“Disinformation Served…Coffee and a Cover-up”: ‘Moonraker’ by Gerald Wadsworth

We are delighted once again, to unveil Gerry Wadsworth latest creation! Here in his own words, Gerry discusses the creative process behind his tribute to Moonraker.

One of the many joys of the creative process and working with the Bond stories is the “what if” opportunities the character offers us. We can imagine some event that precedes a new assignment, or, conversely, conceive of a “what happens next” scenario, as Anthony Horowitz so deftly creates in Trigger Mortis, as a follow-up adventure to Flemings’ original Goldfinger. We are given a broad palette of personal characteristics, behavioral consistencies and idosyncrasies, flaws and desires, and we are able to recreate some new or imagined event within that framework, just so long as the details and character ring true to the original.

In From Russia With Love, we have within the chapter “The Soft Life” an exacting description of Bond’s favorite meal of the day…breakfast. It begins, thanks to Fleming, with a category of personal tastes: “very strong coffee from De Bry in New Oxford Street, brewed in an American Chemex and drunk black with no sugar. A single brown speckled egg from a French Marans hens, boiled for three and a third minutes and served in a dark blue egg cup with a gold ring around the top. Two thick slices of whole wheat toast, a pat of deep yellow Jersey butter, three jars containing Tiptree “Little Scarlet” strawberry jam, Cooper’s Vintage Oxford Marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnum’s. The coffee pot and silver are Queen Anne, the coffee cup is Minton with the same dark blue, gold and white as the egg cup.

Moonraker: "Disinformation Served…Coffee and a Cover-up" ...in which we find Bond back in London after a hair-raising escape from ex-Nazi Hugo Drax. Bond, with the help of agent Gala Brand, recalibrates the guidance system of the rocket, Moonraker (and its nuclear payload) back to its original coordinates and away from London. The two agents successfully foil Draxs’ plans for the destruction of the City. Draxs’ attempt to escape in a Russian submarine proves disastrous for him, his 50 ex-Nazi Werewolf assistants, and the Russian crew. The rocket crash lands at the recovery site and blows up the sub as it passes under the target zone. Whitehall then goes into full damage control and spins the death of "National Hero" and "Great Patriot" Hugo Drax as a tragic loss to the nation. The PM convinces the Press to publish Whitehall's version of the truth and they comply. M tells Bond that the government is "going to try the biggest cover-up in history." Back at his Chelsea flat, Bond enjoys his favorite meal of the day - breakfast - and reads the government's disinformation campaign on the Moonraker disaster in the only paper he ever reads...The Times.

Moonraker: “Disinformation Served…Coffee and a Cover-up” …in which we find Bond back at his Chelsea flat, enjoying his favorite meal of the day – breakfast – and reading the government’s disinformation campaign on the Moonraker disaster in the only paper he ever reads…The Times. After a hair-raising escape from ex-Nazi Hugo Drax, Bond, with the help of agent Gala Brand, recalibrates the flight path of the rocket, Moonraker, with its nuclear payload away from London. The two agents successfully foil Draxs’ plans for the destruction of the City. Draxs’ attempt to escape in a Russian submarine proves disastrous for him, his 50 ex-Nazi Werewolf assistants, and the Russian crew. The rocket crash lands at the recovery site and blows up the sub as it passes under the target zone. Whitehall then goes into full damage control and spins the death of “National Hero” and “Great Patriot” Hugo Drax as a tragic loss to the nation. The PM convinces the Press to publish Whitehall’s version of the truth and they comply. M tells Bond that the government is “going to try the biggest cover-up in history.”

Fleming notes that whenever Bond is back in London, and presumably at his Chelsea flat, his breakfast is always the same. This is what I imagined Bond would sit down to directly after his successful conclusion of the Moonraker affair. I envisioned this meal at his breakfast table with the addition of his gunmetal grey cigarette case, a Morland’s cigarette with the three gold bands, an empty toast rack, and for his postprandial enjoyment, a bottle of Haig & Haig Pinch Whisky that features in Moonraker as his and Gala Brand’s “last drink” whilst held prisoner of Drax. And, a ubiquitous copy of The Times newspaper of London – the only paper Bond ever read.

As the editor of Literary007.com guest-wrote for the Haig Whisky Blog:

“And it wasn’t just Bond that imbibed (on Haig & Haig) while on the job. His opposite number in the CIA’s Felix Leiter, kept up with him in the drinking stakes and often needed it more. Dare I say, in a pinch, he reached for the Haig.

