[Opinion] - Exploring The Codename: James Bond Theory

For fifty years, movie goers have watched James Bond crash cars, seduce women and not age. And that last one can become a bit of a sticking point as you watch the films, and all of Bond's supporting characters get older around him. The decades past, tensions between nations grow and subside, and the idea of Bond being a Cold War relic becomes less and less believable as the actors remain in their forties, while that period of history drifts further away.

Fans, being the industrious obsessives that they are, developed a theory. Known as the Codename Theory, it was apparently originally developed by Robert Wade, one half of the writing team that has co-written every Bond films since The World Is Not Enough. When making Die Another Day, amongst the various references and shout outs to the older films, there was an idea of having Sean Connery cameo in the film, and the theory was developed to explain the presence of two Bonds. The idea was eventually abandoned, but found new life on the internet, as it offers a nice way to handwave away the ageing issue. Martin Campbell, director of Goldeneye and Casino Royale, reportedly favoured the theory, and made Daniel Craig's first Bond film with it in mind, while not making it explicitly canon.

After the jump, we'll examine how the theory holds together, where it falls apart, and my own personal version of the theory that helps things make a little more sense. Spoilers for all Bond films, including Skyfall, contained within.

This isn't an issue within the original novels. Written between 1953 and 1966, the novels are all contemporary. This wouldn't even be an issue if they had stopped making the films during the Moore era. But after 50 years, it becomes an issue. Because even a casual viewer, without the obsessive qualities of your finer nerd-vintages, will notice that Bond remains permanently forty while the rest of the world, and everyone he works with ages around him. In fact, the only franchise that has lasted as long as Bond, and thus can be used for comparison, is Doctor Who. And they get around the issue by having the science fiction plot device of regeneration, in which the main character dies, and comes back with a fresh appearance, but the same memories. Bond has never directly addressed the issue on screen, but has also never actively suggested that it has not been the same man for the past fifty years, which barring a science fiction explanation, is impossible. So, what other options are there?

In Favour

Every One Else At MI6

In 1911, Captain Sir George Mansfield-Smith Cummings was place in control of the foreign section of what eventually became the Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6). During his tenure, which lasted until 1923, he would sign all documents with a green-inked "C". Since then, all heads of the department have been referred to as "C." Fleming, having worked with the SIS during the Second World War, knew this, and created the role of "M" to serve the same role.

The original Bernard Lee "M" was named Miles, revealed in the Spy Who Loved Me by his Russian counterpart. The second M, appearing in the last couple Moore films, and with Timothy Dalton, is considered by fans and scholars to be a promoted Admiral Hargreaves, who appeared briefly in TSWLM, and played by the same actor, Robert Brown. Judi Dench's character is never named, though in Skyfall is mistakenly referred to several times as "Emma." Ralph Finnes continues to use the initial at the end of that film, though his name being Mallory is largely inconsequential, as the adoption of the moniker "M" at this point has lasted as long as the series, and most likely well before.

Quick quiz, what was Q's real name? Answer, Major Boothroyd. The equipment specialist in Dr. No is referred to as such, and role-regular Desmond Llewellyn responds to it in, again, The Spy Who Loved Me. Q is short for Quartermaster, so much like M, it is more a title then a name. This is evident when John Cleese took over the role, having appeared along side his predecessor and expressly not playing Boothroyd. In Skyfall, while Q goes unnamed, he is frequently mentioned as the "new Q," making clear he is new to the position, and again, not Boothroyd.

But those are both titles, you say, much like 007 itself. But neither of those two adopted whole cover identities. Well, I submit to you two other familiar faces to the MI6 offices: Bill Tanner and Moneypenny. Bill Tanner is the Chief of Staff to M, essentially the second in command of the entire external spy agency. He has been played by four actors, twice in the Moore era, twice in the Brosnan era, and in the last two Craig films. Each version of the character is different in attitude and temperament, and are progressively younger. Chief of Staff's are notorious for not lasting long in their real world positions, no matter the environment (the US President's CoS lasts on average about 2 years). This is generally because it is a high stress, labour intensive job. They do basically everything, so that the president, or manager, or M can deal with only the most important matters. Look at how much Tanner interacts with Bond in Skyfall, covering his entire return to the agency. Keep in mind all of the other things he's meant to be doing while he is also dealing with Bond. A high turn over is to be expected. And the agency would be interested in keeping such a person protected, by hiding them under a cover identity.

