James Bond is one of the most famous fictional characters of all time.
Over 70 years, his presence has crossed media, moving from the written words of his creator, Ian Fleming, to the cinema screen and, more recently, the gaming world.
Quite simply, in terms of entertainment, nobody does it better than 007.
But what do we know about Bond's military backstory? And how, over the decades and different iterations of the character, has this information changed?
Here, BFBS examines the changing profile of England’s greatest fictitious hero. So, come on, tell us ... do you want it shaken or stirred?
Fleming’s Original Bond - 1953
The British secret agent’s debut in media came with the publication of Casino Royale in 1953.
In this book, and the subsequent 13 titles Fleming authored between then and his last published work in 1966 (which was posthumously released), the character was styled like this:
Commander James Bond CMG RNVR
Let’s break this down …
Commander: A senior rank of the Royal Navy and immediately junior to Captain.
CMG: Order of St Michael and St George – a British order of chivalry founded by King George IV while Prince Regent in 1818. A CMG was initially only awarded to officers holding commands in the Mediterranean territories secured during the Napoleonic War. However, it was subsequently extended to those in a similar position across the British Empire.
Where Bond is concerned, the order is a “reward for services rendered to the Crown in relation to the foreign affairs of the Empire."
RNVR: The Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve was founded in 1903 by an Act of Parliament, allowing the Admiralty to raise a new reserve force to sit alongside the already formed Royal Navy Reserve. In 1958, the RNVR was absorbed into the Royal Naval Reserve and ceased to exist.
Bond’s Backstory In Fleming’s Books
In Casino Royale, published by Jonathan Cape, readers were introduced to British secret agent James Bond, a 36-year-old, six-foot-tall senior operational officer in the Secret Intelligence Service.
Bond was a veteran of the Second World War. According to Bond scholar John Griswold, the character served as a member of Britain’s SOE – the Special Operations Executive.
Fleming, although originally tight-lipped in his writing about Bond’s family backstory, did let it become known in You Only Live Twice, published in 1964, that the character was orphaned as a child when his parents, Andrew and Monique, were killed in a climbing accident in the French Alps. Bond was 11 years old at the time.
Bond’s salary in 1955 was £2,000 per year, which is about £47,000 today. Interestingly, the lowest pay level a Commander earns in the Royal Navy is £75,754 (RN pay scales April 2021).
Sean Connery As Bond
When Bond made the leap to cinema screens in the 1960s, a role performed by Scottish actor Sean Connery, much of the backstory established in Fleming’s later novels crossed over. However, there were some subtle differences. For example, whereas in the books Bond was suggested to have been born around 1920, in Dr No – the first official Bond film – the character was born later, in 1930.
In Connery’s interpretation of Bond, the character’s full title and styles are:
Commander James Bond CMG DSO RNVR
DSO: A Distinguished Service Order is awarded for "distinguished services during active operations against the enemy” – and typically in actual combat. It is unclear why Bond was given such an honour.
Additionally, Bond appears in the early films of the series with the following decorations:
- 1939-1945 Star: Awarded for 180 days of operational service afloat during WWII.
- Atlantic Star: Awarded for 180 days of operational service afloat during WWII's Battle of the Atlantic.
- Pacific Star: Awarded for service in the pacific campaign of WWII.
- Defence Medal: Awarded for non-operational service for a specified amount of days during WWII 1939-1945.
- War Medal 1939-1945: Awarded for a minimum of 28 days of service during the second world war.
Later Bonds – Pierce Brosnan
As seen with the 1960s transformation from book to film, as Bond’s media presence has progressed, his character’s profile and backstory have altered too. Naturally, when Pierce Brosnan assumed the role in the mid-1990s, first appearing in Goldeneye, matters including Bond’s original WW2 service had to be removed. In fact, Brosnan’s Bond was born in the year Fleming first published Casino Royale – 1953.
The Bond of the 1990s was styled differently, too:
Commander James Bond OBE DSC RN
OBE – Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. It is not clear when or why Bond was awarded his OBE.
DSC – The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded “in recognition of an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy at sea."
The Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve ceased to exist beyond 1958. To account for this, Bond’s style has reverted to RN – meaning Royal Navy.
