Saturday, October 23, 2010

007 In Depth: Mad Men Bonding

The relationship between James Bond and the advertising world is a long and fascinating one. As soon as Ian Fleming’s novels started to become successful, advertisers recognized that 007 was an ideal aspirational figure, and used the character to sell their products. Sometimes, this was in the form of what is today called product placement, such as Bond’s use of the Aston Martin DB5, first seen in the film Goldfinger. In both Richard Maibaum’s initial treatment and first draft of the screenplay, Bond drove his traditional vintage grey Bentley convertible, even though in Fleming’s novel he was forced to give it up for an Aston Martin DB Mark III. Paul Dehn, who was brought in to polish Maibaum’s first draft, added the scene in which Q introduces Bond to his DB5, the use of which in the finished film transformed Aston Martin’s image around the world.

In that case, the film-makers sought out the company. But even before the films were made, companies were advertising their products’ connections with James Bond – even if no such connections existed. Here are two print adverts that appeared in the British press in 1961 (click on them to get a larger image).

The first is from March 17 and the second from March 28. The first Bond film, Dr No, would not be released until October 1962. Courtelle was not a brand used by James Bond in Fleming’s books, but that didn’t stop the company from acting as though it were. ‘Soft, cool girls’ are important to Bond’s life, we are told in one advert, ‘but so are shirts’:
‘Shirts in Courtelle, for instance – trousers, too. Sweaters; in this new acrylic fibre that makes clothes easy to wear, easy to launder.
It’s Bond’s kind of clothing. For him, clothes must be comfortable, rugged, good-looking – in that order.
When he buys Courtelle, he finds he gets just that. Clothes for his own exciting top secret world of cars, diamonds, dove-skinned girls. Clothes made for a man’s world. Clothes in Courtelle.’
The second advert cites Bond’s diplomatic passport number (mentioned in Live And Let Die) and asks us where we would find James Bond, concluding that he’s the man driving the big grey Bentley that whispers past us on the M.1, or the ‘lean dark man in the rough clothes of a sailor in a waterfront dive in Vladivostok’. The latter is intriguing, as Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice, which ends with Bond heading for Vladivostok thinking he is a Japanese fishermen, would not be published for another three years. In Fleming’s final novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, published posthumously in 1965, Bond returns to London, his memory impaired, and tells M:
‘Then there’s a blank until I got picked up by the police on the waterfront at Vladivostok. No idea how I got there. They roughed me up a bit and in the process I must have got another bang on the head because suddenly I remembered who I was and that I wasn’t a Japanese fisherman which was what I thought I was.’
The Courtelle advert concludes, naturally, that James Bond likes ‘the tops in clothes’:
‘And that means shirts, sweaters, trousers in Courtelle, the new acrylic fibre.’
These are clever and stylish adverts, with illustrations reminiscent of those done by Andrew Robb for the condensed serializations of Fleming’s novels in the Daily Express, where both adverts appeared. But despite atmospheric copy that was clearly written by someone familiar with the books, and a placatory note at the end of each acknowledging Fleming, it’s still rather hard to imagine James Bond favouring shirts made from an acrylic fibre over the best of Jermyn Street.

A different proposition is an advertisement that ran in the December 1964 issue of the American men’s magazine Esquire. Titled ‘From MG with love’ (in Cyrillic, no less) above a striking photograph of a mysterious woman leaning against an MGB, the advert goes even further than Courtelle in presenting the idea that Bond is a real man, and that this is a brand he has really chosen, by creating an excerpt from a Bond novel:
‘He pockets the Walther PPK, toes the accelerator and in seconds loses the Maserati in the convolutions of the Grande Corniche. Once again, MGB triumphs over SPECTRE... and every other marque in Europe!’
Esquire’s readers are assured that there’s ‘a Double-O Section in this country, too’, made up of men who dream of action and excitement and find it in their MGB. The advert is all the cheekier as it was published just three months after Goldfinger premiered in the United Kingdom – but was yet to premiere in the United States. It would have been very difficult after Goldfinger had been released to advertize the MGB as Bond’s car, as the film solidified it as the DB5 in the public’s mind forever. That said, an MGB was perhaps a more likely candidate for a car James Bond might have driven than Courtelle was for his shirtmaker of choice. And Bond did eventually race an Italian car in the convolutions of the Grand Corniche, in the 1995 film Goldeneye – but it was a Ferrari rather than a Maserati, and Bond was driving his then-iconic DB5.

This is part of 007 In Depth, a series of articles on Ian Fleming and James Bond.


  1. Alls quite in the Bond front, but thankfully not here. Courtelle! Great find, and connetion. I take it they went out of business. Doubt they would get away with using Bond anyway they like in advertising these days. Great read Jeremy.

  2. Thanks, Nick. And yes, I think it would be quite difficult to get away with something like this now. :)