Some Kind of Hero: An Interview with Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury

Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury
Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury

As I’ve noted in my book review of Some Kind of Hero, authors Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury have published what I consider to be the ultimate nonfiction Bond book detailing the history of the franchise from its inception all the way through to the SPECTRE press conference. It’s a book that every Bond fan must own, and with Father’s Day soon arriving I would urge any reader struggling to find a present for a Bond fan to look no further.  The authors conducted interviews with over 100 people who have been integral to the decades long success of Bond and with the benefit of their meticulous research, they’ve managed to tell the story of the cinematic franchise in a very unique way.  Of particular note is the spotlight the book shines on the partnership between Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.  Some Kind of Hero does each of these men justice bringing them to life in the pages not just by highlighting their professional contributions but also many of their more human traits and personality quirks.  Even fans who think they know everything there is to know about Bond will find new details and discover unsung heroes who’ve played vital roles throughout the history of the franchise.  I had the privilege of interviewing Matthew and Ajay by email and asking them a few questions about their book and about our favorite hero, James Bond

JL: Can you tell us a little bit about how your Bond fandom began and how it evolved into something more serious?

12109166_920414644706891_860577611140779298_nMF: The first James Bond movie I saw was Goldfinger when my dad videotaped an ITV transmission. A year later in the summer of 1987, he took me to see The Living Daylights. I was six years old and it was the first time I had ever been to the cinema. The plot of this complex thriller about an arms deal involving the Mujahidin in Afghanistan may have gone completely over my head but the action was thrilling. Timothy Dalton was seriously cool and I left the theatre wanting that Aston Martin! From as early as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer and had aspirations to write a James Bond book. As a precocious 8 year old I even wrote to The James Bond British Fan Club asking for assistance on a proposed book! Years later following the publication of THE MAKING OF THE ITALIAN JOB, Ajay and I often talking about collaborating on a project.

AC: I first saw 007 at the cinema whilst on holiday in North Wales. It was a rainy summer day in 1977 when I saw Roger Moore as Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me. I was enthralled by the gadgets and girls and guns and a uniquely British pop culture hero. I then saw all the Bond films and soon read all the Ian Fleming novels and was captivated by the character and have followed the making of each film closely ever since.  As we outline in the introduction to SOME KIND OF HERO, our journey to write this book took some time. I submitted a proposal to write what was then the making of Bond 18 in the autumn of 1996. Even though I failed to get the gig, the publishers wanted to speak to me to see how and why I knew all this information.

JL: What is your favorite Bond film and who is your favorite Bond actor and why?

Matthew Field
Matthew Field

MF:  I always think that is like asking who is your favouirte child. And the truth is I love them all. But if I had to take one to a desert island it would have to be Goldfinger. The script is perfectly crafted by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn and the film masterfully directed by Guy Hamilton. This third movie truly was a game changer. My favourite actor is Pierce Brosnan. I grew up during his era and to this day my school friends and I will reminisce about GoldenEye!

AC: See the first part of Matthew’s response. As Timothy Dalton once said of the Goldfinger screenplay, “It’s a piece of structure.” SOME KIND OF HERO tries its best to celebrate the writers’ story of how they impacted on the adaptation of Fleming’s works. Richard Maibaum is an unsung hero in the franchise and so too, somewhat, are Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Goldfinger arguably improves on the novel something that never happened until Casino Royale in 2006. My favourite Bond is Timothy Dalton. I think Daniel Craig has the Dalton DNA in him. He was ahead of his time and had he done the third Bond film as outlined in our book, I think, as Matthew says above, it would have been another “game changer”.

JL: What led to your decision to begin putting together a book about the Bond cinematic franchise and how did you decide to distinguish your book from the many books that already exist about Bond?

MF: Many told us there was nothing left to write about the James Bond films. Everything has been discovered and everyone has been interviewed. That was our challenge because we felt the surface had barely been scratched. Our Bond heroes are historians such as Richard Schenkman, Steven Jay Rubin, Raymond Benson, Lee Pfeiffer, Dave Worrall, John Cork and Bruce Scivally – all of whom have written extensively about the Bond movies and we wanted SOME KIND OF HERO to stand alongside their work.

AC: We certainly stand on the shoulders of those James Bond journalist giants. I think what we brought to the party, apart from

Ajay Chowdhury
Ajay Chowdhury Photo credit: Richard Clarke

new interview information and rare and unpublished archive material is a broader sense of the film industry, the studio story and the producers’ story as well as key creative personal involved and how films are written and developed. Our favourite entertainment industry books are MY INDECISION IS FINAL by Jake Eberts and Terry Illiott, TUNE IN by Mark Lewisohn and EASY RIDERS RAGING BULLS by Peter Biskind. Matthew’s own books BLADE RUNNERS, DEER HUNTERS AND BLOWING THE BLOODY DOORS OFF, the autobiography of seminal British producer Michael Deeley and THE MAKING OF THE ITALIAN JOB were excellent pieces of film journalism and set a high standard for us.

