My dad died this year, but his legacy was an immortal hero.
When the name of the new James Bond movie was announced this week, I felt — as Ian Fleming might have written — a sharp stab of pain in my abdomen. Not because of the name itself: in fact, No Time To Die almost sounds like a pastiche of a Bond movie title. But because of my dad.
My father died in March this year after a long illness. A funny and talkative man, he couldn’t resist charming those around him. Even towards the end, he was making the nurses at the hospice laugh. Before slipping into the sleep from which he never returned, he made sure he was clean shaven and had time for a last glass of whisky.
I’m not a whisky drinker myself, but apart from that we shared many tastes. One of them was an appreciation of all things Bond.
The first grown-up movie Dad ever took me to was Live And Let Die (1973). He’d already been a fan for years. I would have been seven, which sounds far too young for 007. But there I was. When I watch the film now, its voodoo scenes make me squirm for different reasons. At the time I shivered with fear and excitement. And the speedboat chase remains a masterpiece of action choreography.
Three years later I was ready for the books. I chose Doctor No, which I’d seen on TV that Christmas. The librarian asked my mother if I was allowed to read such adult fare.
“If he doesn’t understand something,” she replied, “he’ll ask us.”
Perhaps I didn’t understand everything — but I got it. The exotic locales. The adventure. The smart-sounding clothes. For me the Bond of the books looked more like Connery than Moore. But he also looked a bit like someone else. The black, swept-back hair. The swarthy complexion. The roguish twinkle. Dad at thirty five. He may have been a salesman from Surrey, but I recast him as a hero.
A life worth living
I read all the books. I looked forward to all the films — I still do. But what I really enjoyed was chatting about them with my father.
When we saw the TV show Remington Steele, we predicted that one day Pierce Brosnan would be Bond. Years later, when I lived abroad, we groused over the phone about the casting of Daniel Craig. We pondered the meaning of the title Skyfall long before the trailer dropped. When the trailers did appear, we’d talk about them too.
Naturally, it was all a cipher. What we were really talking about was our relationship. Our friendship.
Unlike diamonds, it couldn’t last forever. Not all heroes are immortal. We won’t have a conversation about that title, no matter how much I’m yearning to hear his voice.
What I realise now, though, is that Bond was Dad’s legacy to me. At an impressionable age, in the films and particularly in the books, I found a sort of manual for living. Not the women and the violence. But the travel. The style. The pleasures of a great meal, a lavish hotel, a tropical beach. Bond’s world held the promise of a bigger life, somewhere beyond the school gates and the suburbs.
If I had not been influenced by Bond, would I have decided to become a journalist — just like Ian Fleming? Would I have been so determined to travel? To eat well? To wear nice clothes? Would I have moved to Paris? The spectre of Bond is present even here, when I visit Harry’s American Bar and order a vodka martini. And so is the spectre of my father.
I told him some of this, at the hospice. He wasn’t happy about going. He’d fought the hell out of cancer for six years, still travelling and drinking whisky and listening to rock and roll. He would have carried on if he could. “I just want to live my life,” was almost the last thing I heard him say. As he faced down his nemesis, he sounded more annoyed than scared.
But he was exhausted, finally beaten by the illness. For Bond it’s always No Time To Die. For Dad, it was time.
At the end of the movies, there’s always a line that reads: “James Bond Will Return.” And every time he does, so will the memory of my father.
I’ll be expecting you.