Moneypenny too, is the personal secretary to the head of MI6, which would require a security clearance higher then Bond's, as she is probably the only person other then M themselves to know most details of highly secret missions (hilariously, the only time Moneypenny is excused from a secret meeting is when sex is involved, complete with all the men looking embarrassed). As Skyfall reveals, at least part of the job requirement is being capable, if not actively engaged, in operative field work. Played by four different actresses, of various ages, and as of Skyfall, two different races, this is clearly not the same person. Even Craig's Bond seems to recognise this, asking her name at the end of Skyfall, when it is laughable that they hadn't been introduced at some point before or during the events of the film. He was simply confirming her new cover identity.

Cover identities are integral to an agent's security. RenĂ© Mathis, as he lies dying in Bond's arms in Quantum of Solace confirms that Mathis is his cover identity. That people who knew him for years, on multiple continents, knew him under a false name, cultivated by the agent and MI6 to work in their favour. Skyfall's villain, Raoul Silva, is revealed to be nothing more then a cover identity for Tiago Rodriguez, a name he wouldn't have used during his time with the agency, and had fully adopted by the time of the film. Does it make any sense, if a lower level MI6 agent from a twenty years ago would have operated under a cover identity, and a 00 does not?

Time Moves Ever Onward

Time continues to move around Bond. All the regular characters mentioned above age, and some die. Margaret Thatcher is clearly PM during the events of For Your Eyes Only. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan is present in the Living Daylights. The Cold War has ended by the time of Goldeneye. Skyfall clearly states the years 1986 to 1997 are in the past, and makes use of both "the Troubles," and the return of Hong Kong to China. While Skyfall returns the viewer to the Universal Exports office, we are not expected to believe that now all the older adventures are yet to occur. That somehow Judi Dench was M at both the beginning and end of Bond's career. Indeed, Q makes specific reference to the gadgets of old, refusing to go in for that sort of thing. The presence of the DB5, with all the usual refinements, means quite clearly that the original Q created that vehicle and gave it to Connery's Bond at some point in the past. Dench's M, with her literal dying breath, confesses that she made one good decision, the implication being that she specifically picked this "orphan" to be 007. Since Bond was already 007 when she took the post in Goldeneye, this is as close to an admission on screen that they are different characters, since she wouldn't have been involved in choosing Brosnan at all.

Casino Royale was billed as a reboot to the series, but it wasn't. Not really. It was just the fashionable thing to do at the time. Star Trek rebooted, Pirates of the Caribbean sort-of rebooted. It was the buzz word of the time. Except, if they had meant it to be a real reboot, they would have fired the whole cast and started from scratch. New M, new Q, new everybody right from day one. Not carry over Judi Dench from the Brosnan films, bridging the two pretty definitively, timeline wise, and waiting until the third of the series to bring in Q and Moneypenny. The Craig films are no more a reboot then any other time the actor in the main role has changed.

It leaves very few sensible options left to explain what is happening. One way is to assume that each film is stand alone, existing by itself, and that no film before or after has occurred within the confines of that one film. That somehow, Bond is an element that reoccurs in every universe. This eliminates all canon, because each film is its own franchise. Another is to somehow believe that it is all been the same man, which would put it firmly in the realm of science fiction. A third is that, somehow, the events of all 23 films have taken place within a five to ten year period. A ten year period that includes the space race, the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and 9/11. Now that would be a hell of a decade, even in movie terms. the last is the codename theory. Now, which of those four options makes the most sense?


Felix Leiter

Leiter is responsible for this theory. It was believed by fans, right up to the release of License to Kill, that the name Felix Leiter was a cover identity for many different CIA operatives. David Hedison gummed things up by playing Felix twice, and in non sequential films. Then, to add to the confusion, Jeffrey Wright (an actor of a different race) has played the character twice, recently. Each time the characters meet, no matter what the other looks like, Leiter and Bond always recognise each other (save in Casino Royale and Dr. No, where they appear to meet for the first time in both films). The role of Bond as part of Felix's wedding party reinforces a long standing relationship between the two outside of the spy game. Even as part of a cover identity, I doubt so many different Leiters and Bonds would build such close relationships. Leiter is the biggest, and most difficult to explain, obstacle in the theory.

The Past

There have been several points in the series where characters have recognised Bond from the past. The most obvious of these is the meeting with the Sheikh Hosein in the Spy Who Loved Me (the film which provides the most amount of backstory for the entire Bond universe, outside of Skyfall). The Sheikh recognises Bond from their time at Cambridge together. Part of a spy's life is cultivating contacts and sources in foreign environments, so it is possible that upon acquiring the name James Bond, he looked back through his past, found anyone who was powerful enough to be useful, and informed them of the change in name, this is equally unlikely. Another example, though not as far reaching as being a school-chum, is Teri Hatcher's Paris Carver, who had a relationship with Bond prior to the event so Tomorrow Never Dies. In her case however, it is more then possible (given her relative youth) that she did honestly only know Brosnan as James Bond.