JL: You interviewed over a hundred people who all played significant roles throughout the history of the Bond franchise.  What was that process like and did you get nervous or star struck at any time?

MF: We both work in the entertainment business and work around talent all the time so I don’t think we ever got star struck. However when Pierce Brosnan calls you on a Saturday afternoon, you do sit up and take notice – that was certainly a moment neither of us will forget.

AC: We were probably slightly concerned with some of the lesser known but potentially fascinating behind-the-scenes personnel such as Erik Pleskow and Danton Rissner. We likened some of the interviews to Frost/Nixon where you only have a certain amount of time and one had to prioritise the information we wanted and aim the questions just so. In the end, everybody we spoke to had something of worth to say. SOME KIND OF HERO makes a tapestry of their contributions and hopefully is an entertaining read too. An illustration of this is and one of my favourite bits in the book is where we hear about Cubby’s love of racehorses intertwined with a great related reminisce from Christopher Walken and an amusing story from John Glen’s wife, Janine, about office life in Eon on race days!

JL: With the recent passing of Ken Adam and Guy Hamilton, was there anything about the interviews conducted with either of them that stand out to you now?  Was anything significant omitted from their story for space?  How important do you believe they are to the legacy of Bond?

Guy Hamilton and Sean Connery
Guy Hamilton and Sean Connery

MF: Both Sir Ken Adam and Guy Hamilton are hugely important to the Bond legacy. Their work truly defined what a Bond film is and can clearly be seen in Skyfall and SPECTRE. We both felt the Guy Hamilton interview was hugely important to our book. We have over 9 hours of audio with him at his home in Mallorca. He spoke about many areas of Bond that he hadn’t really discussed before – the pressures of taking over Goldfinger from Terence Young, witnessing the Broccoli-Saltzman relationship crumble, as well as his early pre-production work on The Spy Who Loved Me. Guy gave us a very unique insight into the inner workings of the Bond empire and where the decision making stopped for the director.

AC: I think the Guy Hamilton material was the single most significant interview undertaken for SOME KIND OF HERO. He had an amazing insight into those early Danjaq days and the latter, pivotal parting of the ways. He also put into great perspective what the actual role of a James Bond director was in those days and the stories from latter directors show how things have changed. Sir Ken Adam, along with John Barry and Maurice Binder, were the true artists of the James Bond pictures whose work has transcended the film series and entered into the popular culture and the world we live in. Sir Ken, who was as stylish in person as his work was on screen, was a gun-metal genius.

JL: Your book really delves into the personalities of producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman in a way that hasn’t been done before.  For fans, I believe it’s important to get the sense of them as real people with quirks and flaws as well as their obvious leadership and business acumen.  Many still look at these men as names on the screen during the credits.  How important was it for you to get their stories right and bring them to life within the pages of your book?  How do you think their personalities shaped some of the decision making behind the Bond films?

Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli
Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli

MF: Broccoli and Saltzman have become legends in the James Bond story. It was important to us to bring their personalities alive in our book and discover sides to them that have never really been revealed before – in particular Harry. We spoke to both his surviving children and his second wife. We interviewed United Artist executives David Picker, Eric Pleskow and Danton Rissner who all painted unique perspectives of them both. One question which we asked many and revealed some fascinating insights into Cubby and Harry was: Describe walking into Eon’s HQ in South Audley Street….

AC: A key thing SOME KIND OF HERO attempts to do is outline what the role of producer is. The much maligned and misunderstood role of producer is explored via the tales of Harry and Cubby. We explore how their personal tastes and preferences influenced aspects of the Bond films and how, to an extent, that is true of Cubby’s heirs. Having been involved in the production of feature films ourselves, we understand it is a thankless task at times and maintaining the high quality of film production was a feat not emulated by their peers. Cubby’s previous producing partner, the Oscar-winning Irving Allen, showed how difficult a task it was when he set up the Matt Helm series.  We like all the personal elements in the films such as the use of Cubby’s car and cameo appearances by Harry’s wife and the yin and yang of their relationship.

JL: Can you tell our readers a little bit about Johanna Harwood?  How was she integral to the earliest years of the Bond story? 

