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I first saw this when I read a Cracked article about insane fan theories that make sense. I first thought of the same thing long before I read that though because it makes sense. James Bond has had 23 movies since 1962 and has been played by 6 different actors (7 if you include David Niven, which everyone should) and yet the story of James Bond is supposed to be of only one man.

It makes so much more sense for James Bond to be a name assumed when an agent becomes 007 it makes them an alias. Especially with the time frame involved and the adventures placed out of order. Is there any reason given for why there is only one James Bond rather than embracing this idea of it being a code name? Also who controls this aspect of the franchise?

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Related: movies.stackexchange.com/q/11384/49. –  Tom Cody Jul 2 '14 at 18:40
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The movies, you see, are based on books. And in books, James Bond does not change faces. ;o) –  Johnny Bones Jul 2 '14 at 18:43
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When Diana Rigg runs away from George Lazenby (portraying Bond) at the beginning of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", he mutters "This never happened to the other fellow." youtube.com/watch?v=n5usOfiqUq0 –  Will Feldman Jul 2 '14 at 19:10
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It may be worth noting that in the original Casino Royalle (which, despite being a complete parody/farce, is in some ways closer to the book than most Bond films have been!), "James Bond" does become a code name... shared by all agents. –  keshlam Jul 3 '14 at 2:52
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@WillFeldman That's funny, in the czech translation, they explicitly say "This would never happen to Connery!" :D –  Luaan Jul 10 '14 at 14:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There's no concrete answers to why it's never acknowledged, but as Johnny Bones points outs, most of the films are based on books:

Film                                        Novel

Dr. No (1962)                              Dr. No (1958, Fleming)
From Russia with Love (1963)          From Russia, with Love (1957, Fleming)
Goldfinger (1964)                         Goldfinger (1959, Fleming)
Thunderball (1965)                         Thunderball (1961, Fleming)
You Only Live Twice (1967)              You Only Live Twice (1964, Fleming)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963, Fleming)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)            Diamonds Are Forever (1956, Fleming)
Live and Let Die (1973)                    Live and Let Die (1954, Fleming)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)   The Man with the Golden Gun (1965, Fleming)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)          The Spy Who Loved Me (1962, Fleming)
Moonraker (1979)                          Moonraker (1955, Fleming)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)               For Your Eyes Only (1960, Fleming)*
Octopussy (1983)                         Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966, Fleming)*
A View to a Kill (1985)                    For Your Eyes Only (1960, Fleming)*
The Living Daylights (1987)              Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966, Fleming)*
Licence to Kill (1989)                       N/A
GoldenEye (1995)                          N/A
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)             N/A
The World Is Not Enough (1999)          N/A
Die Another Day (2002)                    N/A
Casino Royale (2006)                     Casino Royale (1953, Fleming)
Quantum of Solace (2008)                 N/A - Name is taken from a short story with no relation to the plot.
Skyfall (2012)                                N/A

* Short stories or taken from a collection of short stories

Adapted from Wikipedia's List of James Bond Novels and List of James Bond Films

Ignoring real-world time constraints, there's very little information given in the novels or the movies indicating the passage of time. The only exception I can think of is Die Another Day, in which James Bond spends 14 months as a prisoner of the North Koreans:

Time shift!

Other than this, there's no reason the rest of the missions couldn't take place one after another, with maybe enough time for wounds to heal (or be rescued from the middle of the sea, as happens a few times).

It's also possible that these 14 months don't matter, Die Another Day is an appropriate end to the series, and the fact that Casino Royale opens with James Bond being given his "007 Status", which indicates it's either a prequel, reboot, or different person. The only thing that goes against the different person hypothesis is the fact that Bond has the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger in Skyfall, and knows how to use the ejector seat.

There are some non-canon sources which offer interesting perspectives, for example the hilarious O.K. Connery starring Neil Connery as Dr. Neil Connery, a cosmetic surgeon, hypnotist, and brother of a famous secret agent, which is obviously supposed to be James Bond, but couldn't be said for copyright reasons. While it's just a silly knock-off movie, the fact that he's called Neil Connery instead of Neil Bond despite being his brother seems to indicate that James Bond is a code name, and he's called James Connery (or Sean Connery perhaps).

Also who controls this aspect of the franchise?

