But this can't always be the case. Dr. No, which was made first, opens with a reference to From Russia, with Love, which was produced third. Live and Let Die has Bond still using the Beretta, which Q replaced in Dr. No. In OHMSS, they are hunting down Blofeld and SPECTRE, who have never been mentioned before if you're in production order. The worst implication of the switch is that it totally undermines the ending of OHMSS if, after Tracy dies, Bond goes on a random adventure about diamond smugglers-- never mentioning his dead wife at all!
The weakest part of this series is that, alas, the more I listen to them, the less I like Toby Stephens as James Bond. He might be a good actor (I don't really remember him from any of the things I've seen him in), but he's not a good James Bond. His flirtations are just flat-- I felt he really botched it in the scenes with Domino in Thunderball, for example, no sexiness at all. It's not all his fault, because part of what I don't like is the first-person present-tense narration he has to perform during action sequences, which is usually ridiculous sounding. Although, I'm not convinced he has to deliver it as a grunt. On the other hand, as you'll see below, I felt the Moonraker and OHMSS adaptations really played to his strengths.
But the real highlight of this series is Martin Jarvis "as the voice of Ian Fleming"; the veteran actor and director provides the third-person narration, and he is excellent at providing atmosphere and character and suspense with his voice-. So much so that I often imagine his voice when reading long narrative passages in the actual books, just as I typically imagine Sean Connery for Bond's dialogue, and Judi Dench for M's. Yes, I know it doesn't all quite go together.
I am also coming around to Julian Sands as Q. He plays it very differently to how Peter Capaldi did in Dr. No, but I like the image of Q-- very different to the films-- as a breathless upper-class enthusiast of all things technological. I like it.
Thunderball by Archie Scottney (2016)
I liked Josh Stamberg as Felix Leiter in Diamonds are Forever, but found him much less effective here; the 1950s crime film accent worked for Diamonds, but sticks out as a sore thumb in this story. It might be authentic for Emilio Largo (Tom Conti) to have a thick Italian accent, but I found it distracting; he seemed more an accent than a character, and thus his confrontations with Bond (especially when they play cards together) lacked any sizzle. On the other hand, I thought Janet Montgomery did a great job as Domino. Charming, flirtatious, dangerous, but vulnerable-- she could be a screen Bond girl to look at her, too. Shame she has to flirt with Toby Stephens.
Moonraker by Archie Scottney (2018)
That all sounds like damning with faint praise, but it really is very good. Stephens is on point. Samuel West makes a great obnoxiously smug Sir Hugo Drax (the bit where he explains his life story is excellent), and all the scenes the two share really work. Katherine Kingsley is fantastic as Gala Brand, competent enough to do some dangerous stuff herself, but still needing to be saved by Bond as things escalate. The action sequences are intense, especially, when Bond and Brand almost drown, and their escape from Drax at the climax. Sound design was really on point, too; there were some chilling bits, especially the launch of the Moonraker rocket. It was just full of nice touches: John Baddely plays Winston Churchill (prime minister at the time, playing up some of the period elements), some key sequences are done as BBC Radio broadcasts. The whole thing feels alternately tense and charming. If they ever do Casino Royale, I think it will also be a good one.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Archie Scottney (2014)
I didn't even mind Toby Stephens. Joanna Lumley plays Irma Bunt-- given she was one of Bunt's victims in the film, this is a nice touch, and she does a great job. Overall, it's in my top three of the seven of these I've listened to so far.
My main quibble is with the wedding at the end. The film had Moneypenny, Q, and M all there, which doesn't happen in the book. Here, they don't turn up to the wedding itself, but they do all appear afterwards, as Bond, Tracy, and Tracy's father are celebrating before the newlyweds leave on their honeymoon. It's a bit too sentimental, and smacks more of the films rather than the novels on which these stories are supposedly based, where there is no Q, and Bond's relationships with M and Moneypenny are much cooler.
Live and Let Die by Archie Scottney (2019)Really, I think these adaptations mostly live and die on the source material. Not entirely (Thunderball was a much better novel than radio play), but the weak novels always seem to become weak radio plays. My memories of Live and Let Die's novel aren't that it's terrible, but they aren't the most fond, either, and what works in prose-- the tense train ride to Florida, the methodical staking out of Harlem fried chicken joints, the desperate dragging through shark-filled waters-- is weak material on audio. Add to that a story replete with Americans, and thus BBC Radio American accents, and it alternates between boring and excruciating. (Weirdly, it was apparently recorded in America, and many of the actors actually are American. They still sound off; not sure what's up with that. Trying to hard to do period accents?)
I thought casting an African-American as Solitaire was an interesting move, though perhaps wasted on radio; I didn't realize the actress was black until I looked her up later. It makes Mr. Big a little less of a racialized villain (no longer is he a black man threatening "our" white women), and it adds a charge to when a hotel owner is skeptical of Bond's cover story that he and Solitaire are married. And Rutina Wesley did a good job with what is surely one of the more boring women Bond falls for.
Quarrel previously appeared (and died) in the adaptation of Dr. No, there played by Clarke Peters, but this time out he's played by Ron Cephas Jones.
To Be Continued...That's it for the Ayres/Jarvis BBC Bond adaptations for now; they have recorded eight, and I have heard all eight. Live and Let Die actually makes Toby Stephens the most prolific actor to have played Bond, beating out Roger Moore's seven appearances in the role. Shame I don't like him more, but I think I am getting used to him.
But that's not the end of what the BBC has had to do with James Bond, as I shall explore in the months (or years) to come...