Much like an extra character, Scotland has had a starring role in many Bond films – but was 007 a Scot? Daniel Pembrey takes a look
Bond and Scotland seem to go hand in hand, finds Daniel Pembrey, with the Highlands serving as the backdrop to some of the films’ most memorable scenes.
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BOND AND SCOTLAND
When Ian Fleming sat down at his Jamaican retreat in early 1963 to finish You Only Live Twice, he was 54 and entering the final 18 months of his life. The novel’s title comes from the notion that we die upon looking death in the face. Hauntingly, this 12th instalment of the Bond book series contained an obituary, written by M after Bond is believed killed. Two passages of the obituary are especially telling. One is that Bond is ‘of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, and a Swiss mother, Monique Delacroix, from the Canton de Vaud’ (both of whom died in a climbing accident during Bond’s youth). The other concerns ‘his transfer [from Eton] to Fettes, his father’s old school’.
Many real-world figures have been claimed as the inspiration for Bond but by far the most persuasive is Fleming himself or, rather, an idealised version of him: the adventurous life that an older Fleming might have imagined for his younger self. That younger self was shaped by Scotland.
“Never forget you’re a Scot,” his mother, Evelyn Beatrice Sainte Croix Fleming, would tell him growing up. Born in 1908 in Mayfair, Fleming was thoroughly anglicised but his family hailed from Dundee, with the original patriarch, Robert, making his fortune in investment trusts during the late 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, the family was spending summers at Scottish estates, notably Black Mount, near Glencoe, a glorious 90,000-acre deer forest. Robert rented the estate in 1924, later acquiring it outright, and a central strand of the Bond story began spinning.
Fleming didn’t take to Augusts and Septembers spent at Black Mount, supposedly remarking to an uncle, “If I have to make a choice, I suppose I would rather catch no salmon than shoot no grouse.” He complained about the treatment of hinds and stags and about “all those dripping evergreens”, preferring to listen to records or read. And yet he did shoot deer. According to Andrew Lycett’s authoritative biography, the 16-year-old Ian shot his first stag on 9 September 1924. He shot more on the 11th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 22nd. There can be little doubt that he was familiar with the customs and terrains of the stalk and the kill, and the trope of the hunt to the death – endlessly versatile – would prove central and irresistible in the Bond stories.
One adventure author who Fleming read growing up was John Buchan, another Scot. The two men were to share many experiences. They would marry well (Fleming to Ann Charteris, who was formerly Viscountess Rothermere; Buchan to Susan Grosvenor). Both men had important wartime roles (Fleming in Naval Intelligence during World War II; Buchan as Director of Information in World War I). Buchan was made 1st Baron Tweedsmuir and later Governor General of Canada and, while Fleming would prefer his Jamaican beach house to any such high office, both would mostly be remembered for their fictional offspring, in spite of everything.
Buchan is best known today for his Richard Hannay stories and in particular The Thirty-Nine Steps, first published in 1915. In this short novel, a shadowy German organisation called the Black Stone seeks to steal British naval secrets. There are fast cars, enemy boats, truncated train journeys and novel flying machines. As Ursula Buchan, his granddaughter and biographer, adds, “There is pursuit and escape, with the hero not knowing who to trust, and prey to omnipresent danger. The core elements of the modern spy-thriller are all there.”
Hannay helps himself to other people’s vehicles, takes on the disguise of a Scottish road builder and explodes his way out of captivity, as the hunted increasingly turns hunter. Back in London, he presents himself to senior figures of the Foreign Office and Admiralty, before the climactic sequence and inevitable victory.
There are interesting echoes in style and tone, too. Take the opening line of Casino Royale, Fleming’s first Bond novel: ‘The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning’, and that of The Thirty-Nine Steps: ‘I returned from the City about three o’clock on that May afternoon pretty well disgusted with life.’ These lines herald
a call to adventure, perhaps for their authors as much as for the protagonists, seeking escape from what they perceived to be the limitations of ‘common day’.
A key to this escape would be film adaptations. Both authors’ books sold well but cinema lifted their stories to another level. The adaptation of Fleming’s novels, starting six decades ago, has led to an estimated one quarter of the world’s population experiencing a Bond story at one time or another. In the case of Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps has been adapted several times, with the 1935 version by Alfred Hitchcock arguably doing most to secure the story’s hold on the public imagination. “Better than the book,” was Buchan’s own verdict.
