You know his name; you know his number. A license to kill, penchant for beautiful women and an annoying knack for defying any plans his enemies have of an amusing death for him. I’m talking about 007 himself, James Bond.
I wonder how many of you reading this were introduced to the world’s most famous spy by your father?
Summer 1987 and my dad took this 10-year-old boy to the cinema in Truro, Cornwall, to watch The Living Daylights. Sadly, I don’t remember anything about this. Believe me, I wish I did for reasons I’ll explain later. Apparently, I enjoyed it whilst dad was disappointed by the film and Timothy Dalton’s performance. At 12, I was too young to watch 1989’s violent and nasty Licence to Kill (15) so fast-forward to 1995 and I’m 18, in my first year at drama school and full of Bond-esque confidence, swagger and an arrogant sense of invincibility. My dad would argue there’s a useful four-letter word and I was full of that too.
This time it’s Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye. Dad, mum and my then girlfriend head to another Cornish cinema, this time in Penzance. I certainly remembered this trip. I left in bewildered awe at how an actor could possibly be so staggeringly suave, smoulderingly sexy and effortlessly elegant. No not me, but Pierce Brosnan. For dad and I, Brosnan was James Bond. He was born to play that part. Dad had been championing Pierce ever since he’d watched The Long Good Friday back in the eighties and was thrilled when he finally landed the role and began filming.
My dad, appropriately christened James but known as Séamus or Jim, was born in Ireland in 1943 and 19 years old when Sean Connery introduced us to the Martini drinking spy. Although he enjoyed Connery and his films, he always thought that the role made Connery more than Connery made the role. Yes, I know that’s a controversial opinion, particularly coming from someone that grew up with Connery as their first Bond, but this is the beauty of 007. We all have our favourites and there isn’t a right or wrong.
Brosnan opened a whole new world for me. Bond had always been there and I’d enjoy watching The Spy Who Loved Me or Goldfinger on a Sunday afternoon if they were on TV, but I went back to the source and devoured Fleming’s books ferociously. I wanted to know everything I could about 007. I made notes and highlighted sections in the pages of the novels. My dad’s VHS tapes of older Bond films were dusted off and watched over and over until the fuzzy lines appeared.
I remember the teaser trailer for Tomorrow Never Dies playing before whichever film it was in 1997 and insisting dad go to watch the same film so he could see the trailer himself. He did. We were both bitterly disappointed when Brosnan was dropped after Die Another Day, despite its commercial success. For what it’s worth, we both loved it. I still do. Yes, I titter at the kite-surfing CGI and wince at Jinx’s dialogue (“Yo’ mama”, anyone?) and I cringe at how Brosnan says “Mojito?” but it’s full of great action and, questionable pronunciation aside, Pierce is still dangerously cool.
Bond, and Brosnan, undoubtedly brought my dad and I closer. We were close anyway (our whole family still is) and I always thought of my dad as superhuman. A brief poem springs to mind. “With hands like spades and a heart full of love, my father, my father.” He was the first name on the list for my Stag Party. He was a great friend and well as a kind, patient, funny, intelligent man. Questionable taste in music, but that’s any dad.
Then along came Daniel Craig (who?). After his casting, like many others, I went straight to Blockbuster Video (for you youngsters, think Netflix, but in shop form), rented Layer Cake and told dad to do the same. We were of the same opinion; the franchise was in excellent hands and moving forwards in a brave and exciting new direction. Due to various circumstances, we didn’t see Casino Royale together but we watched it independently as soon as we could. Whilst I enthused about Craig’s performance and immediately proclaimed him to be the best Bond yet, dad was more measured. “He was excellent, but I need to see more.” Four films later, and Craig is unquestionably my personal favourite with Brosnan second. My dad couldn’t make his mind up. If he were to put on a comfort Bond film it would either be The World Is Not Enough or Casino Royale. Perhaps we’re allowed to have joint favourites after all.
