Bond: A great spy for the movies, but not so much for the real world

In the ’60s and ’70s, when I was growing up in England and before I ever dreamed of being a British diplomat, no film could match the excitement of a Bond film. Nowadays, other movies have more brilliant pyrotechnics, faster plots and more exotic settings. But the approach of a new James Bond film still fires the imagination like none other. Why?

It boils down to James’s character. After 50 years, we care about what happens to him. We find his vulnerability to emotional pain endearing, while being in awe of his physical robustness. Whether you prefer Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig says as much about your character as Bond’s.

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In all these incarnations, Bond must have effortless style, expensive tastes, an entertainment budget to match, and old-fashioned, “Mad Men”-era sex appeal, which makes him unlike any government employee I’ve ever met.

Indeed, if Bond were real, he’d be a terrible employee. He’d be no good in an embassy where his bull-in-a-
china-shop techniques, not to mention his insubordination, would quickly get him declared persona non grata. Ministers would be unable to tolerate his freelancing. The ambassador would have to devote a lot of precious time to cleaning up Bond’s messes.

In more than 30 years in Her Majesty’s diplomatic service, I’ve never met anyone from any government department who thought of James Bond seriously as a role model. If you are looking for fictional inspiration, unflashy, well-read, discreet George Smiley — in these aspects, the opposite of Bond — would be a more useful guide to real life.

Dominick Chilcott is Britain’s ambassador to Ireland and former deputy chief of mission in Washington.

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