It seems only proper to bond over Bond. The nation’s second favourite film critic Mark Kermode and I have just become blood brothers, after discovering a mutual boyhood obsession with the vinyl LP Big Bond Movie Themes by Geoff Love & His Orchestra, released on the Music for Pleasure label in 1975. (Band leader Love made his name with movie theme albums of this ilk.)
Its dynamic, glamorous, composite sleeve was a montage painted to look like a movie poster built around suave 1970s Bond Roger Moore in classic, armed pose. This collector’s item was a prized possession of Kermode’s, coming as it did years before the advent of VHS and DVD, after which a love of James Bond could be more easily commodified. And if anything said “Bond”, it was the music.
He’s sent into a nostalgic reverie: “I remember lying on the floor, looking at the cover while listening to the record, filled with a sense that there was an action-packed world of adventure out there and somehow the door to that world was through the music.”
How neat that almost 40 years later, the grown-up Kermode and his broadcasting partner Simon Mayo – whose jousting Friday afternoon Film Review on Radio 5 Live has been unmissable since 2001 – would be donning tuxedos and co-hosting Bond and Beyond. A special edition of Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night, it’s a live concert by the BBC Philharmonic to mark 50 years of 007, playing “the nation’s favourite Bond music”. An audience vote on 5 Live will decide the number one theme, to be revealed on the night.
We all have our favourites, from Monty Norman’s enduring James Bond Theme, whose surf guitar riff accompanied the titles of Sean Connery’s franchise-launching first appearance, in Dr No in 1962, to, well, take your pick from a back catalogue that will total 23 films with the release of next month’s Skyfall.
Kermode – or “Dr K”, as he’s affectionately known – selects the theme from 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As anyone who follows his film reviews will confirm, he’s not afraid to venture out on a limb.
The good doctor stresses that his choice is the instrumental cue, and not the string-laced love song We Have All the Time in the World, sung by Louis Armstrong, popularly misidentified as the theme. He enthuses about the appeal of the main title, composed by long-term maestro John Barry, in a way that makes me want to dig it out and play it: “It’s minor,” he says, referring to the key, not its place in the score hierarchy. “It sounds brooding. It has all those strange intervals, and it’s impossible to tell whether or not my love of it is tied in with the experience of seeing the film.”
When John Barry officially relinquished the job of Bond composer, before Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, he recommended David Arnold, then only in his mid-30s, who’s held the baton ever since, and was musical director at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Kermode, too, has musical credentials. As perhaps indicated by his suited-booted-and-quiffed style, he plays double bass in a skiffle quartet called the Dodge Brothers.
Mayo, meanwhile, has been playing records on the airwaves since BBC Radio Nottingham in the 80s, reaching the heights of the Radio 1 breakfast show between 1988 and 1993, and is now enshrined at drivetime on Radio 2.
“I’ll go for Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die as my favourite Bond theme song,” he says. “And GoldenEye by Eric Serra for score.”
When Sean Connery was strapped to a table and faced with a laser beam, he famously asked, “Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger’s equally famous response: “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” In the case of our summit today, happily, we merely expect Kermode and Mayo to talk. Casting their minds over the half-century, who would each name as their favourite Bond?
Kermode: “It sounds like I’m making it up but I’d say Daniel Craig. He’s a brilliant actor, incredibly physical.”
Mayo goes for Pierce Brosnan: “GoldenEye was a terrific debut. Many agreed with M that Bond was a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ and should never have come back, but I thought we deserved a new post-Berlin Wall Bond.”
So, GoldenEye is Mayo’s all-time favourite, a brave choice. Dr K? “On Her Majesty’s Secret. I know George Lazenby is generally regarded as the worst Bond, but it’s the one film from the series that has some emotional clout.”
Which was your first Bond movie? “Live and Let Die, Barnet Odeon, aged 11,” says Kermode, the information instantly called up. “My parents had to go and see it first to make sure it was OK. I didn’t understand a word of it, but I was completely blown away – speedboats, glamour, but the thing I remember most was Bond waking up in bed and this digital watch lights up. Wow! That was the mark of a man.”
“I think it was Live and Let Die, at the cinema in Solihull,” answers Mayo, slightly more vaguely. “There were colour slides given away with bubble gum as I recall.”
Villain? “Blofeld,” states Kermode, unsurprisingly, having just been transformed into Donald Pleasence’s cat-stroking baddie from You Only Live Twice for the RT photo shoot (for which the “horror movie fanboy” submitted to hours in the make-up chair, as seen below). “When I first showed someone the photograph of me as Blofeld, they went, ‘Is that Dr Evil?’ Nooo! The iconography of Blofeld now means Austin Powers.”
“I rather liked Jonathan Pryce’s media mogul in Tomorrow Never Dies,” offers Mayo who, despite being described by Dr K as “the loveliest, sweetest, most gentle of sunny, Sunday-afternoon people”, admits to enjoying wielding the replica Walther PPK pistol. “It was really rather fun.”
For his favourite Bond quote, Kermode returns to the mother lode of OHMSS, in which Lazenby reacts to the death of a pursuant who skis into a snow plough with the pithy line, “He had lots of guts” (“It’s such a disgusting horror movie line.”)
Mayo plumps for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, who, when asked if his vodka martini should be shaken, not stirred, grumbles, “Do I look like I give a damn?”
Bond girl? Kermode: “Does Judi Dench count?” Mayo: “I might plump for Gemma Arterton in Quantum of Solace. Less is more.”
For all-time favourite Bond moment, Kermode chooses the ending of OHMSS, which we won’t spoil in case, after 43 years, you still haven’t seen it. Mayo keeps it classic: “The Union Jack parachute in The Spy Who Loved Me was splendid.”
When I ask if they’ve read any of Ian Fleming’s Bond books, it sends Kermode into another dewy-eyed rhapsody. “My dad had the complete collection of the original paperback editions,” he claims, proudly, “including Thunderball with bullet holes in the cover. I wanted to read one but my dad kept telling me that they were nothing like the films. I didn’t believe him and, despite his warnings, took The Spy Who Loved Me from the shelf. All I remember is it was very weird and most of it seemed to take place in a motel. It was, indeed nothing like the film. So I gave up and, to my shame, haven’t read a Bond novel since.”
“I read Dr No,” says Mayo. “As I remember, the woman who walked out of the sea was wearing considerably less than Ursula Andress.”
Such details can imprint themselves on the impressionable young mind. Meanwhile, as an imagined John Barry/David Arnold theme swells in the background and the credits roll, Mayo throws his hat into the ring for when Daniel Craig hangs up his blue trunks. “If there’s a need for an older, more short-sighted Bond, I’ll be there.”
Kermode isn’t listening. He’s back on the carpet of his childhood bedroom with Bond Movie Themes on the turntable. “Like so many people,” he coos, “I got to know the themes from several Bond movies before actually seeing them. Listening was really cinematic, and would conjure films that would play in your head.”