Licensed to amuse
Alan Coren, who died last week, was one of Britain’s bestloved humorists. In these exclusive extracts from his last book, 69 for 1, out this month, he imagines a glamour-free James Bond working for a cut-price MI5, and explains why Anglicans might want to
ANNOUNCING THAT MI5 would, for the first time, be placing recruiting ads in newspapers, a spokesman said: “The service is open to everyone. We are not looking for anything out of the ordinary” (report in The Guardian). Bond lifted his leg fairly athletically, for him, and buffed his left toecap behind his right shin. Then, hardly wobbling at all, he did the same with his right toecap. This made his new £59.95 brown brogues by Lilley & Skinner of Brent Cross come up very nicely.
He glanced down to test whether he could see his face in them, but his gold-style Boots BOGOF spectacles had misted slightly from the stairs, so he removed them and polished them on his old school tie.
A wry smile played about his lips as he reflected that if the headmaster of East Willesden Comprehensive had caught him doing it, he would not, these days, have clipped his ear. Had he tried it, Bond, who had now reached page 18 of Teach Yourself Karate, would almost certainly have been able to give him quite a serious push.
He knocked on the mahogany door, and entered. A plump woman behind the gleaming Ikea desk was attending to a pimple. “The name’s Bond,” he said. “Jim Bond.”
There was a hatstand in one corner, and he flicked his brown John Lewis trilby towards it.
“Your hat’s gone out of the window,” said the woman.
“I’ve got another one,” Bond quipped effortlessly, after he had recovered. “Can I go in now?”
She folded her compact, got up, went through intercommunicating doors, came back a few minutes later, and nodded. Bond coolly shot
his Marks & Spencer cuffs, but one stuck on his Timex. The other cufflink broke.
“Ah, Bnod,” said M. “Welcome to MI5. Congratulations on being one of the 1,000 short, plain, and very ordinary agents we have, as you obviously saw in our recent newspaper advertisements, decided to recruit.” “Not Bnod, sir,” said Bond. “Bond. B-O-N-D.” “It says Bnod on your application,” said M, waving it. “I’ve only just started computers,” explained Bond. “Two fingers. But any day now I expect to be able to do that thing where I reprogram one three seconds before it blows the Earth up. I bought a book at Dixon’s.”
“Moneypenny tells me your hat’s in the street,” said M.
“It’s all right,” said Bond. “My mum sewed my name in it. Also ‘If found, please return to MI5 and oblige’.”
M looked at him for a time. “It’s a pity you’re not Bnod,” he said finally. “We were rather hoping you were Russian. Do you speak it?” “Not entirely,’ replied Bond. “But j’ai un GCSE in French, sir. M’sieu.”
“Let’s go and see Q,” said M. “He’ll kit you out with an MI5 hat.”
“Will it have a gun in it that fires when you blow your nose?” asked Bond. “Or is it the sort you throw at bars and electrocute Chinamen with?”
“You’re not licensed to kill,” said M. “You’re li- censed to jot stuff down in your MI5 exercise book. If attacked, you’re licensed to shout ‘Help!’. Do not throw things or we’ll have Health & Safety all over us.”
In the basement, Q said: “Hello, Bond, we’re just fitting out your car.”
“With rocket launchers and a passenger ejector and retractable wings?”
“No, we’re just pushing the seat forward. You’re rather shorter than we’ve been used to. What sort of dangle-dolly do you use?”
“Dice would make sense,” said Bond. “They would impress the better casinos, when I’m off to play chemin-defer with glamorous international women spies so’s I can bed them for secrets about where Mr Big is etc.”
“It’ll have to be bingo,” said M, “on our budget. You might run into a cleaner who’s found something in a bin. Can’t pick up hotel bills, mind.”
“They could do it in the Lada,” suggested Q. “One of the seats goes fairly flat. By the way, here’s your special MI5 pen.”
“What does it squirt?” enquired Bond. “CS gas? Nitric acid? Curare?”
“Ink,” said Q. “We can’t crack it. Wear a blue shirt, is my advice. And this is your special MI5 disposable cigarette lighter.” “Containing a tiny satellite phone?” “Containing fluid for 200 lights, in case you’re stuck in the dark. When it runs out, don’t just chuck it away, bring it back here and sign a chitty.”
“And don’t use it for cigarettes,” put in M, sternly. “Remember, smoking can harm you and those around you.”
“I was rather hoping for a gold Dunhill fag-case, sir,” said Bond, “that I could slip into a pocket next to my heart to deflect bullets.” M pressed the lift-button. “In your dreams,” he said.