312 pages, Picador, ISBN-13: 978-0312426668
If I were the litigious type I’d be tempted to sue Simon Winder for false representation over the title of his book, The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond; a more accurate title might have been How the Mighty Have Fallen: Britain After the Loss of Empire, or maybe Days of Hope and Glory: Growing Up in Post-Imperial Britain, or maybe even Britain Sucks: The Many Crimes and Terrors Perpetrated by England Against the World for Nigh-On Infinity. This is because only perhaps a third of the book is, in fact, about the Bond books and movies; the rest is a (oh-so-bleak) history of Britain in the 50s, 60s & 70s and the author’s experiences of the same. Oh, it’s a good and entertaining read at times, to be sure, but Winder’s premise is that Bond existed solely as a fantasy figure for the Tories, an honored fictional British character whose primary function was to keep the illusion of British Honor and Empire alive long after it had (allegedly) died. He trashes Fleming as a decadent elitist writer (stating only three of the Bond books saved him from being a total hack) and he dismisses Fleming’s non-fiction work as nothing more than trash. His criticisms of the Bond films and actors are all savage – particularly Roger Moore, but also Pierce Brosnan and George Lazenby; he refuses to even discuss Timothy Dalton and only Daniel Craig escapes his bile, as the book was published in 2006 – and apparently only Sean Connery had some appeal for him, though this may be generational envy as he never experienced the Connery films first run (he started with Live and Let Die). And Connery isn’t spared from his diatribes, dismissing him as he does as a limited actor with very narrow range who never did anything worthwhile apart from the first four Bond films and, maybe, Robin and Marian.
For all that the book spends relatively little time on the supposed subject at hand and is mostly a rambling, one-sided historical rant about the terrible, brutal sins perpetrated by England around the world through their colonialism, all in the name of King (or Queen) and Country; indeed, I would go further and say that Winder is not particularly fond James Bond or Ian Fleming and is a touch resentful of his younger self for ever having been a fan of 007 in the first place. The author throughout most of the book appears to be a member of that odd fraternity that seems only to exist in the West: the self-loathing anti-patriotic leftist elite who seems, nevertheless, to have done pretty well out of growing up there with safe, middle-class upbringing and an Oxford education. The hatred for England and everything it stands for is off-putting to say the least, even for a red-blooded Yank such as myself: Britain is a rotten place; Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was just like the Nazi Nuremburg Rallies in the 30s; the Cold War was all a big joke and all the books save From Russia With Love are bad but Love is still really just “peculiar debris” from the silly Cold War; all of the villains are stand-ins for not-white people who must be exterminated as Bond “is simply better at killing people with darker skin”; Pope Benedict XVI at one point is compared to the literary Nazi-turned-Commie Hugo Drax; Diamonds Are Forever is homophobic because you simply cannot have gay bad guys; the whole Bond phenomenon is some sick neo-Nazi fantasy; Fleming and his wife are swine and Roger Moore is just awful and all the movies are bad and Bond’s fans are screwed up moral defectives…etc. and so on.
Who in the world is the target audience for this thing? In spite of the title, The Man Who Saved Britain is filled with amazing vitriol for everything Bond and British. The first half of the book is little more than the author dropping name after name of obscure British authors, actors and politicians before (occasionally) bringing it back to Bond, but if you’ve never heard of the book or film or person that supposedly has some tangential tie to Bond then his broader point is meaningless (even the author seems aware of how pointless his book is as he twice questions whether anyone is still reading up to that point). Winder is a supposed fan of Bond and he seems earnest and sincere about his writing but, really, with friends like this Bond has nothing to fear from Blofeld and his lot. I imagine if Winder’s wife asked him how she looks in a dress he might reply “You look awful and ridiculous and haven’t looked good since our third date and even then you were only slightly better than average but I do love you, dear”.