As you can see, the majority of them are wirtten by Ian Fleming, however the films have a lot of writers and producers in common, but those with the biggest claim to "canon" at this point, I believe, are:

  • Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
    • The World Is Not Enough (Story by)
    • Die Another Day (Written by)
    • Casino Royale (2006) (Screenplay by with Paul Haggis)
    • Quantum of Solace (2008) (Written by with Paul Haggis)
    • Skyfall (2012) (Screenplay by with John Logan)
  • Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Albert R. Broccoli who produced 17 Bond movies
    • Octopussy (Assistant director)
    • A View to a Kill (Assistant director)
    • The Living Daylights (Associate producer)
    • Licence to Kill (Associate producer)
    • GoldenEye (Producer)
    • Tomorrow Never Dies (Producer)
    • The World Is Not Enough (Producer)
    • Die Another Day (Producer)
    • Casino Royale (Producer)
    • Quantum of Solace (Producer)
    • Skyfall (Producer)

These three are the most experienced and important people I can find who are still working on James Bond and I should imagine they're the closest thing you could find to an authority on James Bond at this point.

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An incredibly well produced/researched answer, fantastic. +1 –  John Smith Optional Jul 3 '14 at 0:11
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While presenting some facts, I fail to see what the exact point is you're trying to make with this answer. Apart from that "The only thing that goes against the different person hypothesis is the fact that Bond has the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger in Skyfall, and knows how to use the ejector seat." - That clearly isn't the one he used in Goldfinger, since in the Craig-verse Goldfinger didn't exist at all, it's just an old prop that someone sometime used and that somehow found it's way into James' possession. –  Tom Cody Jul 3 '14 at 0:28
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@NapoleonWilson I'm not trying to draw a conclusion because short of the ghost of Ian Fleming making an account there isn't one, these are just some facts which may lead you one way or the other. And I don't know that your Goldfinger statement is true, it could have happened off-screen, which I think is more likely than Bond becoming a spy in Casino Royale, doing 1 mission in QoS then thinking about retiring in Skyfall. –  Crow T Robot Jul 3 '14 at 0:39
    
@MrLore Ok, then maybe a little statement that it seems inconclusive would do wonders to provide the answer with at least some kind of bottom line (or maybe I just couldn't filter this out from the rest). –  Tom Cody Jul 3 '14 at 15:40
    
@NapoleonWilson - actually the db5 has the number plate BMT216A - the one from Goldfinger. –  The Wandering Dev Manager Jan 9 at 14:30

On the technical side, as Jonny Bones said, because Ian Fleming didn't write a code-name, he wrote a character. A character with his own backstory, personality, mannerisms likes & dislikes. A code-name would explain the changing faces and gadgets, but if you went with that idea, you would then have to explain how all the "James Bonds":

  • Were Commanders in the Royal Navy and experts in underwater combat (I mean, even in the secret service that can't be a common speciality!)
  • Liked Vodka Martinis (shaken, not stirred)
  • Held a grudge against the same super-villian
  • Were sauve womanisers
  • Preferred classic Aston Martins (although Q wasn't always obliging, you know this is what he wanted...)
  • Were probably the best poker players in the building wherever they were

On a personal note, I think for many people it would be a disappointment. You don't fantasize about doing the individual things James Bond does, you fantasize about being him. (In fact, if you think about it, a lot of the things that happen to him aren't very pleasant at all...) You're attached to a character, who is made up of all the little details about him and his life scattered across the books and films. Make all of those the acts of a disparate group of nameless strangers, and that character disappears.

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+1 - Excellent answer and thanks for adding yet another bunch of reasons for not even trying to force any kind of artificial continuity into those movies. Concise, to the point, and clearly putting a stop to all the weird theories. I certainly have to remember this answer for the next 10 "I want the James Bond movies to be connected"-questions. –  Tom Cody Jul 2 '14 at 21:38
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All the James Bonds could be complicit in the fabrication of a shared 'legend', meaning constructed alias. If MI6 forced their agents to conform to certain established behaviors, shared across appointment to the position, it would create interference with any counter-intelligence trying to find out who James Bond is... think about it: all those attributes could simply be something the agent is consciously deploying in the construction of a consistent, shared alias... this proves nothing!! ha ha. –  John Smith Optional Jul 3 '14 at 0:15
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You're assuming non-continuity over rolling diegetics here, and making assumptions on behalf of the producers! tut tut, who are we to say whether the theory has any credibility: keep it alive until proven otherwise, conclusively. I appreciate the deliberate ambiguity... –  John Smith Optional Jul 3 '14 at 0:25
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Currently working on a similar theory to prove the CIA forced 3 different men to call themselves Bruce Wayne and dress in latex in 1989-1997. Having a hard time factoring in the bat-nipples, though. –  Walt Jul 3 '14 at 0:31
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Alan Moore used this theory convincingly in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, and it was watertight. If it's only a 'fan theory', its a pretty well circulated/yet to be disproven one... –  John Smith Optional Jul 3 '14 at 8:48

