The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorised Oral History Of James Bond
Hello to you all! It feels like it’s been a while. Before I continue, I’d like to thank all for the response to my ‘confession’ last time. To put it mildly, I’m overjoyed to the reaction. Now then let’s get down to business.
I’ve made it clear on a few occasions through reviews for Thunderball and Forever And A Day that I’m a fan of 007 and his extensive list of missions over the years. Be it the Fleming original, the EON film series or his numerous loving (and not so loving) parodies. As such it should be no surprise that when I found an audiobook claiming to be a complete aural history of Bond’s existence moving from Casino Royale’s publication in 1952 to the most recent released film production in 2018’s Spectre I was curious to say the least. What would they and wouldn’t they include? Would they mention the 1967 Casino Royale spoof? Never Say Never Again? The legal hell with Kevin McClory?
I certainly got my questions answered! Nobody Does It Better by Gross and Altman (authors of The Fifty Year Mission, a two volume series written for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek) is actually a little different than I was expecting going in. Rather than being a behind the scenes biography almost of the books and films, it is composed mostly of quotes taken from interviews with numerous figures of Bond lore cut together in a scrapbook fashion to tell a complete history of the production both behind of and in front of the camera along with additional material by the authors. Several people are interviewed ranging from Wolf Mankowitz (uncredited script contributor, Dr No – 1962), Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli (EON Bond series producer 1962-1995) and numerous directors and stars of the film series including several Bonds, to famous fans and analysts of the books and films as well as several ‘what could have beens’ (writers whose contributions were rejected – including Nicholas Meyer author of The Adventure Of The Peculiar Protocols which I have previously reviewed, individuals considered for the part of Bond and other examples.)
The authors also go into depth on Bond’s other ventures – the 1960s newspaper strips, the 1990s James Bond Jr animated series and the non-EON film productions are all gone into on some level. Each film or side venture either has its own chapter or is included at its point in the timeline. The only thing of note I can think of not mentioned is the Young Bond book series by Charlie Higson. The audiobook was very much not what I expected but I had a lot of fun with it. Especially seeing everyone’s perspective of certain figures or events. The information included on the Kevin McClory situation was fascinating in particular. It certainly made it clear just why this debate or miniature war went on from the 1950s until the 2010s! Although one piece of advice I have for fellow interested listeners: Skip past the beginning and go straight to the chapter entitled The Road To Bond. The sections before then consist of introductions by the authors and about an hour of ‘James Bond is awesome, James Bond is awesome’ on constant loop like a stuck record player or skipping CD before the book actually seems to start. And I say this as a 007 fan!
The audiobook version of Nobody Does It Better has narration from multiple individuals. Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman read their own introductions while the main book is shared between Hannah Stokely, Simon Lenagen and Tam Williams. The three of them do an alright job – especially given the endless list of names being interviewed – with Stokely in particular doing well. Lenagen and Williams are more variable with some voices coming across well and being easy to listen whilst others being mildly grating. Overall I wouldn’t call the narration bad or anything like that but at the same time it could have been better.
On a slightly more negative note I unfortunately do have criticisms of the actual book. Despite enjoying the vast majority of it immensely, there were a few negatives. Firstly the beginning I mentioned previously, which does just seem to go on and on without end. To others I understand this might not be a problem but with a book as long and in-depth as this one…it tested my patience.
Secondly there is the treatment the authors give to certain films or Bonds. I understand personal choice and don’t expect the authors to parrot my own opinion back at me but the treatment can be odd. For example on the film front some of the Bond series’s few genuine disasters (regarded as such by fan consensus at any rate) such as Quantum Of Solace (2008) or Die Another Day (2002) feel like they are treated with kid gloves. Every film has its defenders in this book – something I appreciate – but even still it feels like some films are given generally kinder treatment than others when they don’t deserve it. This also extends to Bonds. Every Bond has his fans here – even Lazenby (1969) thankfully – but in one case they are conspicuously thin on the ground. The Timothy Dalton era (1987-1989) is treated unusually harshly with almost every contributor seeming to either disparage the Dalton films in general, Dalton’s performance, other members of the production behind the scenes or find some reason to heap scorn on that era. To be honest it got so bad in the section on The Living Daylights I had to skip to the next film halfway through! That’s usually a bad sign!
Lastly and in my opinion less severely it is also debatable that starting with the films worked on by the current management – Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, ‘Cubby’’s daughter and stepson respectively – the writers become less prone to tell all the stories and as much as possible ‘airbrush’ what the listener or reader is told. This is likely because they don’t want to antagonise the current bosses at EON but it’s still a debatable opinion.
Overall Nobody Does It Better is a genuinely enjoyable audiobook. Especially if you are a long time fan of Bond and all related ephemera. It is very interesting indeed hearing the behind the scenes opinions of those involved in making the films or of highly respected long time fans. Depending on the listener they may disagree heavily with certain voiced opinions but that just makes the experience more interesting usually.
I hope some of you may join me in listening to this as despite my few complaints it’s still an audiobook I enjoyed immensely and I do heartily recommend.
I don’t think it will be too much longer before you hear from me again…but for now?