Other decorations are seen on Bond’s naval uniform in the 1990s. They include:
- General Service Medal: Awarded for serving in minor campaigns.
- NATO Former Republic of Yugoslavia Medal: Awarded for participating in the IFOR mission in ex-Yugoslavia.
- United Nations Service Medal for UNPROFOR: Another medal awarded for Bond's mission in ex-Yugoslavia.
- Rhodesia Medal: Awarded for at least 14 days of service during 'Operation AGILA' in 1979/1980. Bond most likely was a member of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force, keeping the peace in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Additionally, Bond is seen wearing badges signifying his status as having completed HAHO and HALO jump training – the Parachute Badge with Wings (SBS). He also wears Fleet Air Arm Officer Pilot Wings, signifying his aviation training qualifications.
The Current James Bond – Daniel Craig
The current and soon-to-be-seen again in cinemas version of Bond is played by English actor and Liverpool FC fan, Daniel Craig.
In this iteration, Bond was born 15 years after the last, in 1968 (April 13 to be precise).
Unlike earlier versions, this Bond has a complex backstory which - spoiler alert for those who have not seen SPECTRE - sets him on a full-circle journey from childhood tragedy to coming face-to-face with nemesis Franz Oberhauser.
In the recent films, which have included since 2006 Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre, piece by piece, we are provided with a much fuller picture.
These new details included facts about Bond’s father, Andrew, working for Vickers Defence Systems, now BAE Systems, and his early upbringing in Switzerland.
As told earlier in the 1950s, Bonds parents died in a climbing accident, leaving the 11-year-old future 007 orphaned. Yet, it is established that as a teenager, clearly on the path to a life of adventure, Bond is taught how to ski in Austria by a man called Hannes Oberhauser – the father of Bond’s deadliest enemy to date, Blofeld.
Bond’s Military Service In The Films Of The 2000s
The backstory provided to the modern, dynamic and edgy Bond we have associated with Daniel Craig’s performances over the last 15 years has accounted for geopolitical affairs that occurred in the late 90s and 2000s.
According to Bond fan site jamesbond.fandom.com, Bond’s impressive rise to the intelligence services included stints in the SBS – The Special Boat Service. An article on Bond’s military CV said:
“Bond's record with training earned him placement with the 030 Special Forces Unit, rather than deployment as a swimmer-canoeist with the standard SBS Units in Poole. During further training with 030 SFU, Bond earned certifications for the operation of assault helicopters, Harrier-class jets, fixed-wing aircraft, hovercrafts, marine assault vessels, armored vehicles, and other crafts.
"Bond served with distinction in the 030 Special Forces Unit. He proved adept at training other candidates, initiating athletic competitions, and fostering a creative environment. During his three-year tenure with the 030 SFU, Bond rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He saw covert service in Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Libya, and active service in Bosnia. Upon completion of his duties in Bosnia, where Bond was credited with saving the lives of nearly 100 men from a Serbian militia in one village. Bond was recruited by the RNR Defence Intelligence Group and awarded the rank of Commander.”
Did The Big Screen Bonds Actually Serve In The Military?
Sir Sean Connery, Roger Moore and David Niven, who have all played Bond, are among stars to have served in the armed forces in real life.
Niven went to the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst in 1928 and, before leaving the forces in 1933, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry.
Sir Sean was an Able Seaman in the Royal Navy which he joined in 1946.
Timothy Dalton, the fourth actor to play Bond in the Eon Productions films series, did not serve in the armed forces but he was the son of a captain in the Special Operations Executive. He was, however, a member of the Air Training Corps as teenager.
Roger Moore also spent time in the armed forces.
At the end of the Second World War, forces entertainers ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) disbanded due to Prime Minister Winston Churchill's desire to have forces entertainment run by a team with military connections and not civilians.
It was replaced by the robust and military-run Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) in 1946 who took over the work.
The shows in Hamburg, Germany were run by the then Lieutenant Roger Moore, who went on to play James Bond during the 1970s and 1980s in Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy to name just a few.
Which of the Bond’s in the canon of 007 entertainment is your favourite and why?