I agree with the codename theory. Here's how to explain it. Let's start with the assumption that Bond 1 (played by Connery) was an agent whose real name was indeed James Bond. B1 set the standard for which all future 00 agents needed to follow, to the extent that the secret service decided to not only retain the number 007 for the best of the 00 agents, but also the name. In other words, just like a civilian was transformed into Jason Bourne and thereby lost his true identity, this was also the case for all future 007 agents (i.e. Bond 2 - the current Bond 6). The question is why take on a code name at all? B1 was a product of the cold war at its most cold and paranoid. By creating in each subsequent 007 agent a code name, it allowed, as in the Bourne universe, a chance to better create in the agent the identity of a cold-blooded killer, as a means to leave behind one's civilian identity in order to make way for a new one - all crucial when the stakes were so high and people feared nuclear war. This leaving behind of one's old identity to make way for a new one is a common part of induction/initial training within institutions (e.g. the military, some religious orders, fraternities). In other words, for all we know B6 (played by Craig) has the real name of John Thomas. But by creating in him the name of James Bond, he is more effectively able to leave behind his personal identity and get on with his new identity and role - a trained assassin. For those in the secret service and CIA, taking on new identities is quite common. However, unlike the Bourne system, no agents were brainwashed. Instead, their 'programming' is largely based on method-acting. This allows them to carry out their job as James Bond, but also allows for their own 'true' personality to come through (hence B3 was more light-hearted, whereas B4 was not). Consider the evidence. In QOS, we find out that ‘Rene Mathis’ is not the agent’s real name – this too was a code name (as are M, Q and as I shall argue, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter and Blofeld). Moreover, by 1967, B1 had become something of an irony – a ‘secret’ agent who everybody else seemed to know about, namely his enemies (specifically, SPECTRE). Therefore, his death was faked (YOLT, 1967) in order to buy him a bit of time to fight his enemies. This could also be a rationale to keep James Bond alive forever by giving this code name to the best of the best, in honour of the original Bond and also, to confuse future enemies. What if the mention of ‘James Bond’, however, tells his enemies that, while the agent looks different, he’s still a secret agent? Well, this is explained in that each Bond has, when necessary, taken on yet another identity (e.g. B1 becoming Peter Franks; B2 becoming Sir Hilary Bray; B3 becoming Robert Stirling). Also, in DAF, Tiffany Case exclaims to B1 that the man she thinks is James Bond is dead (that is, B1 placed his ID in the dead man’s suit, so that Case thinks Bond is dead). My point: Case is with James Bond himself (the first Bond no less, whose real name is indeed ‘James Bond’) and yet does not recognise him. This strongly suggests that while the name ‘James Bond’ may be famous and hardly secret, the face is secret, for a time at least, due to the regular changing of the guard, so to speak. Therefore, James Bond could, conceivably, be anybody. Finally, in DAF, Moneypenny also asks B1 to bring her back from Amsterdam a ‘diamond in a ring’ – a reference to marriage. We know that B2 lost his wife earlier, but this is not B2. Therefore, what might be seen as a tasteless comment for a man whose wife has been killed is, in reality, just the usual playful banter between Moneypenny and whichever version of Bond she is working with.