Hitchcock made various changes to the story. Shooting took place in Glencoe rather than the Borders (where much of the novel is set). The chasing monoplane, which must have seemed so futuristic in 1915, was replaced by an eerie-looking autogyro (a cross between a helicopter and a light plane). The producers of the Bond films would famously make use of an autogyro in You Only Live Twice but before that they’d create an equally memorable sequence at the end of From Russia with Love (1963), shot in coastal Argyllshire, in which Bond is chased by a helicopter, then downs it using a rifle. It is pure Buchan – hunted; hunter. Director Terence Young was supposedly inspired by the ‘crop duster’ sequence in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; however, The 39 Steps, featuring the autogyro, feels more apposite.
The 007 film adaptations spotlight the third figure central to the story of Bond’s Scotland: Sir Sean Connery. He introduced “Bond, James Bond” to the world in Dr No (1962). Fleming and Connery got off to a rocky start. Connery came from working-class Edinburgh, left school at 13, started out as a milkman and competed in Mr Universe contests. “I’m looking for Commander Bond,” Fleming complained when Connery was cast, “not an overgrown stuntman.”
For his part, Connery later recalled Fleming to be “a terrible snob”, although in the same TV interview he acknowledged that the author was a “great companion” who “knew about everything”. Relations between the two men apparently warmed when they met on the set of Dr No in Jamaica. As Fleming sat down at his typewriter in early 1963, after President Kennedy had requested a private screening of Dr No at the White House, Connery’s portrayal of Commander Bond must have been much on his mind.
The mention in the obituary of Fettes College, considered to be Scotland’s Eton, has its own backstory. Fleming had gone to lunch at London’s Savoy hotel with his old friend from Naval Intelligence days, Sir Alexander Glen. Commander ‘Sandy’ Glen was an Old Fettesian who had suggestions for Fleming, including describing Fettes as a ‘British public school’ rather than an ‘English’ one.
The mention of Bond’s time at Fettes ended up being substantial. In You Only Live Twice the school is described as ‘somewhat Calvinistic’. Academic and athletic standards were adjudged ‘rigorous’. The schoolboy Bond was ‘solitary by nature’, although he established ‘firm friendships’. Key to his experience at Fettes was sports. By the time he left, ‘he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight’ and had ‘founded the first serious judo class at a British public school’.
The judo class surely reflected the martial arts featuring in Japan-set You Only Live Twice, which in turn might have inspired the founding of the Judo Club at Fettes in 1968, soon after the film version was released (Connery, again in the lead role, was reportedly a quick study when it came to learning martial arts for the shoot). Meanwhile, boxing at Fettes, with annual competitions, dated back at least to 1923.
As it turns out, Connery used to deliver milk to the grand Scots baronial school building, which remains set on a 100-acre site in north Edinburgh. Connery would return there while making a 1982 short film promoting the City of Edinburgh, this time by helicopter rather than by milk cart. And concerning Connery, Fettes can claim a further role in the Bond story. Together with Loretto, another leading Edinburgh school, it had set up a youth club called FetLor during the aftermath of World War I, in which so many old boys died. The club is now located adjacent to the Fettes campus but it used to be in the city centre, and Connery attended it during his youth. There, he could take advantage of boxing, football, gymnastics, library books and informal debates, not to forget the ‘rare luxury of a hot bath’, as he would write later. Just how much it opened his horizons to the possibility of a career in acting (his father having been a factory worker) we may never know, but the club plausibly played a pivotal part.
After those end scenes in From Russia with Love, the makers of the Bond films would return to Scotland often over the decades. The Spy Who Loved Me, from the Roger Moore era, used Scotland for a key establishing scene. So, too, did The World Is Not Enough, with Pierce Brosnan as Bond (Eilean Donan Castle has rarely looked so dramatic). Skyfall, with Daniel Craig in the lead role – the highest grossing Bond film to date – has a lengthy end sequence set in and around Bond’s ancestral Highlands lodge. ‘Skyfall Lodge’ is presumed to be in Glencoe, although exterior scenes were in fact shot in nearby Glen Etive.
In Skyfall, there is a head stalker figure (or gamekeeper, as he is called) played by Albert Finney, who serves as a sort of surrogate father, with Bond’s parents having died in his youth, according to that obituary. Connery was reportedly considered for the role. The producers concluded that he would have been too distracting for audiences. It is tantalising, however. With his athletically realistic yet relatable portrayal, Craig is considered to be the true successor to Connery in the role.
In the newest Bond film, No Time To Die, Scotland features once more, this time doubling as Norway. The scenes were shot at Ardverikie Estate on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park, which extends to 62 square miles and offers ample chase possibilities of the kind that have come to dominate these adventure stories. No Time To Die may be Daniel Craig’s last outing in the role, but it’s hard to imagine that we’ve heard the last of Bond and Scotland.