Above: a Gillette TV commercial from 1961 featuring an adjustable razor
The first time Ian Fleming tells us the brand of razor used by James Bond is in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), when 007 is planning his escape from Piz Gloria. Unarmed, he has just his Rolex and Gillette razor to use as knuckle dusters, wrapping the bracelet of the Rolex around his right hand and holding the handle of the Gillette between the fingers of his left, with the blade-carrier resting flat against his knuckles.
Gillette had been founded in the early twentieth century to manufacture safety razors, introducing the innovative “Aristocrat” model with its “Twist To Open” design in 1934, which made blade changing much easier than before. They followed this with the “Super Speed” in 1947, which was updated in 1954 to introduce a number of versions, each of which produced a different closeness of shave.
However, in 1958 the company produced its first adjustable safety razor, which allowed the user to vary the closeness of the shave by rotating a dial on the handle. This first adjustable model, now known as the “Fat Boy”, was produced until 1961, with a 1960 variant featuring the dial towards the bottom of the handle rather than the top near the blade carrier.
However, when Agent 007 in New York was first published in the New York Herald Tribune (October 1963; the title was subsequently shortened to 007 in New York for publication in the US edition of Thrilling Cities and, much more recently, added to Octopussy & The Living Daylights), we find James Bond contemplating a brief shopping expedition in which he plans to visit a number of stores, including “Hoffritz on Madison Avenue for one of their heavy, toothed Gillette-type razors, so much better than Gillett’s own product” (which we covered in this previous article).
By the time of The Man With The Golden Gun (1965), Fleming wrote: “He always used a Hoffritz safety razor patterned on the old-fashioned heavy-toothed Gillette type. His American friend Felix Leiter had once bought him one in New York to prove that they were the best, and Bond had stayed with them”.
Since 007 hadn’t spent time in New York with his ex-CIA buddy since Diamonds Are Forever, does that mean the Gillette in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was carried purely for his cover as Sir Hilary Bray? Or, more likely, is it just another those Ian Fleming inconsistencies, interesting to note but nothing of consequence?
Brand names and Bond
Ian Fleming often peppered his writing with brand names, justifying himself by saying “I see no point in changing the name of the Dorchester to the Porchester”, although that misses the point that his critics considered the use of brand names in this way to be overtly snobbish.
In fact, Fleming used brands as a kind of shorthand. Kingsley Amis wrote in The James Bond Dossier (1965) that one of the attractions of James Bond was that as a secret agent he was anonymous, allowing us all to project ourselves onto him.
Fleming’s use of brands helped flesh out his hero; one of the reasons that we associate James Bond with luxury is through the “halo effect” of luxury brands; it was so successful that the halo effect has now been reversed, and brands now want to associate with James Bond so as to benefit from the association.
While product placement to achieve that end may be seen as a modern phenomenon, it has actually been going on since the early days of the film series; one of the earliest examples can be seen in Goldfinger (1964). When James Bond comes to on board Auric Goldfinger’s private jet en route for the United States, he groggily awakes to the sight of Goldfinger’s private pilot.
“My name is Pussy Galore”, she tells him.
“I must be dreaming”
After being served a martini, 007 asks the stewardess, Mei Li, for his luggage in order to change his clothing. In the bathroom he takes his shaving kit from his suitcase, removes his jacket and hangs it in over the wall clock to block the peephole through which Mei Li has been instructed to spy on him.
Finding another peephole behind the mirror, he then covers it with the lid of his suitcase before unscrewing the handle of his razor and removing a homer, which he switches on and inserts in the heel of his shoe. Closing the suitcase again, he takes a can of shaving foam and squirts it in a circle on the mirror, once again preventing Mei Li from spying on him.
The razor was a Gillette Slim adjustable and it turns out to have appeared in the film after the producers had received payment from Gillette.
Above: A Gillette Slim Adjustable similar to the one used by Sean Connery in Goldfinger. Photo courtesy The Executive Shaving Company.
According to an article on the HMSS Weblog, Guy Hamilton was rather upset at Harry Saltzman showing up with a handful of Gillette’s products to place on the set. Indeed, the HMSS article reproduces a quote by Hamilton from the book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger (1998), in which he says:
I used to get a little bit angry when Harry (Saltzman) used to come on the set. In the plane scene with Pussy Galore, when Bond shaves, the whole thing was a Gillette exercise. You never saw anything like it. There was Gillette foam, Gillette aftershave…I said, ‘Harry what are you doing? It’s eight in the morning, the crew haven’t arrived and you’re dressing a set?’ He’d done a deal with Gillette and we were going to get sixpence to use their stuff.”
In 1961 Gillette replaced the fat Boy with the “Slim” model that featured in Goldfinger, which was manufactured until 1968 at which time it was replaced by the “Super Adjustable” model that was eventually retired in 1988 (all dates thanks to this information compiled by Badger and Brush).
Where to buy
The Gillette Slim adjustable razor remains a popular item to buy, although it is rather difficult to come by. One good source is Ebay, but examples sometimes appear on website offering vintage shaving items such as The Executive Shaving Company.