In License to Kill, Leiter also makes mention of Bond's short and tragic marriage, one of only three instances of the marriage being referenced outside of OHMSS, and the last time to date. It is possible, however, that by this point, such a major event in the public life of the agent had been adopted into the cover identity.

The Last Twenty Minutes of Skyfall

Skyfall fills in a lot of the gaps in Bond's history, mostly taken from the original novels. Bond's Scottish heritage was a addition made by Fleming after Connery took the role. His parents were named Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix, who died in a rock climbing accident, as had been mentioned in Goldeneye. It introduces us to his ancestral home, and a groundskeeper who has known him since childhood. What aids the Codename theory is that none of Bond's past has been discussed in anyway with any of the other Bonds, and that Andrew and Monique aren't specifically named in Goldeneye, and the method of their death is not specified in Skyfall. M and Bond leave the details nice and ambiguous.

But, the house is obviously more then a cover, unless Bond's aggression to it is a response to having to adopt a stranger's history in favour of his own. Actually, considering his aggression towards authority, his responses to Skyfall could be a reaction to having to forsake his own troubled childhood, and make believe that "Bond's" is his own... But, I doubt MI6 would install headstones with cover names on them. However, apparently, Bond is the 224th most common surname in the UK (13th in the Scottish city of Aberdeen), which means it isn't inconceivable that the orphan who is now "James Bond" started out with the actual surname Bond. Unlikely, yes, but still possible. The actress who played Moneypenny during the Brosnan years was named Bond, and that was unintentional.

But what about Kincade, who upon encountering Bond and M, immediately calls Bond by his full name? Well, look at that again. What surrogate father would call their estranged ward by their full name? His tone is completely devoid of emotion (though that might be the stiff upper lip talking). I immediately thought it sounded more like he was confirming Bond's identity rather then greeting him. As if MI6 had alerted the sole remaining connection to Bond's past that he was going by James Bond now. Improbably, sure. But never once during the rest of their interactions does he call Bond by name. Not James, not Jimmy, not a nickname. After flatly stating the name "James Bond," he never brings up identity again.

My Version

Personally, I like the Codename theory. It explains away enough of the incongruities of the series while not conflicting too much with the established canon, and isn't as disruptive as the idea that one man has remained immortal all these years, or can regenerate at will. However, when I'm watching the series, I have my own Disgruntled Variation, which effects viewing order slightly, and is slightly more complex. And here it is:

Viewing Order: As produced and released, with the exception of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever. These are switched.

You Only Live Twice ends in Japan, with Blofeld destroying his volcano lair and escaping. Diamonds Are Forever immediately begins with Bond in Japan, thrashing an apparent SPECTRE agent, beginning his search for Blofeld. Viewing these back to back maintains Connery's role as Bond, and implies that the action picks up almost immediately after Twice. Diamonds ends with Blofeld apparently killed in the destruction of his oil rig fortress, exiled by SPECTRE and penniless. OHMSS begins with M removing Bond from the search for Blofeld after two years.

The implication being that no body was recovered, and being a sensible spy organisation, M16 wanted to make certain he was dead. After two years, and no trace, they decide to close the case. Which is, of course, when Blofeld pops up again, desperately trying to steal a family inheritance so he can finance his own independent projects. Blofeld's failure to immediately recognise Bond is explained by Bond being a different person altogether, and Blofeld, obviously aware to the workings of secret organisations, adjusts to the new Bond quickly. When he last see Blofeld in OHMSS, he is wearing a neckbrace, having sustained an injury while bobsledding. When next (and finally) we see him, in the pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only, he remains in the neckbrace, and is apparently now wheelchair bound, the injuries either having grown more dire over the years, or simply a sign of age. This viewing order provides a more organised timeline for Blofeld and Bond's interactions. And, it maintains the second part of my variation, which is:

Four Agents Have Used The Codename James Bond: Sean Connery, being the first (and possibly the original), retiring shortly after Diamonds Are Forever; George Lazenby and Roger Moore as the same character, retiring immediately after A View To A Kill; Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan as the same character, retiring some time after Die Another Day; and Daniel Craig, still active.

According to Ian Fleming's original Moonraker, 00 agents face mandatory retirement at age 45. Connery, at the time of his last appearance, was 41. Moore was 58 in his final appearance, while Brosnan was 49 and Craig is currently 44.

