Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mark Steyn reveals his essential sweetness and fine character as he gives a fond farewell to Lois Maxwell in this endearing obituary

Missing Moneypenny 

by Mark Steyn

November 2, 2012

To mark the new Bond film, Skyfall, SteynOnline is offering its own quantum of Bondage, including my take on Ian Fleming's original 007 novels and our two-hour audio special on James Bond's music man John Barry with special guests David Arnold, Don Black and Tim Rice discussing Bond songs from Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and many more. When Skyfall was first announced, it was rumored that M's secretary, Moneypenny, would be returning to the series for the first time since Die Another Day a decade ago. As it turns out, she is among the dramatis personae, but (without wishing to give too much away) alarmingly non-deskbound - and rechristened "Eve Moneypenny" rather than Jane. When the original Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell, died at the age of 80 five years ago, here's what I had to say in Maclean's about both the role and its most famous exponent. If we ever get around to Volume Two of Mark Steyn's Passing Parade, I hope we'll have room for Miss Maxwell:

Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny

I don't know what a Canadian performer has to do not to get into the Order of Canada, but evidently Lois Maxwell managed it. For a quarter-century, she could stake a plausible claim to have played to bigger audiences around the world than any other Canuck thespian. Yet, as her death reminds us, she was something of a prophet without honour in her native land, and elsewhere had to make do with honour without profit. Everybody else on the James Bond franchise got mega-rich - Ian Fleming; the producer Cubby Broccoli; the composer Monty Norman, whose eternal Bond theme is the only reliable earner in a journeyman oeuvre; the other composer, John Barry, who wrote "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever" and almost all the other decent title songs; and, of course, Sean Connery and Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. But, for most of her long reign as M's secretary Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell got a hundred pounds a day for a two-or-three-day shoot, and for the first five movies had to supply her own clothes. From Dr. No in 1962 to A View To A Kill in 1985, her total screen time barely adds up to an hour.

But what an hour! Ninety per cent of starring roles don't bring the public recognition that a minute and a half of Moneypenny bantering with her beloved James did. It went pretty much the same way every time. 007 would arrive at MI6 headquarters, having been delayed by the usual horizontal encounter ("Sorry I'm late, M. I'm afraid something came up," etc.), to be briefed about the latest global megalomaniac to have caught the eye of Her Majesty's Secret Service. But, regardless of the urgency - threats to nuke major cities every 24 hours and whatnot - Commander Bond always had time for a little byplay in the outer office. Verbal byplay, that is. Had she joined the Mounties, Miss Moneypenny might have got her man. But, in the British Secret Service, she stayed unmounted, a unique distinction among "Bond girls."

The character was present at the creation, in Casino Royale, the very first 007 novel 55 years ago, right there on the first page of chapter three:

"What do you think, Penny?" The Chief of Staff turned to M's private secretary who shared the room with him.
Miss Moneypenny would have been desirable but for eyes which were cool and direct and quizzical.

By the second book, Live And Let Die, she'd advanced from "would have been desirable" to "the desirable Miss Moneypenny, M's all-powerful secretary," which suggests that desire arose from her proximity to power. There's something rather crass about nailing your own secretary but nailing the boss's is subversive –– although, in Bond's case, it may have had an element of displacement: in Ian Fleming's novels, 007 spends more timing mooning over M's "clear blue eyes" than he ever does over Moneypenny's. Her first name was Jane, but she was addressed as "Moneypenny" or "Penny," admitted to the boys' school collegiality of surnames and nicknames –– the real male intimacy which Bond's army of ravenous shaggadelic dolly birds out in the field would never know. And so, instead of bedding her and finding her a gilded corpse or dropped in the shark tank or any of the other grim morning-afters that await the typical Bond girl, 007 did her the singular honour of teasing her, decade in, decade out.

Fleming based Moneypenny on Vera Atkins, secretary to Maurice Buckmaster, head of the French section at Britain's wartime Special Operations Executive. Miss Atkins lived into her nineties, died in the year 2000, and, although a spinster to the end, didn't recognize herself in Fleming's fictionalization. She was one of those fiendishly smart gals whose talents it took a global conflagration to liberate. It was Vera Atkins who recruited and supervised the over 400 British agents who parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, standing on the runway night after night to watch her boys take off and disappear into the clouds. Like Moneypenny, she was indulgent of the Secret Service's penchant for secret servicing, as long as it stayed brisk and businesslike. Romance was another matter. "Oh, the bloody English!" she sighed, after one of her boys, George Millar, revealed he was in love again. "We never have bother of this sort with the French. They just copulate, and that is that." Where Moneypenny was devoted to just one agent, Miss Atkins was devoted to all of them: 118 vanished in the course of their duties, and after the war she demanded to be allowed to investigate their cases. She discovered the fate of 117, all dead, and brought many of their killers to justice.

