As a civil servant, James Bond never earned much money through his line of work. He’s a secret agent, so the salary of any real-world equivalent to Bond today would also be a secret. But one thing is for sure: because Bond’s job is a government job, he’s not being paid like a banker. As Scaramanga says, Bond works ‘for peanuts. A “well done” from the Queen and a pittance of a pension.’ Being formerly an ‘underpaid assassin’ for the KGB himself, Scaramanga would know what he’s talking about.
How much does Bond earn?
Whatever Bond earns, it’s certainly not one million dollars a kill in 1974 money. Ian Fleming specified Bond’s salary in the 1955 novel Moonraker to be £1,500 a year. He also received £1,000 a year tax-free separately from his job—The James Bond Dossier believes that this money is likely a family inheritance in the form of a trust—for a net salary of £2,000.
That was well-above the average salary at the time, which was about one quarter of Bond’s take-home pay. On top of that, Fleming notes that Bond is able to spend as much of the government’s money as he wants when on the job. He expenses his indulgences on his missions, from five-star hotels to the best champagne and caviar. That leaves him with quite a lot of money to spare.
Converting Bond’s 1955 yearly earnings to today’s money would be £53,661.25, which is still above the average £31,000 salary in the UK today. Whatever the closest type of SIS operative would be today, Bond probably is paid more seeing as he is the most elite of spies. We can guess he makes £100,000 a year with the combination of both his salary and trust.
How much does a suit cost?
Based on a GQ article from 1966, Bond could have purchased an Anthony Sinclair suit for $215, which converts to £77 at that time. Considering the cost of the suit would have been a bit lower in 1955, Bond could have afforded a wardrobe of bespoke suits and silk and Sea Island cotton shirts at the time without significant strain on his budget. He didn’t have many suits in the novels, and he wore his suits to the last threads.
On Bond’s estimated salary today, he would not be easily able to afford the Tom Ford wardrobe that he wears in Spectre, particularly at the rate he wears through his clothes in action scenes. The clothes he wears in the film would have cost about £40,000, and that’s assuming he didn’t have any duplicates.
It’s possible some of Bond’s other expenses, such as his housing, are covered by the government, and he could afford to spend that much money on his clothes in a year or two. According to Fleming, Bond spent all the money he could because he knew 00-agents have a short life expectency and saw no reason to save his money for an unlikely future. But what if Bond had to pay for his fancy Notting Hill flat? What if a former Bond girl sued him for child support? He probably needs more money to buy all of his clothes.
How can Bond afford these expensive clothes along with his other expenses?
His expensive clothes may possibly be billed to the government, though that is not a given since he probably does not purchase most of his clothes directly as part of his missions.
Bond’s luck and skill at gambling is what ultimately earns him big money. His first appearance on film is at the chemin de fer table at the Les Ambassadeurs Club, showing Bond in what we can only assume is a regular spot for him. This suggests that Bond makes most of his money here.
Based on the ratio of Bond’s gambling wins to losses throughout the series, it’s safe to assume overall that he wins much more frequently than he loses. After all, Bond’s luck shouldn’t have anything to do with whether or not he has a cinematic audience.
Does Bond also have family money?
The film Bond may also have a larger family trust than the book Bond has. He is a descendant of Sir Thomas Bond, who was part of the landed gentry during the seventeenth century. He owned land that earned him money, so he did not have to work for his money. Bond’s father Andrew Bond was still the owner of a Bond ancestral home in Glencoe, Scotland, as seen in Skyfall. The house employs Kincaide, a caretaker. The estate once likely employed and housed many more people.
Like many wealthy families, much Bond’s family money may have all been spent before his time, and Andrew Bond held a sales position at Vickers that had him travelling Europe. Holding a job does not mean that Andrew didn’t have family money, but it may signify that the Bond fortune was not what it once was after being spent and divided over many generations. When Bond was born, his father entered him at Eton, so that could still signify that there was family money left. Perhaps there was a large life insurance policy left to Bond after his parents died.
