Anthony Clavane: James Bond, Boris Johnson and the silly season

Boris Johnson has admitted that his childhood dream was to become James Bond. (PA).
Boris Johnson has admitted that his childhood dream was to become James Bond. (PA).
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Being the silly season, this column’s thoughts must, reluctantly, turn to silly stories. And the spreading of silly rumours. And the asking of silly questions. Such as: who will be the next James Bond?

To which the answer is Idris Elba.

Being the silly season, this column’s thoughts must, reluctantly, turn to silly stories. And the spreading of silly rumours. And the asking of silly questions. Such as: who will be the next James Bond?

To which the answer is Idris Elba.

It’s not a silly answer. Elba, who played my favourite character – Stringer Bell – in the greatest TV drama of recent times, The Wire, would undoubtedly re-energise 007. He would give him an edge and shake things up. Unlike the vodka martinis he’d suavely sup, he’d also stir things a little.

Earlier this week he generated myriad news stories, profiles and think pieces by tweeting: “My name’s Elba. Idris Elba.” Despite immediately following it up with a “don’t believe the hype” rebuttal, the rumour mill went into overdrive.

It was just a tease but silly questions were then asked. Had he been offered the part? Had he signed a deal? Was he too old for it? And – silliest of all – should a black actor play the role? The usual suspects, including Katie Hopkins, queued up to make the usual silly points about this issue. To some of them, presumably, only a white actor would look good in a tux, be capable of suavely supping a vodka martini and delivering tongue-in-cheek one-liners whilst seducing exotic women, driving an Aston Martin and saving the free world from the dastardly designs of eccentric, guffawing villains.

You might have gathered the impression that I am not a huge devotee of Ian Fleming’s creation. And you would be right. As Idris might put it, I have tried, over the years, to resist the hype.

Bond might be a global phenomenon. And he continues, as Idris-gate illustrates, to excite the popular imagination. But there are several things that bug me about the franchise. First the word franchise. When I were a lad, we used good, old-fashioned words like series or even films. Not scream-inducing, corporate-jargon buzzwords like franchise, reboot and multi-platform entertainment.

Second, the mispronunciation of 007. In his novels, Fleming wrote numbers not letters. So why does everyone say “double oh seven” when it should be “double zero seven”?

Third, the implausible plotting and unimaginative writing. Fleming, it is said, soon became bored with the cliched format and wrote Dr No as a parody of the monstrous genre (not franchise) he had created.

And then there’s the casual racism. Not to mention the casual sexism and casual xenophobia. It’s hard to watch films where non-white characters are either used as comic relief or brutish baddies assisting eccentric, guffawing villains in their dastardly plans to take over the world.

As the academic Christoph Lindner argues, our hero takes on the mantle of an “imperial policeman” loner reaffirming “Britain’s place in a post-colonial world.”

The main reason this is such a silly story, though, is that there is, at present, no vacancy for the role. Daniel Craig has signed up to be in Bond 26 which will be released at the end of next year. So, if Craig were to retire, it would be 2020 before a new tuxedo-wearing, vodka martini-drinking, Aston Martin-driving superspy would be required.

By then, we will be cut off from European civilisation and may well be in need of a Brexit Bond.

Step forward Boris Johnson. There is currently no vacancy for the Conservative Party leadership, but that has not stopped the Daily Telegraph columnist making his move.

During the 2016 referendum, Johnson claimed that, like his fellow Old Etonian Bond, he was on a mission to rescue Britain from a supra-national organisation. And, three years ago, Craig quipped: “It is 
actually Boris Johnson (after me).”

Boris has actually admitted that his childhood dream was to become the MI6 fantasy figure: “I had witnessed Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever, and I 
knew the kind of guy I wanted to be. 
I wanted to be Bond.” So. The name’s Bond. Boris Bond. With a licence to reaffirm Britain’s place in a post-EU world and put personal ambition before the national interest.