The Reading Room

Why Playboy Needs James Bond

Bond in Playboy Magazine…….

pbPlayboy has announced that it is reverting back to its publishing of photographs of nude women, a policy which, predictably, was always going to be reversed in an era when the printed magazine is struggling to find its place in the digital age. But will it be enough? Why bother buying a magazine to look at a naked woman when there are millions of free ones available a touch away on one’s smartphone? Clearly the move to promote its original values of hard-hitting interviews, political debate, promotion of jazz and authors has not had the effect they had hoped for and so this, along with The Hef’s decision to sell his infamous mansion signals the slow death of a twentieth century icon.

In their March 1960 issue Playboy featured for the first time the writer Ian Fleming and his fictional character James Bond in his short novel The Hildebrand Rarity. This issue signalled the start of a successful relationship with Fleming which would last until his death and include the pre-publications of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1963, The Property of a Lady and You Only Live Twice (1964), The Man With The Golden Gun (1965) and finally Octopussy in 1966. With the release and incredible success of the Bond movie franchise Playboy wasted no time in featuring photographs from the film sets and of course pictorials with the Bond girls and associated female actresses willing to pose for the world’s leading men’s magazine.

The opening chapters of The Hildebrand Rarity are the stuff of Playboy readers fantasies, as the last remnants of winter ebb away in the March of 1960 Fleming and Playboy describe our illustrious secret agent swimming in the ‘palm-fringed lagoon’ in the hot and incredibly exotic Seychelles as he hunted a stingray with a harpoon gun, it didn’t get much better for men stuck in dreary jobs in a monochrome world and with a glorious illustration by Allan Phillips it set the tone for future Bond-related articles.

The story is also featured in The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense (Souvenir Press 1967) with a preface telling the reader how the magazine played host to Fleming in Chicago as he researched his book Thrilling Cities (1963) which includes mention of Playboy’s ‘pretty secretaries’ as well as its editors. For Bond aficionados the Playboy serialisations are well worth seeking out, the artwork is wonderful and captures an era when a sense of allure and adventure prompted men to buy into the magazine’s raison d’être. With the dawn of a new decade, Playboy began featuring full frontal nudity in the 1970s and in many ways signalled a descent from its zenith. The pictures were always going to be more popular than the articles regardless of how good they were (and they were often brilliant) and so, unless they became pornographic there was nowhere else to go with them. Now, in a world of immediate, free and easy content it seems the magazine’s days are numbered. Who now, is going to buy a soft-pornographic magazine for a serialisation of a novel? Even James Bond couldn’t rescue this one, ‘shurely’.

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