In the Casino Royale film, Vesper Lynd suggests that Bond was not from money. It is important to note that Vesper is making guesses about Bond’s background to make him uncomfortable. There is no confirmation if what she says is true or false. Since she gets his watch wrong, it could mean that she got other things wrong too. The Skyfall estate proves that Bond did not come from a poor family, though since it’s no longer a thriving estate there may not be any family money left. The films have little continuity, even in the Craig era when they’re supposed to be a single story line, so Vesper may have been right that Bond grew up without money, but if she was correct, that story was retconned for Skyfall.
So while family money is not a given for Bond, his high-stakes gambling successes are. His true workplace is the casino. These successes mean that he doesn’t have to put all of his expenses on a credit card. So ultimately no matter what Bond’s salary is, it is likely ‘peanuts’ compared to his gambling payouts.
Splendid assessment there sir. Loved it.
In Fleming’s Moonraker Bond had some thoughts on his winnings from Drax, which includes investing in gold, so he does plan for the future and isn’t as devil may care as one might imagine.
I also don’t think it too hard to imagine that a government sanctioned sociopath like Bond might ‘set aside’ some of the dirty money that crosses his path, like Sanchez’s money or Graves’ diamonds.
Bond never did retire, as he thought about in that moment. I was referencing another passage in Moonraker about how Bond didn’t care to save: ‘… it was his ambition to have as little as possible in his banking account when he was killed, as, when he was depressed, he knew he would be, before the statutory age of forty-five.’
I think based on everything we know about Bond that it is very unlikely he is embezzling money from his missions. Matt’s explanation about gambling wins coupled with no desire to save money seems highly plausible to me. And just because Bond thinks about investing doesn’t mean that he saves. As we all know, investing – even in something conservative like gold – is just another form of gambling.
In one of the books, and I am not sure which one, it mentions that his clothes have no labels in them. This is in case Bond gets caught. It mentions a tailor also, and its not explicit, but it does imply that MI6 provides something. Also in Live and Let Die the CIA provides Bond with clothes, so maybe Felix pays for everything?
It’s clear that some clothes are provided for Bond for his missions. In Live and Let Die it’s the FBI who outfits Bond as an America. In For Your Eyes Only he is sent to a second-hand shop to get clothes for his mission. The lack of name tags and initials is mentioned in Diamonds Are Forever. But I don’t recall any place where it says MI6 paid for all his clothes.
The books never actually mention which agency Bond works for, and the HQ “overlooking Regents Park” was never a SIS HQ. In the films, I don’t remember SIS/MI6 being mentioned until the Brosnan era (although i may be mistaken on that). There’s an excellent article on the Absolutely James Bond website about the assumption that Bond worked for MI6, and I agree with the authors conclusion that he most likely didn’t-he’s certainly not an Intelligence Agent or spy in the usual meaning of the word. Excellent article otherwise.
In the film Dr. No, Bond works for “MI7”, which was likely changed from MI6 to avoid any issues with the real Mi6. Bond is established to be a government agent in other films, so whether he’s working for an elite part of MI6 or another government agency doesn’t change any of this.
Matt. Great posting as usual. I think you are absolutely right. I have long assumed Bond’s lifestyle was highly reliant on his success gambling. Even in the book “Casino Royale”, M provided Bond with only part of the stake for the big game against Le Chiffre. He counted on Bond’s gambling skills to earn the remainder prior to the game.
Keep up the good work. I always enjoy your insight and knowledge.
If I’m not mistaken how much of the winnings do you think Bond was actually able to retain? Of the 150 million.
I love the nerdy speculation that we get involved in, trying to fill some of the occasionally gaping (and often contradictory) holes in Bond’s background.
Jeffrey Deaver mentions Canali suits in his novel IIRC. Not sure why he chose that particular brand. Also I’m not sure of the continuity between that universe and the film / Craig universe.
