John Gardner’s ‘Licence Renewed’ and the Original Return of James Bond

Article by Patrick Vagg

License Renewed - John Gardner - Richard ChoppingThe campaign of a James Bond novel is often an important way to kick-start sales while also announcing to the world that the arrival of a new adventure of the super spy is imminent. The size and momentum of a campaign is often an indication of the expectation of the novel’s success and the impact it is likely to have in the Bond literary world. The prime example of this theory has, and continues to be the campaign undertaken in the U.K and U.S.A for the release of John Gardner’s inaugural James Bond novel Licence Renewed in 1981.

Although one cannot deny that the campaigns for the most recent continuation novels have been events in themselves, worthy of international press, they still have fallen short of that infamous 1981 campaign.

Sebastian Faulks’ novel Devil May Care celebrated 100 years since Ian Fleming’s birth. In the first half of 2008 the press coverage leading to the novel’s release made it hard not to be aware of its existence. On 27 May 2008, after months of advertising the novel’s release and Fleming’s centenary, the press were treated to a party which  included a model arriving up the Thames on a speedboat with copies of the novel for a party on board the HMS Exeter, two Lynx helicopters circling the ship, and its 205-strong crew on loan by the Royal Navy being used for the occasion.

The media campaign buzz generated around Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche culminated in an invite-only event at St. Pancras Station in London on 25 May 2011. This included a Carte Blanche labeled Bentley, stunt woman as well as model and actress Chesca Miles acting the part of the main bond girl. Royal Marine Commandos abseiled from the roof of the elaborate station to hand Deaver a copy of the novel as he unveiled it to the world’s press.

William Boyd’s 2013 James Bond novel Solo commences with 007 celebrating his 45th birthday with breakfast at the Dorchester hotel in 1969. In a rather ingenious move, to mark the novel’s publication the hotel offered would-be 007 guests the chance to peruse a newspaper and replica copy of the hotel’s breakfast menu from 1969. The package also included a complimentary copy of the novel to read while eating. Boyd also held a press conference and reading at the hotel with Ian Fleming’s niece Lucy, which concluded with copies of the novel being whisked to Heathrow in a fleet of 1969 Jensen cars (Bond’s car of choice in the novel).


Image courtesy of


Photo: Waterstones Picadilly

This year, to mark the publication of the latest continuation novel Trigger Mortis, an interactive pop-up experience, inspired by Anthony Horowitz’s novel was installed at Waterstones Piccadilly, London for the week of the novel’s release. Visitors were immersed in the style of the late 1950s. Walls, shelves and tables filled with books, artefacts, prints and memorabilia of the novel’s era, allowing all to be transported inside the pages of Trigger Mortis.

The scope and interest in these past four events has shown how quickly times have changed. During the later years of John Gardner’s releases, and the full tenure of Raymond Benson, literary James Bond adventures were published with short print-runs and released to little or no fanfare. Benson himself was interviewed as saying bookshops would not even display his novels due to the little interest they attracted.

Each and every release however, has paled in comparison to the campaign undertaken for Licence Renewed 34 years ago. On 21 May 1981 Gardner’s novel successfully relaunched the literary Bond franchise to critical and commercial acclaim (the U.S hardcover edition of Licence Renewed alone sold more than 130,000 copies).

Gardner & Fleming PortraitIn August 1980 Glidrose Publications (now Ian Fleming Publications) approached John Gardner, the well known British author and offered him a licence to assume Ian Fleming’s mantle to renew the adventures of Mr Bond. After a near decade of hibernation the prospect of resurrecting the literary character (which at that time was a mere memory to most and vastly remote from the cinematic equivalent Roger Moore was portraying at the time) must have seemed like a steep hill to climb.

It is interesting to consider whether Glidrose’s drive to bring the character back was a reaction to the outlandishness of EON’s recent release Moonraker, or their attempt to cash in on the huge success of the film series at that stage. Gardner was quoted as saying “It was a challenge, but a little honour“, after the release of the novel. The movies, Gardner said, pose the greatest obstacle to the sequel writing. “People remember the movies far better than the books“.

