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Could It Be That James Bond’s Martinis Were Shaken Because He Had Alcoholic Tremor?

Fiction's most famous spy seems to have had a major substance abuse problem



Matt Collins

Bombed. James Bombed.

That slight revision to Secret Agent 007's famous self-introduction may be in order. A study of James Bond's personal habits, as described in the original series of books by Ian Fleming, finds that Bond drank a lot—way more than is safe. He had a license to kill the entire bottle.

In fact, Bond imbibed so much alcohol that he would be at high risk for “malignancies, depression, hypertension, and cirrhosis,” according to the report in the BMJ, preabbreviatedly known as the British Medical Journal. The Liver and Let Die analysis appeared in the BMJ's infamous Christmas issue, which annually includes the kind of tongue-in-cheek studies that are best conceived after a few drinks.

English emergency physician Graham Johnson of Derby and pediatrician Patrick Davies of Nottingham divvied up the 14 Flemings to perform their study. Nottingham hepatologist Indra Neil Guha was brought in for liver expertise. They sought no funding for the work because “the original books were already owned by two of the study authors.” They describe the setting, ordinarily a lab or research medical center, as “the study authors' homes, in a comfy chair.” (I'm guessing each home had its own comfy chair, rather than the one chair being shuttled between the domiciles.) They also note that they sought no consent from the study participant, “the barrier to this chiefly being his fictional nature meaning he is unable to give valid consent.”

Johnson and Davies's alcohol assay calculated that Bond drank more than four times the recommended maximum for adult beverages. He sucked down an average of some 92 units per week (a unit being 10 milliliters or eight grams of pure ethanol). That average doesn't include days during which he was absolutely incapable of acquiring alcohol—for example, while hospitalized. He also could not drink when incarcerated while some fiend created a Rube Goldberg device to kill him instead of taking the expedient and effective blammo route.

Such drinking habits make accidents a major extra risk. For example, the researchers count that during one dinner with his nemesis Auric Goldfinger, Bond had 18 drinks before somehow driving himself safely home. “Despite his alcohol consumption,” the study authors write, “he is still described as being able to carry out highly complicated tasks and function at an extraordinarily high level. This is likely ... pure fiction.”

Speaking of complicated tasks performed at a high level, the research team wondered whether, after years of Bond's chronic alcohol abuse, “he would realistically have the capacity to perform (in all aspects of his life).” To make clear their meaning, the authors then referred to a 1987 paper entitled “Sexual Dysfunction in Male Alcohol Addicts: Prevalence and Treatment,” published in Archives of Sexual Behavior. It seems that most of Bond's alleged conquests may have turned into mere cuddles: the books should have been called The Spy Who Almost Loved Me, From Russia with Love but the Tennis Kind, and, of course, Dr. Oh No.

(Despite such ample evidence that Bond might have had erectile dysfunction, his randy reputation inspired a 1999 Saturday Night Live sketch in which he received a doctor's diagnosis of 107 concurrent sexually transmitted diseases, of which only 53 had been previously identified.)

One clue left by Fleming that Bond had indeed done irrevocable damage to himself through alcohol overindulgence is his famous vodka martini instruction: “shaken, not stirred.” The BMJ study authors note that “ideally vodka martinis should be stirred, not shaken. That Bond would make such an elementary mistake in his preferences seemed incongruous with his otherwise impeccable mastery of culinary etiquette.”

The researchers thus theorize that Bond suffered from alcohol-induced tremor, aka the shakes—if he prepared his own martini, he was unable to stir it without also shaking it. Thus, to hide his infirmity, which could obviously jeopardize his career within Her Majesty's Secret Service, he resorted to making and ordering all his martinis shaken. So that M's faith in him would not be.

This article was originally published with the title "007 and 7."

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