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Let’s make James Bond from a comp

The aspirations of state educated kids would improve if 007 was portrayed as someone from their background, says Iain Garner

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Over the past 54 years 10 actors have played James Bond on film (if you include David Niven and I certainly do).

Each of the actors has closely matched the portrait of James Bond presented by Ian Fleming. That is charming, sophisticated, ruthless but perhaps most significantly white and male.

However, now that we are well beyond Fleming’s books, and in cinema we have had a glut of reboots, prequels and sequels which have taken narratives in new directions, perhaps we can consider a different kind of James Bond?

Various suggestions have been put forward to establish a new spin on James Bond. One of which is to no longer have him as Caucasian and certainly the suggestion of Idris Elba should strike fear into the HR department at Spectre, because as we saw in ‘The Wire’ and ‘Beast of No Nation’ Idris is versed in playing ruthless characters that leave a trail of bodies in their wake. So surely casting Idris would lead to a ‘villains wanted ad’ in the Spectre newsletter.

A more recent appeal has been to change James’ gender. Jane Bond, now that would ruffle a few feathers at Blofeld Mansion.

There is form in the James Bond franchise in changing the gender of roles. Daniel Craig’s Bond had Judy Dench as M, a character she portrayed with gravitas and ruthlessness.

So perhaps a Jane Bond would be possible, and several names have been associated with the role: Gillian Anderson, Kate Winslet, and Emily Blunt for example.

But my personal favourite would be Olivia Coleman; after all she has just turned in a rather good performance as a spook in the Night Manager.

I think this questioning of ‘taken for granteds’ is healthy; it allows us the opportunity to reflect on our societal assumptions and ensures we are aware of the wider impact of the choices we make. In this spirit I would like to throw into the development of the James Bond character the question of where he went to school. There is an assumption here, which if unchecked could be as corrosive as supposing that he has to be white or even that he can’t be a she.

Bond folklore has it that Bond was briefly educated at Eton before going to Fettes College in Edinburgh. In other words the character was educated at elite independent schools.

In the UK 7% of the population attend fee paying schools and yet in 2016 the Sutton Trust report noted that 71% of top military officers were privately educated. So clearly fictional James Bond would fit into this reality, but potentially we could use fiction to question rather than reaffirm this reality. Have a James Bond from a comprehensive school, have a James Bond that is part of the 93% not the 7%. It would raise the possibility that the security of the country can be up held by those who are not from a privileged background.

Doing this with a fictional character might end up being of benefit to our actual security, as the potential of working in MI5 and MI6 could be seen as opportunities for a wider section of society. After all, it would be easier to spot a spy if all you had to do was go through the alumni of a few elite schools.

The Sutton Trust’s report noted that the privately educated make up 74% of High Court judges, that 51% of our leading print journalist went to fee paying schools and 61% of top medics also were educated at independent schools.

Even 67% of our Oscar winners were privately educated. Generally these schools provide a very good education, but can it be so good that the 7% attending these schools should so dominate our top roles?

To me it is akin to the assumption that James Bond can only be portrayed by a white male. That is, top jobs can best be undertaken by the people who ‘fit’ the roles, the people like the current incumbents.

So as we moved from Dalton to Brosnan to Craig we basically got a new version of the same thing – a white male, likewise in top jobs we move from one Etonian to the next. They fit societal expectations, the very assumptions we should question.

So let’s challenge the casting of the next James Bond, give it as a job share to Olivia Coleman and Idris Elba, make it clear their Bond(s) went to a co-ed state school, challenge the assumptions – you never know, it just might make the country safer and better place, by allowing a far greater number of school pupils to see themselves in top jobs.

Dr Iain Garner is Head of the Department for Education, Childhood & Inclusion at Sheffield Hallam University