So....if this is all true, then what about the questions it raises:

Why does B2 look back over the gadgets that only B1 would have used and known about? (I'm referring to the scene in 1969's OHMSS, in which B2 – Lazenby – has just resigned from the service). He even answers the phone with '007' and then corrects himself to 'James Bond here' (suggesting that James Bond is his real name after all). Simple. Each 'James Bond' passed on information, mementoes, gadgets, etc. etc. to all subsequent Bonds, to feed into the 'James Bond mythology', and to allow for continuity within individuals who are all, essentially, playing a role (but again, a role that is very much a part of role-playing professions, such as spies). He answered the phone with 'James Bond' purely because, though lasting for just one mission, his training had created in him already a near blind acceptance to the idea that James Bond really is his name (and not, for example, Edwin Rawlings perhaps). Plus, B2 did not really want to resign, so perhaps by answering the phone with his moniker, he was reflecting this. B2 left the service after his wife was killed, as he had planned to 'find something else to do' after proposing to her anyway. From here, B1 was brought back in for one last mission (DAF, 1971). I can't explain at all of course how B1 would return again in 1983 for a mission that duplicated that of a previous one (Thunderball, 1965)...but as NSNA was not an official Bond film, perhaps we need not consider this at all (though this does not suggest any criticism of the film per se). After DAF, B2 retires and brings in B3. He retires and paves for the way for B4, B5, B6 and so on. In fact, CR (2006) shows part of the indoctrination process of each new Bond, partly at least.

Why do several Bonds show sadness for a dead wife if they are all different people? B3 visits Tracy’s grave and he, along with B4 in LTK, shows emotion when an agent makes reference to James Bond’s deceased wife. Why? Simple. It’s all part of the aforementioned method acting. Each Bond is playing his own version of Bond to a large extent (though all are government-based killers, regardless of differences in their overall portrayal), but each Bond acquires the baggage of the previous Bond incarnations. Therefore, B1 really is an orphan, but the others are not (or perhaps they are, in as much as M16 were looking to recruit orphans as one of their requirements for the man to ‘play’ 007). Either way, such a tragedy was deemed too important to miss, so whether an act or whether each Bond has indeed been orphaned, it was determined to retain this aspect for all future Bonds to shape the character of a cold-blooded assassin (M herself remarks that orphans make the best 00 agents, exactly a reason to demand being an orphan as a key feature of the 007/James Bond role or to expect B2 – B6 to method act as an orphan). M16 want, to an extent, ‘damaged (emotional) goods’ for the role of James Bond. Someone who can take on the mantle of being an orphan and a widower might fit the bill, to help create the emotional distance needed for a 007 agent. As B5 says, ‘(his coldness) it what keeps (him) alive’. Therefore, any reference to being an orphan and/or a widower in any incarnation of Bond is a reference to those aspects of the Bond title that are being retained, for the reasons explained (though I concede again that perhaps each new Bond really is an orphan and a widower, so no method acting needed for these two crucial aspects of James Bonds’ ‘make-up).

How about the differing faces of Blofeld, Leiter and Moneypenny – are they code names too? Yes. Let’s assume Blofeld was indeed killed by B1 at a later date in YOLT (1967) or perhaps he was killed by the KGB (this would assume that SPECTRE was indeed run by the Soviets and that Blofeld, though ‘Number One’, was otherwise a puppet, a very powerful one, however). Then B2 comes across a new Blofeld in OHMSS. The Soviets replaced Blofeld with a new character. This would explain why neither man recognises each other – both James Bond and Blofeld are new faces after all. Blofeld 2 finds out later, however, that ‘Hilary Bray’ is James Bond (again, both not the real name of whoever B2 really is). And after the death of his wife, B2 kills Blofeld 2 and subsequently retires in grief (or is let go for ‘making it personal’ – this would also perhaps be the fate of B4, who disobeyed orders to go after Felix Leiter’s opponent, Sanchez, in LTK, 1989). As for Leiter, perhaps ‘Felix Leiter’ is a code name bestowed upon the best CIA agents, a US counterpart for the British James Bond. When each new ‘Leiter’ meets each new ‘Bond’, they both have to go through the motions of assuming old acquaintances when in fact, they perhaps have only just met. As for Moneypenny, MP 1 served from 1962 (perhaps earlier, as we hear in Dr. No that Bond has already been on the job for about ten years) until the mid-80s. Then we had MP2, MP3 and currently, MP4. Each MP was asked to also take on a role – that of the professional, reliable and utterly love stuck woman (though again, there are some different personality traits amongst them, notably MP3 and MP4 who are more independent than their predecessors). However, when MP1 asks B1 for a diamond in a ring, she momentarily lets down her guard, and her act – she is supposed to view B1 as a widower, but she forgets this and therefore asks for a ring (note the puzzled look on B1’s face at her request, as if to acknowledge her mistake).