I also find a lot of this evidence of Bond’s background contradictory. Matt did an excellent article about Bond ‘becoming’ Bond in Casino Royale, how he was a bit clueless and schlubby at the start of the film but became more switched on both in tradecraft and matters sartorial as the film progressed. But at times we’re led to believe the CraigBond is rough and ready, even a bit blue collar or at least from the wrong side of the tracks (wearing his suit with “disdain” due to “charity”, living in a bare apartment furnished with orange crates, not seeming to care about his clothes or material possessions – the Aston – getting trashed or his belongings being sold off after his presumed death) which doesn’t really jibe with an endless collection of watches, sunglasses, overcoats, TF suits, C and J and Lobb shoes, Tand A shirts etc. if the films were to take a small step towards realism with the CraigBond character we’d see some clothes and accessories re-used from film to film which they did in the Connery days. I realise that doesn’t work with today’s necessary product placement and the need to have Bond turned out in impeccable (and new) threads in each new film.
Good points, Rod. The attempt to create continuity between Craig’s Bond films only seems to have emphasised the lack of continuity. There’s plenty of retconning in these films.
I don’t know why Deaver chose Canali for Bond, but it may be because he’s an American and Canali is available in America. They make a quality suit that isn’t over-the-top expensive, and it’s easy to find in America.
That is one thing that bothers me a lot about the Craig era. With many of the other Bonds, you sort of imagine them coming home to the same closet at the end of the each movie (even if not in reused items, then at least an internally consistent set of attire).
This consistency is only present with Connery’s and Brosnan’s wardrobes. Moore had periods of consistency, but he seemed to have three entirely separate wardrobes throughout his tenure. Even Craig has wardrobe consistency with Skyfall through No Time to Die.
The long periods of time between the films might also have something to do with this. Those shrunken suits we associate with Craig are 12 years old now and it wasn’t even his first movie at the time.
I think you mean nine years old. The shrunken fit debuted in Skyfall.
If Bond gets the government faucet on missions, as you point out, then he only needed to buy his wardrobe once. Every time he has to use his jacket as a shield or gets Russian tank rubble on his lapels he can expense it and go shopping. No wonder he’s so prepared to wear his suits down to the threads – that takes him about one weekend on a mission. No wonder he’s on such great terms with his tailor too – they probably start ordering new swatches every time he leaves town.
He may not have even needed to buy the whole original wardrobe himself. Vesper bought him a dinner jacket and Q’s provided him with various belts, jackets, shoes, watches and bags over the years.
Also he’s surely expensing all those diguises. Hard to believe that military intelligence would risk him blowing his cover by making him spy on a personal budget while nuclear weapons and EMPs are stake. And since his covers are usually “affluent gambler,” “affluent banker,” “affluent playboy,” etc. the government should be expecting to fork out a little.
That potentially puts stuff like the charcoal Brioni suit and monk shoes for the Bilbao bankers meeting on the company card.
Good points! Any way you put it, Bond has means of getting his fancy wardrobe without needing to spend his salary.
And why not? Roger Moore apparently acquired a lot of his wardrobe from his tv and film work.
In the film “Live and Let Die” we see Bond having a tailor visit his hotel room as shown in the above picture. I just always assumed Bond did that a lot. It was her majesty’s government bankrolling his closet.
Of course, it is always fun to speculate, but anyone who win a $150,000,000 poker tournament does not have to worry about cash. So I am not too bothered with the question of how pays for his clothes.
I wonder if that scene is in some way trying to copy the scene from the novel when Bond is outfitted by an American tailor courtesy of the FBI for his mission. It would be strange for Bond to be seeing his regular London tailor in America, particularly since it wasn’t as common back then for British tailors to travel to America as it is today. So this may have been an American tailor that Felix got the CIA to pay for and isn’t a usual thing for Bond.
Well if you remember he wasn’t supposed to keep the winnings he was supposed to turn it over to the Treasury but Mister White nicked off with the attaché case!
