From Empire With Love

How the James Bond exhibition in London fails to highlight 007’s less charming side


From Empire With Love
by Peyvand Khorsandi

James Bond is arguably the mother of all ‎on-screen celebrations of white, European ‎masculinity. More than two billion people – ‎two fifths of the world's population – have ‎watched a 007 film. Only Tarzan or Indiana ‎Jones might rival his stature. For Your ‎Eyes Only: Ian Fleming And James Bond – the ‎exhibition currently running at London's ‎Imperial War Museum – sets out to outline ‎the relationship between the fictional ‎secret agent and the man who created him, ‎Ian Fleming.

Fleming (pictured) was born to a wealthy Scottish ‎banking family. He went to the elite school Eton and then the military training academy ‎Sandhurst. His father Valentine Fleming, an ‎aristocratic MP, was killed in 1917, ‎serving in the same unit as Winston ‎Churchill in World War I. Peter, Ian's ‎older brother, was handed the mantle of ‎family patriarch.

A journalist and established travel writer, ‎Peter's derring-do in foreign climes in ‎part inspired his younger brother to take ‎to fiction. Ian ‎needed a refuge from his sibling's towering ‎shadow and found this in the character he'd ‎created, James Bond.

Peter recommended his publisher Jonathan ‎Cape publish the first Bond novel in 1953, ‎something Cape did with reluctance. Another ‎‎11 novels were written before Fleming died ‎in 1964 – a window one cannot help but ‎notice -- in which the sun truly set on the ‎British Empire. Bond, you can be forgiven ‎for thinking became a fictional substitute ‎for Empire, a national hero who could – and ‎did – take over the world, or at least its ‎imagination.

But historical context is not what this ‎homage to writer and character is about – ‎nor is it is about the gadgetry that many ‎Bond aficionados will be hoping to see.

Sure, there is the gun from Goldfinger; one ‎of the yellow space helmets from Moonraker; ‎a cello pierced by a bullet from The Living ‎Daylights; flick-knife shoes from From ‎Russia With Love; a spear-gun from ‎Thunderball; a transparent "nuclear" bomb ‎from The World Is Not Enough; a golden gun ‎with bullets marked "007"; a wing-mirror ‎dart-gun from Live And Let Die; the heart-‎transplant unit used for smuggling diamonds ‎in The Living Daylights; the overcoat worn ‎by Sean Connery in Dr No; Daniel Craig's ‎bloodied shirt from Casino Royale; and a ‎portrait of Halle Berry in an orange bikini ‎in Die Another Day.

There's also much to read up on – it is, ‎after all, a biographical display: here's ‎Fleming in Switzerland, at school, here he ‎is with Ms X or Ms Y, his recipe for ‎scrambled eggs – there are truly Bond facts ‎galore.‎

But all this is no solace for museum-goers ‎there for more interactive fun. The exhibition problem is not its lack of ‎gadgets, but that they are not Bond ‎gadgets. A virtual roulette table turns at ‎the press of a button, sending a ball ‎landing on a number which then triggers a ‎Bond fact in audio. The two children I saw ‎playing with this machine, however, were ‎less interested in hearing what the ‎roulette table had to say about Bond, than ‎in spinning it around and around.

There is a signed letter to Fleming from ‎Joseph Stalin refusing him the audience he ‎had asked for one while in Russia, among ‎family albums and numerous postcards, ‎letters and loads of manuscripts. Then you ‎reach a glass display with international ‎editions of the novels.

Here, the exhibition loses its steam. Who ‎wants to see a wall of international first ‎editions?‎

And you can forget about any dissection of ‎the appeal of James Bond as the embodiment ‎of British imperialism too – eminently ‎civilised exterior, licence to kill without ‎compunction – is not touched on.

‎Tony Blair comes to mind. Aptly, we learn ‎that Bond attended Fettes, the same school ‎Britain's former prime minister – though ‎poor Bond today would probably end up ‎poorly equipped in Afghanistan or Iraq on ‎the basis of dodgy information taken from ‎the internet and end up in an Al-Qaeda ‎video.

What struck me most at the exhibition was ‎an oil painting featured on the cover of ‎Live And Let Die depicting a restrained and ‎half-naked 007 looking on powerlessly as ‎two or three black men held a Barbarella-‎style blond captive – a sure indicator that ‎Bond is the product of a racist colonial ‎mindset.

