Gardner's World: John Gardner's James Bond Continuation Novels (1981-1996) General Discussion

Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
edited December 2023 in James Bond Literature

As today, 20 November 2023, marks what would have been John Gardner's 97th birthday I thought it was time we had a general discussion thread on the longest serving and most prolific James Bond continuation author. Between 1981 and 1996 John Gardner (1926-2007) wrote 14 original adult James Bond continuation novels and two film novelisations, namely Licence to Kill and GoldenEye. So this is the thread to ask any general questions about John Gardner's 15 year tenure as Bond author from 1981 to 1996 or to post any observations about his novels, novelisations, plots, characters, themes and so on.


"The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
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  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited November 2023

    Here's a US radio interview with John Gardner from 16 October 1984 to get the ball rolling and a rare chance to hear JG in conversation:


    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    That's a great interview. Gardner sounds much more 'playful' than I expected, although I wouldn't call him amusing. I would have wanted something a bit more in depth about his system of research, his technique for routine writing, etc, but it is a good interview nonetheless. Amazing he had to write something for Glidrose / IFP before being formerly offered the Bond gig, like sitting an entrance exam. Also amazed - speak of exams - that he went to Cambridge university off the back of being an army officer. That in itself was considered qualification enough in those days.

    Thanks for posting and starting the thread.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited November 2023

    I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, @chrisno1. Yes, John Gardner definitely had a fun side. This can also be seen in his writing. I like how he laughs as he's saying something sometimes - it's an endearing quality. I remember hearing him being interviewed by Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live on 23 July 2002 to promote his first Suzie Mountford novel, Bottled Spider, and being able to tape the end of it. He did the same thing there too and was quite wry in his answers. I suppose Glidrose saw reviving the Bond continuation after a break of over a decade to be a big deal and so they required their prospective author to submit an outline and sample chapters. As he said in interviews, Gardner found this rather a chore as normally he tended to write novels from an idea or character or whatever and then developed the story as he went along. He said that he felt his Bond novels would've been much better if he'd been trusted like a seasoned spy novelist to just get on with it and write the novels in his usual way of working.

    As regards being an army officer being enough to admit you to university, yes, you could do things like that back then. You certainly couldn't do it today. Being in the services was like a skeleton key that opened a lot of doors. I suppose the prevailing view was that if you went to fight and risk your life in a World War for your country the least that they could do afterwards was to offer you a step up the ladder to try to improve your life through advanced academic study. It's like how people used to become barristers without studying Law. The past is a foreign country, as they say. Gardner's degree at St John's College, Cambridge was an MA in Theology. He obviously had the intelligence to go to university to study, if not the academic pieces of paper to back it up. Here is a follow up US radio interview with Gardner (again by Don Swaim) from about a year later on 21 November 1985 where he briefly discusses Bond, his writing method, real espionage and his then new novel, The Secret Generations:

    donswaim.com/JohnGardner1985.mp3

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    Another very good interview, not so much for Bond devotees, but interesting to hear Gardner talk about his writing processes and the sheer volume of work he gets up to. Writing from 10 - 1pm, then from 2- 7pm, then if there is no TV continuing on until he drops - and no holidays - no wonder he made himself ill. I am a failure at routine, but I do prefer mornings to write from about 10 - 2pm, lunch, then a review of what I have written. That the most I can handle.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited November 2023

    Yes, it is a good interview. Not so much for Bond, as you say, but more for learning about his writing habits and routine. Gardner clearly put a lot of effort into his writing and really stuck at it. It's not surprising as between 1963 and his death in 2007 he wrote a total of 55 books, the first being an autobiography called Spin the Bottle, followed by 52 novels and 2 short story collections. That's a lot of work over a space of 44 years! Gardner is certainly one of the more prolific Bond authors and he's in the Guinness Book of Records as having written the most Bond novels. That's more than even Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. Gardner said that he drove himself into the ground writing the Bond novels as well as his own spy novels at the same time and that he was literally dying by the time he wrote his last Bond novel, Cold (1996). Gardner also stated that he felt that he was underwriting the Bond novels as he paid for the research travel costs out of his own pocket. Hopefully some day soon Gardner's substantial contribution to keeping the literary Bond flame alive will be better appreciated.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent
    edited November 2023

