Within Britain, the years immediately following the Second World War were marked by austerity, while the Suez Crisis of 1956 made it clear that the UK was no longer the political superpower or soldier he had long boasted of being. “At that time Britain needed a new history and a new way of understanding itself,” said John Higgs, author of Love and Let Die: Bond, The Beatles and the British Psyche, at BBC Culture. “For the previous two centuries we knew what we were – a global empire. The story we told ourselves was of Britannia ruling the waves and the sun never setting over the British Empire. Our feeling This is where Bond and the Beatles – and the embrace of modernity – came in. They gave us examples of who we wanted to be.
The sudden downfall of the imperial status quo, coupled with a growing consumer society, paved the way for a radical transformation of British values, led by popular culture. As working-class musicians from the North of England with little formal training, The Beatles defied all preconceptions about the emergence of high art. Their appearance was surprisingly androgynous, their accents pure and their followers adoring. “The band’s unique sound and image suggested to young audiences that success didn’t mean following a prescribed path,” Christine Feldman-Barrett, author of A Women’s History of the Beatles, told BBC Culture. “The Beatles demonstrated that trying something new and channeling your talents – no matter your background or who you were – could be a winning combination. It was a powerful message in 1962. It seemed to herald the future. Given the way young women featured in the band’s early history — including their devout female fanbase — it was a future that also included women as key players. In this dynamic new world that The Beatles symbolized and implied, everyone mattered and everyone was welcome to join in the fun.”
Love Me Do peaked at 17 on the UK charts, the first step in a meteoric rise to unprecedented heights of stardom. Much of the British establishment had no idea what hit them. Conservative politician Ted Heath, then Lord Privy Seal and future Prime Minister, snobbishly remarked in 1963 that he had trouble recognizing the Beatles’ Liverpudlian accents as “Queen’s English”. John Lennon fired back, “We’re not going to vote for Ted”. Two years later, Heath’s party had been duly removed from office and the Beatles were at Buckingham Palace to collect their MBEs.
Bond and the Beatles Affinity
Like the Beatles, the cinematic James Bond set a new pattern for British life. Ian Fleming’s novels, beginning with Casino Royale in 1953, had portrayed Bond as a largely reactionary figure. It was the casting of working-class actor and former Edinburgh bodybuilder Sean Connery that transformed Bond on the big screen into a dynamic, modernizing hero worthy of the sixties. As producer Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli reflected in his autobiography, “Physically, and in general personality, he was too crude to be a replica of Fleming’s upper-class agent. It suited us well, because we were looking to give our 007 a much broader box office appeal.” So the modern action hero was born, combining a quintessentially English sense of style with a tough, transatlantic recklessness, entirely divorced from the self-effacing, aristocratic “gentleman heroes” of earlier British thrillers like Bulldog Drummond. Some moviegoers were as confused by Connery’s regional accent as Ted Heath had been by that of the Beatles. “If you look at the reviews of Dr No, the American reviews, they can’t place his accent, they think he’s Irish,” Llewella Chapman, author of Fashioning James Bond, told BBC Culture.