~ Posted by Samantha Weinberg, October 26th 2012
Eight years ago, I embarked on a trilogy of books which looked at James Bond’s secret world through the eyes of Miss Moneypenny, M’s private secretary. My initial source material was Ian Fleming’s writing. I read and reread his 14 Bond books, and was surprised to discover that Moneypenny played a minor role, a line here or there. "Miss Moneypenny would have been desirable but for eyes which were cool and direct and quizzical," Fleming wrote in "Casino Royale". From "Moonraker", I learnt that she and Bond “liked each other and she knew he admired her looks”; from "Thunderball" that she "often dreamed hopelessly about Bond", owned a poodle, didn’t smoke, and had started her career as a junior in the Cipher Department.
That was basically it. I turned to the films and there, too, I was surprised to discover that the character who was such a vibrant figure in my mind merited very little screen time, just a scene or two in each film, almost invariably featuring some gentle flirtation from behind her typewriter positioned outside M’s door. Moneypenny, it seemed, was there as an expression of Fleming’s view of women: that they existed primarily to serve and to adore.
I wanted to right that, and so I gave her a more active role. Moneypenny had missions of her own. Her first outing was to Cuba in 1961, then gripped by the missile crisis which she alone could defuse. A year later she was dispatched by M to Moscow with orders to bring Kim Philby home from exile. In her final fling, she went deep into the heart of the secret service on the trail of a mole. And I tweaked the relationship with Bond: yes, there was affection, but the verbal foreplay of the films was Moneypenny’s game more than Bond’s; she was far too switched on to succumb to the easy charms of a pathological womaniser.
For the five years I was writing "The Moneypenny Diaries", I donned her pearls and lived inside her head. But then, in 2006, "Casino Royale" was released. It was, as most critics agreed, a return to the golden days of Bond, a much-needed shot in the arm for the film franchise. There was a good story, great action sequences, a buff new Bond in Daniel Craig but, gasp, no Moneypenny. The character that had been so wonderfully played by Lois Maxwell and later Samantha Bond (we’ll skirt over the Caroline Bliss years) had been given her marching orders without as much as an explanation. The film—and the later, lamentable "Quantum of Solace"—missed her presence, but I felt it as a stab in the heart and in 2008, I, too, brought a full stop to Moneypenny’s career.
Which brings us to "Skyfall", by any standards a great Bond film, a great film even; taut, witty, emotional and beautifully realised. But it has an extra charm, in my view anyway, an element that resurrects the very best of Bond. It would be a transgression of the Official Secrets Act for me to reveal what it is. Just go and see the film.
Samantha Weinberg is assistant editor of Intelligent Life and, writing as Kate Westbrook, the author of "The Moneypenny Diaries" trilogy, now available as audiobooks from Amazon