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Our UK correspondent NICK RODDICK looks back over 37 years of Bond movies - and looks forward to The World Is Not Enough.

Iíd better be honest about this: I started reading the James Bond books when I was at school. Not only was Ian Fleming still alive then, he had only written half-a-dozen 007 novels. And no one had even thought of turning one of them into a movie. The best was yet to come. My English master wouldnít have agreed: for him, more Bond was definitely not better Bond. Coming across me engrossed in Dr No one day, he tore it from my hands and threw it across the room. "What are you reading this junk for?" he spluttered.

Schools were different then: teachers could get away with that kind of stuff. I mean, I wasnít even in an English class. But it didnít stop me reading the books. I carried on, right through to the end, until Fleming died (on August 12, 1964). I even almost met him once.

By 1964, of course, Flemingís most famous creation had become a movie star, striding (in the shape of a 33-year-old Sean Connery with a full head of hair) along an impossibly white Caribbean beach towards a gleamingly wet Ursula Andress emerging from the waters wearing a bikini never to be forgotten - certainly not by Michael Apted, who has just finished directing Bond 19, aka The World Is Not Enough.

"My testosterone never recovered from it." Michael Apted

"Like any young man of my generation," says Apted, "I had been permanently influenced by Ursula Andress and her bikini. My testosterone never recovered from it."

One interesting thing, though: over the 36 years and 17 movies that followed Dr No, James Bond in all his incarnations - from Connery via George Lazenby to Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and now, in perhaps his most successful embodiment, Pierce Brosnan - has executed a distinct sideways movement across the social scene.

In 1962, when Dr No came out at the cinema and On Her Majestyís Secret Service was in Britainís bookshops, Bond was seen as something of a cad - too self-confident to be truly British; too much of a ladies man to be a gentleman as well. The sort of chap, in short, youíd be happy to have spy for Queen and country, but would probably not invite along for a weekendís shooting on the jolly old country estate.

Bond has, however, long since become the epitome of an English gentleman (somewhat ironically, since his two best portrayers have been a Scot and an Irishman). But it wasnít the character that had changed: it was England - and, for that matter, the world.

"a licence to kill, a connoisseur, attractive to women"

"I think of Bond as a pretty consistent character," says Michael G. Wilson, stepson of legendary Bond film creator Cubby Broccoli. Wilson co-wrote all the films from For Your Eyes Only (Bond 12) to Licence to Kill (Bond 16) and has produced or co-produced everything since A View to a Kill (Bond 14). "Like anyone who lives in his world," explains Wilson, "Bond is not unaffected by it. Heís mostly the same character as always, with pretty much the same ideas. But the world has changed around him, so now itís about how this character interacts with the present world.

"Oneís personal view of the James Bond character depends on whether your first exposure was from the books or the films," continues Wilson. "And, if it was from the films, it depends on which actor played the role. In both the books and the films, Bond is a secret agent with a licence to kill, a connoisseur, attractive to women... But in the books, he is a more serious character, consumed with self-doubt, often ruthless and not always successful with women.

"The Sean Connery-style movie Bond had that same ruthless quality - but with humour, not as serious as the books. Roger Moore played the part with an even lighter touch. Timothy Dalton introduced a reflective, thoughtful mood to the role. With Pierce Brosnan, we have gone back to the more serious style established in the earlier films... but with his particular charm and sense of humour."

Initially major hits in Britain, Australasia and throughout Europe, Bond took slightly longer to conquer North America, despite the fact that President John F. Kennedy cited Fleming as one of his favourite writers. But any idea of a quaint British caper movie has been firmly banished since the early eighties, and rendered seriously inaccurate by the massive success of the first two Brosnan movies, GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. Now, the $100-million The World Is Not Enough looks set to take the worldís oldest movie franchise to new heights.

"replete with the usual array of gadgets"

"I am convinced that the tremendous success of the James Bond series can be directly attributed to the quality that the pictures have been able to maintain," says Wilson. "Cubby always insisted on the films having high production values. Barbara [Broccoli, Cubbyís daughter] and I will continue to produce the Bond films the same way and, hopefully, repeat the success of GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies."

