Highlights of The James Bond Bedside Companion

Photo copyright © Paul Baack

Benson

With the news that Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion will be reissued in 2012, we dusted off our 1984 first edition copy of the book to remind ourselves what the fuss was all about. Here are a few examples:

It had an introduction by Ernest Cuneo, one of Ian Fleming’s friends: “Ian Fleming was of the twentieth century and indeed his creation, James Bond, who emerged full blown from his imagination as a Greek God from the brow of Zeus, may be one of the twentieth century’s landmarks.” And that was just the first sentence of a three-page essay.

The book originated concepts that still fans use today: The James Bond Bedside Companion analyzed both 007 novels and movies. On page 123 of the first edition, Benson introduces the phrase the “Blofeld Triology” to describe Fleming’s novels Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. The author says the novels mark “the change from the earlier (Fleming) novels to the more mature books.”

This theme has resonated with 007 fans, including the proprietors of this blog. Our parent site once ran an article saying that the Bond film series would have gotten more respect if it had adapted the trilogy in the order the Fleming novels were published. Instead, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman brought out You Only Live Twice after Thunderball rather than Majesty’s while tossing out Fleming’s plot for Twice.

Then again, during the period Benson described, Fleming wrote *four* novels, including the quirky 1962 The Spy Who Loved Me, which has first-person narration from a woman character. Nonetheless, the term “The Blofeld Trilogy” has stuck since Benson introduced it.

Benson introduced diagrams of novels and films that still stick with fans: Pages 156 and 157 have a literal diagram of the Eon Productions film series up to 1984. Each movie is dissected by “places,” “girls,” “villain and employer,” “villain’s project,” “obligatory sacrificial lamb,” “minor villains,” “Bond’s friends,” “gadgets” and “remarks.” Many Bond fans were aware the movies had these elements but Benson, with that one diagram, helped crystallize those notions. To this day, 007 message boards refer to “sacrificial lambs” for Bond allies who get killed in the movies.

Benson didn’t pull punches: The author clearly is a fan of the literary and cinema Bond. But there are portions of the book where he doesn’t let his admiration get in the way of his analysis. On page 116 of the first edition, Benson quotes from Chapter 16 of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel which describes how Bond views Oddjob, Goldfinger’s Korean henchman, in less than admiring terms.

“So Bond is revealed to be a bigot as well,” Benson writes. “This aspect of his character is not particularly evident elsewhere in the series, though one should notice 95 percent of the villains in the novels are non-British.”

That’s tough stuff. Many fans want to hear about why the character they like is great. They don’t want to hear how the character, his novels or his films might possibly fall short of expectations. (Trust us, we know all about this.)

Benson established a template for a generation of fans regarding the movies: The over-simplified version would be Sean Connery good, Roger Moore bad. Benson is more detailed than that, but he captures the mood of many first-generation movie fans who saw 007 become the coolest thing on earth, circa 1965, only to see the character be less than that in the 1970s.

On pages 216-217, Benson diagrams the similarities between Connery’s You Only Live Twice and Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me, which makes it hard to deny the 1977 film wasn’t a remake of the 1967 effort. The diagram was based on an article published in the 007 fan publication Bondage (which is credited), but Benson’s book gave it a larger audience.

To be honest, more space is required to analyze why The James Bond Bedside Companion had such an impact in the 1980s. Afterall, the first edition was 256 pages, including the index. The book was originally published before the Internet made it easier to do research. But it was also written by someone who clearly cared about the subject matter who wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

The author is a friend of the publishers of this blog and its parent Web site. Still, we’re not blowing smoke that it struck a cord among 007 fans. The news that a new edition is coming in 2012 caught fire on various Bond Web sites. You don’t get that kind of reaction unless fans actually care.

Benson eventually became a participant in the Bond machine, penning 007 continuation novels and three movie novelizations. As we understand it, the new editions won’t update the book beyond its 1988 edition. And that’s understandable. Once you cross over to being a participant, you can no longer maintain your distance.

The new version of the Bedside Companion — coming out in time for the 50th anniversary of the 007 film series — will help preserve a work that was published at an important time for 007 fans.

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