The panelists were Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett, Charlie Higson who writes the Young Bond series, Samantha Weinberg of the Moneypenny Diaries trilogy - none of whose books I've read - and Ian Fleming's niece Kate Grimond, ably chaired by Ben Macintyre who wrote the book which accompanies the exhibition. Ben announced that at the end of the session the panel, and audience, would talk about their favourite movie Bond - an event he predicted might well lead to bloodshed.
It was wonderful listening to five literate, articulate people who knew Bond inside and out and adored him in spite of his faults. Although they were nominally talking about their own writing, they all swiftly became caught up in the pleasure of discussing Fleming's.
"Now, Sebastian Faulks isn't here, so...we can slag him off!" said the chair, to wild applause. Faulks was quoted as saying that writing a Bond novel was 'like asking someone who writes complex, symphonic music to write a pop song', which led to discussion on what kind of music the Bond novels are really like (Henry Mancini was suggested) and Bond's total indifference to music of any kind, and indeed art and literature. The panel, who had all immersed themselves in Bond in order to write about him, then came up with all the occasions on which Bond is shown reading or listening to something: "He reads German pornography in one of the short stories!" I kept wanting to put my hand up and make geeky interjections like "What about in Diamonds Are Forever when he puts on a record in Tiffany Case's room?"
The panel all liked Devil May Care (which I haven't read yet), though Charlie Higson felt that Faulks hadn't done enough with it: if he himself had been offered the opportunity to write Bond for adults, he would have included lots of 'nasty violence and freaky sex'.
The forty minutes of discussion flashed by and was followed by the Bond actor debate, which was indeed fierce and dirty with many below-the-belt references to Daniel Craig's shorts and Sean Connery's voice. Andrew spoke in praise of Pierce Brosnan, Kate of Sean Connery and Ben of Daniel Craig; Samantha had Timothy Dalton and Charlie Roger Moore, which he compared to getting the unpopular one left at the bottom of a box of Liquorice Alsorts. George Lazenby didn't even get a look-in. I won't tell you the final scores from the audience because I wish to conduct my own equally unscientific poll below, and perhaps provoke equally fine debate.
The authors were also asked their favourite Bond novel, and the audience also got to vote on the three named: Moonraker, Casino Royale and From Russia With Love. Moonraker, my very favourite Bond, got three votes including mine, Casino Royale, my second favourite, a dozen, and From Russia With Love, which doesn't even place in my top five, a landslide of 30+. Oh well.
I bought the first instalment of the Moneypenny Diaries, Guardian Angel, and complimented the author on her support of Dalton as she was signing it for me. When I looked in my book, she had written 'Here's to Tim'!
Let's see if the views of last night's audience will be reflected by a less specialised group. You may not, for the purpose of this poll, be a smartarse and select David Niven, Barry Nelson or anyone else not named.