Friday, March 26, 2010

I Spy with my little eye...

...and I see something...(Name a colour!) Most of us have played this game in childhood. It's great for passing the time on car trips, or anytime you are stranded somewhere with nothing better to do. The I SPY series of books by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo are very popular with children of all ages--or anyone who loves picture puzzles.

Another popular book on a spying theme for older children is Eric Walters' Camp X. This is World War II historical fiction for the middle school set. What I find most appealing about it is that its setting is the real life training school for spies, located in the small town of Whitby, Ontario Canada.
Rather than attempt to review it myself, here is a great review from Canadian Review of Materials, the online journal of the Manitoba Library Association, published by the University of Manitoba.
(In case this link doesn't work, just copy and paste it in the address bar.)

The real life spy master Sir William Stephenson even has a small role in the book! The reason this book is a fave of mine is that I love historical fiction and any attempt to bring Canadian heroes to the attention of young, impressionable minds is a great thing.

So who was William Stephenson? The answer to this question has filled several books and countless web pages, so I will attempt to fill you in as briefly as possible!
Formerly a Canadian hero from World War One, later a businessman, Stephenson made his fortune from his invention which could transmit photographs by wireless, (a forerunner of the present day fax machine). His trips into Germany in the 1930's alerted him to Europe's danger from Hitler and he made a point of warning Winston Churchill, (then only a British member of Parliament) of his misgivings. Churchill rewarded him later when he became Prime Minister by making him responsible for wartime intelligence in North America. Stephenson became one of the main leaders of the organization that would later morph into the CIA. As head of Camp X, he oversaw around 2,000 trainees in covert operations from Britain, Canada, and the U.S. graduate from 1941 to 1945. Once of these graduates was Ian Fleming (the author of the James Bond series of books). Fleming is quoted as saying: "James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is ... William Stephenson."

Ian Fleming in his study with a copy of For Your Eyes Only (April 1960). (Photo by Evening Standard / Getty Images) 

Now, before I go on with the obvious and get into all that marvelous Bond stuff...I need to mention some other favourite fictional spies.

Firstly, in the television realm there were several spy shows which came out in the Cold War era. I was too young to remember I SPY, but my older sisters fondly remember it. And I mention it only because one of its stars is one of my fave comedians/actors -- Bill Cosby! It came out in 1965 and lasted 3 seasons in each of which Cosby won an Emmy award as best dramatic actor! This series made American television history as the first time an African-American had co-starred in a series. His co-star was Robert Culp.

 One series I do remember watching was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This series starred Robert Vaughn and the British heartthrob David McCallum. He must have been my first crush...and I was too young for that! He had the most astounding character name Ilya Kuryakin. I used to love to say it. It sounded so foreign and mysterious! The show lasted from 1964-1968, but I must have watched it in re-runs because we didn't have a TV until around 1965 and the CBC network didn't pick up all the American shows when they first came out anyway. (That's all I had folks -- one channel!)

I watched this one in re-runs too. Who can forget Sam Steed and Emma Peel as The Avengers?
It was a very classy show with a witty sparkle.  Dianna Rigg went on to even greater fame but not before being one of the Bond girls.

And now, for my most favourite television show, possibly of all time...Get Smart! No, not the movie, although of any working actors today Steve Carrell does come the closest to imitating Don Adams's madcap humour. With Barbara Feldon, Don Adams and a slew of other zany characters, Get Smart! was a spoof of spy films and shows, that you really have to see to appreciate.
I found another wonderful video on Youtube, with some great clips from the show to the tune of "Secret Agent Man". I like the Get Smart theme too, but as I was going to use the other song anyway, I am attempting some multitasking here. Unfortunately I can't embed it on my blog, so please click here to see it: Get Smart Tribute

Here is one last television show that I fondly remember from the 1970s. It was about a group of friends who had fought together for the Resistance in World War II and are reunited years later to fight crime in the scenic French Riveria. They each had a code name of an animal, hence the title The Zoo Gang. It was based on a book by Paul Gallico. Besides the awesome cast of Brian Keith, Lilli Palmer, John Mills, and Barry Morse, it was further distinguished by having its theme music written and performed by Paul McCartney (and Wings).

John  LeCarré was another author of spy novels, many of which were made into movies. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was written in 1963 and was made into a movie with the great Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in 1965. I love both of these actors, but Burton really does give one of the best  performances of his life in this film.

