Ian Fleming describes the preparations for a secret and dangerous operation of his secret agent and assassin James Bond in the 1954 novel Live and Let Die. Among other essentials, ‘There was even a box of Benzedrine tablets to give endurance and heightened perception during the operation…’
Drug historians have quite rightly quoted this and similar lines from the Bond novels as an example of how the use of Benzedrine (an amphetamine more popularly known as speed) was quite wide spread throughout western societies in the 1950s. Charles O. Jackson even described the USA at that time as the ‘Amphetamine Democracy’.
Rereading the Bond novels we can detect more historical significance in 007’s drug use. Bond may be a playboy and a womanizer, an alcoholic according to present-day standards and at times a drug abuser, he is also a staunch pillar and defender of a tottering British Empire. There is a historical irony here: we notice that just before the emergence of a counter culture with a blooming use of all kinds of licit and illicit substances, a counter culture that will seem to threaten the very survival of the Empire itself, the potentials of drug use can work opposite ways. On speed you can either be ”on the bus”, as Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters who were fuelled with amphetamines as much as with LSD. Or you can, as 007, be “off the bus” and stick to the old ways and manners of the Empire.