"Vera Atkins," like "Lois Maxwell," sounds as English as you could get. But Vera was born Vera Rosenberg in Bucharest, and Lois was born Lois Hooker in Kitchener, Ontario. She took the name "Maxwell" from a gay ballet dancer pal in London, and back in Canada her family liked it so much they all adopted it, too. (Her forthcoming autobiography is apparently entitled Born A Hooker.) Her character isn't a big part of Casino Royale or any of the books. She's there, you feel, because Fleming had conceived Bond with a series in mind and wanted to give the impression of a fully populated world. And, of course, he enjoyed the jest of an organization of global assassins who were British civil servants, subject to all the dreary paperwork and penny-pinching of cheerless postwar London. In the early films, Moneypenny's office is pretty much like any other Whitehall cubbyhole, low on decor, save for the obligatory hat stand to which Sean Connery would wing his trilby. In later movies like The Man With The Golden Gun, she'd turn up in saucily nautical garb manning the photocopier in a submerged battleship in Hong Kong Harbour, but, in the movie looping endlessly through our minds, like Gene Kelly with his lamppost, Miss Maxwell is never far from the hat stand. For her 75th birthday party, admission was conditional on guests wearing headgear and lobbing it at the specially replicated civil service hat stand.

Fleming conceived Moneypenny in the heyday of secretaries, of office parties, of "Why, Miss Jones, you're beautiful without your glasses ...," of Frank Loesser's "A Secretary Is Not A Toy" in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, of Della Street pluckily holding the fort for Perry Mason. Hallmark introduced special cards for "Secretaries Week," now renamed "Administrative Professionals Week," which takes a bit of the zing out of the verses. When Lois Maxwell, pushing 60, was retired from the service, Cubby Broccoli cast Caroline Bliss, who turned Moneypenny into a giggly Sloane Ranger (as the London slang of the eighties had it), and then Samantha Bond, who was better but definitely more of an "Administrative Professional," and finally the secretary got downsized completely. They dropped the character from Casino Royale and bragged about dumping the old "formula." But the formula is what kept the show on the road. Take out Moneypenny and Co. from most of the Bond films, and all you're left with is the usual laser thingy in space and Bond running around a hollowed-out volcano shooting people while he looks for the timer.

As for Miss Maxwell, while loyal to M, she wasn't above a bit of moonlighting. She was one of the voices on Stingray, the cult TV show of bobble-headed puppets (filmed in "Supermarionation") that, via Thunderbirds, inspired Team America. In Stingray, Lois Maxwell was Atlanta Shore of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol -- or WASP, a somewhat improbable acronym for a transnational agency. Atlanta is very much in love with granite-jawed hero Troy Tempest, but on his top-secret missions he has a bit of underwater tail in the shape of a mermaid called Marina. In other words, it's the same old unrequited Bond scenario. And, bizarrely for a children's show, the closing titles each week dwelt not on the derring-do but on the love triangle, with Troy serenading his piscine beauty with the show's big ballad:

You're magic to me!
A beautiful mystery!
I'm certain to fall, I know
Because you enthrall me so!

Meanwhile, up on dry land, Atlanta would be seen staring dreamily at a photo of Troy, and wondering why he hadn't come in to the office today.
Lois Maxwell and Roger Moore as Moneypenny and 007

It was a living, and Lois Maxwell carried it off with splendid brio. Almost everyone connected with Bond turns out to have feet of clay: Sean Connery is a dreary Scottish nationalist off-screen; Roger Moore says he doesn't like guns; and, when Daniel Craig leapt into his Aston Martin in Casino Royale, it emerged he could only drive automatics. They had to get a stuntman in for the stick shift. But in over a decade of her column in The Toronto Sun, Lois Maxwell revealed a Moneypenny of magnificently robust views. She'd have made a better "Canada's Thatcher" than Kim Campbell ever could.

