James Bond continuation novelist John Gardner has died at the age of 80. MI6 looks back at his life and career...

John Gardner (1926-2007)
6th August 2007

James Bond continuation novelist and thriller writer John Gardner has passed away at age 80. He died on Friday 3rd August 2007 from suspected heart failure. Gardner collapsed at his home in Basingstoke, and thinking he had fainted, called his daughter Alexis. He took a turn for the worse and was rushed to hospital where he later died.

John Gardner was born in Northumbria on November 20th, 1926. He graduated from St. John's College, Cambridge and did postgraduate study at Oxford. Gardner volunteered for service in the Royal Marines during World War II, became a stage magician and served briefly with the American Red Cross.

Gardner's father was a clergyman in the Church of England and encouraged him to follow his example. Gardner was ordained and served as a priest in Eversham for seven years and then became a chaplain to the Royal Air Force, before taking the rare step of ceasing to be ordained and withdrawing from the clergy.

He then worked as a journalist and theatre critic for The Herald from 1959 to 1964, chronicling the years when Sir Peter Hall was reorganising the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was another year until the ultimate climax of his alcoholism. He managed to overcome his addiction through a combination of aversion therapy and hypnosis, and was proud that he hadn't drunk a drop since. Gardner also lectured in Shakespearean production in Canada and the United States.

Above: Author John Gardner

In 1964, Gardner began his novelist career with "The Liquidator", in which he created a richly comic character named Boysie Oakes who inadvertently is mistaken to be a tough, pitiless man of action and is thereupon recruited into a British spy agency.

Above: John Gardner pictured with a portrait of Ian Fleming, circa 1981

Oakes is, in actuality, a devout coward with many other character failings who wants nothing more than to be left alone and is terrified by the situations into which he is constantly being forced. The book appeared at the height of the fictional spy mania and as a send-up of the whole business was an immediate success. It was made into a movie, and another seven light-hearted novels about the cowardly Oakes appeared over the next 12 years.

Following the success of his Oakes books, Gardner continued to write with new characters; Derek Torry, Herbie Kruger, and the Railton family, which he intended as more serious works in the spy novel genre.

Gardner also wrote three novels (the third of which was never released due to a dispute with the publisher) using the character of Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes series. During this period, Gardner made his home in the Republic of Ireland - a location which would feature in his books.

In 1981, Gardner was the first on a list of six potential authors approached by Glidrose Publications (now Ian Fleming Publications) to revive Ian Fleming's James Bond series of novels. His initial reaction was to turn down the offer, but his refusal letter was never mailed and Gardner had a change of heart. Between 1981 and 1996, he wrote fourteen James Bond novels and two film novelisations. While the books were commercial successes, Gardner was sometimes ambivalent about writing novels with a character he hadn't created.

Above: Licence Renewed (1981). British 1st edition Jonathan Cape UK hardback.

During his tenure as James Bond novelist, Gardner lived in the USA for nine years where he was diagnosed with cancer. The costs of private healthcare proved a tremendous burden. After penning his fourteenth 007 adventure "Cold" and a second film novelisation "GoldenEye", Gardner officially retired from writing Bond novels in 1996 due to his prolonged battle with cancer. Glidrose Publications chose Raymond Benson to continue the literary stories of James Bond.

James Bond Novels
Licence Renewed (1981)
For Special Services (1982)
Icebreaker (1983)
Role of Honour (1984)
Nobody Lives For Ever (1986)
No Deals, Mr. Bond (1987)
Scorpius (1988)
Win, Lose or Die (1989)
Licence to Kill (1989) - novelization
Brokenclaw (1990)
The Man from Barbarossa (1991)
Death is Forever (1992)
Never Send Flowers (1993)
SeaFire (1994)
GoldenEye (1995) - novelization
COLD aka Cold Fall (1996)

Shortly thereafter, his first wife of 45 years, Margaret, passed away in 1997 having suffered illness she concealed from him during his cancer treatment. Gardner moved back to the UK and stopped writing for several years, but recovered and returned to print in 2001 with a new novel, "Day of Absolution", which was widely praised by critics.

Gardner also began a series of books with a new character, Suzie Mountford, a 1930's police detective. It was this fictional creation that reconnected him to his university sweetheart, Patricia, who split from in 1949. Gardner had used her maiden name for his latest character. The couple got engaged for a second time in 2004. His last published work was "Troubled Midnight", the fourth book in the Suzie Mountford series. The fifth, "No Human Enemy", is scheduled to be published posthumously on 27th August 2007.


"It started when I was eight. I announced that I wanted to be a writer so my Father gave me a notebook and some pencils that he'd probably liberated from the school where he was chaplain. I took them up to bed. The story goes that he came up an hour later and found me fast asleep while the notebook was still virgin white except for the first page on which I had written – The Complete Works of John Gardner."

John Gardner will be fondly remembered by Patricia, his two daughters and a son (with Margaret), and fans everywhere who have enjoyed his many published works including the James Bond continuation novels.

In recent years, MI6 had the honour of talking to John Gardner about his life and work. It was the last interview he gave about his tenure as James Bond continuation author.

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