Archive for the ‘MI6’ Category

Bond Girls 3.0

Posted: February 23, 2013 in MI6, Spy Dames We Wish Were Real
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images-1I suppose it should not be surprising that the most popular post on this blog is one I did on the Bond babes back in 2008. At the time, I wrote about the superfluity of these ladies and how Vesper Lynn was a new twist in the martini that is the Bond World Babes, that the franchise’s rethinking the way it saw women is the shaker, and how the reinvention of “M” was a much welcomed spray of dry vermouth.

Well, I am happy to say that the brain trust of this franchise has done it again. I finally, FINALLY got around to seeing Skyfall (such is the life of a PhD student) and all I can say is that this is the best James Bond film not about Bond made to date.

A Bond film not about Bond? Yup, I said it. And I’m sticking by it. Skyfall is a dense film with a lot of themes running amok: parentage, abandonment, redemption, betrayal, revenge, old age, the brevity of youth – they are all shaken and stirred into a lovely and tasty mix, but Bond in this film is somewhat relegated to that of plot device rather than having his issues all front and center as they have been since 2006’s Casino Royal.

No, this film is really about the ladies, more specifically, M and the proverbial “Sins of the Mother”, be they a hedgemonic spy chief or Mother Country. M’s past comes back to haunt her in the form a rogue agent, long presumed to be dead, who comes back with a vengeance to make M pay for her “sins”.

Well, mama M is well aware of her sins, she knows she constantly chooses between bad and worse options, the lesser of many evils, she just made a deal with herself long ago to never regret them because it isn’t “professional”. Be that as it may, and because a British NOC list has come into play under her watch, she is now facing down forced retirement and inquiry while her MI6 agents are being killed, so she enacts Bond to come back from his own presumed death to go to battle for Mama M and Mother Country, whether he is up to the challenge or not. It speaks to the bond (pun) between M and James, in that they can have this ambivalence towards each other laced with a fondness like that of parent and child, and respect like that of comrades in arms. M beckons and Bond responds. It’s a truly interesting love affair if you think about it, only with bombs, and guns, and assassins…

007eveWhat is also fascinating is that the first 40 minutes of the film truly are about M and her mess, and that is worthy to note because ancillary characters have never gotten this much play before. M is shown as mentor, mother, manager, and bureaucrat all rolled up into one really damn tiny package. Add a dash of Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny 2.0, and we see a who new mythology being written here. Moneypenny in this film is no longer the earnest, love-struck secretary, but a suspended field operative who has the dime on Bond, but made a bad shot after an arguably bad call by M. While suspended, she’s still neck deep in things and considering her options: return to the field full time or settle down with a rather nice desk?

So yadda, yadda, yadda, there’s a Bond villain (he’s fabulous but not the point of this post), mayhem ensues, M gets questioned by a lady Minister (a wonderfully prim Helen McCrory, too bad there wasn’t more of her in this film), things go boom, and chugga, chugga, chugga, Bond absconds with M to his childhood home of Skyfall where M is to be used as bait to draw out the baddie. Bond may be battling another rat, but he does so in M’s maze because this is clearly her film.

I won’t disclosed the end, except to say M moves on and the excellent Dame Judi Dench is effectively retired from the series. But, as M is replaced by yet another M in the form of Ralph Fiennes‘ Mallory, I couldn’t help but think, like a little tickle in the back of my brain, how now that Moneypenny has been re-invented, it occurred to me that her last name begins with M as well…

Hmmmm, a girl can dream….

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Millicent Jessie Eleanor Bagot (1907-2006) could smell a rat at twenty paces and had an illustrious career as one of the UK’s premier spy hunters and what we now call Whistleblowers.

The last decade has been full of Dame Whistleblowers so we should pay particular attention to the woman who made a career of sniffing out the phonies amongst us.

Bagot began her life as the daughter of a solicitor, raised by a French governess, and was later educated at Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall where she studied the Classics. Bagot went to work for the special branch of the Metro police and later moved on to England’s Ministry of Defense working for both MI5 and MI6. This is slim pickings for developing a profile of Millie, and maybe her early life wasn’t as interesting as her career, but it sure would be great to know what made this lady tick.

Bagot the career lady, however, was a lad’s worst nightmare back in the day: a competent female taskmaster with an opinion and a voice. Apparently someone had the good sense to think that such traits recommended her and so Bagot began to move up the ranks.

Bagot specialized in Communism and was a well-regarded Sovietologist. She was the first to warn Intel community that notorious MI6 English double-agent, Kim Philby, was a member of the communist party and not who he appeared to be. She was ignored, of course, but despite Philby’s escape to Moscow in 1963, I hope Millie felt some small measure of satisfaction in knowing she was right.

Bagot was the first woman to reach the rank of Assistant Secretary at MI5. She received the MBE in 1949 for service and later advanced to CBE in 1967 at her retirement. Famed director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, even wrote to Millicent expressing his admiration.

However, even in retirement, Bagot did not call it a day. With her exceptional memory and famed ability at finding patterns in massive amounts of information, she continued working part-time sniffing out active spies and also writing what some call the definitive account of the Zinoviev Affair.

Millicent finally called it quits in 1976, after a debilitating stroke claimed her prized memory and left her infirmed for the rest of her life. A sad and drawn-out end for such an amazing woman with a truly brilliant career.

miss_moneypenny_by_lois_maxwellIf you are not up on your James Bond trivia, Miss Moneypenney was Bond’s “Girl Friday”. She’s been missing from the Blond Bond films as of late, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed hoping for her reappearance. During her long career in Bond films, Moneypenney has been played several actresses such as: Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss, Samantha Bond, Barbara Bouchet, and Pamela Salem.

Jane Moneypenney served as the assistant to the veritable “M”, and although the flirtation between the two did not exist in any of Ian Fleming’s books, Moneypenney is known to filmgoers for her verbal sparring/flirting with rascal known as 007. And while there’s a certain endearing comic relief to the character, she certainly is not as interesting as the dames who inspired her.

As with all things Ian Fleming, Monneypenney actually has a basis in real life. In this case, it appears that Moneypenney is speculated to have been based on either a single person or is a conglomeration of the many women in Fleming’s life. So let’s run down the suspects:

Kathleen Pettigrew: the formidable (read: terrifying) assistant to MI6 director, Stewart Menzies, during and after WWII, who can best be described as a “…grey-haired lady with the square jaw of the battleship type”.

Vera Atkins, (one of our favorite SOE dames) who was technically an assistant to Colonel Maurice Buckmaster (one the reported inspirations for “M”, Bond’s boss), but Atkins was a damn important figure in her own right.

Another possible candidate is Margaret Priestley who administered the 30 Commando Assault Unit during WWII (think Navy Seals with some serious Intel collection training). She actually shied away form any public connection to Ian Fleming and the Bond character of Moneypenney.

Other likely candidates are either Jean Frampton, the dear lady who typed Ian Fleming’s manuscripts and whom  apparently never met the man (although their letters to each other recently fetched a pretty penny at auction), and finally, Joan Bright Astley whom Fleming dated during WWII. Astley was the dame who organized the Special Information Center for Winston Churchill during the war and was also renowned for her “social skills” with high ranking officers.

So who is the real Miss Moneypenney? Your guess is as good as mine, but honestly, the moon-eyed secretary doesn’t strike any resemblance to the hard-core dames of the British Intel community, and given the sappy love-struck secretary of the Bond films, if I was one of the reported ladies of inspiration for the character, I’d distance myself far from her.