So how do Bond and Blofeld recognise each other in DAF (1971) with, once again, new faces? We can assume that B1’s brief return was leaked information (highly plausible), the Soviets got hold of it and therefore decided to plant ‘Blofeld’ (number three) in this new mission to smuggle diamonds. The fact that DAF focused on plastic surgery also lends support to the idea of ‘creating’ new versions of a character; in this case, creating Blofeld to look like a previous (deceased) ally of Bond’s – Henderson – who we saw in 1967 in YOLT. Perhaps the Soviets chose Henderson’s face to spite Bond, as Henderson was one of Bond’s only true friends, whose murder in YOLT perhaps upset him more than we know. Moving on, Blofeld 4 (who we see in 1981 in FYEO) is again referring to ‘Mr. Bond’ as if an old adversary, but in reality the two have never met. Nonetheless, this shows again the level of the role playing, to the extent that people might start to see themselves as the role (again, method acting to the extreme) and also, it shows that B4, though never having previously met any version of Blofeld, nonetheless ‘recognises’ him based on knowledge passed on to him by previous Bonds and/or M16/M.

But why the need to ‘pretend’ so much, even in secret rooms (e.g. Bond’s office)? Because of the cold war paranoia, each new ‘Bond’ was instructed that he had to eat, sleep and breathe the life of an orphaned, widowed, womanising assassin, to assume that everywhere he ate, slept and went, he was being watched, followed and even bugged. This attention to complete detail would ensure that he remained consistent in his actions and the character portrayal of James Bond 24/7. Same for the other characters with code names.

How about overlap between the different Bonds? For example, we see a reference to the date ‘1985’ in AVTAK (with B3), and B4 starts his first mission in 1987, yet B5 was on a mission in 1986. Likewise, Silva makes a reference to M3 (played by Dench of course) as being on the job in 1986, when in fact this would have been the time when M2 (played by Robert Brown) was on the job. Well, it may not be the case that Bond is on a mission every two years. Rather, it could well be three missions per year. Let us consider: B1 – served from early 50s until 1967; 1971 B2 – 1969 only B3 – 1973 – 1985 B4 – 1985 (not necessarily 1987, with the film TLD); likewise, LTK could have been in 1985 also B5 – Therefore, B5 could have started in late 1985, to have therefore been around for his mission with 006 in the beginning of the film Goldeneye. He retired in 2002, or thereabouts, after his final mission. The point here is not to necessarily set the year in which the films were released as the year in which Bond was completing a various mission – there can be some leeway. B6 – He began anywhere from 2004/06 and continues in his role…..

As for M, the first (Miles Messervy) served until around 1979. He was replaced by Admiral Hargreaves (first seen in TSWLM, 1977) until around 1985 (serving with B4). Then M3 could have begun her duties in 1985/86, to accompany both B5 and serving with B6 (until her demise).

But in Skyfall (2012), we see a clear reference to James Bond’s parents’ graves, his childhood home and the gamekeeper who knew Bond as a child. Yes we do. But these are indeed references to the real Bond – B1. A man who really was orphaned as a child (though only B2 perhaps was truly widowed). So B6 is again playing the role to the extent that B1’s childhood home had become, with his permission, a safe house of sorts for each new Bond, a place to retreat to for solace, comfort or to unwind following each mission. The gamekeeper is indeed a bit too young to have been old enough to be a father figure to B1 (both Connery and Finney are roughly the same age), but again, we have an ‘actor’ (based on his prowess with a gun, perhaps another agent, who remains on the grounds as a look-out for M16 and, when needed, plays the role). The gamekeeper’s recollection to M of what happened to Bond as a boy following the death of his parents was merely information on file that was passed on to him – information that M (in this case, M3) would have known already. But again, for the sake of consistent role playing, in this case treating each new Bond as one in the same essentially, they go through the motions of discussing already known information.

There are coincidences that are hard to explain – why does Andrea Anders (from TMWTGG, 1974) look like Octopussy; why does villain Brad Whitaker look like Bond ally Jack Wade? Don’t know, but merely coincidental. Anyway, that’s my take on things…..

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I like the level of detail in your answer. But it is hard to read and follow. I'd suggest breaking up your paragraphs into smaller lumps as this might be less daunting for your audience and also doing an overall summary that actually addresses the key question. Please keep writing detailed answers but realise that votes come from clarity and focus not just detail. –  matt_black Jan 5 at 23:43

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