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Who will be the new 007?

15 november 2021

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Maybe it really is time for a female 007

When it was first announced that the 007 number was being given to a woman agent, there was a huge outcry from Bond purists. Lashana Lynch, the actor who plays Nomi, the female successor to Bond in No Time to Die, had to suspend her social media accounts to protect herself against trolls and abusers. Not only is she a woman, she’s also black. Nothing at all like the “real” 007, her critics claimed.

But, leaving apart the fact that during the film [Spoiler Alert …] she agrees to return the 007 badge to James Bond for his [Even Huger Spoiler Alert …] final mission, what were the purists, sexists and racists so annoyed about? 

If they want to defend the “real” 007, they should look back at Ian Fleming’s original idea for the character. 

In 1953, when Fleming published his first novel, Casino Royale, his prototype James Bond was totally unlike Daniel Craig or even Sean Connery. 

Agent 007 was a chain-smoking borderline alcoholic who drove a 1930s Bentley and lived alone in London with his aged Scottish housemaid. This “real” Bond was an obsessive foodie, a faddist who “abhorred” lace-up shoes, who had his cigarettes custom-made, and couldn’t function if he hadn’t washed his hair with his favourite brand of shampoo – Pinaud Elixir, a highly exclusive Parisian concoction made with quinine (to ward off mosquitoes, maybe?) 

Even more old-school than all this, the original Bond spouted racial and gender stereotypes that would get him fired from today’s secret services. In Casino Royale, he declares all Bulgarians essentially stupid, and says that he can’t work with women because they are a “distraction” (he means that they’re all so desperate to sleep with him that he can’t concentrate on spying.) 

From a modern perspective, Fleming’s later books are just as flawed – Live and Let Die, for example, is peppered with the N-word, and Bond expresses surprise that African Americans are actually good at organized crime. 

In short, Fleming’s original Bond was a character of his times – an embittered former World War Two naval officer who used alcohol and cigarettes as a kind of emotional crutch, as did plenty of war veterans. In the 1950s, a naval Commander like Bond would not have been used to working alongside women for the simple reason that, in real life, female members of the Royal Navy were not permitted to serve at sea until 1990. Bond was only as sexist as the world around him. 

And to be fair, Fleming allowed his character to evolve. Apparently, as a typical old Etonian, he was appalled when the film producers cast the Scottish former milkman Sean Connery as the screen 007 in Doctor No. But the author quickly warmed to Connery, and even changed the Bond character accordingly, making him half-Scottish in later books. 

Ian Fleming died of liver failure in 1964, aged only 56, and if he’d lived to be a hundred, maybe he would have allowed Bond to morph much further.

Because if a chain-smoking sexist with racial prejudices was a typical male of the 1950s, a female agent who can kill terrorists with her bare hands is very 21st century. So why shouldn’t Lashana Lynch play 007? After all, the producers already changed M’s gender once, with Judi Dench replacing the crusty males who had previously played Bond’s boss. 

A female 007 would therefore seem to be a logical evolution of Fleming’s original intention almost 70 years ago – to create a thoroughly modern spy. 

Though having seen No Time to Die, I don’t think Lashana Lynch will inherit the franchise. This is just a feeling, based on the way that in the film, her character gets overtly compared to Daniel Craig’s male 007, and comes off distinctly second best. He’s made out to be much tougher than her, and she ends the movie as a kind of heavily-armed babysitter.

No, for me, the logical new 007 has to be [Spoiler Alert Number 003 …] Bond’s daughter Mathilde. She will be carrying on in the family tradition, like Harry Potter, so she can be inspired by her dad’s example rather than competing with him.

And, most of all, Mathilde’s 007 will be half-French, so she’ll be perfectly at home using that Parisian Pinaud Elixir shampoo.