‎ The exhibition is intended to celebrate a ‎hundred years since Ian Fleming’s birth and ‎to coincide with the publication of the ‎Sebastian Faulks-penned novel Devil ‎May Care – in which Bond visits Iran. Yet ‎although we might be on the brink of seeing America's first black ‎president sworn in, we are probably a century away ‎from seeing a black James Bond.‎

Visit Peyvand Khorsandi's Soul Bean Cafe


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An Image, Blurred

by Theosopher (not verified) on

The character  of  ‘Bond, James Bond’  and its creative background are open to interpretation  but what it interests me about is what it stands for, Existentially speaking.

Fleming’s creature is of no little importance. He is a  ‘distorted image’ of no less a personage  than  the Being itself.  The  Sublime Personality, filtered out in the degradational  process of the New Program of Creation is thus  being imaged, despite all its negative aspects (like being  in service of an espionage agency and ...)  into a somewhat brilliant charater of a handsome, virile yet gentlemanly, self-confident, woman loving, energetic, dedicated,  honest  and  occasionally cruel yet just  character of ‘Bond, James Bond’.


PS: For truly grasping the  character of Fleming's Bond one should read the books . The character is different -better- than what you see in the movies.



by 3-shod (not verified) on

"Imperial War College". PsyOps. You either get it or you don't. If you do, remember we can make movies too .... ;)


gol-dust joon

by Seh Shod (not verified) on

Bravo my good sir.

As I was reading your wonderful sermon against Western racism, my eyes filled with tears; my throat was choked, I could hear the sad violin solo in the background. I was so moved I went out and bought a pictures of arch racists Bush and Fleming to use as dart boards.

So, thank you my good man, you've helped to open the eyes of those of us living in "wonderland" (wherever that is...!).

Yes indeed, let's keep bitching and moaning about Western racism as the root of all evil and cause of all the problem in the World. Let's keep looking for the slightest signs of racism in every nook and cranny we find and bleat on about it all the time.

Above all, let's always play the victim and never take responsibility for our own attitudes and actions and refuse to face reality that we, more than anyone else, are the authors of our own destiny. But hey, it’s always easier to blame someone else, right? So let’s keep doing that.


Wonderful Article Mr. Khorsandi! You tell the privileged!

by gol-dust on

I thouroughly enjoyed your article! Mr. "John" and some others are attacking Payvand through their own narrow, privileged and clogged prism! They live in a wonderland! British occupation of Iran and their treatment of Iranians was totally the indicative of a racist culture! Their policy towards the middle east today is yet another racist policy! They looked upon our ancestors as dogs! Anglo racism is still alive, if you care to see it! What has changed is they have learned to keep it under cover, since it is politcally incoorect to say it publically!

You don't need to see the white racism when a million iraqis get killed and there are no protests against the war, but a few americans and brits get killed they become anti war! When people are dying in africa, and india, there is no help and intervention from the anglos, since they got no oil! However, there are many good, decent, caring and non-racist westerners who are not racists today!

You don't need to go far to see racism in america, when you see the black tragedy all around you! Witnessing it, you would never know that there are very rich whites living only blocks away from them who have no knowlege of them and no contacts. I can bring many examples of racism in America. However, I should add that there have been much improvement, but much more needed! Osama is the result of majority's frustration with Bush and change of attitude in democrats! Republicans are the most racists of all! Good luck to obama with republicans! 

Darius Kadivar

He also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

by Darius Kadivar on

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang We Love You


Don't forget a Black Felix Leiter

by Critic (not verified) on

played by Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again opposite Sean Connery and Kim Bassinger:



Just as I was getting tired

by TheMrs on

Just as I was getting tired of reading repetitive articles and blogs something interesting comes along. Thank you.

The thing about James Bond is that he is really a “nobody”. He gets credit for what others have done for him. He is the classic white male!

His cool gadgets come from the old geezer and his office flirts come from the receptionist. Without these 2, none of his stories would even begin! At least McIvre (spelling?) made his own gadgets!

His exotic locations and many of the “bad guys” come from other places where they speak with “weird” accents and have exotic customs. The places he goes do not belong to him but he rampages through them as if he owns everything he touches.

And what makes him Bond, James Bond? The women! Oh yes the women, the women, the women. And then some more women! The women in his movies are very interesting characters. He isn’t. The ladies make him interesting. Even Pussy Galore is who she is because of her name, not because of Ghazan, Ghazanfar. Sifir Sifir Yeddi is nothing without a lady on his arm. Which I don’t get: he’s old, hairy, obnoxious, workaholic, irresponsible, smokes, drinks (bad breath anyone?) and probably has VD. I can’t even call him a bad boy because he doesn’t do anything bad! Or at least he doesn’t do anything bad well enough!

