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Bond expert: 'Brand GB' in Estonia, worldwide, inextricably linked to 007

Dr. Martin D. Brown
Dr. Martin D. Brown Source: Kadri Kõusaar

James Bond is back for his 25th official film, 'No Time to Die', already open in Estonian cinemas from early on this month. The franchise is not only one of the longest-running in cinema history, it is also a testament to the reach of British soft power, and the influence of the UK's film industry, writes academic and Bond expert Martin D. Brown, even as links to Estonia are tentative, rather than obvious.

[U.S. Secretary of State in the Truman administration] Dean Acheson may have claimed that "Britain had lost an empire and had not found a role", but he failed to predict the country's emergence as a cultural superpower.  

Over the last 60 years, the Bond series has developed into a multi-million-pound global industry. Queen Elizabeth II pretended to jump out of a helicopter with Bond at the London Olympics back in 2012, not because of his services protecting the realm, but because of the profits generated by the films.

Across social media, Britain's worldwide network of ambassadors and embassies have been busy promoting the film. Brand GB is now inextricably linked to Bond and is marketed as such.

Whether you like Bond or not, you've heard of him and the country he works for. This connection is a valuable lesson in the long-term benefits of supporting cinema and cultural relations.

Establishing links between James Bond and Estonia is not easy. There is no evidence Bond ever visited the country in any of the 271 adventures he's featured in since his creation by Ian Fleming in 1953.

The closest Bond has come is Helsinki, the setting for John Gardner's 1983 continuation novel "Icebreaker", in which he battles both resurgent neo-Nazis and the Soviet Union.

Graham Greene originally set his story "Our Man in Havana" in Estonia, which he had visited in 1934. There he met Peter Edmund James Leslie, His Majesty's Vice-Consul, who may have had a connection to the secret intelligence world. There is even a tentative link to Greene's novel in the newest Bond film.

Eric Ambler, a friend of Fleming, established an Estonian connection in his last novel "The Care of Time", with the character of Karliss Zander.

In her espionage novels Dame Stella Rimington, the first female director-general of MI5, has her hero, Liz Carlyle, travel to Tallinn, while Christopher Nolan, possibly in line to direct a future Bond film and a fan of the series, shot "Tenet" in Tallinn in 2019.

My wife grew up in Estonia during the Soviet era. She first saw the Bond movies in the 1980s, as they were appearing on Finnish TV, which could be picked up in Tallinn. But she only made it to the cinema for the 2015 Bond movie "Specter", as I took her along. People around the world have different experiences of how and where they saw Bond. It's a global experience

But Bond is a more complex character than we might think. It's often overlooked that he was once American, as well as Japanese, briefly worked as a Soviet assassin, was later awarded the Order of Lenin, expressed a visceral hatred of Rastafarians and was murdered by a Bulgarian; he also liked fine dining (especially eggs – from chickens, not sturgeon), but seemed incapable of cooking for himself, possibly a result of his rampant alcoholism. 

These are hardly Bond's most significant, nor his most auspicious activities, but they do reflect the sheer range, oddity and frequent diversions of his career.

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Martin D. Brown is a history professor at Richmond, The American International University in London, and divides his time between the U.K. and Estonia. His wife is noted Estonian filmmaker Kadri Kõusaar.

Martin D. Brown has also given this interview to U.K. news portal SWLondoner, and this one to journalist and deputy head of foreign desk at major Slovak daily Pravda (link in Slovak), in which he talks about Bond's links to the U.S. as well as the U.K. – the special relationship in other words – and some preconceptions including one that he was primarily a product of the cold war and was a spy, as opposed to, in reality, an assassin.

He told Pravda that: "Speaking for myself, I'm also a Bondologist. However, of course, no qualifications are required to do that. You don't have to be an academic, you don't need a doctorate and so on. 

"There are many James Bond fans who have forgotten more about him than I know about him. But I use the character in lectures, especially when teaching the Cold War. If we talk about the 20th century, we have to mention Bond. I smile at the anger of academics involved in the secret services and espionage. Bond really rattles their cages, so to speak. They loudly remind us that it is not real, that a 'license to kill' does not exist - since nothing like that is written about in the archives."

"But Bond is infinite fun. In a hundred years, no one will remember the academics who wrote about espionage, nor me for that matter. But Bond will still be talked about. he is a transnational icon. It doesn't matter if you like him or not, or if you like movies. In short, use James Bond to get students interested in the 20th century."

Martin also appears in two podcasts with Andrej Matišák on the same topic, here (part one) and here (part two).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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