The legacy of Ian Fleming’s James Bond is easier to measure in the character’s real-world application, rather than trying to nail down his in-world details. With a rolling timeline applied between the films and novels alike, trying to guess 007’s age is as useful as trying to guess where one particular raindrop is about to fall. But there is one key date that can lay claim to being the birthday of Bond himself, and it’s April 13, 1953: the day Casino Royale was first released to the UK reading public.
Publisher Jonathan Cape held the honors at the time, and the canonical debut of James Bond in the original Fleming canon was an absolute smash in its native country. Thanks to several sold-out printings, Ian Fleming found himself with a literary hit on his hand. So what did that look like by the numbers? Well, in the first month of Casino Royale’s printing, “nearly 5,000 copies” flew off the shelves, leading to two more printings between then and May 1954 that met nearly the same fate.
From that point, the story pretty much happened as you’d expect: Ian Fleming would go on to write thirteen more volumes in the original run of James Bond novels. All of them were printed by Jonathan Cape in their initial run, and eventually Casino Royale would catch the attention of the entertainment industry. By October 21, 1954, the first Bond adventure was adapted for the screen thanks to the hit CBS series Climax!
While that first adaptation of Casino Royale would cast 007 as CIA agent “Jimmy Bond,” the hour-long dramatization of Ian Fleming’s novel would lead to a rather complicated road. The rights would eventually find their way to movie producer Charles K. Feldman, paving the way for the 1967 spoof of the same name to exist. At this point, the official EON Productions run of Bond films saw Sean Connery’s first five films done and dusted, creating a phenomenon that persists to this very day.
By the time Daniel Craig began his tenure as the rebooted James Bond in 2006’s adaptation of Casino Royale, all of rights to Ian Fleming’s books were in the possession of EON Productions. So naturally, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson used that big moment to relaunch the character, making 007 a spy for the current day. No matter how you slice it though, April 13, 1953’s first printings in the UK laid the foundation that would see Bond, James Bond resonate with audiences throughout the world.
So let’s propose a birthday toast to James Bond: spy, style icon and lover of various degrees of fidelity! Through 68 years of history, there have been ups, downs and legal complications that have put bumps in the road; but they were never anything 007 couldn’t handle. As we head into a sixth decade of cinematic history and a seventh decade of literary prowess, the loyalty of the fans and the stewards of the franchise has been something you could always count on.
Without Casino Royale, you wouldn’t get to anticipate No Time To Die’s October 8 release date so heartily. Nor would you have the imitators (good, bad, and comical) that helped ensure the validity of the brand. It all started on April 13, 1953 with a license to kill that will, with luck and skill, never expire. Here’s to you, Commander Bond; and many happy returns.