Thursday, February 10, 2011


James Bond had many imitators, both in film, and on the printed page. Charles Hood, the creation of James Mayo, was one of the first. First appearing in Hammerhead in 1964, (the year of Ian Fleming's death), Hood sauntered through a subsequent four or five novels, without ever really capturing the public imagination in the way Bond had. That said, on the basis of the first book - which I recently read after buying a copy from a charity shop - Hood is a superior example of the Bond knock-off. Which, perhaps, shouldn't be surprising as author James Mayo was actually the pseudonym of journalist Stephen Coulter, who had been a friend of Fleming's. The novel incorporates all the elements you'd expect in a Bond novel: the exotic locations, evil foreign villain, lots of descriptions of a luxury lifestyle most readers could never hope to enjoy, beautiful, yet ultimately submissive, women and bursts of savage violence. It most resembles a genuine Bond novel in the way in which its plot is pretty much perfunctory, (some nonsense about the villain replacing a top NATO official with a double so as to steal defence secrets), merely a peg to hang the travelogue on, and in the degree of sadism on show.

Like Bond before him, Hood seems to spend an inordinate amount of time as the prisoner of the villain, and subjected to some horrendous and very painful tortures. Indeed, I've always suspected that Bond was actually a secret masochist, and only worked as a secret agent because of the opportunities it afforded him to be beaten up and abused. It's probably something to do with the public scholl system, if you ask me. Anyway, such scenes seem to be a vital ingredient in any Bond knock-off and, in this respect, Hammerhead doesn't disappoint. In fact, it's pretty amazing that Hood is able to stand, let alone chase villains across Paris before indulging in a brutal fist fight with the main bad guy, after all that he has to endure. Although, like the Bond novels, Hammerhead slightly pre-dates the 'Swinging' phase of the sixties, it certainly takes advantage of increasingly liberal attitudes, with far more female flesh on 'display', so to speak, than Fleming ever got away with. Which brings me to another aspect of this type of fiction which fascinates me: the way in which the heroes, who are essentially establishment figures, are happy to take advantage of the increasingly 'permissive society', with its laxer moral stance toward sex.

Anyway, like Bond, Hood made it to the big screen, with Hammerhead being filmed in 1968. I don't actually recall ever seeing this film, (although I know it used to turn up in ITV's all night schedules quite regularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s), and it isn't available on DVD, so I can't really offer any judgement on it's quality. However, you can see the opening six and a half minutes or so here:

Clearly, some changes from the source novel have been made - you'll search in vain for any scene like this one in the book, which has a completely different opening. Also, Hood has become American, (presumably in the name of a US distribution deal). Also, based on what I've read in online reviews, Hood infiltrates the villain's organisation by offering to sell him some rare pornography. In the book he's selling him some paintings, (Hood's cover is as an art dealer). Interestingly, the porn angle does have some basis in the novel, as one of villain's main sidekick's has a corset fetish, (we're back to the public schools again), and the book climaxes in a chase through an underwear fashion show, with lots of scantily clad female models. Sadly, I believe the film has a more conventional denouement.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home