Bond 19, The World Is Not Enough, comes replete with the usual array of gadgets (reading glasses which create a blinding flash - plus a spare pair of specs which can X-ray scan for hidden weapons; a set of bagpipes which are in fact both a gun and a flame-thrower; a watch fitted with a miniature grappling hook; a ski-jacket equipped with its own airbag...), girls (French star Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards from Starship Troopers lead the charge this time, with a cameo appearance from Il Postinoís Maria Grazia Cucinotta as the mysterious Cigar Girl) and exotic locations (Turkey, Azerbaijan, France, Spain, the top of Londonís Millennium Dome...).

On the villain front, Robbie Coltrane makes a comeback as ex-KGB controller turned casino-owner Valentin Zukovsky (whose freelance terrorist agency made things difficult for Bond in GoldenEye). Except that, this time around, Zukovsky is not 100% on the side of evil.

The same cannot, however, be said for Full Monty star Robert Carlyle, who plays Renard, a literally ruthless terrorist bent on world domination. He is literally ruthless because an earlier 00 mission placed a bullet in his brain and rendered him impervious to pain.

"consistent quality"

"Walking into a Bond film is like coming into a family," says Carlyle, who recently starred in Antonia Birdís Ravenous and will be seen in Alan Parkerís Angelaís Ashes quite soon. "Most of the crew have worked on as many as 13 or 14 Bonds, which is quite incredible." That may, of course, also go some way to explain the consistent quality of the series.

Oscar-winner Dame Judi Dench returns in the role of M, with Samantha Bond back as Miss Moneypenny. Additionally, the new movie features John Cleese as the assistant Desmond Llewelyn has long insisted Q ought to have; drum-and-base star Goldie as Zukovskyís driver, Bull; Fijian-born John Seru - Vulcan in Gladiators - as Gabor, Sophie Marceauís bodyguard; and Ulrich Thomsen, star of the 1998 Danish Cannes hit The Celebration, as ex-Mossad man Davidov.

As that eclectic line-up suggests, Bond 19 is set very much in the modern, pre-millennial world. Having effortlessly survived the demise of the various Eastern-bloc agencies which furnished its hero with his most fearsome nemeses, the Bond movies now have to operate in a world without an Iron Curtain. But there are, of course, other problems - like dwindling natural resources and the huge and somewhat ill-guarded stockpile of nuclear weapons lying around in the former Soviet Union.

In The World Is Not Enough, Renardís target is apparently the pipeline being built to channel the oil from a major new field under the Caspian Sea to the West. But, as Bond gets closer and closer to his latest rival, this turns out to be only a comparatively minor part of his new adversaryís evil scheme.

And, reckons director Apted - making his Bond debut after a 30-year career which has included features such as Coalminerís Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist and Gorky Park, plus documentaries like the award-winning Seven Up-to-Forty-Two Up series - this is what gives The World Is Not Enough an extra edge.

"fresh and modern"

"With Bond," he says, "Iím inheriting a very successful franchise, but we have to decide which elements to keep and what to change just a little, so that the film is fresh and modern. This Bond has a very topical narrative, on the cutting edge of the news. Itís still escapism - Bond with all the trappings - but itís an interesting dynamic to have the Bond atmosphere, the Bond ethic, in a contemporary story.

"Whenever it came to decisions about what we should or shouldnít change in the Bond mythology, I always deferred to Michael and Barbara. They are steeped in the history of the franchise yet are always open to new ideas. Itís a fine balancing act to know how to preserve whatís powerful from the past and when to inject new blood to keep the films alive for this and future generations."

But on one thing all the Bond people are agreed: it is the casting of Pierce Brosnan as 007 that has really revitalised the series. Brosnan, as was widely reported when GoldenEye came out, had been odds-on favourite for the part back in the mid-eighties, but hadnít been able to get out of his Remington Steele contract. When the second chance came around almost a decade later, the Irish actor leapt at the opportunity.

Everyone, from Wilson to Apted to his co-stars and crew, agrees that Brosnan makes the ideal Bond. But perhaps the ultimate tribute to his playing of the role comes from the franchiseís oldest participant: 84-year-old Desmond Llewelyn, who has been in an amazing 17 of the 19 films, having started with From Russia With Love in 1963.

"Pierce has really made the role of Bond his," Desmond Llewelyn

"Pierce has really made the role of Bond his," says Llewelyn. "Heís got something Sean never had: Irish charm. Iím a Welshman, but I think the Irish can outdo both the Scots and the Welsh with their odd charm. There is something there that I donít think any of the other Bonds have had. I may be prejudiced, but it has been absolutely marvellous working with him."

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