The Reading Room

John Gardner’s James Bond

John Gardner (1926-2007) was an accomplished spy thriller author in his own right before he took on the daunting task of writing James Bond novels for a 1980s audience. As a former Royal Marine Commander he was well placed to write about espionage and the military and in 1964 he introduced us to Boysie Oakes, a total opposite to Fleming’s Bond but an endearing character who would feature in eight novels including Understrike, The Liquidator, Amber Nine and Madrigal. The 1960s were rife with spy fiction novels and films, many, like Oakes were a humorous spin on Bond with few making a lasting impression. But Gardner clearly did and in 1979 Gildrose Publications asked Gardner to continue the Bond story.

Gardner would write a remarkable sixteen Bond novels between 1981 and 1986. Beginning with Licence Renewed Gardner moved Bond on from his previous life in the 1950s and early 60s, he dismantled the 00 section and introduced gadgetry more familiar with the films than the books. The books sold well, Gardner bowed to pressure from the US publishers to make the stories more familiar to their American audience. Two of the books were film novelisations; Licence to Kill (1989) and Goldeneye (1995) and first editions of these are highly collectable, easily on a par with most of the Fleming books in that regard.

The books were generally fun and easy going, some of Gardner’s attempts to modernise Bond fell on stony ground, the introduction of an ‘energy saving‘ Saab 900 Turbo in Licence Renewed as the car of choice was not well received outside of Sweden despite its gadgets. In For Special Services Gardner has Bond racing his Turbo against an American Shelby in what reads like little more than a sales brochure for Saab. But despite that, the books do what they say on the proverbial tin. You can still find M as station chief and SPECTRE as the sworn enemy although Q falls to the wayside somewhat in favour of Anne Reilly or ‘Q-ute‘ as the boys like to call her, and of course, Bond eventually seduces her.

The artwork for the earlier novels were particularly noteworthy and continued in the Ian Fleming/Richard Chopping tradition. Bill Botten painted the covers for Icebreaker and For Special Services whilst Trevor Scobie was commissioned for Role of Honour and Nobody Lives Forever. The American editions are largely dull and the UK first editions published by Jonathan Cape are becoming increasingly collectible. Gardener retired from the Bond franchise after being diagnosed with cancer, passing the mantle to the American author Raymond Benson, a Bond fan who wrote the comprehensive guide to all things Bond; The James Bond Bedside Companion in 1984.

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