Ben Williams reports for MI6 from the 'Carte Blanche' launch event in London today...

Carte Blanche Event Report

25th May 2011

One fine morning in 1953, Ian Lancaster Fleming emerged from the clear Jamaican waters of his Goldeneye estate, made his way to his writing desk and, with a new sheaf of paper in his Royal typewriter, set about his first novel, Casino Royale. With that, James Bond, one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century, was born.

Since then, James Bond has survived countless attempts on his life, and even the untimely passing of his creator. Whilst Ian Fleming may have passed away, James Bond lives on through the films and continuation novels.

However, there is one thing that James Bond cannot escape, and that is the passage of time. Fleming’s Bond would be in his late eighties today, and unlikely to be capable of the kind of derring-do we associate with the character. Over the years, his character has needed to be subtly updated, to not only keep him fighting fit, but to keep him in line with the changing times.

In Jeffery Deaver’s latest Bond adventure, Carte Blanche, James Bond has been given an entirely new backstory, and whilst the character of Bond in Carte Blanche is very much the man that Fleming created, he has, for all intents and purposes, been reborn.

Above: Author Jeffery Deaver with motorcycle stunt woman and model Chesca Miles.

So, it is with these thoughts of rebirth and renewal in my head that I enter St.Pancras Station to witness the launch Carte Blanche.
The Grand Champagne Bar, Europe’s longest, under the spectacular metal latticework of St. Pancras Station, and with the electric thrill of international travel crackling in the air, is the perfect location to launch the latest Bond novel.

As I approach, several Royal Marine Commandos in combat fatigues are clambering up almost impossibly tiny rope ladders into the vaulted metal girders. When they reach the top, they sit comfortably on the crossbeams, and I’m reminded of the famous photograph of the construction workers on the Empire State Building as they ate their lunch. Looking up, I’m happy to be down here on terra firma with a glass of bubbly and the canapés.

Clearly, they are awaiting something special, but what that might be, I have no idea. Until that is the hubbub of the milling throng is broken by a deep, guttural roar and a vintage BSA Spitfire, followed by a flame red Bentley Continental GT, roll along the pedestrian concourse and pull up alongside the bar.

Sitting astride the classic motorcycle is the stunning Chesca Miles, model, singer and the UK’s first female stunt rider, and certainly a befitting Bond Girl, whilst from the Bentley emerges the man that everyone has been waiting to see: Jeffery Deaver.
Then, right on cue, the Royal Marine Commandos abseil swiftly down their ropes to deliver the hardback copies of the book itself. It’s a very Bondian moment.

Above: The specially branded 'Carte Blanche' Bentley Continental GT.

Jeffery Deaver then takes to the microphone to say a few words about Carte Blanche and how he became involved with the project. He began by thanking the Royal Marines and the other military personnel present, and invited everyone to join him in applauding the efforts of all the military and security forces around the world for protecting us with their lives and for being the real life James Bonds.

He went on to paraphrase a line from Fleming’s Goldfinger, by saying that his involvement with writing Bond was threefold. “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time is the charm,” he said. The first time being when he was eleven years old and wrote his first novel, a Bondian spy thriller that was about a British agent stealing a Russian fighter. The second time was when his book The Garden of Beasts received the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, presented by the Crime Writers’ Association. The third was when, just eighteen short months ago, he was asked by Ian Fleming Publications to write a continuation novel, a request that he eagerly accepted. He finished by saying: “I must thank someone who is here in spirit, if not in presence: Ian Fleming, himself. For more than any other author, he has taught us that heroes matter, and that whatever happens in the world around us, there will always be someone with the courage, the resourcefulness and the flair to watch over us.”

After this he introduced Lucy Fleming, Ian Fleming’s niece who said a few words about Ian:“ If Ian was here today, he would have very much enjoyed the occasion…more than anything though he would have appreciated and been incredibly pleased by the way that Jeffery Deaver has kicked his dear old James Bond into the 21st Century, with his brilliant plot, his clever twists and turns, and his remarkably detailed knowledge of British Intelligence.”

After the speeches, I was able to chat to some of the guests, including Charlie Higson, who was very enthusiastic about the book and full of good humour, explaining to his companion that, whilst I had identified myself as writing for MI6, I was not, in fact, a spy. He happily posed for a picture and told me that he was very much looking forward to reading Carte Blanche.

Above: Young Bond author Charlie Higson.

I also spoke to Simon Gardner, son of John Gardner, whose father was responsible for many of the continuation novels. He spoke to me about the difficulty in writing to the constraints of the Bond formula whilst keeping it fresh and exciting. Despite this, he was sure that Jeffery Deaver had done a marvellous job and he seemed excited to read this latest outing.

Finally, I spoke to Vivienne Schulster, Jeffery Deaver’s agent. When I told Vivienne my thoughts on this being somewhat of a rebirth for the character, she readily agreed. She was very keen that fans should see this novel as being very respectful to Ian Fleming and his creation and that Jeffery had created a story that, whilst keeping to his hallmarks of a fast plot with many twists, was also a Bond adventure in its truest sense.

I left the event feeling somewhat lightheaded, and not merely from the champagne. After all, if this truly is a rebirth for Bond, then I will always be able to say that I was there at the beginning, in this new chapter in the life of everyone’s favourite spy.

Many thanks to Ben Williams. All photographs © Ben Williams. No use without premission.
Stay tuned to MI6 for more coverage of Carte Blanche all this week.

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