Another television show I never had the pleasure of watching (but my sister did) was The Saint starring Roger Moore. (later of James Bond fame).
I did however, see the movie version of this starring Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue. Although it didn't get rated very highly on (perhaps from people who prefer the original series), I really enjoyed watching it -- more than once! The hero hides his identity by taking the name of different Christian saints, and he is a master of disguise, so he always eludes his enemies.
 The two stars have a lot of romantic chemistry and it is very exciting both as a romance and an action flick. One of the most unforgettable scenes for me has the heroine running from the bad guy Russian towards the American embassy. He almost catches her before the gate is slammed in his face by a stalwart American soldier while she gasps for breath just inches away from him but a world apart. Maybe it's hokey -- but it's great entertainment!

Now, I may lose all credibility here, but I need to admit that one of my guilty pleasures and what I believe to be one of the best movies that Hollywood-style movie making has to offer is...(duhn duhn duhnnnn)...True Lies (1994) with Arnold Swartzeneger! I know! I can hardly believe it myself! Especially when I tell you that Tom Arnold is absolutely hilarious in the movie! And I mustn't forget Jamie Lee Curtis. Her transformation from dowdy, boring wife, mother and 9 to 5 secretary to sexy call-girl spy maven is nothing short of miraculous! In short, this movie has it all...comedy, romance, mystery, and more action than you would believe could fit in one movie! It's a roller coaster ride of thrills and fun! I have watched this movie many times, and it just doesn't get old!

Well, I've avoided it long's time to mention all those James Bond movies, because who can talk about spies without mentioning Bond...James Bond. Can you admit to being a bit "shaken" or "not stirred" by at least one of his personas? (Don't forget to vote in the poll at the side of the page for your favourite Bond actor).
What I'd like to mention about Bond movies are the theme songs! Haven't there been some great ones? Here are some of my faves!
Sheena Easton singing For Your Eyes Only:
 Carly Simon sings "Nobody Does it Better" 
from The Spy Who Loved Me
And since I do like Paul McCartney, 
here's his "Live and Let Die"

Now, perhaps it's because the '70s was my era that I picked all 3 songs from Roger Moore films. So here's a tribute 
to Sean Connery's films:

And just for a little screen trivia, do you know in which Bond film the lovely Dianna Rigg (of The Avengers fame) appeared?
It's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond is played for the only time by George Lazenby in this movie. It's also the only movie where Bond falls in love and proposes to his co-star in this scene! Now can't you just guess what happens to her before the end? Well, if you can't -- I'm not going to tell. Big hint though-- in the rest of the movies he's a bachelor!
I'm not necessarily a fan of this actor, but for interest sake alone, this movie is worth watching.

Here's my vote for best-looking Bond. He's also been a big crush of mine since he appeared in Remington Steele in the '80s. Who is that, you might ask? None other than Pierce Brosnan! Yes, he was a very good Bond, but I still have a soft spot for Sean Connery (must be the accent).
 I wasn't too crazy about Timothy Dalton as Bond, and while Daniel Craig was very good in his first Bond film, the second film was so bad, I found it unwatchable. Not the fault of Craig's acting though. I'd put it down to a bad script.
So who might be the next James Bond, if indeed they continue the franchise?
Well, I have a little secret. Right now he is acting in a spy series on the BBC called Spooks in Britain and MI-5 in North America.  Well, he's not really a secret, at least to his fans, but very few people on this side of the pond seem to have heard of him.
Here is Richard Armitage as Lucas North, a modern day spy who came in from the cold.

In case that doesn't convince you, here is a video of him in Season 7 of Spooks to the tune of From Russia With Love made by fanvidder extraordinaire Spikesbint.

Please click on the title part of the video to watch in full screen on Youtube. This video cannot be displayed properly on this Blog and you shouldn't miss a millimeter of it!


tyme_4_t said...

Love the spy post...but I have a confession...I hate James Bond movies...I know I know...but I have tried to watch and I just can't get into them. I enjoy many of the actors/actresses that have been in those movies but I just don't enjoy them.

I have a recommendation for you Phylly (to redeem myself) Check out "Cambridge Spies" if you haven't already.

Excellent photo choice of really do like his blue suit/red tie! Maybe RA's people should hire you and I to be his PR people in Canada, but we'd have to go to London to spend time with RA....

tyme_4_t said...

btw...that is a dvd I recommended

Phylly3 said...

