LONDON (Reuters) - James Bond is nothing but a gangster who would ply his trade for any country that offered him a steady supply of girls and dry Martinis, says writer John le Carré.
Agent 007 may be as popular as ever, but not with the creator of George Smiley.
Here is Le Carre on Bond in the 1960s: "I dislike Bond. I'm not sure that Bond is a spy. I think that it's a great mistake if one's talking about espionage literature to include Bond in this category at all," he said of rival novelist Ian Fleming's creation in a 1966 interview.
"It seems to me he's more some kind of international gangster with, as it is said, a license to kill... He's a man entirely out of the political context. It's of no interest to Bond who, for instance, is president of the United States or of the Union of Soviet Republics."
The interview will be shown again on television this week as part of BBC4's "In Their Own Words," which revisits archive footage of some of the biggest names in British literature.
But that was then and this is now.
"These days I would be much kinder," Le Carré told Radio Times magazine after watching a tape of the interview.
"I suppose we've lost sight of the books in favor of the film versions, haven't we?"
Fleming's novels and their film versions are heavy on violence and gadgetry, unlike Le Carré's work, which includes "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "The Constant Gardener."
"At the root of Bond there was something neo-fascistic and totally materialist," Le Carre said.
"You felt he would have gone through the same antics for any country really, if the girls had been so pretty and the Martinis so dry."
Le Carré, who worked for MI5 and MI6 in the 1950s and 1960s, also doubted the credibility of Fleming's smooth protagonist.
"I knew that I had written about the reality in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and that the Fleming stuff was a deliberate fantasization of Fleming's own experiences when he was safely in New York."
Reporting by Isobel Coles; Editing by Steve Addison