    I think most established authors pay for research through the advance so I am not sure Gardner is being fair to Glidrose/IFP on that score. I do wish sometimes he had not written as many OO7 novels as the quality post Icebreaker is very up and down, sometimes inside individual books. Death is Forever springs to mind on that score with its jokey dialogue and characters yet vicious action - methinks it needed a thorough polish to meld the two.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    And yes 55 novels in a little over 40 years is a lot. When I first started writing Fan Fiction, I managed 6 novels and 8 short stories in 3 years. I was exhausted. Now I write my own books I write much slower now, although my reviews and studies have taken over somewhat.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited November 2023

    Yes, I'd say you're right about established authors such as Gardner getting an advance to cover such expenses as travel and research. Perhaps Gardner felt that the deal should've been better than that from Glidrose, I'm not sure. Writing so many Bond continuation novels (one a year mostly, apart from 1985 when there was none and 1989 where there were two books) probably did take a toll on Gardner as a writer and on the quality of some of the later novels which he had to churn out to meet quite tight deadlines. It's interesting that in the radio interview posted above he says that he doesn't think he'll be asked to do more after Bond book number 6 (which became No Deals, Mr Bond) was completed when he wasn't even half way through the amount of Bond novels he'd actually go on to write. Perhaps Glidrose "made him an offer he couldn't refuse", Godfather-style?

    I used to write far more when I was still studying at university and writing long essays and problem question answers for my Masters in Law. Since then I find that I write much less now and it's all much slower in coming together. I am working on a new Bond blog article I hope I can get finished before the end of the year. I have it plotted out; it's just a matter of getting the notes and scribblings down on the page and assembled into a readable article. You are a prolific writer in my opinion and you certainly produce much more than I do these days, so take heart from that, @chrisno1. 🙂

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • IstvanTheHun007IstvanTheHun007 Posts: 73MI6 Agent

    I just finished reading all the Gardner novels for the first time, and it was quite the roller coaster ride I must say, with some rather entertaining highs & lows. By the end, I kind of fell in love with his series and am sad there are no more.

    ...But that just means it is time for Raymond Benson deep dive.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff

    I hope you enjoy it. I read all these books as they appeared, and went into Benson not knowing what to expect after Gardner like everyone else at the time, ie without preconceived ideas. So I'll say no more to avoid such ideas except that like Gardner there are ups and downs along the way.

  • SeanIsTheOnlyOneSeanIsTheOnlyOne Posts: 406MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    I think Gardner was the author Bond needed back then but not the one he deserved. Licence Renewed is a solid revival and Icebreaker clearly remains Gardner's literary pinnacle, his FRWL as I use to call it. It was the perfect book to end his journey. The following one, Role of Honour, is terrible, and I did not enjoy the rest to be honest. The man from Barbarossa could have been a success. Dealing with such a serious topic was a bold idea, but Gardner's clumsy twist makes the whole story useless, which is quite frustrating considering the very beginning of the book, so unusual for a Bond novel.

    From 1984 (RoH) to 1996 (COLD), I only enjoyed the LTK novelization.

  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 3,418Quartermasters

    I think it is interesting the ponder what the legacy of Gardner would have been if he had quit after No Deals, Mr Bond. My impression is that most of the criticism and negativity towards his series is caused by the latter half of his tenure as Bond author, with his repetitive habits of double-crossing and twisting that makes many of those novels a bit tiresome.

    If his set of novels just included Licence Renewed to No Deals, Mr Bond I think you would have a set of very solid James Bond novels, a couple of which are really quite good.

    On the other hand, I'm greedy so I'm glad all those additional Gardner Bonds are on my shelf, and I think there were a few highlights in the second half of the Gardner series. Most of all, where would @Silhouette Man be without Never Send Flowers? 😄

  • SeanIsTheOnlyOneSeanIsTheOnlyOne Posts: 406MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    Yes, Gardner should have quit earlier than he did. But why including No Deals, Mr Bond which is a novel full of issues ? Calvin Dyson, whose reviews are excellent, also considers it as one of the author's worst and points out everything wrong with it.

    Between 1981 and 1987, it's a roller coaster.

    Role of Honour, is, IMHO, the worst novel ever written between 1953 and 2023, and I mark my words. The villain's plot is ill-conceived, the characters are uninteresting, the climax is desperately weak, and most of all, the stakes are not only far-fetched but ridiculous. It's probably the only one I felt totally unable to read with any ersatz of enjoyment, not even a single chapter.

    I think half of the first six novels are very poor, and that's why Icebreaker was the perfect one for Gardner to end his journey. With a solid entry like Licence Renewed and a very satisfying third book, he could have easily been forgiven for the quite disappointing For Special Services.

