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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: The spy who came in for a cold one

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Hard-edged Daniel Craig swaps Bond's vodka martini for the amber fluid in the latest movie. Photo / Supplied
Hard-edged Daniel Craig swaps Bond's vodka martini for the amber fluid in the latest movie. Photo / Supplied

The revelation that James Bond will drink beer in the upcoming movie Skyfall is a sobering sign of the times.

Having made Bond a caricature - The Spy Who Plucks His Eyebrows - in a succession of increasingly inane films, the producers' decision to cast the hard-edged Daniel Craig suggested a desire to be more faithful to author Ian Fleming's creation.

So far, so good, but to then turn 007 into a beer drinker is to take one step forward and two steps back.

Fleming's Bond drank cocktails, Russian vodka with a pinch of black pepper to absorb the impurities, vintage champagne, bourbon, scotch, rough red and anise-flavoured aperitifs (eg, raki in Turkey, ouzo in Greece) when on the continent, and brandy and soda with two aspirins as a hangover cure. He did not drink beer.

Kingsley Amis, one of several writers who tried to keep 007 alive after Fleming's death, wrote a guide for would-be Bonds.

It was unequivocal on the subject of the amber fluid: when abroad one might occasionally try the local brew on a hot day, but Bond would rather be strapped naked to a steel bench with a megalomaniac attaching electrodes to his privates than have a pint down at the pub.

However, it's not called show business for nothing.

A brewing giant is paying to have Bond drink its brand of beer and will use the images in a marketing campaign coinciding with the film's October release. This is known as product placement: every time a movie character checks his (clearly identifiable) watch or laptop, the wheels of capitalism turn.

Fleming could hardly complain about this development since he was a trailblazer in the field of literary brand name dropping which eventually reached the point of no return in sex and shopping novels.

Bond wears a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch (Omega has snared the film rights to his timepiece), drinks Taittinger champagne ("not a well-known brand, but probably the finest champagne in the world") and smokes cigarettes handmade by Morland's of Grosvenor St.

And while reverting to classic Bond might please those who grew up with the books, there's a disconnect between that character and today's filmgoers: Fleming's 007 is a snob with expensive tastes; it seems safe to assume the predominantly youthful Bond movie audience is neither.

In the last film Quantum of Solace, Bond thumps down six helpings of a cocktail he invented: the Vesper consists of three measures of gin, one of vodka, and a half measure of Kina Lillet (a French aperitif), well-shaken and served with a twist of lemon.

Apart from the fact that a Vesper would cost more than going to see the film, most of the audience probably thinks Kina Lillet is either a type of sea urchin or a porn star.

From a commercial point of view, therefore, it makes more sense for Bond to share the audience's tastes. Hence the beer.

The first book Casino Royale came out in 1953. It's easy to forget the impact Bond's unashamed hedonism had on that very different world, and the extent to which it underpinned his appeal. The world was emerging from two decades of depression, war and rationing.

The post-war boom was underway as was the era of mutually assured destruction (MAD) in which one rash act or miscalculation on the part of the Soviet Union or America could trigger nuclear armageddon.

For a generation caught between a desperate past and an uncertain future, Bond's stylish self-indulgence and live-for-today philosophy was a liberating example.

The "ridiculous pleasure" Bond takes in food and drink wavers just once. Thunderball (1961) begins with him waking up with a bad hangover: "The one drink too many signals itself unmistakably." (In this case, it was the eleventh whisky and soda.)

Alarmed by Bond's latest medical, his boss M packs him off to a health farm.

He emerges a changed man: a teetotal yoghurt eater who has cut his cigarette consumption from 60 a day to 10 - low-tar fags at that - and ear-bashes people about healthy eating.

Then he survives an assassination attempt, more by good luck than good management. He returns to his flat and instructs his housekeeper to prepare some "proper food" - four scrambled eggs, four rashers of American hickory-smoked bacon, hot buttered toast (not wholemeal) and a pot of double-strength coffee - adding, "And bring in the drink tray".

She asks what's brought about this change of heart.

"It's just occurred to me that life's too short," he says. "Plenty of time to watch the calories when one gets to heaven."

James Bond turns 60 next year. Ian Fleming, who shared his creation's habits and appetites, died of a heart attack, aged 56.

- NZ Herald

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