Fleming was still front and centre in Gardner’s mind though upon undertaking the task of Licence Renewed. Media interviews Gardner did to promote the novel made a point of noting that he had been a “great fan of Fleming’s, and the character of James Bond” (though in later years Gardner would contradict this statement). Gardner was later quoted saying:

I tried to get close to Fleming’s character I enjoyed reading about. I wiped Connery, Moore and Lazenby from my mind; to an extent I wiped the movies in general from my mind“. The author’s photo on the dust jacket was in itself honouring the late Fleming by having Gardner standing in front of his portrait, and Gardner dedicated the novel “in loving memory to Ian Lancaster Fleming“.

This link to the past extended to the cover design of Licence Renewed. In an age when photography was commonly used on book jackets, in this case, a familiar look was chosen to win readers back.

Following on from artists such as Ken Lewis and Pat Marriott, Richard Chopping became the quintessential Bond illustrator with a total of 9 of Fleming’s Bond covers ranging from From Russia with Love to Octopussy and the Living Daylights, all done in a trompe-l’œil style. For the latter title Chopping received such a large payment that the New Yorker called him “the highest paid book-jacket designer in the world.”

In 1979 Chopping was commissioned to return to the subject which made him famous and paint the cover for License Renewed. Once again in a trompe-l’œil style, Chopping’s cover adequately features elements of Gardner’s story, albeit in a less disturbing or evocative way than some of his earlier efforts.

The cover features Bond’s FN Browning pistol 1903, pearls like those worn by Lavender Peacock in the novel, Chopping’s trademark fly, as well as heather and wild iris flowers which represent the novel’s Scottish highland setting. It evokes arguably one of his most notable covers – From Russia, With Love, however, lacks the depth and vividness of his From Russia, With Love art, or his other seminal work on Goldfinger.

Interestingly on License Renewed, although allowed complete creative control for the first time, Chopping noted his regret for that particular work of art.

They asked me to read it, and heather came up in it, and a string of pearls which I used to wear when I was the glamorous dame in the Royal College of Arts pantomimes… It’s a dreadful bit of work. I’m really ashamed of it. I only did it for the money, and I’d lost my touch. It’s quite clear.”

OctopussyA cover artist’s crucial role in a novel’s production (and possible success) is apparent in the majority of cases. Yes, it can be argued that Fleming’s novels did and still would have enjoyed as much success had they not been decorated with Chopping’s beautiful paintings. In the case of Licence Renewed however, after such a long period of time out of the spotlight, the commercial viability of the literary character’s return benefitted immensely by the return of such a recognizable talent and element from the earlier novels.

Times had changed however since Octopussy and the Living Daylights was released in June 1966, and both Glidrose and Gardner felt that an update of the formula was needed.

The most controversial update, which also became one of the novels biggest drawcards was James Bond’s mode of transport; in this case his new Saab 900 Turbo. Like the Bentleys before, the Saab 900 (a model which had only been released in late 1978) is Bond’s personal vehicle of choice. In the novel this was updated at Bond’s expense by a company called Communication Control Systems Ltd (CCS). CCS was a real company that advised John Gardner with ideas about real and feasible gadgets when he was researching for the novel the year earlier.

Gardner commented on the topic upon the books release saying:

“When we started, I said that if you’re going to have a man of the Eighties – conscious of the recession, with limited resources – he’s got to be a bit more like an ordinary human being. He’s got a bit of private money, and I wanted to put him into very much an Eighties motor car”.

To coincide with the release of License Renewed, Saab Automobile, in an unprecedented move at the time, took the opportunity to launch a Bond themed promotional campaign for the sale of their car designed to capitalize on its 007 connection.  “James Bond Has Just Traded His Bentley for a Saab 900 Turbo” ran the headline of full page adverts in the major car publications. While another advert highlighted to the public:

“To get an idea of the way a Saab feels, and moves, and performs, we would like to make two suggestions. Read the book. Or, better yet, come in for a test drive. It could be the beginning of a real adventure.”