Bond also had “his tailor” visit him in Hong Kong in DAD and supplied him with an electric razor, some suits and numerous conspicuously displayed Brioni shirts. I don’t think we can assume that was all on the company nut as he’d just escaped SIS custody and was on the lam. How he paid for it remains a mystery and of course it’s part of the jokey ‘wink at the audience’ side of the series. Some people enjoy that sort of thing – watching Bond breezing around the world in the lap of luxury – but I’d prefer a bit more ‘internal realism’ myself.
I think Jim’s point is that Bond has no trouble winning poker games on his own. Anyone who can win big like that has surely done it before and will do it again.
Ah OK well in hat case – point taken!
IIRC Bond’s casino activities on film and in print, both recreationally and on missions, seem to have him winning more than losing.
When I first read about the ‘two out of three dozens’ used by Bond in roulette when I was a young teenager I couldn’t wait to go to a casino and clean up! By the time I finally made it to Vegas I was smart enough to have learned that the house always wins and had zero interest in gambling. Only later did I read about Fleming trying to banco the Russian contingent at a casino during the Cold War and losing! Maybe it was wise not to try and follow his gambling strategy after all!
Fiction aside, it is not difficult to estimate Bond’s income and benefits as an active military officer. UK MOD states that as of Aug 2020, salary of Royal Navy Commander starts at £75,754 and tops at £87,716 a year.
Bond will also get the following benefits:
*Excellent non-contributory pension scheme (UK MOD pay into Bond’s pension for him, without him having to sacrifice his salary).
*Operational allowance for extended tours (this is in addition to Bond’s salary).
*Defence discount services, from car and hotel companies, to holidays and high street shops.
*Six weeks of paid holiday every year, on top of public holidays.
*Paid travelling the world. Obviously.
*Free medical and dental care.
*Free access to gym and sports facilities, Sports associations including everything from rugby and football, to kayaking and kite-surfing.
*Subsidised travel, accommodation and food.
*Two weeks’ paternity leave on full pay, and the option for shared paternity leave.
*Free accommodation at sea, and at-home living arrangements (could save up to £7,200 a year).
*Forces Help to Buy scheme. 0% loan to on, or further up, the housing ladder (the loan is up to 50% of annual salary, to a maximum of £25,000)
I’ve always understood Vesper’s comment that Bond “didn’t come from money” as alluding to the death of his parents and him instead being raised by his middle class Aunt. Premature deaths can strip away a fortune quite rapidly.
Exactly Mark. Inheritance tax will have snatched the Bond fortune away. And the “other person`s charity” that Vesper mentions was always a nod to the Fleming “Aunt Charmian” who takes him in after his parents` death.
“He’s a secret agent, so the salary of any real-world equivalent to Bond today would also be a secret”.
On the contrary, estimated salaries are published on the careers section of the SIS website. They’re currently advertising an Intelligence Officer vacancy, with a salary “From £35,534 – £44,903 non negotiable”.
Perhaps not quite kind of money.
Being an intelligence officer is not the same as being a Double-O. Bond is above those intelligence officers. Being a commander would already entitle Bond to double that pay, and we can assume he’s earning a little more than a Royal Navy commander would.
Surely he’s not double-dipping? Drawing a commander’s salary when he’s never been in the navy for ages?
But he’s still working for the military!
I don’t think it works like that. I stand to be corrected but when you’re recruited out of the armed forces into intelligence it’s like changing jobs. This didn’t apply to Fleming himself as he was in Naval Intelligence not the SIS / MI-6, so he got to keep his rank and uniform. One aspect of realism I will salute the film-makers for is that – at least so far – they haven’t tried to pointlessly shoe-horn Craig into a naval uniform!
Professionally, Bond is still referred to as “Commander”, so I’m assuming he’s still kept this rank and uniform like Fleming was able to.
I think this is just the case for certain retired ranks, though:
“officers of the rank of lieutenant-commander and above customarily use (and are addressed by) their rank after being placed on the retired list.”