  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 3,418Quartermasters

    I agree that Role of Honour is fairly weak, but I think the two books that follow it are strong. My three favourite Gardner novels and Nobody Lives Forever, Icebreaker, and No Deals Mr Bond so I certainy I wouldn't have wanted to cut Gardner off at three novels. I was surprised by how negative Calvin's review was.

  • Sir MilesSir Miles The Wrong Side Of The WardrobePosts: 26,504Chief of Staff

    I actually like Role Of Honour 🤣

    Never Send Flowers, Death Is Forever & Cold Fall are all for worse for me 🤷🏻‍♂️

    YNWA 97
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent

    Calvin Dyson's summing up of the John Gardner Bond continuation novels:


    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    I see the same account on YouTube has now uploaded a video version of the November 1985 John Gardner interview with Don Swaim:



    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • IstvanTheHun007IstvanTheHun007 Posts: 73MI6 Agent

    It's fun seen many Gardner-penned moments show up in the movies. Wish there had been more!

  • IstvanTheHun007IstvanTheHun007 Posts: 73MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    Do you guys think they should begin adapting these novels for movies? At least use them for jumping off points, though I think a few, with some extra action setpieces and modernism, could work as straight-up adaptations.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff

    I think there are worse ideas they could have than using Gardner. My favourite is "Nobody Lives Forever", although I'm sure that is a minority view, and I believe that could work as a film. Above, Sir Miles said he likes "Role Of Honour". Gee, I wonder which one @Silhouette Man would suggest...?

  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 3,418Quartermasters

    I often felt like the 1980s John Gardner novels and the 1980s Bond films directed by John Glen had a similar feel to each other in the sense that they grounded the stories in a bit more of a real-world setting while still incorporating a bit of the more outlandish feel of earlier decades at times. And indeed several ideas from the Gardner novels did appear to seep into the films. If there was a time to properly adapt the Gardner novels for the screen I would think the best time to do that would have been in the Dalton period.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    I think they probably should as John Gardner came up with as many good ideas as the likes of Purvis and Wade ever have. I think though that Eon/the scriptwriters only ever consider using a scene, dialogue or character etc. from a Bond continuation novel when they're in a creative bind and they can't find another way out. They really have to be between a rock and a hard place figuratively before they consider the "In Emergency break glass" option of using a continuation Bond novel as a source for their script. That was certainly what happened with their decision to adapt the Colonel Sun torture scene in Spectre, as was mentioned in an interesting article in MI6 Confidential magazine some years ago. Just look at Michael G. Wilson's disparaging comments at a Bond fan event in New York in 1995 on Gardner's Never Send Flowers. There he jokingly referred to what he saw as the inappropriateness of Gardner's decision to have Bond like Disneyland and to have the climax of the novel set at Euro Disney. From that attitude it's easy to see Eon think that the Gardner novels in particular are below them and not something they'd "stoop" to adapting. Of course that hasn't stopped them nicking ideas like an airship climactic fight, an aircraft hangar fight, a villainous lair called the Ice Palace etc. Those could all be conveniently chalked up to coincidence as "general thriller ideas" plucked from the ether should anyone from Glidrose/IFP have come knocking with their lawyers in tow. It seems to me that Eon very much calls the shots when it comes to James Bond, not IFP. They are merely a junior partner happy to take their 10% in profits from each film.

    There's also the crucial economic consideration of a full adaptation or a partial adaptation meaning a fee would have to be paid to the Gardner Estate or the continuation author themselves if they are still alive. There would also have to be an on-screen credit. That was what happened with the Amis Estate so they could use his torture scene in Spectre. I think any future use of the continuation novels would continue to centre around Colonel Sun as it has an elevated status as the cream of the crop due to Amis's writing ability and it being set close to Fleming's timeline. They have lifted most of the best parts already though - Greece as a location, M being kidnapped, Colonel Tan-Sun Moon as a villain name and especially the infamous head torture scene. There's not a lot of highlights left after all that. However, Eon seem to mostly be content paying their own writers to come up with scripts and ideas and are loath to pay out any more money to adapt a continuation novel. I suppose, in their position, why would they? That's even more the case when you consider how many scenes or even full novels/short stories of Fleming's are still yet to be properly adapted in the Eon Bond films.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    I'd agree that Nobody Lives Forever is a fan favourite among literary Bond aficionados, @Barbel. It's seen as Gardner's version of a From Russia with Love-type story. It's a quick and breezy read and has the novel idea dying and immobile villain in Tamil Rahani at the centre of it. That'd be a different idea for a villain for any future Bond actor's era. I recall Purvis and Wade saying that they considered the idea of having a villain who was dead for TWINE, so this would be the next best thing. My favourites from Gardner are Icebreaker, Scorpius, Never Send Flowers and Cold so I'd be happy to see any of those adapted. Of course Never Send Flowers is one of my favourite continuations overall along with Colonel Sun and Icebreaker though I do get a lot of stick for liking that particular one so much! 🙂

