The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is suited and rebooted down at the movies. And James Bond will soon return in SPECTRE. But what about Bulldog Drummond, the direct inspiration for Ian Fleming's 007 and the rest of the imitators? Will he ever make a comeback? Not bloody likely, old chap.
Bulldog Drummond was the highly popular creation of H.C. "Sapper" McNeile and the novels, now largely forgotten, were huge bestsellers from the 1920s to the 1950s. The character was so successful that when Sapper passed away in 1937, his best friend Gerald Fairlie continued writing the books.
Every fictional hero has a queer origin. And the adventures of Bulldog Drummond begin with an ad in the personal column of the London Times.
"Demobilized Officer, finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate, if possible, but crime, if of a comparatively humorous description, no objection. Excitement essential."
Soon after, Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond, DSO, MC, late of "His Majesty's Royal Loamshires," finds himself up to the eyeballs in a pulp world of wicked foreigners, missing scientists and damsels in distress.
Like James Bond, he is a "sportsman and a gentleman...an unbeatable product," a defender of the realm and a politically incorrect upper-class warrior. But here the comparison ends. The jingoistic nationalism and Anglo-Saxon superiority of Sapper's novels makes Ian Fleming look like a limp-wristed liberal.
The racism of the series is simply appalling. Foreigners are not to be trusted. Neither are Jews. Ditto black people (portrayed as smelly, savage and violent) and communists (dismissed as "dirty"). These are things that make Bulldog Drummond an unacceptable hero today but give an insight into the jingoistic mentality of England in the Nineteen Twenties, or the origins of James Bond.
What I like about Bulldog Drummond is that he is not some super spy womanizer with gadgets and MI6 to back him up when the going gets tough. He is a fearless Englishman, a talented amateur; who decides to become a hero-for-hire on a drunken whim. Who the hell does that in real life?
I was soon to find out. Posted overseas, as the trailing spouse of a diplomat wife, I was in the very same situation as old Bulldog Drummond. I was too rich to work, too intelligent to play (much) and very, very bored by the humdrum existence of expat life. What was I to do?
Rather than go big game hunting in Africa (ahem, that's a no-no in this day and age, old sport!), I went halves on a replica ad with "Algy," the idiot son of the British Ambassador. Instead of running it in the London Times we placed it in the small ads section of Private Eye, the British satirical magazine.
The small ads in the back of Private Eye have long fascinated. Who places them? Idiots and unemployed unemployables like me, I guess. Who answers them? Weirdos that you would rather not want to know, that's who!
The man from Private Eye small ads got back pronto. I had to cut out the bit about crime "for legal reasons."
"Demobilized Officer, finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate if possible. Excitement essential. Reply at once."
It gave me pause to wonder. Could I have run the ad, word for word, in the London Times as Drummond had done in fiction?
Nevertheless, we got a big response... from homosexual Englishmen. One of them -- rumbled after vetting -- went by the online moniker of "Bootshine Boy" and requested pictures of Bulldog Drummond in uniform.
"Dear oh dear. It comes to something when a chap goes looking for adventure only to be trolled by the likes of Bootshine Boy," sighed Algy, my comedy sidekick and gentleman's gentleman. I couldn't have agreed with him more.
Then came intrigue for the men with the schoolboy still in them. Some redbrick dons wanted to recruit our services to look into some dodgy foreigners at a provincial university in England.
Algy was moved to inquire, " Foreigners? Black, Bosh or Bolshevik?"
I advised Algy to maintain radio silence. He had been reading his way through the Bulldog Drummond novels and some of its political incorrectness had rubbed off on him. We needed action. And fast. But alas, there were no missing scientists, fiendish foreigners or damsels in distress; just wooly old professors fiddling pass rates and travel expenses. Case closed.
However, there has been much sport since. Undercover work. Crossing borders illegally. Zigzagging snap shots. Fisticuffs with dastardly ruffians (always foreigners). Arrested for espionage (twice). And, lest I forget, rubbed shoulders with erotic femme fatales. Being a hero for hire, much like Bulldog Drummond, is no bullshit affair.
Now I am posted to America. A cushy life in a new clime and bored once again. I could work my marksmanship down at the gun club. Or study Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the local gym (Drummond learned his behind the French lines of World War One from a Japanese called Olaki).
But what a chap needs is Action with a capital A. And here I am, about to run another ad, seeking adventure in an age found wanting. Should I place it in the Times of London? I just hope "Bootshine Boy" doesn't drop me another line.