James Bond novels: Penguin Modern Classics (2004)

Casino Royale

A series looking at some of my favourite book covers and cover artists

#9: The James Bond novels published by Penguin Modern Classics in 2004

Since his first appearance in 1953’s Casino Royale Ian Fleming’s super-spy James Bond has become a global cultural phenomenon, appearing in over 20 blockbuster movies while the original novels have stayed constantly in print.

Over the decades the novels have been reprinted dozens of times, and have sported many different types of jacket design. In 2004 Penguin Books released new editions of the novels under their prestigious Modern Classics imprint, with new cover designs that, for my money, are probably the best the novels have ever looked.

The original series written by Fleming ran to 12 novels and two collections of short stories, all of which were reprinted by Penguin. Their Modern Classics imprint, with the distinctive silver banner, were a perfect fit for the suave Bond. The covers featured a selection of photographs either inspired or taken directly from the film’s those novels inspired. Unsurprisingly Sean Connery, the first actor to portray Bond on screen, appears on three of the covers (From Russia with Love, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice) while his co-star Ursula Andress appears on Dr No. Fans of the films who haven’t read the novels (probably the majority I suspect) may not have instantly understand the image choices. For example the decision to feature a racing car on the cover of Moonraker instead of a rocket, may have confused some but the image tied in perfectly with the novel, the centrepiece of which is a thrilling car chase.

Since the Modern Classics editions saw print the Bond novels have been reprinted at least twice with, it must be said, far less success (the current editions feature drab typographic covers that look rushed and uninspired). I much prefer these Modern Classic editions with their simple, yet elegant designs.