It was rather fitting then, that Haig had one variety for the British market – the Haig Dimple – and one for the US market – the Haig & Haig Pinch. With a slightly higher alcohol content than its British cousin, the Pinch was matured in old Bourbon oak casks from Kentucky. Leiter drinks Haig with Bond in Casino Royalé and both can’t get enough of the stuff in Live and Let Die, drinking it down in at Sugar Ray’s in Harlem, Florida and in New York – “three inches of Haig & Haig in a tall glass with ice” to be precise. Not for nothing did Felix earn it though, after he lost a hand and a leg in a shark attack courtesy of Mr. Big.

Haig & Haig Pinch Whisky (Photo: Gerald Wadsworth)

Haig & Haig Pinch Whisky (Photo: Gerald Wadsworth)

“Don’t be Vague…Say Haig & Haig. 1950’s Bond era Advert for Haig Whisky.” In the palpably tense short story The Living Daylights, Bond makes scrambled eggs, bacon, & coffee with a “liberal tot” of Dimple Haig as he prepares to take out a Russian sniper in Berlin. But it’s not just Bond and Leiter; Bond’s slightly shady associate Marc Ange-Draco in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service offers Bond some Dimple Pinch. To his credit, Fleming mostly seems to have discerned between Dimple and Pinch depending on who is drinking it and where – with the odd question mark. The villainous Hugo Drax has a bottle on his desk in Kent, referred to as Haig & Haig, but we won’t quibble.”

So the addition of Haig & Haig has precedence and almost a pride of place in Fleming’s use of product placement throughout his stories. The idea of a breakfast painting was inspired by two guests on the Literary007 site – food stylist Charlotte Omnés and photographer Henry Hargreaves’ photo journalistic creation of Bond’s favorite foods. I originally saw my painting as reminiscent of classic Dutch still life paintings – but without the dark chiaroscuro and coloration that they used. Bond’s breakfast should be in his flat on one of those rare sunny London days…and so I tried to capture that image in watercolour.

Photo: Charlotte Omnes and Henry Hargreaves

Photo: Charlotte Omnes and Henry Hargreaves

Another of the joys of this oeuvre is finding props for the paintings. A British neighbor had Minton china, Queen Anne silver, and a coffee pot that was “as near as damn it” to Queen Anne. Another friend supplied the toast rack, and I found the 1950’s era bottle of Haig & Haig at an estate sale – it was obviously meant to be. A trip to a speciality grocer was the source for the “Little Scarlet Jam and Cooper’s Marmalade” – at exorbitant prices, I would add, And since Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnum & Mason was a creation of Fleming’s fertile imagination, I posed an empty honey jar as the substitute.

The ALR editor kindly sent me a copy of The Times from the UK and I set up the front page as might be created in the 50’s in black and white, with M’s disinformation campaign as the headline, and a “photo” of the Moonraker taking off from the Cliffs of Dover.

Interesting how history – and the ability of governments to lull their populace with disinformation – repeats itself to this day!

Incidental Intelligence

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12 thoughts on ““Disinformation Served…Coffee and a Cover-up”: ‘Moonraker’ by Gerald Wadsworth

  1. I love reading Gerald Wadsworth’s insights.
    His fabulous art is clearly inspired by the detai and depth in Fleming’s writing. For him, it’s not a job, it’s clearly a labour of love and it shows in his work.
    He also makes a point that is so correct and seldom discussed about Fleming’s writing. His attention to detail was such that it could trigger a reader’s imagination to develop alternate scenarios and make them feel integrated into Bond’s world.
    Over the years, unlike Graham Greene or John Le Carre, Fleming has not enjoyed the critical acclaim he deserves and I sometimes think it’s because the movies have devalued the books.
    Gerald’s art is helping to right this wrong by illustrating Bond’s real world.

    • I totally agree. Also I think the further we move away from the Fleming years the more interesting his books become. All these details become an historical reflection of the era they were written. Great stuff

  2. Thank you, Gentlemen. And I say, unequivocally, that without sites like ALR, our appreciation of Fleming and Bond would have no outlet for expression and enjoyment! It is my pleasure to help provide some visual entertainment and one man’s personal artistic vision of such enjoyable literary material! You are both so right about the movies – they stray from the books, but do help add to the Bond World. And damn, if Daniel Craig isn’t so right for the role. I read with utter fear and alarm that Damian Lewis might be the next Bond! Fleming would roll over in Poseidon’s firm grip in the sea foam on the Jamaican beach at Goldeneye…

  3. I love “Moonraker” too! I must admit that I’m not a James Bond fan, but “Moonraker” makes me want to read some of James Bond and it also makes me want to check out more of Gerry’s art work. Nice job, Gerry!

