James Bond and the Beatles at war for Britain’s soul

Love and Let Die: Bond, the Beatles and the British Psyche

John Higgs

Weidenfeld and Nicolsonp. 516£20

“Better to use your common sense”, advised Bob Dylan: “Take what you have collected by chance. John Higgs is a master at extracting what he can from coincidence – or, as he would insist, synchronicity. From the watermark of connections and echoes in KLF (Discordianism through the lens of 1990s pop provocateurs) to the psychogeography of Watling Street to more recent deep dives in William Blake, he confronts the modern matter of Britain: who wields power and who resists this?

love and let die begins with another perfect coincidence, namely that it was 60 years ago – to be precise, October 5, 1962 – that the Beatles’ first single hit the stores and the first James Bond movie hit the movie theater. From there, Higgs conjures up a whole cultural history of the past six decades, as the parallel histories of Bond and the Beatles intersect, contrast, feud and at times reinforce each other.

From the double release of ‘Love Me Do’ and Dr. Nothe protagonists keep rubbing against each other. To help!, the second Beatles film, is essentially a homage to Bond. Paul McCartney has resurrected a dead solo career with a Bond theme. Ringo Starr married Barbara Bach, The Spy Who Loved Meof Major Anya Amasova. The agent, for his part, was more arrogant. “My dear daughter,” Bond says to Jill Masterson in golden finger, ‘there are things that just don’t get done, like drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs. But, as Higgs notes, the character

knew exactly which restaurant, tailor or brand of vermouth was the best, and always insisted on having the best for himself. But his mastery extends only to the material world, and the music, as well as the emotions it generates, are [sic] intangible. Bond doesn’t have good musical taste any more than he understands empathy or intimacy.

For Higgs, The Beatles represent Love: Love Me Do. She loves You. I can’t buy myself love. All you need is love. Bond, a professional killer, represents Death: Die Another Day. Live and Let Die. No time to die. Eros and Thanatos are at war for the soul of post-war Britain. Contrasts are everywhere. The Beatles are from the north; South Bond. Boys like Bond; girls like the Beatles. The Beatles loved football; Bond is only interested in solo sports. The dualities extend to tiny matters of taste: The Beatles floated on a sea of ​​tea, like anyone who watched Come back can attest; Bond (“be a nice girl and make me some coffee”) saw her as “one of the main reasons for the fall of the British Empire”.

This is a pointer to the key distinction: Bond represents a version of England that Higgs dubs the Norman Empire of continuity, the England of received pronunciation, private education and inherited wealth. Not only Bond, but Ian Fleming is manhandled by Higgs, who perhaps takes too much semi-aristocratic teasing at face value.

In his account, Fleming was a privileged child who repeatedly failed: expelled from Eton and Sandhurst; his role in naval intelligence “a comfortable job entrusted to him by family contacts”. We had to rely on Jonathan Cape to publish Casino Royale and his early admiring reviews all came from friends. (Later slanderous reviews often also came from at least fictional friends.) The novels, filled with granted wishes, were “rushed and barely edited”: Higgs has a particular disdain for thunder ball‘It was a room-like room with furniture-like furniture,’ which in context is a perfect example of Chandlerian terseness. The dark power of novels is conceded through gritted teeth.

The two worlds collided most recently during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. For Higgs, the section where Daniel Craig as a character escorted the Queen in a helicopter and the two appeared to parachute up to the stadium, both recognized the Norman empire of continuity and disorganized it. “Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell-Boyce had used the banishing power of laughter to prevent their ceremony from being claimed by the powers that be through slight ridicule.” Then the stage was clear for a popular version of Britain – the NHS, the Suffragettes and, inevitably, the Beatles, from the giant yellow submarines to the Arctic Monkeys singing ‘Come Together’ to Paul McCartney leading a mass chant of “Hey Jude”.

The Beatles and Bond remain the only two post-war British cultural colossi with multi-generational and global reach: Higgs notes that Doctor Who (whose lead has regenerated even more often than Bond) is largely an English-speaking phenomenon and one that today’s teenagers grow weary of Harry Potter. But no time to die was the most successful Western film since the pandemic. Come back was watercooler TV and (since the book went to press) a new deluxe edition of Revolver was announced.

Higgs’ central thesis has comprehensive explanatory power and it pulls together a wide range of details. The duality may not be as clear cut as he claims. The Kiss-Kiss is as central to Bond glamor as the Bang-Bang. The Beatles were no strangers to occasional cruelty and even violence (in Come back, John jokes about beating and hospitalizing a friend at Paul’s 21st birthday party six years earlier). And even though the lyrics celebrate love, rock’s energy often contains a thrill of aggression. But Higgs’ final verdict on the return of James Bond is indisputable. “There’s no reason you can’t be emotionally intelligent behind the wheel of a really fast sports car.” In effect.