Passed away this day in 2007
Writer, Official James Bond Novels, 1981 - 1996
John Edmund Gardner’s story began in the small seaside village of Seaton Delaval in the northeastern county of Northumberland on 20 November 1926. His father was an Anglican priest and his mother a local girl and in 1933, the family moved to Wantage where his father took up the Chaplain position at St. Mary’s.
The young Gardner joined the Home Guard in 1939 when the Second World War came to England’s doorstep. He was only 13 at the time, but it was the start of his military service that sent him to the Middle and Far East with the Royal Marines. In Gardner’s obituary written by Martin Weil for The Washington Post, Gardner apparently assessed himself to be “the worst commando in the world” in spite his knowledge of small-arms and explosives. The knowledge may not have helped him at the time, but coupled with his service experience, would later become significant when he turned to writing.
Writing was apparently not Gardner’s first career choice, although at the age of eight, he announced his intention to become a writer (see John Gardner’s biography at his website). After the war, he attended St. John’s College, Cambridge and became an ordained Anglican priest in 1953, following in his father’s footsteps. However, five years later, he realized he no longer believed in the church, so he was released from his commitment.
As an ex-Anglican priest, Gardner was hired at the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald as a drama critic. The catalyst of Gardner’s life came a year later; he realized he was an alcoholic and as therapy, he wrote an autobiographical book, Spin the Bottle (1964, Frederick Muller Ltd). Thereafter, he figured he just needed to write the great British novel.
Gardner started out writing as he calls “a pretentious piece of rubbish about how governments went around legally killing people.” It was meant as serious fiction, but his agent suggested that perhaps Gardner was better suited with comedy instead. Gardner’s series about secret agent Boysie Oakes resulted: eight novels spanning from 1964 through 1975 plus four short stories.
In 1979-1980, Gardner was approached by Glidrose Publications (Ian Fleming Publications) to write an official James Bond novel. After meeting with Glidrose executives, a one-book deal led to a potential three-book deal, and when all was said and done, Gardner wrote fourteen Bond novels and two novelizations from screenplays. “I have never been really fond of J Bond who is to my mind a fantasy character,” Gardner said. “The directors of Glidrose asked me to update Bond and bring him into the last decade of the 20th century. I did this with tremendous support and encouragement from the Glidrose Board of Directors and I remain proud that my contribution to the Bond saga played a great part in its development” (John Gardner Biography). Unfortunately, an illness required Gardner to retire from writing the Bond novels and Raymond Benson took over as the official Bond novel writer.
In 2000, Gardner returned to writing with Day of Absolution. He introduced a new leading character, Detective Sergeant Suzie Mountford and Gardner completed five novels for this series before his death in 2007. In 2011, Ian Fleming Publications announced plans to release Gardner’s Bond novels in hardback with their original covers, featuring Richard Chopping’s illustrations (superior covers to the US releases by Pegasus, in paperback no less!).
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