of a century that accounted for the sadness of the occasion. It was partly that he had this air of helplessness, of the best part of life being over, that all naval officers seem to have when they retire. Those brown shoes haunted me throughout the interview.
But more than this, of course, was the fact that Fleming had so grossly oversold the product. Instead of the steely-eyed ‘M’ with his ruthlessness and his wealth and his deeply-lined face, there was this sad old man who found difficulty getting the car parked and looked like Cecil Parker.
The only surviving piece of M-ness one could see were the eyes. They were very pale blue, very cool."