Can you imagine that soon after watching your first James Bond film you learnt your grandfather worked for Eon Productions? That’s exactly what happened to Mark O’Connell, who relates his story in Catching Bullets, reviewed here.
Published back in 2012 in the lead up to Skyfall, I’d been meaning to get a copy of Catching Bullets by Mark O’Connell ever since.
One of the perks of running The James Bond Dossier is that that I’m often sent books to review, and in the August prior to Skyfall I was contacted by a number of publishers concerning new Bond or Ian Fleming related titles.
Believing that this was one of the titles I would receive, I didn’t order it and so it was never reviewed here; almost certainly my fault, as I didn’t make a note of which titles I’d be sent and probably confused it with another book.
Finally though, when I ran out of reading material in August I headed over to Amazon and remembered to add it to my shopping basket. Within a few days it arrived and so there I was on the beach with Catching Bullets.
More than a memoir
Catching Bullets is a subtitled “Memoirs of a Bond fan”, but really it much more than this and works on a number of levels.
On one hand it is a love letter to James Bond, as it says on the cover blurb. But it is also about growing up as a Bond fan, with which we can all relate at some level or other, childhood in the 1980s, using 007 as an escape, feeling like an outsider, coming out as a gay man, being part of the extended Eon family and being a collector.
The book also harks back to the days of VHS when many of us had 007 collections on tape, pre the era of DVD. Hard to believe now that films are released on DVD and Blu-Ray just a few months after their big screen release and so many of us have all the films available to watch whenever we want (and in this multi-platform age, on whatever device we want) and in high definition, or at least not the grainy footage we were used to with VHS; how did we ever put up with that?
Although a few years older than O’Connell there is much I can relate to in this book apart from the obvious obsession with all things James Bond (and Maud Adams), such as those miserable Cub Scout camps and to a certain degree a feeling of alienation; neither of my parents was born in the UK and at school I always felt like an outsider, using James Bond to escape.
The writing is often funny (my other half commented a number of times that I kept laughing on the beach while reading it), sometimes touching, and the contrast between the book as a critique of the Bond films versus the story of one man’s life made it difficult to put down; in between the Bond films O’Connell’s life goes on.
I also love the irony of a gay man defending the Bond Girl against the usual accusations of sexism, and completely relate to O’Connell’s second coming out (which has nothing to do with sexual orientation); I suspect there are many Bond fans in the same position.
It started with Octopussy
Introduced to Bond with Octopussy on television (cue Maud Adams) and progressing to A View To A Kill as his first big screen Bond, O’Connell watched many of the other films in whatever order he caught them on bank holiday weekends and at the cinema as they were released. The films are discussed in the order in which he saw them rather than being presented chronologically and because it is his memoir it is the only approach that makes sense.
After being introduced to the world of James Bond he soon found his granddad was the chauffeur of Cubby Broccoli and soon he was receiving posters and other bits and pieces right from the Eon offices.
How many Bond fans can claim that?
He is one of the few fans to support Moonraker, and loves A View To A Kill, so his favourite Bond films may not coincide with yours at all (he dislikes Thunderball, which I love!); that matters not one bit.
Each film is discussed in detail, and while O’Connell is a very different type of Bond fan to me, he knowledgeably dissects each film with a eye honed by studying film at University and raises points which would never have even occurred to me. Although he has a clear preference for Roger Moore’s films, he does not let that get in the way of dealing with each film fairly.
He also talks about the difference between what he considers he favourite film versus what he thinks is the best Bond film, which is a useful distinction.
On the other hand, he misses on a few things because of his lack of familiarity with Ian Fleming’s books, admitting that he had owned a copy of Casino Royale for many years before eventually reading it prior to the 2006 film. As a result he misses some of the nods to Ian Fleming, such as in For Your Eyes Only, when Bond uses the cover of an author researching his next book. That comes straight from the pages of Risico.
Eon’s extended family
O’Connell also relates some of his experiences, mainly indirect, with Eon Productions and the Broccoli family. Initially receiving the odd poster, 007 branded watch or other promotional knick-knack direct from Eon via his granddad, Jimmy, he does seem to have been treated exceptionally well both as an employee and later in retirement.
Many people involved on the Bond films remark how it feels like family, and this is reiterated in Catching Bullets.
After Jimmy’s death, the O’Connell family contacted Eon Productions to let them know. What they certainly weren’t expecting was an entourage from Eon among the few mourners to attend his funeral, including Barbara Broccoli; that goes well beyond what would have been required, and I gained a new found respect for the Broccolis as a result.
All in all I think this book has a wider appeal than just the 007 community as it is about much more than the James Bond films. It may also help those living with someone with a James Bond obsession to understand just little of what it’s all about. If you don’t have it in your library already, go and buy it now. You won’t regret it.