James Bond at the IWM

Am I just being a dreary old elitist in feeling dubious about this? Doubtless it will bring visitors to the museum, and maybe raise cash. They are charging £8 admission, and pre-booking is advised.

This sounds like an exhibition that would have fitted snugly into the (now departed) Museum of the Moving Image, but the IWM has a special remit to educate the public about the conflicts of the past century. An exhibition about Bond will surely contribute nothing to the public understanding of war, and is unlikely even to significantly increase our understanding of cultural history.

I certainly would not argue against cultural exhibitions at the IWM. Their painting collection is without parallel, and the Orpen show last year was revelatory. The small Kipling exhibition linked to My Boy Jack was also very good – and thought-provoking in the way it linked cultural representations of war with the reality.

An exhibition that said something truthful about Bond would have to show more than Halle Berry’s bikini. It would need to deal with the way that the books are Britain’s fantasy of potency during the Cold War years, simplifying the world of the fifties into one where a middle-aged British naval officer solves the world’s problems with his fists, and get the lovely girls, too. Bulldog Drummond plus brand names.

At which it strikes me that if the IWM did a Bulldog Drummond exhibition I’d be first in the queue. Or Richard Hannay would be even better.

But Bond just doesn’t grab me. I read and enjoyed the books when I was about 13, but gave up on the films after about Thunderball. When I think of Bond, I always remember working behind the bar at Butlin’s in Bognor Regis when I was a student. Little boys would come in, trying to look sophisticated, and asking for a vodka martini. They, I decided, were the Bond target audience – into big guns, big cars and obvious double-entendres.

Never mind. maybe this exhibition will help finance the one coming in the autumn:

In Memoriam: Remembering the Great War
Opens Autumn 2008

To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armistice, this major exhibition based on personal stories will include a bierstein presented to the captain of the winning British football team during the Christmas Truce match of 1914 and a rose from the wreath that lay on the coffin of the unknown warrior six years later.

2 Comments

  1. Andy Frayn
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps they are going to link in the fact that Fleming acknowledged a model for Bond in Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden?

    Perhaps not.

  2. Posted April 30, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    An Ashenden exhibition would be interesting. I’d like to know how much of it was really based on Maugham’s own wartime experience.
    Ashenden was the basis of a film that I’d rate above any of the Bonds – Hitchcock’s “The Secret Agent”.


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