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,694MI6 Agent

    I think they probably should as John Gardner came up with as many good ideas as the likes of Purvis and Wade ever have

    I don't know if I'd agree with that to be honest. I feel like TWINE on its own has more fresh ideas than most Gardner books (oh I wonder if he/she will turn out to be a double agent. Yes they are), plus they're also slipping in Fleming ideas where they can too.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    I suppose that's fair enough. I think Purvis and Wade at their worst are pretty bad - Bond surfing a tsunami wave and Blofeld being Bond's stepbrother being the most dire examples.

    I know Gardner did reuse his double and triple agent trope too much but sometimes he pleasingly subverted expectations too - such as in Never Send Flowers where the villain David Dragonpol instead kills and impersonates his twin brother Daniel in order to evade capture. No double or triple agents in that story.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,694MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    I suppose that's fair enough. I think Purvis and Wade at their worst are pretty bad - Bond surfing a tsunami wave and Blofeld being Bond's stepbrother being the most dire examples.

    Lee Tamahori is on record as saying that the surfing was his idea (see Some Kind of Hero) and Mendes is down as saying that the stepbrother thing came from an idea of Michael Wilson's. And I still think if you trace that concept through it's not a terrible one: they're adapting Fleming's Octopussy where Bond goes after the killer of his childhood mentor Oberhauser- that's Fleming himself doing a personal plot. As you want Bond and the villain to be around the same age in the film and to know each other, it makes kind of sense to change the killer to being closer to a child's age, hence he becomes a jealous son (apparently Jez Butterworth wrote a lot of the cuckoo stuff). And it makes little difference what his name is- why not Blofeld? It's no more ridiculous than any other name to Bond. It all makes logical sense within the story and it comes pretty directly from Fleming, the problem is they didn't take a step back and see that Bond and Blofeld being brothers just feels a bit silly to the audience.

    One quite neat thing is that Purvis & Wade wanted the Austria stuff to bet in Kitzbuhel, because when Fleming stayed there as a youngster he lived with a couple who provided therapy for those in a constant negative contest with their siblings. I think that's nice thinking.

    I know Gardner did reuse his double and triple agent trope too much but sometimes he pleasingly subverted expectations too - such as in Never Send Flowers where the villain David Dragonpol instead kills and impersonates his twin brother Daniel in order to evade capture. No double or triple agents in that story.

    Gosh I don't know, is identical twins impersonating each other less cliched and schlocky than a vengeful foster brother?

  • SeanIsTheOnlyOneSeanIsTheOnlyOne Posts: 406MI6 Agent

    Gardner's version of From Russia With Love clearly is Icebreaker to me. We have here a genuine spy thriller close to the atmosphere of Fleming's fifth novel. The plot also contains a Konspiratsia, and the way Bond gets rid of the main henchman with the phone of the Saab at the end reminds me the Orient Express battle with Grant.

  • Miles MesservyMiles Messervy Posts: 1,758MI6 Agent
    edited December 2023

    I’ve enjoyed reading through this thread. When I first was exposed to Gardner’s books in the early 2000s, I found them rather dull and uninteresting. But having revisited them years later, I’ve come to have a real soft spot for Gardner’s Bond. Maybe nostalgia plays a small part, but I think he had some really interesting ideas. The thing I appreciate most about Gardner is his desire to put Bond in new settings. One of my favorites is Death is Forever. It doesn’t get discussed much, but I love the suspense of Bond working against unknown forces to save a spy network. Very different from anything Fleming wrote, but fun to see Bond dropped into that more “traditional” spy setting. I enjoy Never Send Flowers and No Deals for similar reasons. All are very atmospheric. And, of course, Icebreaker was the pinnacle of Gardner’s effort to lean into Bond’s role as a Cold War spy. From a pure story standpoint, it could be adapted with relatively few changes into a screenplay in 2023 and potentially outshine every one of the Bond films from this century, save Casino Royale.

  • Sir MilesSir Miles The Wrong Side Of The WardrobePosts: 26,504Chief of Staff

    I really like Nobody Lives Forever too 🇬🇧

    YNWA 97
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff

    There you are, two votes! Are you listening, Michael and Barbara....? Silly me, of course not.

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