The promotional campaign was complete with the development of an actual car outfitted exactly like Bond’s in the novel. This one of a kind advertising tool was completed in 1982, to coincide with the soft cover release of License Renewed.

Bond’s Saab 900 Turbo (or ‘Silver Beast’ as it was nicknamed in the following novel) included features such as a digital head-up display, mobile phone, heated seats, power mirrors, a remote starter, rotating license plates, aircraft headlights hidden behind the license plate, bulletproof glass and tear gas that would spray out of the back of the car (smoke was used instead of tear gas in the real model). In addition its stock 2.0-liter four-cylinder had increased turbo boost which brought top speed up to 170 MPH.

Such a hallmark advertising campaign would later be mimicked by BMW to coincide with the release of the EON films Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies in 1995 and 1997 respectively, but neither achieved the momentum or public awareness as Saab in the early 1980’s. [For the definitive story of Bond’s Silver Beast see]

In recreating literary Bond’s world of excitement and intrigue for the year 1981 the pressure must have been on Gardner to balance the new with the old and create a story just as compelling and descriptive as Fleming weaved so effortlessly decades before.  In all respects he did, to some degree.  But, alas, the times had changed, not only did Gardner have to acknowledge fuel costs had forced Bond to trade his Mark II Continental Bentley, but  his updated Bond was forced to cut down from 60 Balkan cigarettes a day to a newer low tar equivalent. In general, to the modern population reading Gardner’s new adventure, the world of License Renewed must have seemed scantier and blander, with less tautness and brutality as well as significantly less sex drive.

Instead of those trademark Fleming elements we have a less descriptive, but more outlandish scenario of diabolical nuclear threats, terrorists, castles and race meetings at Royal Ascot. All features which mirrored the EON film series, and all easily imagined in the modern tech heavy world of 1981.

Even the sample publication of License Renewed in Readers Digest released in 1981 features illustrations which are easy on the eye, and could easily have been mistaken for a poster of a Roger Moore 007 adventure, as opposed to the darker, more intimate cold war scenes which had been illustrated for many of Fleming’s novels decades before. It must be noted that this art by Readers Digest now ranks as a excellent feature in the history of License Renewed, as such tie in illustrations have rarely been repeated for a Bond continuation novel since.

To this day Licence Renewed remains an oddity. At a time when the words ‘James Bond’ had disassociated itself from the original realism Fleming produced, this book successfully relaunched the literary character and its campaign to do so remains a benchmark for how to do so.

Incidental Intelligence

Bond’s Beast: When 007 Drove Saab

3 thoughts on “John Gardner’s ‘Licence Renewed’ and the Original Return of James Bond

  1. I remember very well the excitement generated by the launch of Licence Renewed. It was a very special time. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book and was so pleased that Chopping did the cover art.
    OK, perhaps it wasn’t his best work but it certainly stands head and shoulders above anything that has adorned a Bond continuation novel of late.
    One of the things that is little commented on regarding Gardner’s Bond novels is the very complete and thorough nature of his re-boot. He really did create a Bond that was correct in every way for 1981. He kept the high old tone and thoroughly updated it and every element was pitch perfect. The status of the ’00 section, his choice of car, clothes etc.. were exactly as Fleming would have had it if he had written his books in the ’80s and personally, I found his first five adventures very creditable.
    My favourite of his remains ‘Role Of Honour’, in my opinion it was his OHMSS. Unfortunately after ‘Nobody Lives Forever’ things did go down hill rapidly and he really should have stopped.

  2. I read the Gardner books as a teenager (my first being the novelization of “Licence to Kill”) before I picked up my first Fleming. It was a wonderful literary discovery . . . made all the more better when I discovered Ian Fleming’s originals!

  3. What a great article!
    I too remember this release.
    The publicity was everywhere! I was bond obsessed with Licence Renewed and For Your Eyes Only coming out the same year. Truly a great time for a bond fan.

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