70 years ago today (13th April 1953), a former Lieutenant-Commander with the Royal Navy Reserves published his first novel with little expectation of success.


Written to distract himself from his upcoming marriage, he had previously confided in a friend that he was "thoroughly ashamed" of the book's quality, and it was only the recommendation of his celebrated brother – a successful travel writer ­– that convinced the publishing house to take a chance on the manuscript.

With a title promising exotic escapism and a lead character with a strikingly unremarkable name, Casino Royale was a hit, shifting nearly 5,000 copies in its first month and winning praise from figures as wide-ranging as the poet John Betjeman and former US President John F Kennedy.

The author was, of course, Ian Fleming, and his creation the Secret Service agent James Bond – and so the spy thriller genre of both literature and film was forever changed.

Ian Fleming
James Bond author Ian Fleming. Evening Standard/Getty Images

Fast-forward to the present day, and Fleming's 007 books are being reissued to mark the 70th anniversary, and their impact remains significant – not least on the movie franchise that now totals a decades-spanning 25 films.

The key question among fans is how the big-screen series will look when James Bond returns – not just the identity of who will be slipping on that iconic tux but, even more intriguingly, what tone the new films will look to strike and what's going to set this version of the super-spy apart from those who have shaken and stirred before.

While much of the conversation is pure speculation and guesswork at the moment, Fleming's novels provide us with something tangible to theorise on how the film's creative team may go about rebooting 007.

More like this

Long-time Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, whose father Albert R 'Cubby' Broccoli produced every Bond picture from 1962's Dr No through to 1989's Licence to Kill, has made no secret of the books' continued importance in shaping the film portrayals.

"My father would say, 'Whenever you're stuck, go back to Ian Fleming,'" Barbara told FilmInk in 2013. "We always go back to the books. You think, 'Christ, this doesn't make any sense…what would Fleming do?' And you go back and you think about it. It's where the answers lie."

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

As readers' first introduction to Bond, Casino Royale is particularly well-placed to inform the character and world of 007 – in fact, it has often been called on when introducing a brand new actor to the role.

Timothy Dalton's debut Bond film The Living Daylights, which was originally envisioned as an origin story for the secret agent before those plans were dropped, has clear call-backs to Casino Royale's depiction of SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency whose 'Smiert Spionam' ('Death to spies') operation sets the events of both stories in motion.

It's also no coincidence that one of the earliest scenes of Pierce Brosnan's 007 in his first entry GoldenEye sees him take on the villainous Xenia Onatopp at the baccarat table – just as he does Le Chiffre in Fleming's novel.

Naturally, Daniel Craig's Bond opener went one step further and served as a fully realised adaptation of Casino Royale, so it's fair to say that Barbara Broccoli and fellow producer Michael G Wilson will have more than half an eye on the novel as they look to relaunch a new era of Bond once again.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale (2006)
Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Columbia Pictures

With that in mind, what hints does the novel offer about the potential avenues we could be heading down with Bond 26?

For starters, despite the themes and scenarios already mined for the big screen, there remain moments in Casino Royale that have yet to make it to film.

A tense set-piece in which Bond is covertly held at gunpoint at the cards table feels ripe for adaptation, while an altogether more unpleasant episode in which Bond's hand is carved with a knife to mark him out as a spy – leading to him later getting a skin graft – would be a hell of a way to welcome the new James.

Meanwhile, the story of his first two kills to achieve 00 status is completely different to the version presented in the 2006 film's pre-credits sequence. With Craig's Bond meeting his maker in No Time to Die, there would be no better time than now to completely reset if they ever wanted to expand those two kills out into the narrative of a Bond origin story.

And then there are the passages giving us an insight into the seemingly impenetrable character of 007. The Bond of Casino Royale is a well-drilled, coolly rational figure who takes cold showers and sleeps with a gun under his pillow, but he's also far more human in his fears and actions than most of his on-screen counterparts.

This is a Bond whose inner monologue expresses self-doubt about his ability to win – both the high-stakes card game at the centre of the novel and the heart of Vesper Lynd – and one who acknowledges "the acceptance of fallibility" when he's inevitably brought to his knees by love or by luck.

It is a Bond whose physical pain is also felt keenly. The infamous torture scene is even more unbearable on the page than on the screen, and a surprising amount of the book is dedicated to Bond's recovery process as he slowly gets back to something like full strength at a nursing home.

Craig's portrayal was hugely well-received for bringing out these layers to the iconic character, and it's hard to see a way forward without retaining at least some of these human frailties, so if the next film does return to Royale for inspiration, don't expect a sudden lurch into Roger Moore-style frivolity.

CASINO ROYALE - Armed with a licence to kill, Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007 and must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, but things are not what they seem.
Daniel Craig and Eva Green in Casino Royale. 2006 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists

Perhaps the most tantalising thread yet to be pulled from Fleming's novel is in its most acclaimed chapter, The Nature of Evil.

Coming after his bruising and traumatic experience at Le Chiffre's villa, the chapter serves as an exchange of viewpoints between Bond and his ally René Mathis on heroes and villains, God and the Devil, and the question of whether doing one's duty always equates to good.

"The heroes and villains get all mixed up," one says to the other. "Of course, patriotism comes along and makes it seem fairly all right but this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date… History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts."

Surprisingly, it's not Mathis making the argument – but Bond.

Explaining that he would kill Le Chiffre were he there with him, Bond admits it would only be for personal gain, not "for some high moral reason or for the sake of my country" and resolves to resign from service.

Daniel Craig in Skyfall
Daniel Craig in Skyfall. United Artists Corporation / Columbia Pictures

The film franchise has flirted with the idea of a disillusioned Bond – he's quit MI6 on more than one occasion and has even been stripped of his 00 licence – but rarely has he actively rejected the notion of duty, no matter how much he might challenge his superiors' orders.

Could the new James go one step further and actively end up working against His Majesty's Government? It would have been unthinkable at one time, but the groundwork has already been laid in No Time to Die, where Ralph Fiennes's M strays perilously close to villain territory for his part in Project Heracles.

If we're reinventing Bond, why not do the same for M and make them the ultimate big bad? It wouldn't take too much of a narrative leap and sets up a fascinating dilemma for our loyal hero that wouldn't be out of step with Fleming's conflicted protagonist.

Wherever the world's most famous spy goes next, expect a bold and brave new direction with more than a hint of Royale. It's always a gamble bringing a new 007 to the table, but with Fleming still at the heart of the franchise, the odds are in its favour.

The new edition of Casino Royale by Ian Fleming is out now.

James Bond films including No Time to Die, Casino Royale and many more are available to rent or buy on Prime Video. Sign up for a 30-day free trial and pay £8.99 per month after that.

If you're looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide and Streaming Guide or visit our Film hub for all the latest news.


Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the The Radio Times Podcast.