The Men with the Golden Gun: 1970s Photography and James Bond

The Men with the Golden Gun: 1970s Photography and James Bond

As a unique and playful prop used for the cover of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels is offered in GOLD: The Midas Touch on 29 October, Peter Carr looks back at the history and creation of these images, and their ability to convey glamour, intrigue and drama in perhaps the most famous movie franchise of all time.
As a unique and playful prop used for the cover of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels is offered in GOLD: The Midas Touch on 29 October, Peter Carr looks back at the history and creation of these images, and their ability to convey glamour, intrigue and drama in perhaps the most famous movie franchise of all time.

T his brilliant oversized prop firearm only exists because it was decided that placing scantily-clad models on a giant golden gun was a great way to sell books. And in 1977, this may have been the case.

After Sean Connery’s departure from the films, Ian Fleming’s creation of James Bond went through a significant change. The charming but brutal tough-guy persona of the Connery era disappeared, and was replaced by Roger Moore’s suave and self-parodying character who fought with wit rather than brawn.

It was the 1970s, an altogether more glamorous decade, with a revamped hero to steer the franchise toward a younger, more suggestible audience. 007 was now dashing, seductive and fashionable — with Moore donning several outrageous outfits throughout his tenure. This Bond was at home anywhere where wealth and prestige reigned, part of the jet-set, and a true son of the times.

When book publisher Triad Granada aimed to reprint Ian Fleming’s novels, it wanted to be aligned with this lavish and elaborate version of Bond. Its executives considered that women lusted after him and men wanted to be him, however ridiculous Moore’s portrayal. He was mysterious and alluring, this eyebrow-raising killer with razor sharp wit, quick with a quip.

Triad Granada’s art director, Stephen Abis, commissioned artists to capture both the sex and danger of the Bond mythos, but alongside this, match the high camp tongue-in-cheek humour that Moore brought to the role. And let’s face it, models draped over a huge gun with little clothing cannot be anything but phallic, the gun taking the place of Bond himself.

The automatic 9mm golden pistol was designed and built by graphic designer and lecturer David Collins and fellow designer Floris van den Broecke. The brief given to them was titled simply 'Girl and Gun’ — it needed to be oversized, flexible, and suitable for use with both models and as a promotional display. Interestingly, the prop gun itself isn’t based on any one particular firearm but is a hybrid taken from several manufacturers. The Fleming estate didn’t want to endorse specific gunsmiths so the model’s design is ultimately a mixture of two classic handguns, namely the 9mm Beretta and the Colt 45.

The golden gun is almost statuesque in its proportions, measuring 210cm long and 129cm high (or 6’ 1¼” by 4’ 3”). Its construction uses a wooden frame and plastic laminated ply, with faux mother of pearl grips in different colours to give the impression of two rather than one gun. The gun obviously had to be painted gold, due to the success of Albert R. Broccoli’s 1974 film, The Man with the Golden Gun, which starred Roger Moore as 007 and Christopher Lee as the villainous assassin-for-hire, Scaramanga.

It was finally utilised for a series of photographs to grace the covers of the 14 Fleming novels and an additional book called Colonel Sun by noted novelist Kingley Amis under the pseudonym Robert Markham — the first 007 novel written by someone other than its creator — in a run of reprints. These covers needed to portray Bond as a hero with a penchant for alluring women and high calibre weapons.

The suggestive images chosen for the covers were produced by enigmatic photographer Beverley Le Barrow, whose style was particularly audacious. In the photos, beautiful models are strewn atop the golden gun in various provocative poses clad in the latest high fashion. The resulting photos are fantastically soft focus and feathery, with stern-faced subjects inviting — almost daring — the reader to pick up the book.

There was suggestion within photography circles that Beverley Le Barrow was in-fact the alter ego of the Sun newspaper’s late Page 3 photographer, Beverley Goodman, a man revered in the glamour photography industry. Their styles are certainly similar, and Goodman had been a fashion photographer previous to joining and championing its now discontinued feature. The fact that this connection has never been confirmed only adds to the mystique and intrigue.

Alongside the gun, the highest bidder will receive a group of sample book covers (some duplicates); a facsimile of the original design; a set of transparencies with reprographic work; an exhibition poster; copies of The Sunday Times Magazine featuring the gun and other related articles; and six mounted blow-ups of contact sheets showing the gun in production.

James Bond no longer needs introduction because in 1977 this gun and the photos produced by Le Barrow helped cement the character’s renown as an irrepressible philanderer and bon vivant, and transform him into the dashing, pun-heavy secret agent we love.

Please note, the sale proceeds of the present lot will go to Royal Trinity Hospice.
Royal Trinity Hospice is the local hospice and the only dedicated provider of end of life care in south west and central London; providing skilled, compassionate care and support to people with progressive, life-limiting illnesses and those close to them.

You can view the full catalogue, register and bid in the sale below.

Pop Culture: Film, Entertainment & Sports Memorabilia

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