Bond is back! (Northern Irish storyline still awaited…)

He’s back, to save the world once again. Daniel Craig today returns to the big screen as MI6’s best-known fictional intelligence officer, amid another colossal media fanfare. Today the latest instalment in the Eon franchise (there have now been 24 movies from the Broccoli/Wilson stable), “Spectre”, hits our cinemas, and another huge box-office hit is all but certain.

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For how much longer, though, can James Bond go on? Ian Fleming introduced his best-known creation in his debut novel “Casino Royale”, published in 1953. Even if we wanted to date Bond’s career in the Service from the year “Dr No” was made into a movie, then we would really expect him to have hung up his Walther PPK after “Die Another Day” came out in 2002. Moreover, in his various missions Bond has travelled all over the world several times: surely he must have experienced the stress of misdelivered luggage at least once. He has also been tortured, shot at, and threatened with death by supervillains in such a range of elaborate and cumbersome ways that he inevitably manages to escape. At the very least, you would have expected him to have sought extended time off for post-traumatic stress counselling a long time ago. Plus, there are the health risks accompanying all that casual promiscuity…

OK, so the above observations are a tad flippant. I’m not being naïve: obviously Bond is going to go on for many years yet. Like Doctor Who, his is a British superhero-type brand that is not only recognised throughout the world but is also a phenomenally good money spinner: when it came out three years ago “Skyfall” took around $1.1bn at the box office. So far, seven renowned writers have brought out James Bond novels since Ian Fleming’s death in 1964, with Anthony Horowitz being the most recent, his contribution “Trigger Mortis” having been published earlier this year. And let’s not forget the various unofficial treatments of the Bond adventures, the novelizations of existing movies, and the Bond-themed video games that have emerged in recent years. It’s a fair bet that James Bond will continue to save the world, so long as the cash keeps rolling in.

However, as the late scriptwriter Richard “Kip” Carpenter warned us when interviewed about his brilliantly successful 1980s TV series “Robin of Sherwood” (with award-winning music provided by Clannad), there are only so many ways of outwitting the Sheriff of Nottingham (which partly explains why he and his team made just three seasons of the show in 1984-6). Fans of Bond are constantly hopeful that all the writers who have sustained the Bond legend over the years will continue to come up with ever more imaginative ways in which a sharp-suited but psychologically damaged British intelligence officer can foil whatever schemes the world’s most fiendishly clever and evil supervillains can throw at him.

It is certainly curious that the Bond movie series is yet to feature a Northern Irish storyline. I don’t need to remind any Slugger reader that, while the Troubles may be over, their legacy endures. Moreover, the conflict carried with it plenty of international dimensions, from western Europe to Libya to the United States, so there would be no shortage of exotic locations for future movies. Even in the (Drogheda-born) Pierce Brosnan years there was no indication of such a storyline in the offing.

The closest that Eon have so far come to a Northern Irish connection has been their 1963 production of “From Russia with Love”. In Fleming’s novel (published in 1957), one of Bond’s main antagonists is an Aughnacloy-born assassin by the name of Donovan “Red” Grant. Fleming writes of his having been born to a German weightlifter and Irish waitress. Enduring a difficult childhood, he grows up to be a “heavy” used by local republicans and smugglers. Eventually, he moves to Belfast where he becomes a boxer, before joining the British Army and being stationed in West Berlin, where he makes use of a mail-collecting errand to defect to the Russians (hence the nickname) and then become a hired killer in their counter-espionage department SMERSH. In the film, however, there is no trace of an Irish accent: the actor portraying Grant is the impeccably English-sounding Robert Shaw.

“Red” Grant clearly can’t be resurrected, but it is surely time for a Northern Irish storyline in the Bond series. Apart from anything else, there are plenty of talented actors from all over the island of Ireland who can be relied on to provide gravitas and drama aplenty to such a film. Above all, think of all the money that Tourism NI could draw in with such a connection…

Based in Birmingham, Dan is a journalist, broadcaster and actor.