That looks like a fabulous miniseries! Toby Stephens AND Rupert Penry-Jones together! Wow! I am sure had I already seen it, it would have had a nice spot in my blog. Maybe I'll have to update this post someday. I forgot to include the Mission Impossible tv show, I loved Barbara Bain and Martin Landau, and the great theme music.
Thanks for the input! And for anyone else out there, here's the link to the review of Cambridge Spies at

Starheart said...

I LOVE True Lies!
And I don't care who knows it! Muahahaha! Go Jamie Lee you sexy thang.

Actually Phylly have you heard 'The world is not enough' by Garbage? I think it was the theme for one of the Dalton 007s. I used it as my SMS ringtone. For calls I had 'The good, bad and the ugly'. So camp.

Phylly3 said...

Oh goody! I'm not the only one!! I just listened to your's very good, I know I've heard the song before, but I don't remember that band name at all --Garbage! If my band had that name, I'd dump it for sure! Har!Har!

Traxy said...

Ah, The Man from UNCLE with David McCallum, nowadays playing Ducky in NCIS. :) Not a fan of James Bond, although the newest ones are okay... except they're not really 007 movies really, to be fair, they're more plain action flicks. "Die Another Day" I thought was pretty awful, but the villain was fab... but then again, he was played by Toby Stephens. ;)

Welcome to the blogosphere! Looking forward to reading more of your posts! :)

Phylly3 said...

Traxy, thanks for mentioning NCIS, I was going to but I didn't want to go on too long about him. He's certainly not much of a looker now! :(
I agree about Bond being too much about the action, but then most directors are trying to appeal to the 18 to 25 year old male audience and that seems to be what they want to watch. It's about as clever as a sledgehammer to the head!
That's probably why I like the old Sean Connery ones best. It was a bit more tongue-in-cheek. Like they were winking at the audience, kind of like Season 1 of Robin Hood.

tyme_4_t said...

Have you seen The 39 Steps with RPJ? I really enjoyed it...light fare but enjoyable.

And I love Ducky!!
You have also piqued my interest in Sir W. Stephenson. I vaguely recall hearing/reading about him but now will be on the lookout for books on him.

Phylly3 said...

@tyme_4_t Yes! I did see the 39 Steps and Rupert Penry Jones was eminently watchable as usual. Maria Grazia did a great review at her blog Fly High!
However, since this Blog is about my Faves, I guess it didn't impress me enough to qualify for a separate mention. Thanks for mentioning it here though! I'd like to see the original version again and then maybe I would have a better opinion.

Phylly3 said...

Oh and P.S. about William Stephenson...
I have added some links (which I should have included the first time) so thanks for your interest!!

mulubinba said...

My sister had a huge picture of David McCallum hanging on her cupboard and as we shared a room, I woke up every morning to those eyes staring at me I loved the old versions of The Saint and The Persuaders (Roger Moore and Tony Curtis). Have you ever seen Torn Curtain with Paul Newman and was it Julie Andrews? Very old and dated but good entertainment. Smiley's People. Love most of the James Bonds but I don't have a favourite. Can you tell I adore Spy stories?? I'm not sure about RA as a Bond but I could see him playing a character in a good spy movie - maybe the script is waiting to be written for him ...

Avalon said...

Another awesome post.
My mother liked Get Smart but I have never seen it. I liked True Lies. I remember people going overboard about Jamie Lee Curtis having to use a body double in certain scenes. I have never cared for Bond or really any spy movie...well untill Spooks and that was only because of RA.
I have been offline recovering from surgery and wondered if I had missed your next post. Glad to be back.

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

If this post had a theme song (besides "Live and Let Die") it would be "Secret Agent Man." haha. :)
I'm not a fan of Bond movies, but might change my mind if RA took it on. I liked watching "Get Smart" on Nick at Nite when I was a kid. And I hate to admit it, but Austin Powers makes me laugh. (I don't know if that counts since it's a spoof and perverted!)

Anonymous said...

What a comprehensive review of the options you offer us! This was great to read. I have mixed feelings about the Bond movies, but I, too, loved Remington Steele in the 1980s and was happy when Pierce Brosnan got the role; I felt he was much better than Timothy Dalton, who seemed cold and brutal to me. I would be happy for Mr. Armitage if he got offered the role and wanted to take it, and I would certainly watch him on the big screen!