‘That’s Certainly A Drink’

Do doctors need to worry about James Bond, or are students more of a concern? Jessica Poole Mather explores.

It is a well-known fact that James Bond likes a vodka martini, ‘shaken, not stirred’. Specifically he asks for “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet”, eliciting the response of “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink”.

With fast cars, sharp suits, and a girl perpetually hanging off his arm, James Bond is usually viewed as the pinnacle of cool. More than a few Aston Martins are likely to be purchased because of the Bond association, and there has even been a 007 cologne released.

But how ‘cool’ is his drinking behaviour? A new study by the British Medical Journal has brought to light that he actually consumes more than four times the recommended number of units of alcohol every week, averaging significantly over two litres of vodka, and his maximum consumption of alcohol in a day was equivalent to more than a litre of vodka.

If this is a familiar scenario to any readers, they will recall that the after effects were not at all glamorous. Most would not be able to rouse themselves for their lectures the next morning, let alone be able to defeat an evil henchmen twice their size in a fist fight.

In the study in the BMJ, titled ‘Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor?’, researchers conclude that his behaviour in the books and films is “inconsistent with the physical, mental, and indeed sexual functioning expected from someone drinking this much alcohol”.

They claim that Bond is at an exceedingly high risk of developing many of the effects of alcoholism, ranging from an exceedingly high risk of liver cirrhosis, impotence, hypertension, and overall be utterly unable to function at the level of a healthy human being, let alone a one of Her Majesty’s Secret Service agents.

It should be kept in mind, however, that the James Bond series is in fact a work of fiction. The writer Ian Fleming was also a heavy drinker, and the frequent mentions of drink could simply have suggested what was on his mind at the time.

“Bond also survives multiple bullet wounds, capture by enemy governments, torture, car crashes… We’re stretching the normal rules of human health and safety just a tad.” commented Emma Johnson, a first year Oxford student reading medicine at Corpus Christi.

“You need to allow for a suspension of disbelief. Nobody reads Harry Potter and says – ooh they would just all fall out of the sky, wouldn’t they? I think you just have to allow a certain amount of what you would loosely call poetic licence.”

Nor was Emma entirely convinced that there wasn’t an element of selection going on in the study. The study uses the lack of hangovers Bond experiences as evidence for a high alcohol tolerance, and hence regular drinking, yet the books are meant to cover the high stress periods of Bond’s life, where naturally you might think he would consume more alcohol than usual. “You’re never going to have described the evenings where Bond sits at home to watch Gilmore girls with a cup of tea.” She remarked.

It’s also fair to say from Bond’s choice of high-class brands that he appreciates the taste. In the case of many, especially students, the end goal is to be drunk, independent of the route taken – it would be hard to imagine a group of second years sitting around the JCR remarking that the Tesco value wine has a marvellous bouquet.

We also must ask ourselves: to what extent Bond is actually “seen as a strong role model” as mentioned in the research? Aside from a disconcertingly high proportion of 40-year-old men, do many aspire to be this well-loved character? Even if they do, wouldn’t they be more likely to focus on the cars he drives and women he sleeps with, not the units of alcohol he consumes weekly?

Bond, as it happens, makes a visit to Oxford in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. The result was – you’ve guessed it – an affair with one of the Oxford Professors (and statistically speaking, Bond was highly fortunate that she was both female and under the age of fifty). Does the study by the doctors hold an important warning for Oxford students?

Teenagers famously drink to excess, and it appears it is no different at any of the Oxford colleges. However, is it likely that the drinking has more stress-related causes like James Bond? “When you put a lot of type A personalities and a lot of work in a small space, you’re undoubtedly going to get drinking. I think competitive drinking can also become an issue in some cases.” Emma said.

“However, essentially people drink because they want to. There are plenty of other places, like on a gap year, where people drink the same amount or more than at Oxford.”

The latter, in most cases, is in fact true. According to a recent survey by Student Beans, Oxford University placed 41st (with 18.4 units per week) out of 74 universities on the average amount of alcohol consumed by students a week. This most certainly does not come out at the James Bond level.

Drinking is not a pressing issue in Oxford, then, at least not compared with the rest of the UK. But is James Bond still at great risk? After all, in the most recent film he was officially declared unfit for service. “[Bond] did undeniably consume a large quantity of alcohol”, Emma said, “but given that his liver is entirely fictitious, I don’t think he needs to worry about doing it much harm.”

Photo/Jessica Poole Mather