The character of James Bond enjoys strong links with the Royal Navy (RN), the
maritime branch of the UK's armed services. This article aims to discuss these links,
both in terms
of the character and the films.
For more on the Royal Navy itself, see its Official Site.
|bond's naval career|
In the novels Bond's naval career is detailed in his obituary in "You Only
Live Twice". This reveals that when Bond joined the Ministry of Defence in 1941
he was accorded the rank of lieutenant in the Special Branch of the Royal Navy
Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). He was soon promoted to Commander, and at the end
of the war he joined the Secret Service. As such, the Bond of the novels was
a Navy reservist and never actually served at sea. It is interesting to note that
Bond's wartime naval career exactly matches that of his creator; during the war,
Ian Fleming served as a lieutenant and commander in the Special Branch of the RNVR.
In contrast, the Bond of the movies is definitely a serving member of the Royal Navy who is on attachment to MI6. This is confirmed in both You Only Live Twice and Tomorrow Never Dies when newspaper headlines refer to Bond's death as the murder of a British naval commander (the first is a cover story, the second is Elliot Carver optimistically writing the next day's paper before the event). This was also the approach used by John Gardner in his 1989 Bond novel "Win, Lose or Die", which features Bond returning to active service and serving on the (real) aircraft carrier HMS Invincible after gaining a promotion to Captain.
We know little about Bond's career; all that is actually mentioned on screen is that he served on board the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, since this is how he is known by Admiral Hargreaves prior to The Spy Who Loved Me. Unlike many of the vessels mentioned in the Bond films, the Ark Royal is a real ship (indeed there have been several RN aircraft carriers bearing this name over the years). However, we can attempt to make some deductions from the occasions that Bond has been in seen in uniform.
On the first two occasions, You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond has no extra insignia or emblems on his uniform. This indicates that he is not in any specialist part of the RN; for instance if he was in the Submarine Service he would be wearing a badge showing two dolphins (as can be seen on Captain Benson's uniform in The Spy Who Loved Me). In You Only Live Twice, Bond is wearing ten medal ribbons in three rows. This seems quite excessive, especially since the British Armed Forces generally only award medals for campaigns. By the time of the Roger Moore film, this was reduced to one row, consisting of just two medals. One of these is the purple and green General Service Medal (GSM), which is awarded for service in campaigns for which there are no specific decorations (for instance Northern Ireland or Borneo).
In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond's medal count had increased back to three rows. These include another appearance for the GSM, as well as the Rhodesia Medal, meaning that he was in active service during the transition to Zimbabwe in 1979-80 (presumably between those Drax and ATAC affairs!), and the Distinguished Service Cross. However, perhaps the most surprising medal is the red and white Order of the British Empire (OBE) ribbon, a major award which is also available to civillians.
In addition, Bond is wearing a set of wings on his right shoulder; these are the HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) wings, referring to the type of parachute jump that Bond makes later in the film (and so that was not for the first time). This indicates that Bond is a former member of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS).
Information on Bond's medals based on research carried out by Neil Griffiths for the Scottish Royal British Legion journal, as reported in Navy News, April 1998.
The most senior officer in the RN is the Chief of Naval Staff, known as the First Sea
Lord (1SL). He heads the Navy Board, which is effectively the operating committee
of the service. The First Sea Lord is mentioned in The Spy Who Loved Me when
Captain Benson informs him by telephone of the disappearance of HMS Ranger.
Two different First Sea Lords have actually appeared in the Bond films; one reported
the loss of the St Georges to the Minister of Defence at the start of For Your Eyes
Only (played by Graham Crowden), and then another (played by David Ashton) appears
briefly in Tomorrow Never Dies.
Other senior officers are the Second Sea Lord (2SL), who has more administrative responsibilities, and a group of officers responisble for the various areas of the service, including Flag Officer Surface Flotilla (FOSF), Flag Officer Naval Aviation (FONA), Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) and Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM). During The Spy Who Loved Me the latter post was held by Admiral Hargreaves, who attended the meeting following the disappearance of HMS Ranger. This meeting is also attended by RN Captains Benson and Forsyth, whose precise roles are not made but presumably have some sort of responsibility for the Polaris fleet.
Aside from Bond, there is another naval officer who plays an important part in the films, namely the original M. He is seen wearing naval uniform in You Only Live Twice and is referred to as an admiral in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. This is consistent with Fleming's M, who was named as Admiral Sir Miles Messervy. The second screen M, played by Robert Brown, is also seen wearing uniform in The Living Daylights, but it is unclear whether this is simply due to the fact the Brown is playing the same character as Bernard Lee, or Admiral Hargreaves has now assumed the post (this issue is discussed in more detail elsewhere).
The Bond movies have featured other RN personnel, including the crews of the various vessels which have appeared (see below). In addition, a vice admiral is seen working with the First Sea Lord in For Your Eyes Only. Then Tomorrow Never Dies features Admiral Roebuck, whose role is not made clear but seems to have some responsibility for the surface fleet so he may actually be FOSF.
A number of Royal Navy vessels - both real and fictional - have appeared in the Bond movies:
HMS Rothesay (Thunderball)
HMS Tenby (You Only Live Twice)
M's Submarine (You Only Live Twice)
HMS Ranger (The Spy Who Loved Me)
HMS Fearless (The Spy Who Loved Me)
St Georges (For Your Eyes Only)
HMS Chester, HMS Devonshire and HMS Bedford (Tomorrow Never Dies)
HMS Devonshire plays a more important role. While patrolling in the South China Sea under the command of one Commander Day its global positioning system (GPS), a satellite based navigation system, is disrupted so that it inadvertantly enters Chinese waters. It is then sunk by Carver's stealth ship in order to precipitate a crisis between Britain and China. Devonshire is also seen to be carrying TLAM, since one of the missiles is taken from it for use in a subsequent phase of Carver's plan. According to the film's credits, the captain of the Devonshire is named as Cdr Richard Day and its XO (Executive Officer) is Lt Cdr Peter Hume.
HMS Bedford is the flagship of the British fleet which is sent to the South China Sea in response to Devonshire's supposed sinking by China. It is unusual that a frigate would be the flagship like this, and indeed it appears to be the only ship in the British fleet! On board the Bedford is Admiral Kelly, who appears to be in command of the fleet. When the true nature of the situation is revealed Bedford is responsible for destroying the stealth ship, and then attempting to locate Bond and Wai Lin.
Unidentified warship (Die Another Day)
The Bond Film Informant was compiled by Matthew Newton. © Copyright MJ Newton. No part of this site may be reproduced without permission unless otherwise stated.