Why is James Bond so iconic?

“James Bond is what every man would like to be, and every woman would like to have between her sheets.”

Quite a statement from The Sunday Times, however this was the sixties and the era James Bond had charmed his way into the nation’s hearts. With the release of Dr. No in cinemas, in addition to ten of Ian Fleming’s books being published by 1962, the Bond franchise was an escapism for many after the misery and heartache of the war. Exotic locations were aplenty, beautiful women were a must and adventure was lapped up by international audiences.But even today James Bond remains an iconic fictional character and a strong symbol in British culture.

Although many may argue Bond’s main objective is to bed the prettiest woman in the room, he is of course meant to be the world’s best spy. This mystery that surrounded the ‘secret agent’ was at its peak at the end of the Second World War. It is now known that Churchill himself had his own small force of ‘freelance pirates’ that would dress in Nazi uniforms and take part in missions that would have brutal consequences to the opposition.  These men had similar objectives to Bond: quick-thinking, able to defend themselves in even the most dangerous situations and of course the ‘licence to kill’. 

In the recently published book by Damien Lewis, Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII, Lewis talks of the tasks that these men were given and defined them as secret agents. The responsibilities they were given are parallel to that of Bond and with Fleming having such an active role in WWII, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bond was entirely shaped by these brave young men who faced the daily risk of dying for their country. 

Being the world’s most known fictional secret agent and assassin, this ‘licence to kill’ that James Bond possesses makes him sexy and dangerous to many. James Bond is an extravagant, yet accurate, imaginary adaptation of the spies that Churchill sent to report back on enemy activities and to assassinate rivals if essential. These Secretive Operations Executives were each assigned with a ‘0’ soubriquet, meaning  that they been trained to terminate any suspicious enemy action and have this prominent licence to kill. It is with these ‘0’ codenames we can see such a link with Fleming’s Bond and the now iconic handle of 007.

The various authentic aspects of Bond including his codename in addition to serving his country, resulted in James Bond being adored by the public. They could use their imaginations to vision his various missions and it could even be said he became a ‘poster boy’ for the secret service. He was the hero of the country that wanted to celebrate their victory of war and here he was, in all his handsome glory: ready to eradicate the enemy in a smart and shrewd manner, being no stranger to danger and living every day expecting to kill or be killed – he was just what the nation needed.

As well as tempting women with his perilous lifestyle, Bond was also meant to be a very attractive man. He has been portrayed by several dark-haired males in the movie franchise as Fleming describes in the novels, meaning Craig’s adaptation of Bond as a blonde was at one point controversial; but then with hints that Damian Lewis or Idris Elba could be playing Bond, maintaining the original character’s hair or skin colour seems a thing of the past. As well as his physical appearance, Bond’s characteristics have also been linked to his triumphs with women. Bond’s interests and way of life means that he could be identified as a narcissist, a “bad boy” and can be seen to have a “dark triad” of characteristics.

According to a 2008 study, this is exactly why he has such success with women. The ‘dark triad’ as the New Mexico State University called it, is a “tendency to lie and manipulate others, the selfish associated with narcissism and impulsive behaviour that gives little thought to consequence.” It is with these characteristics that Bond finds himself bedding so many women, or so it is claimed by these American Scientists.

The fact Bond was lucky with the ladies was also another reason he became so well-loved by the British public. Audiences would be happy to see Bond ‘get the girl’ for his achievements and this attitude by so many lead him being a famous figure in film. The mix of lifestyle that 007 endured made both the books and movies big hits. As one early addition of Books of the Month summarised, “good living, sex and violent action”, it was a winner.

International icons

Bond, as well as the actor who played him, have become international icons in the world of fashion too. If you think of 007 and what he is wearing, your first thought is likely to be a fantastically fitted suit. In Spectre it is understood that he is wearing Tom Ford. Craig’s Bond has been wearing Tom Ford since Quantum of Solace, making it the third movie that the luxury brand features heavily.

In addition to wearing the best fitted suits and being an international sex symbol, James Bond is always seen with the latest technologies – not all from Q Branch I hasten to add. These technologies, especially those in the books and early movies, are always making their way on to lists of ‘greatest gadgets’, yet another reason the series has become so adored and known by movie fans.

Although Bond remains the nation’s favourite spy, the franchise began to suffer at the hands of parodies and competitors who began to bring out movies and television shows that revealed a new type of action man – one who didn’t deliver the corny one-liners that were beginning to making us cringe. The start of the millennium brought us new male heroes that diced with danger and jumped straight into the mission, did his job and got out alive, not looking for love as a reward for saving the world. Soon we began to see men like Jack Bauer (24: 2001), Jason Bourne (The Bourne Identity: 2002) and Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible: 1996) which brought the cinema more intelligent action from the other side of the pond – America.

Bond almost began to look like an icon of the past; a gentleman who was idolised post-war, both in the successful novels and hit movies. His charm and ways with women were outdated, yet his technologies and assassination skills were still stand out for audiences. What Bond needed was a re-boot… and that is exactly what followed.

Craig’s era of 007 action has proved to be just what the movies needed. Bond was back and his attitudes reflected those of the current heroes in the media, yet keeping the strong traditions that Fleming wrote for the character in the books. In Daniel Craig’s first film as the spy, the reviews were superb – Rotten Tomatoes currently have the movie rated as 95% positive.

The country had found that admiration for Bond as generations did before. He was ours, an icon of our culture and we routed for him.

Spectre is released on Monday 26th October