A thoroughly enjoyable book that is at once a memoir, a cultural history of Britain from the Second World War through the 1970s, and a meditation on the troubling nature of being a James Bond fan in modern times. Written and released prior to the Bond reboot represented by the Daniel Craig films, The Man Who Saved Britain describes James Bond as simultaneously a pernicious fantasy of the racist, imperialist right-wing and a figure of comfort who helped postwar Britain manage its inevitable decline as the Empire crumbled from beneath it.
The Man Who Saved Britain is particularly beguiling because of the author’s humorous voice and his willingness to examine the “disturbing world” of thoughtless racism, sexual sadism, and excessive consumerism that James Bond lives in throughout the novels and especially in the films. Winder ties together some of Bond’s influences (the adventure novels of H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, Sax Rohmer, Eric Ambler, and the “Biggles” novels of Captain W.E. Johns); the bleakness and despair of postwar Britain; and perhaps the odd tastes of Ian Fleming himself. Bond is at once a suave ladies’ man and a merciless killer; a loyal civil servant and a member of the cultural elite; an aspirational fantasy and a man who can truly belong nowhere on Earth.
My only regret is that this book isn’t longer; I would love to know what Winder thinks of the modern Bond films and their diminished villains, their Bond who gets really hurt and requires lengthy recuperation time, as well as psychological tests administered by a female M. Highly recommended for anyone who loves James Bond and/or cultural histories.