The Man Who Saved Britain

The Man Who Saved Britain
Simon Winder

This is a fine book with a terrible title. I’m still not sure who the man is: James Bond, or his creator Ian Fleming. In any event, neither saved Britain, whose decline in the post-Second World War years is here masochistically chronicled by someone who lived through part of the experience. What Fleming/Bond offered up was an escapist compensation for Britain’s disintegration as an imperial power and fall into global irrelevance. Fleming’s hero “comforted, entertained and distracted people who had lived with assumptions which within less than two decades became completely outmoded.” I don’t know if Winder thinks this was a good thing. It’s also too bad that this book came out in 2006, the same year the film franchise rebooted, more or less successfully, with Daniel Craig’s first Bond outing in Casino Royale. Was this just the further Hollywoodization of British culture? An expression of the City’s rise to prominence as a financial capital? Or just finding a new way of milking more money from a familiar brand? Whatever the answer, Winder’s personal journey is one worth taking even if it doesn’t fully cover the ground. I would have liked a bit more on the specifically juvenile nature of the Bond fantasy, the way it sets its hooks (as it did with Winder) in childhood. There’s something not grown up about Bond, and it’s the same something that makes him a hero for our time more than ever. Though I guess compared to that other megaselling British book-film franchise, Harry Potter, he must seem terribly old now. Our standards keep getting younger.