Monday, 31 July 2017

The Incredible World of Spy-Fi [books]

How do you feel about spy gadgets? I have a love-hate relationship with them, because when they're put in a TV programme or film and used well, they really enhance the action, but some of the later Bond films - the Pierce Brosnan ones, especially - feel as though the makers picked a few double-entendre names, a selection of locations, and some really silly gadgets (invisible car, anyone?) and then tried to cobble a story around them somehow.

Danny Biederman, on the other hand, is a man who really likes his fictional spy gadgets, because everything in this book is in his personal collection, which he was invited to put in a private exhibition for the CIA. The actual CIA.

I have to say, I envy Biederman his foresight. I can't remember exactly what I was into when I was about middle-school age, but I'm sure I don't still collect it. Biederman got bitten by the spy-fi bug as a child in the 1960s, when the real-world cold war and space race, and fictional James Bond, Mission Impossible et al saw a huge explosion of interest in the genre, collected things, and simply kept on collecting. As he grew up, his collection became more ambitious, so he's got Blofeld's actual desk from From Russia With Love. That desk hadn't stayed in the hands of the film-makers, it belonged to the managing director of the Hertford Handbag Company, but he tracked it down. The tarantula from Dr No spent time decorating a nightclub before Biederman had it. Ilya Kuryakin's cigarette pack transmitter very nearly ended up in a bin; Biederman rescued it from a trashcart.

The story of the fag-packet transmitter's rescue is typical of the stories in this book: a tale of passion for things a lot of other people simply didn't value at the time. Because Biederman started young, and is American, there's a clear skewing, Bond aside, towards American shows and films. Bond, The Man From Uncle and Mission Impossible are all household names still, but I found the extensive amount of Wild Wild West (TV show, not the Will Smith film) material surprising, not to mention Get Smart. There's next to nothing of The Avengers - though what he does have is iconic. Steed's bowler hat and Mrs Peel's leather trousers. Ay caramba. I wish there were more information on the latter, because Honor Blackman wore leather trousers for her action sequences, whereas Diana Rigg hated them and switched to crimplene, and I'd love to know how they can be certain that these are Mrs Peel's trousers, not Mrs Gale's. They had been in the possession of one of the show's directors, though, and I guess if you're going to keep a pair of leather trousers for decades, it'll be because you have fond memories of the lady who wore them...

I don't think I'd ever have bought this book. I picked it up from the trash pile when we had an office move/clear-out at the start of the year. It looks, on the surface, like fluff, and it is mostly fluff, but the fact that it's one person's collection, and he's included his reminiscences not just of how the items appeared on screen, but how he came into the possession of each one, gives the book extra depth and interest. I'm glad I rescued it from the trash - even if it's not a cigarette packet communicator.

13 comments :

  1. This book looks like a gem of a read, especially since it was free. I loved all the gadgets in Bond films and all the upgrades to Bond's car. A bit harder to watch now for the rampant (if you excuse the phrase) sexism but it was of it's time. Oh and Sean Connery! Xx

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    1. I still enjoy watching them.

      I do like the fact that Roger Moore is basically the male equivalent of a Bond girl name - and as his Bond had more liasons than any other, he lived up to it.

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  2. I loved the gadgets in Bond films as much as I loved the crazy stuff in the 1960s series of Batman - remember shark repellent?
    I'm pretty sure Jon's got that book somewhere. If anyone's in doubt as to what to buy him they'll always get him something Bond related! xxx

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    1. Aaah, Batman! I have a lot of affection for that. It never seems to get repeated anywhere nowadays.

      I had no idea Jon liked Bond!

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  3. Looks like an interesting read, Mim. That's a book Jos would be interested in too, so one we'd certainly pick up if we saw it somewhere cheap while on our travels. It's a pity though that there's not much about The Avengers ... xxx

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    1. It does make me wonder where all the Avengers stuff ended up. In a skip, probably.

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    2. I've wondered that, too. I've seen a few pieces announced for exhibit over the years, but you don't really see one giant collection of Avengers props and costumes. My pal John Buss (Little Storping Museum site) has many Peel outfits sold through the department stores. Danny Biederman does have a Steed bowler in the book, which I hope to photograph for my upcoming Spy Vibe book :)

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  4. I have loved gadgets ever since we started watching Bond movies as kids (the OLD ones, the ones with glitz and glitter and over-the-top items). It gave an endless potential of dreaming and imagining - so I can understand how someone can dedicate their life to collecting such gems. :)

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    1. Yeah, the old Bonds are the best - though I do enjoy the Daniel Craig ones too, as they pulled things more back in line with the earlier films.

      I'm amazed he kept his collection in such good condition. Most of us either play with (and break) our toys, or get rid of them when we're older.

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  5. What a nice find! Worth rescuing. I'm sure I'd find it interesting too. Collectors always have such good stories x

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    1. It's the human dimension that really makes the book. I guess that's what lures many of us to vintage - we don't just love the things in themselves, but the history and stories they bring with them, even if we can only guess at it.

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  6. Bet that is fascinating to flick through. I do like a look at other people's collections.

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    1. It's so much better than I expected - I thought I'd read it and charity shop it, but I think I'll keep it.

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