John Gardner, author of 14 James Bond novels and 2 movie novelisation's, talked to MI6 recently about his career as the official 007 author.

In the sixth part of this series, we talk to John Gardner about updating 007 to the 1980's and 1990's, and the titles that didn't make it...

In Conversation With John Gardner (6)
29th May 2004


You shifted Bond from Fleming's 60's to the (then) modern day 80's. Which elements of the Bond universe did you try to update in this decision to `time warp` the character forward 20-30 years?

Obviously the weaponry changed. The threats Bond had to face changed. What they used to call the `gee` technology changed. The advance in technology was I suppose the biggest thing. the trick was getting hold of stuff that was still classified.

In your books Bond seems to be more reliant on gadgets than Fleming’s Bond - do you think the film series influenced the readers’ expectations of James Bond, and if so, how did you adapt to that? Or was this just part and parcel of updating Bond into the 80s/90s?

I'd prefer to put it as, `reliance on technology`. That was essential because they were the things being used by the real people in the field.

Putting 007 in a Saab seems a surprising choice - why did you choose this over his favoured Bentley or put him in an Aston Martin, which the general public will always associated with 007? Was this part of a conscious effort to move away from the film series or in a different direction?

The Bentley was ridiculous. I mean, come on, the Bentley was ridiculous. In many ways so was the Aston Martin, because I regarded the Aston Martin as a fairly flash motorcar. Everyone else says "wow", "wonderful", "yippee", but I had to get away from that.

I liked the Saab. It's a very safe motorcar, a very safe motorcar indeed. You can clock up the miles on it, you can clock up the speeds on it.

I had one myself, so it was written from my experiences. I've had a Saab right up until I stopped driving about two years ago, and loved them, and I only stopped driving because I don't need to drive anywhere anymore.


Above: John Gardner and the Saab Turbo

"The American's wanted: `Bond goes to see M`, `flirts with Moneypenny`, `goes off`, `Bond loses the baddy`, `Baddy gets Bond`, then `Bond triumphs`. And I thought, erm, `no`."

Which was your favourite Bond novel, or which are you most proud of?

The Man From Barbarossa.


Is that because you had switched the style slightly from what people were used to?

Well it was more that I had hit on the style I had strived for since the beginning. Much to the consternation of much of the American public! They said, "my God, this is not the same mixture as before!", which was the idea.

So they were just expecting more of the same?

Yes, they wanted: "Bond goes to see M", "flirts with Moneypenny", "goes off", "Bond loses the baddy", "Baddy gets Bond", then "Bond triumphs". And I thought, erm, "no". You have to mix it up occasionally.

Left: Dutch artwork for "The Man From Barbarossa"

Do you think the “sex, snobbery and sadism” label was fair to either Fleming or his work?

Yes the label is very fair on Fleming! You only have to read Casino Royale to see how fierce the sadism is. It's terribly brutal. But of course the sex is teenage sex, he admitted that himself. I don't know if he admitted he was a snob too, but he was. But he hit on this wonderful thing of trading on labels, and it worked, and they're still doing it today, more and more and more...

How many of the titles were your creation? How much interference/suggestion came from the publishers? How bad were some of the titles that didn't make it?

I can't remember exactly... the bulk of the titles were mine I think

But it was the first stupid rubbing point, I mean, it was ridiculous. I remember when I came up with "Icebreaker" they were all "no, no, no, that's going to be no good..."

Did they prefer more `obvious` Bond titles?

Yes, the Americans did. They supplied the one with the word "Bond" in it, they wanted them all to have the word "Bond" in. "Good morning, Mr Bond!" [Laughs] I don't think it was quite as brash as that, but they tended to be a bit like that.

Some they hated, but then I put them on paper anyway... I had a title I thought would be very good, and Glidrose thought would be very good, which was "Blondes Prefer Gentlemen". That got shouted down by Cape, but I thought it was a rather Bond-ish title, but no, I wasn't allowed that.

I've always maintained that if an editor who sits down with you says, in the opening gambit, "I'm not quite sure about the title", you know they don't have much to say about the book either. You've got to make them work, because authors depend on editors. You get your first reaction from an editor, and I don't want a reaction about the title.

Were there some really, really bad ones that were suggested to you?

Oh I think so, yes.

Did you have any ideas you liked for storylines or characters that never made it into your novels?

Yes, I have one very good one and I'm not going to tell you what it is because I'm going to write it! [Laughs] But with a different character. It's an excellent one.

Will you tell us when you've done it?

Yes, absolutely, as soon as I've done it I'll let everyone know!


Above: Japanese cover art for "Brokenclaw", "No Deals, Mr. Bond", "For Special Services".

I've just finished a third one in a new series, that's coming out in the spring.

As we have no continuation author at the moment since Benson stepped down, a lot of fans who missed your generation of books first time around now have chance to go back..

Yes... Well you know they are republishing me, the first three, in a omnibus edition. I gather that if they get reasonable results from that, we'll do more. [Laughs] I found that out by accident!

It's going to be good to see them all out again, after the Fleming's have been republished...

Yes, that's what we are trying to do too. In fact I'll be finding out what the plans are for the future soon...

...It must be good to have the royalties coming back in again too...

[Laughs] Yes, it all helps! Why not?

Thanks to John Gardner.

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