Others have to step in and make things interesting for him. Bache nanast.

Most importantly, he has to save the world from one dimensional villains who are out to destroy everything (sounds like Georgie Boy to me). No one ever wonders if the villain is part of a legitimate resistance movement!

He has nothing of his own. From your brief description of the author’s family and his place in the clan, and from what we know of the British Empire, the exhibition in your report sounds boring but very accurate! Bond, never had anything but the people around him. Take all of them away, and he is nothing. He is nothing more than the musings of a rich spoiled brat…

As far as racism goes, yeah sure we've had Mr T (don't do drugs and stay in school) but in koja oon koja. You can jump on sefid poost band wagon anytime you want but to deny what James Bond represents is like saying Khomeini was sexy.



Don't sweat it, John

by Seh Shod (not verified) on

Mr. Khorsandi, as part of his mostly anti-western mindset, sees white racism and prejudice everywhere.

He could go to a thousand exhibitions like this and the only things will laser in on, regardless of how insignificant and irrelevant they maybe, are those aspects of the display, which will help to feed his ever critical and cynical view of the racist West.

We have no shortage of internationally famous black and talented actors, like Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Jamie Fox, Wesley Snipes, Morgan Freeman etc etc who have portrayed many heroic characters over the years and our Mr. Khorsandi is still moaning, because he hasn't had his "black James bond" yet; bless him.


Just another sad, woe-is-me whine

by John on

It must be tough seeing the world through down-trodden eyes, finding conspiracies and discrimination everywhere, including where there is none.

"‎an oil painting featured on the cover of ‎Live And Let Die depicting a restrained and ‎half-naked 007 looking on powerlessly as ‎two or three black men held a Barbarella-‎style blond captive – a sure indicator that ‎Bond is the product of a racist colonial ‎mindset."

In no way is the artist's conception "a sure indicator" of anything other than this particular artist's idea of what will make an interesting and sellable painting.  Bond is a product of the post World War II iron curtain and cold war climate of fear, and is the overtly masculine and sexual creation of a third-rate novelist.  To correlate Ian Fleming's writings with a painting made decades after the fact by someone unconnected to Fleming is absurd.

And from your web site comes a revealing glimpse at your neuroses: "There was also a wedding. Everyone in the wedding was white. I wondered if the bride and groom knew any members of an ethnic minority".

You must have incredible insight to be able to look at a group of people and immediately discern that they might be racist.  Heaven forbid that the bride should wear a white gown, or have white skin, or have white-skinned family members and friends.  Maybe some of these people were white-skinned ethnics, of which there are many to choose from in any modern society.

I've had more than my fill of modern man's (and woman's, just so that I won't be accused of misogyny) preoccupation with assigning blame, demanding guilt and apologies from alleged oppressors, and feeling like victims.  Indeed, there are real victims in this world without having to invent others who have no concept of what victimization really is.


Here is an interesting angle.

by Asghar_Massombagi on

The producers of original James Bond movie, Dr. No, briefly considered Cary Grant for the role of Bond. This I think was primarily on the strength of Grant's two films in the '50s for Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest where he plays a lady-killer who can duke it out with the bad guys in some very exotic locales.  His turn in Notorious (Hitchcock’s again with Ingrid Bergman as female lead) also could have been a factor.  Hitchcock made a series of what we may call political thrillers these days back in the '30s.  These films were either adaptations of writers like John Buchan (The 39 Steps) or inspired by Joseph Conrad's work, specifically The Secret Agent (superb book by the way). Both Conrad and Buchan loved to set their adventures in the colonial settings and in Conrad's case actually were considered writers of colonialism.  Fleming belongs in this line of British writers. 



by Anonymous-today (not verified) on

He's a mean mother... bite your tongue. Man, I loved Shaft, the TV series when I was a kid watching it on Iranian TV.

Darius Kadivar

Also ... I Spy BIll Crosby Robert Culp

by Darius Kadivar on

White Meets Black in I Spy series :

Darius Kadivar

What About SHAFT ? ...

by Darius Kadivar on

Shaft His Name, Shaft His Game ...

If you want to See Shaft Ask your Mom ! ;0)

And the Cool Music Score