She wanted the role Judi Dench got –– the first female head of MI6. True, the CIA seems to have dwindled down into the world's biggest typing pool, sitting around in Virginia monitoring email all day. But even there the stenographer does not get to be boss. And so Lois Maxwell bumped up against the glass ceiling, and never got to be M –– the one letter the secretary couldn't take.


  1. He is such an eloquent man, which really comes out when he writes something non-snarky like this.

  2. Mark Steyn certainly provides something with breadth and depth than the run-of-the-mill review. I think he got his start in journalism doing reviews of plays in England, maybe it's his first love and hidden strength.

    I recently saw Pierce Brosnan discussing the phenomenon of James Bond and the different actors that have played the role of James Bond. Apparently when he wrote his book on the subject his favorite was Sean Connery but since the new movie has been released he's now saying his favorite James Bond is Daniel Craig.

    "Romance was another matter. "Oh, the bloody English!" she sighed, after one of her boys, George Millar, revealed he was in love again. "We never have bother of this sort with the French. They just copulate, and that is that." This sounds pretty sixty-ish, but maybe that's the reason this whole Bond thing became such a huge franchise — it falls in line with the corruption of Cultural Marxism.

  3. Here's something else from Mark Steyn that you might like, FT.

    Government as Nigerian email scam

    By Mark Steyn

    The good news is that reality (to use a quaint expression) doesn’t need to swing a couple of thousand soccer moms in northern Virginia. Reality doesn’t need to crack 270 in the Electoral College. Reality can get 1.3% of the popular vote and still trump everything else.

    In the course of his first term, Barack Obama increased the federal debt by just shy of US$6-trillion and, in return, grew the economy by US$905-billion. So, as Lance Roberts at Street Talk Live pointed out, in order to generate every US$1 of economic growth the United States had to borrow about US$5.60.

    There’s no one out there on the planet — whether it’s “the rich” or the Chinese — who can afford to carry on bankrolling that rate of return. According to one CBO analysis, US government spending is sustainable as long as the rest of the world is prepared to sink 19% of its GDP into U.S. Treasury debt.

    We already know the answer to that: In order to avoid the public ­humiliation of a failed bond auction, the U.S. Treasury sells 70% of the debt it issues to the Federal Reserve — which is to say the left hand of the U.S. government is borrowing money from the right hand of the U.S. government.

    It’s government as a Nigerian email scam, with Ben Bernanke playing the role of the dictator’s widow with US$4-trillion under her bed that she’s willing to wire to Timmy Geithner as soon as he sends her his bank account details. If that’s all a bit too technical, here’s the gist: There’s nothing holding the joint up.

    Hopefully it may serve to edify the resident student of Marxist "theory" as well.

  4. God bless you, Waylon!

    Steyn is a one of my great heroes. His wonderful sense of irony and unfailing good humor even in the face of looming disaster are exactly what we need to help stiffen our spines and boost our morale through this period of Darkness.

    If you don't mind, I may just lift that piece and use as a featured article. Its inescapable, undeniable truth is timeless and the way he reveals it priceless.

    But let's not waste too much time denigrating Ducky. I have been sure he's playing "a character part" in order to stimulate discussion.

    An echo chamber is no place we should want to be.

    There's a difference between determined opposition and sheer, doctrinaire asininity. I have to respect the former while I despise the latter.

    Monolithic, monochromatic ANYTHING is never a good thing, because it implies stasis and stagnation.

    ~ FreeThinke

  5. But let's not waste too much time denigrating Ducky. I have been sure he's playing "a character part" in order to stimulate discussion.
    Hardly, I'm sorry Susan Sontag isn't around to kick Steyn's butt.

  6. Odd that number one on Sontag's list is a 1929 film from the Soviet Union. Any chance this film was sanctioned by Josef Stalin and likely Stalin's owners and puppet masters the Rockefellers?

    BTW, Ducky, why don't you explain the dependent relationship that that Marx had with that old capitalist Engels? Marx, of course, couldn't support himself (he was more than a tad deranged) and was a kept man supported by Engels, no?

  7. Duck, you're absolutely incorrigible.

    Try to hand you an olive branch, and you try to use it for a sllngshot to pelt pebbles at my face.

    There could not have been a happier person on the planet than I when I received the news some years ago that that filthy Commie cunt had finally succumbed to cancer.

    It couldn't have happened to a more deserving individual.

  8. Now, now, Freethinker. I would have expected that you would have accepted her position that the modern era has produced sensory overload that is diminishing art.