  4. Thanks, all for the comments!
    I forgot to mention in the painting narrative above that the peeled orange is a nod to the Dutch Masters – I forgot the significance of peeled fruit – possibly mortality – in their paintings. In which case, that would be entirely appropriate in a Bond painting…he does, after all, have a “License to Kill.”

  5. Thanks for bringing Bond’s breakfast to life. It is beautifully rendered! Love your attention to detail, you obviously had fun. We can’t wait to see your next one!

  6. As an oil painter I appreciate composition as well as treatment, and mixed with having read all the Fleming novels and two trips to Jamaica as a young man you might understand my affinity to these wonderful ‘watercolor stories’. On top of all that we might add the fact that I am an addicted anglophile, so the details of breakfast, also my favorite meal of the day, are most certainly important and significant to begin the day correctly for ANY gentleman, British or otherwise. Three things I love the most about this watercolor: the staging that took place to get the correct composition. Staging for a visual artist is like research for the novelist; it brings in information that informs the final product, in this case light and shadow, reflected light, the relationship between masses, etc. Secondly, in this case, the bright primary colors are a visual feast to my particular eyes. It is a choice by the artist to subdue color or to accentuate it, and in this case breakfast lends itself to the wonderful spectrum created by the red of jam, the blue of china, the yellow of napkin, and the green of background, and Gerry allows these colors to dominate. Thirdly, I love the treatment of the glass pitcher, showing the background through the transparent glass as it transitions down from wall color to tablecloth color. Well done!

    • Thanks, Robert! It is really great when another artist who knows his “stuff” can really get what I’m trying to do – vindication, validation and some other “V” word I can’t think of at the moment! The staging of Moonraker was really difficult – getting the right mix of elements, making sure that there was a slight “overlap” of edges that help move the eye around the painting in a logical way, getting the reflections in the sterling coffee pot to show the edge of the coffee cup, some of the orange of the orange, and of course, the blue that predominates. Glass is a b&^%$, as you know, and I was chuffed that I (at least I thought) got it right. The position of each of the items was important – not only from a layout point of view, but from a realistic breakfast point of view. Napkin and spoon on left, bread to far left front, coffee cup and serving pieces center and left rear, and the Haig & Haig, close, but not too close! Don’t want Bond imbibing too soon in the morning!
      And I was concerned that the green walls of Bond’s breakfast room (not described in the books, but seen in some of his movies) and the table top edge were too equally divided in the picture frame, and I thought of cropping an inch or so off the top to make it less equal, but then reason prevailed and I left it. The tough color choice was what would Bond’s table cloth be? Probably white, but that would have been too stark, so I made it a dove grey, which worked well with the green – and I tried to shift the green from a lighter color on the left where the sun would be shining in the room, to a darker green on the right behind the glass Chemex coffee brewer and the honey jar, to give it some variety. Believe it or not, the hardest part of the painting was the newspaper in black and white! The typeface and masthead illustration was really tough to do to look right, and I had to use a fair amount of white gouache to cover up my bleeds and mistakes in painting the letter forms…on a small scale as it is, the smallest triple zero brush just makes it! Again, my thanks, for your astute and insightful comment!
      Breakfast on me, next time around!

  7. From an anonymous reader:

    “I thought I would share my personal interpretation of the composition and subject matter of the Moonraker painting in case it interests you. I am a big fan and proponent of all your James Bond works, but I think what draws me so much to this piece (and I wonder if other admirers feel the same) is that it places the James Bond character amongst the quotidian aspects of his life – those crucial little details of taste and preference as good as a signature or thumb-print that Fleming took such pains to describe. Your Moonraker painting is a tableau without seeming like a tableau. The absence of any weaponry or souvenirs is another interesting part of this picture – there are no overt mission mementoes – the newspaper becomes like a shibboleth key for the cognoscenti! And finally, it puts the viewer in the place of Bond, enjoying his toast and jam from his kitchen chair. It captures the well-earned respite after a difficult trial, which only the newspaper alludes to. Really great stuff.

    I think many of your most successful pictures utilise some or all of these elements. Your ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ is similar in that regard.

    I do like how you can easily take different approaches, too. For example, some of your other works are artful still-life arrangements of artefacts that reflect a particular mission, or just a full and adventurous life well-lived. Their joy to the viewer lies in being like a puzzle where you try to identify and pick out all the story beats being referenced. The triptych containing ‘A Deadly Career’ is a great example. Some of these ones also evoke the old school thriller paperback covers that I love so much. ‘The Trouble with Tiffany’ and ‘Trigger Mortis’ evoke that response in me.

    But your Moonraker breakfast painting has an intellectual component that really grabs me. It’s what’s not there, what’s not said in Bond’s breakfast newspaper that is the real story. ‘Suggest You Change Your Grocer’ does that too.”

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