First Bond

The first Bond is stated to have been working in standard intelligence before his promotion to a 00 agent, and had carried a weapon for ten years before Dr. No (one can assume he worked in the field extensively before his promotion). He is referred to as a Naval Commander, a rank he most likely earned during the latter days of the war, the Suez Crisis, or other duties during the clean up immediately following the fall of the Nazis. He was most likely recruited by (what became) MI6 from Naval Intelligence, the division Ian Fleming himself worked in. After being recruited to MI6, his skills and abilities were gauged by his superiors, until eventually he proved himself capable, in the field, of the emotional fortitude to be promoted from a case agent to the rank of 00.

This Bond was remained fairly focused and professional while on the job, took his assignments seriously, and rarely demonstrated any insubordination towards authority.

Second Bond

The second operative to use the cover identity of James Bond starts his career by lamenting to himself (in the form of a fourth wall breaking comment) that this sort of stuff never happened to the other guy. Charged with tracking down Blofeld, an assignment left over from his predecessor (to the point where his predecessor didn't even clean out his desk before he left), he ultimately works outside the bounds of his office to undo his terrorist plot, and finds true love in the process, only for it to be taken away from him by the villain. After some time to mourn, he returns to service unbalanced, exhibiting mood swings that would take him from comically goofy (Moonraker) to frighteningly harsh (Man With The Golden Gun) and trying to bury his grief in an ever increasing number of empty romantic entanglements (21 on screen, more then any other).

This Bond, to prevent his psyche from breaking, needed to maintain the belief that he was the best at everything. Pompously able to recite encyclopedia articles on a variety of subjects (Octopussy, and most of the rest), seducing women young enough to be his granddaughter, and staying in the service long after he had aged beyond use. Eventually, forced to retire after very publicly eliminating well known industrialist Max Zorin, in A View to A Kill. Never having gotten over the death of his wife, this Bond would return to her grave, and never allowed the simmering hate he felt for Blofeld to reduce, even the eventual killing his foe bringing him no peace.

Third Bond

The opening sequence to Goldeneye is set nine years before the rest of the film. Assuming the events take place in the year of the release (1995), this places the "death" of 006 in 1986, a year after Moore's final film, and a year before the events of Dalton's first film, The Living Daylights. Never before or since has it taken two 00 agents to achieve what appears to be as simple mission as destroying a military base (setting aside 006's machinations). Given the camaraderie between 006 and 007, one can assume they came up in the service together, perhaps 006 having achieved his rank sooner then 007. This mission could be viewed as this new 007's first major operation, with 006 accompanying him as a senior training agent. The emotional effect of the loss of 006 explains why Dalton's Bond is colder then his predecessors, and why he is less emotionally available. And why, after the failure of that mission, he was sent on a training exercise, as seen in the opening moments of The Living Daylights.

This Bond remains emotionally cold and unpredictable until at least Goldeneye, when he is given a psychological evaluation, and shows clear signs of a more reasonable tact. Resolving 006's death allows Bond to become more open, though his career is plagued with betrayal, insubordination and a more lasting physical toll. This Bond rose to his position in the waning years of the Cold War, and while he excelled at his job, was too blunt a weapon for a post-9/11 world, one more suspicious and more trepidatious then he was familiar with. Still, given the extended period between Die Another Day and Casino Royale (4 years), it is likely this Bond remained active for several years before retiring (depending on the canonicity of the video game All Or Nothing).

Fourth Bond

The opening sequence to Casino Royale shows this Bond completing the prerequisite given in the novels for being considered as a 00 agent: "you have to kill a chap in cold blood." He has shown, even before being emotional betrayed and compromised to the point of mania, a single minded doggedness and military like focus on the mission at hand, while also being largely dismissive of authority, suggesting that MI6 embraced the idea of independence rather then reliance when recruiting in a post 9/11 environment. His career has been highlighted by personal loss, and a consistent belief by his superiors that he is incapable of doing his job, though only in the manner they envision. He has proven, somewhat ruthlessly, to be good, if not efficient at what he does.

Skyfall provides an interesting physical bit of evidence for the Codename theory: during the many shots of Bond shirtless, looking at his wounds, only the wounds sustained at the start of the film are present. None of the wounds he would have gathered by the various stabbings, gun shots, and explosions Bond's been caught in are present. And considering how woundless Casino Royale and Quantum were, he begins Skyfall as a mostly blank slate.


If you are the sort of person who watches the whole series as one long continuity, or if you're the sort of person who thinks far too much about details like this, I honestly believe the Codename theory is the only explanation for Bond's nature. It, as I said, explains enough of the inconsistencies without offending too many of the remaining sensibilities. I feel the evidence in favour is far more convincing then the evidence against, and as the series continues, the problem will only get worse. I also, however, advocate the series never make a confirmation or refusal of the theory explicit on screen. So long as the writers maintain the spirit of the theory, then it will remain a comforting mechanism that makes a great series even better.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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