As the sky fell on Daniel Craig’s time in her majesty’s secret service and he hung up his Walther PPK, he didn’t live and they let him die. Yes, they did the unthinkable and bumped 007 off. James Bond had time to die at the end of No Time to Die.
Bond’s death and the subsequent confusion, even anger, I felt afterwards is the reason I write this.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer in June 2018. Years of operations, chemotherapy and immunotherapy kept it at bay until it couldn’t be tamed. He was told in September 2021 that he had about 6-9 months left. Due to his vulnerable state, Covid-19 and his need to isolate, a cinema trip to see Bond 25 wasn’t possible for him.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview screening of No Time to Die in Leicester Square. Within the first few minutes of the film starting, my heart sank. Madeline was stroking the back of Bond’s head, he said, “We have all the time in the world,” and Hans Zimmer’s Matera effortlessly blended into John Barry’s iconic tune echoing Bond’s quote.
I knew then that Bond would die.
To me, it seemed obvious. Why else would Bond have said those words and that particular piece of music play? We know what happened to Mrs Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the last time those words were uttered. One of Bond or Madeleine had to go. Be honest, would any of you have cared if it had been Madeleine? Probably not, so it had to be Bond. I then spent the next two hours hoping I was wrong.
Sadly, I wasn’t. Bond saves the day, but can’t save himself as missiles make strawberry jam out of him. Bond was pulverised. And so was I. I felt flat. Deflated. Bond doesn’t die. That’s not right. Why would they do that? Bond was supposed to go home with Madeleine and their daughter to live happily ever after. Was that too much to ask for? Whilst watching events unfold, in the back of my mind like an itch that no amount of scratching would relieve, I had the knowledge that my dad was going to die too and heroes aren’t supposed to die.
With his health deteriorating, we knew we would have to wait for No Time to Die’s home entertainment release and hope he was well enough to watch it. An ex-International squash player, he had the heart and lungs of a much younger man, but he was dying. Throughout his ordeal, which was traumatic for all of us, he never lost his sense of humour and his fighting spirit never let up. Although he would drift off to sleep sporadically and it took a few viewings, he finally managed to watch Bond 25.
We spoke on the phone after. “They killed him. Why would they do that? Bond doesn’t die.” He had the same feelings about it as me and I could hear the confusion and disappointment in his voice, which made me sad.
If my dad hadn’t been dying, perhaps I would have felt differently about No Time to Die’s ending. Craig was a maverick after all, and I can imagine him pushing for Bond’s demise simply because it hadn’t been done before. Perhaps the unique decision to off Bond would be one I applauded rather than lamented. I can understand why it happened. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
I’ve only watched No Time to Die once since the first time (there’s no denying Craig is magnificent, but it’s so bloody depressing) and I haven’t watched it since my dad died in the early hours of May 25th 2022. I have no wish to upset myself, because it would undoubtedly open wounds that are still quite fresh. Maybe I should. Maybe I’ll appreciate Bond’s sacrifice and the poignancy surrounding it. Or maybe it will make me long for an ending that lifts me up and leaves me feeling on an all time high. Attempting re-entry? Keeping the British end up? Heck, I’d even take Christmas coming once a year or a winking fish over this one.
Unlike my dad, James Bond will return. I just wish he, and my dad, hadn’t left in the first place.
For Séamus Joseph Peyton (07/10/43 – 25/05/22)
Beautiful piece of writing Ben. There’s never a good time to die and I can’t help feeling heart broken 💔 True love never dies.
Have so many happy memories of Uncle Seamus a wonderful warm, funny, generous man, with the most beaming smile….as you say dodgy taste in music 🎶 😁…… something you said yourself
“He was a great friend and well as a kind, patient, funny, intelligent man. Questionable taste in music, but that’s any dad”
Gone but certainly not forgotten!!
World was better for him being in it.
Much love Michelle ❤
What a fabulous tribute to two literal heroes. As I’ve said many times before your mum and dad are my parenting heroes! If a leave a fraction of the mark on the world as you dad has I’ll be happy. Sending love to you all x
Sorry for your loss. I hope you have many happy memories with you and your father. Keith