007 MAGAZINE - The World's Foremost James Bond Resource!

From the Archive
Issue #28 (October 1995)


John Gardner

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, John Gardner's James Bond novels have divided the Bond enthusiasts' community. While being successful in America, the books have met with less acclaim in the UK. Now nearly equalling lan Fleming's output of original James Bond novels, it is high time that Gardner's contribution to the James Bond myth is examined in the depth it deserves.

The James Bond Bedside Companion author Raymond Benson visited John Gardner in March 1993 for this exclusive interview. During their lengthy conversation Benson assesses each of the Gardner 007 novels and discusses how they stand as works in their own right and how the author has developed the character of James Bond into a man for the 1990s.

The first in a new series of James Bond novels was published in 1981. Its title was LICENCE RENEWED - the author John Gardner.

Over the years, Mr. Gardner has received varying degrees of praise and criticism from the public and Bond fans alike. It seems no one can agree on the merits of his works, despite the fact that the books have sold extremely well in the United States (but oddly enough, not as well in the UK).

It was 1980 when the board of directors of Glidrose Publications Ltd (copyright holder of the James Bond literary property, and now called Ian Fleming Productions Ltd.) decided to bring 007 back to the printed page. The last attempt after Ian Fleming's death resulted in the excellent COLONEL SUN by Robert Markham, a pseudonym for Kingsley Amis. At the time, it was thought that several different authors would write a Bond novel, each using the Markham moniker. COLONEL SUN was only moderately successful sales-wise despite its excellence, so the idea was scrapped. Apart from two film novelizations by Christopher Wood JAMES BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and JAMES BOND AND MOONRAKER) in 1977 and 1979 respectively, and 1973's brilliant JAMES BOND: THE AUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY OF 007 by John Pearson, Bond had not been seen in print in any new adventures for over a decade.


In finding an author, Glidrose apparently tossed a few names around and ended up with five possibilities. First on the list was John Gardner.

To date, there have been twelve Gardner Bonds published, not including a film novelization (Licence To Kill) which the author does not consider part of his Bond oeuvre. Negotiations are in the works for more - but only a couple more, most likely. Gardner has expressed a wish to move on to other things. It is also felt that since Ian Fleming wrote fourteen titles in all, Gardner should stick to this number as well.

I readily admit that I had trouble warming to Gardner's James Bond. Like most fans of the late Ian Fleming, reading another author's attempts to breathe life into what was a very personal creation for Fleming elicited a certain protectiveness on my part. John Gardner is not Ian Fleming, nor does he try to be. Granted, there are certain traditional elements that he must include in his books, such as the so-called “Fleming Effect” - the rich attention paid to detail and minutiae. But from the beginning, Gardner has written in his own voice, which is certainly the only way any writer could be expected to work. It took a bit of time for me to understand this and to begin taking the new Bond books at face value.

I have grown to admire the Gardner books (some much more than others), and I believe they have value in the James Bond enthusiast's world. I especially think that they would make excellent bases for films, and am perplexed as to why their potential has never been exploited. Most of the Gardner books read like screen treatments (though the author vehemently rejects the notion that he wrote them with this in mind). Nevertheless, they are actually more “filmable” than Fleming's original works (I wish you'd tell Mr. Broccoli that! John exclaims), in that they are action-oriented and seem structured like a film. In many ways, I think they're better than the “original” scripts the filmmakers are coming up with.

I had the great pleasure of visiting Mr Gardner in March 1993 for a lengthy interview at his spacious home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He was quite a trooper during the interview, as he was having difficulty with sciatica and really didn't feel up to sitting and talking all day. (Ian Fleming had sciatica problems, too. A coincidence, or is James Bond just a pain in the...?) His comments appear in italics throughout the following. John Gardner was born in 1926 in the village of Seaton Delaval, near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the northeast of England. His father was a priest in charge of a church in the mining community. He lived there until the age of seven, when his family moved south. There, his father became head administrator at a girls' school. Gardner admits that he did not take to school at all, and that growing up in this Catholic environment was “weird”. During his teens, he fancied becoming a magician. He became fairly adept and performed in front of audiences for years. When war broke out he lied about his age to enlist and after serving in the Royal Marines, he studied at Cambridge and St. Stephen's House at Oxford.

After the war I ended up in journalism. I concentrated on the theatrical arts, and even wrote some plays. I sent one play to the BBC. They wrote back and said, 'We don't find anything wrong with your play, but on the other hand, we don't find anything right with it, so we suggest you turn to some other kind of work.' This only hardened my resolve to keep writing.

John Gardner photographed by Raymond Benson

The Liquidator Paperback Front
The Liquidator Paperback Back

Gardner became a full-time theatre reviewer, based at Stratford-Upon-Avon, just as Peter Hall was leading the Royal Shakespeare Company to new glory. He covered most major classical theatre in the late Fifties/early Sixties and was the first British journalist to attend the full series of first nights at Stratford in a season. It was at this time that he began to write something for publication.

After working on an auto­biographical book, Gardner wrote The Liquidator, published in 1964. It was a blatant spoof on James Bond (although he denies it was specifically a jab at 007), and was a surprise success.

The main character, Boysie Oakes, was an assassin for the British Secret Service, but he was a coward and secretly hired hit men to do his dirty work for him! In addition, he became ill on aeroplanes.

My first piece of fiction, unhappily for me, was an overnight success. In a way, this was very bad for me. I carried on working as a journalist for about a year after that success. After the second Boysie Oakes book, one newspaper said that, “Gardner writes full time now”. Well, I'd been writing full time for years! But that statement in the press prompted me to leave journalism and become self-employed.

Gardner wrote more Boysie Oakes books and two novels about Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Later books, such as The Garden of Weapons and The Nostradamus Traitor, were more in the realistic style of John Le Carré.

During the Eighties, while writing the Bond's, he wrote the critically acclaimed Secret Generations trilogy.

John Gardner Moriarty books - cover art by George Sharp

I work seven days a week, unless I’m out on research or a vacation. I would much rather be living in my real world, which is fiction, because the world we're in at the moment is fantasy!