Johanna Harwood
Johanna Harwood

MF: Johanna Harwood was credited for co-writing Dr. No and adapting From Russia With Love. Johanna has been completely overlooked in Bond history. She is briefly mentioned in passing by Terence Young in an interview in 1980 and disregarded by Richard Maibaum in a 1986 interview. Yet for all these years her name has graced the posters and opening credits of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. Harwood was a perfect example of how we wanted to make our book unique – to present undiscovered voices that challenge the “Bond story” as we know it. She gave us a very unique perspective of working with Harry Saltzman, her utter dislike of Terence Young and working on the very first draft of Dr. No in Paris.

AC: Our title SOME KIND OF HERO also refers to all the uncredited and underrated people involved with the Bond films. Once again, having been involved with the inception of films now, the role of Johanna Harwood cannot be underestimated and not much has changed in the industry since then: in order to raise money or interest for a film you need a good script.  Harwood’s story credibly sets out how this talented woman became the first official James Bond screenwriter and her insight into Harry Saltzman is fascinating.

JL: Many outlets cited your book in stories describing Pierce Brosnan’s departure from the role of Bond.  Did you think going into your interview with him that he would be forthcoming about what happened?  Was it at all difficult to approach this subject with him?

Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan

MF: We were very surprised at the media pick up on the Brosnan story. The Guardian first reported it and quickly it was on news wires all around the world – fantastic for our book as everyone cited us as the source! Our interview with Pierce was one of our favourites. He completely came out of film publicity and junket mode and spoke very openly and honestly about his tenure as Bond. Highlights included his memories of meeting Cubby on the set of For Your Eyes Only when his wife Cassie was on location in Corfu. He revealed meeting Kevin McClory in the late 80s for a possible Thunderball remake. Ultimately it was a question we had to ask him: how did it all end?

AC: There seems to be a bit of a backlash about the qualities of Pierce Brosnan as 007. Let us remember, GoldenEye and Brosnan’s Bond was critically adored at the time. Die Another Day was the highest-grossing Bond film of its time and Brosnan was not fired from the role of 007. At some point, he was simply not rehired. SOME KIND OF HERO explores with nuance and Rashomon-perspective, the exit of Brosnan as Bond but his contribution to the series is something that simply cannot be denied. The interview took ages to set up and kept being postponed so it was especially satisfying when Pierce was so forthcoming.

JL: Speaking about the current state of Bond, do you have any thoughts about the latest media circus surrounding the rumors of Daniel Craig’s decision to exit the role?  Was there ever as much frenzy to replace an incumbent Bond actor as there seems to exist now within the media?

Daniel Craig, Barbara Broccoli, Naomi Harris, and Christolph Waltz
Daniel Craig, Barbara Broccoli, Naomi Harris, and Christolph Waltz

MF: Quite frankly I think it is a pointless debate. Daniel Craig is the Bond of record. Until either Eon Productions and MGM or Daniel Craig make a formal announcement there is nothing to discuss. I think there has always been a debate as to who will be the next James Bond. Speculation as to Roger Moore’s replacement began as early as For Your Eyes Only and post Tomorrow Never Dies for Pierce. I have utter confidence that whatever decision Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli make about the 25th official James Bond film will 100% be the correct one!

AC: SOME KIND OF HERO charts the changing of the Bonds over the years in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1986, 1994 and 2004. A quick glance at history shows this is all yesterdays’ news, today. Again, looking at and sourcing old press stories shows how lax the journalism about James Bond can be.  Roger Moore recently said the actor playing Bond is the jewel which has to be set into the jewelry of the James Bond team. Ultimately, after 54 years, we have to have a little faith in Eon!

JL: Finally, where do you think the Bond franchise should go next?  If we lived in an alternate universe where you had ultimate control over Bond 25 what would you?  Who would you cast as Bond and what kind of story would you like to tell?

Photo credit: Tim Partridge

MF:  Wow that’s an interesting question. I think what Barbara and Michael did with Casino Royale proves the scope for change and direction is massive. Purely from an utter fan perspective I would love to see the YoungBond books by Charlie Higson made into films. Who knows you could even follow the Marvel route and have the spinoff Moneypenny films with Naome Harris, or the Q series with Ben Whisaw even? The possibilities are endless.

AC: I agree with Matthew. For James Bond, we’ve only just begun. Once Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy passes out of copyright and becomes public domain, at some point, he’ll enter into classical status like Dracula, Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes. We’ll get a plethora of different takes on Bond at some not-to-distance point in the future. I’d personally love to see period adaptation of the novels in order rather like the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes TV adaptations. But when the baton of Bond is eventually passed on, perhaps beyond the current owners, we might look back on these years and realize what a good job they made of telling stories about some kind of hero.


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