  9. Sure, but I didn't need HER to tell me that. I saw it for myself when you were just a toddler.

    EVERYBODY has redeeming features somewhere. She was a good looking woman with considerable intelligence, but an intellectual predator with a perverted worldview in my never humble opinion.

  10. And what are YOUR views on James Bond, Ducky?

    I'm just DYING to know. ;-)

    ~ FT

  11. Of all the Bond characters I liked Pussy Galore far and away the best.

    Ever time I think of Pussy, I start to chuckle -- really do.

  12. Trivial point: that's Roger Moore in the picture, not Sean Connery as captioned.
    Connery's the perfect actor for Bond, and I don't think that's just cos he got there first (Niven doesn't count, no-one was looking).

  13. I take it that Barbara Bouchet was no Moneypenny, either...


  14. You're right, Jez; Thank you for pointing out the error. I'm sure Roger Moore wouldn't think it trivial, if he were to see it.

    I corrected the caption thanks to your keen powers of observation. I must admit I only had eyes for Miss Moneypenny, who was probably my second most favorite character in the Bond series.

    You're right about Sean Connery of course, although having read a couple of Flemings Bond thrillers before Dr. No became a movie, I always envisioned RICHARD TODD as the ideal Bond -- and frankly still do.

    Never cared much for the series after Sean Connery finally escaped from being typecast as Bond -- a role, I understand, he detested.

    Casting Judi Dench as "M," however, was a true stroke of genius. Ms. Dench can't help but brighten and elevate the tone of anything and everything in which she appears.

    ~ FreeThinke

    PS: Too bad we moved so quickly away from Mark Steyn's wonderful style which I had hoped would be the main focus of these discussions. - FT

  15. Is Barbara Bouchet anyone at all, FJ? ;-)

  16. btw - My mom has pictures of herself and David Niven on the set of 55 Days in Peking... she had a small part as the wife of the Russian Ambassador.... at about 3:20 the two of them dance across the bottom of the screen together... ;)

  17. Okay...maybe it wasn't the russian Abassador... it was the bald guy.

  18. What fun!~ I enjoyed David Niven most in Separate Tables and -- believe it or not -- Bonjour Tristesse.

    When I was small, I always thought he looked as though he were smelling something "a bit off." I called it that "I smell tunafish look" at the time. ;-)

    It's hard to believe he started out as a barber, and probably spoke in a rich cockney dialect -- as did Noel Coward, Claude Rains and Cary Grant -- and who knows who all else.

    How exciting that your mother got to dance with him -- ONSCREEN. Whee!

    ~ FT

  19. Was gratified to hear Peter O'Toole in a late night interview with Robert Osborne stress the importance for young actors and actresses of training and developing the voice to maximize it's expressive potential and versatility.

    I wish he had extended his admonition to include politicians -- American ones in particular. Jez and I have had this out to our mutual dissatisfaction more than one already, but he modern notion that "just being natural" is all that needs to be required of public speakers and performers has led to a deplorable succession of tinny, whiny-sounding voices, sloppy diction, uncouth regional accents and an aura of despicable dulness in rigid conformity to an ethos dedicated to maintaining no standards whatsoever.

    To put it bluntly:

    Very frankly unmodified, unpolished, unimproved "natural" speech with rare exceptions is THE PITS.

    It's ONE of the reasons the otherwise wonderful Ron Paul had no real chance of becoming a credible presidential candidate, and why Paul Ryan, who has an unfortunately tinny, flat, uninteresting voice, failed to add much luster and dynamism to the Republican ticket.

    ~ FT

  20. There is much in what you say. It pays to have a unique and "stylish" diction... I know of many an NPR host who has "gone far" on "classical music" radio with their upper British class accents.

  21. Is it because we have so little faith in our own?

    Familiarity breeds contempt.

  22. Speaking of contempt... one doesn't even need to know how to sing anymore, one can autotune their way to stardom.

    Maybe I can buy one of those things for giving me a really cool sounding accent... :)

  23. Speaking is a lot like writing. Doing it well does NOT come "NATCHERLY."

    One must have talent, of course, but one must also be intelligently TRAINED or one is usually stuck with garbled gobbledygook.

    NPR announcers don't have British accents as a rule. Some are very good, some sound of the men sound like a condescending Nancypants. REALLY good speech does not come off as patronizing. Usually it is more SEDUCTIVE-- but not to those who suffer what-I-call reverse snobbery.



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