I think for Bond, like many ex-servicemen’s, referring to their rank post-service is either an honorary title or by choice. My Dad absolutely refused anyone addressing him by his rank after he left the service, but he kept in contact with an old boy who I believe was his mentor as a cadet – when he wrote out a Christmas card he would always address it “Squadron Leader …”
I think Fleming liked the way his Jamaican housekeeper always referred to him as “The Commander” which was of course long after he’d left the Navy!
I think Rod might be right.
The fact that Bond is still addressed as ‘Commander’ does not mean that he necessarily still fulfills that role. Those who have held senior roles in the services often retain that mode of address even when they are retired. In the navy, I understand, those above Lieutenant Commander retain their rank even after retirement from service:
There was a high school teacher that was there around the time that i was going to that particular school. He drove a silver porsche and i overheard another teacher ask him how he can possible afford that car, his response was
“I SAVED MY MONEY AND WITH BUY ONCE BUT BUY THE BEST.”
He had that car for over 15 years and from what i hear its still running….
I wouldn’t believe his story. The problem when you buy an expensive car is that once the warranty runs out you’re going to be paying for expensive repairs. The people who I know who save money on cars bought Nissans. They have the cars for decades with minimal trouble. The cars may not be exciting, but you will save money. The key is to buy well-made, not the most luxurious.
“The key is to buy well-made, not the most luxurious.” This is good guidance in many facets of life.
In the book “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” He uses his watch as a knuckle duster when attacking his guard. He then thinks about how he’s going to file an expense report on the watch and what he will get to replace it.
Since, except for gambling, he seems to live frugally while not on a mission and can expense what gets broken in the field it doesn’t seem out of line that the movie Bond would wear Tom Ford suits that he could get replaced.
It’s hard to tell but in the books his cover seems to be that of a well off businessman. In Thunderball he gets into Palmyra, Largo’s estate, because he acts like he’s interested in buying it. So dressing and eating well would help him with his story.
Did James Bond’s father or any other family member go to Eton as well?
It is common for wealthy families to send their sons to a public school as part of a family tradition.
His father attended Fettes College in Scotland, which Bond later attended after being expelled from Eton.
Fantastic article really enjoyed it. I found myself doing the same sort of calculations a couple of years back wondering how he could afford everything. It’s a great discussion piece. Thanks for publishing and keep up the good work.
In Moonraker he was allowed to keep his winnings from gambling with Drax. It was PS 15,000 of which he bought a Rolls-Bentley convertible PS 5,000 and 3 diamond clips for PS 750. Presumably that was tax free and it would have been more than he earned in a year. So he could easily earn his Turnbull and Asser suits from gambling.
Bond wouldn’t have worn suits from Turnbull & Asser, they didn’t start offering them until the 1970s. Perhaps you meant shirts from them? Or suits from Savile Row?
Matt, great article and interesting facts, as always. Look forward to being able to buy your book on amazon in due course. One kind suggestion re a detail in the article: “But what if Bond had to pay for his fancy Notting Hill flat?” – Bond lives in Chelsea, not Notting Hill, and Chelsea is more fancy so the rest of the sentence would still hold true after this change :)
Thanks, Daniel. I mentioned Notting Hill because Bond’s flat in Spectre was filmed there, and it’s a mighty fancy flat. It may be half the price of Chelsea, where Fleming located Bond, but it’s still expensive!
Good article and comments.
I have always assumed that the “Fleming Bond”, not the film one…an entirely different character, at least originally…was well off because he was both a good golf player (high stakes golf at the weekend…Moonraker) and good bridge player (as also demonstrated in Moonraker).
A “real life” example would be Iain MacLeod, the first Chancellor in the Heath government of 1970. He made his living in the 1930s as a professional, world class bridge player and earned huge amounts of money. Bond was obviously not in that league, but could well earn very good money.
In any event, maintaining relationships with “three similarly inclined married women” can hardly have been inexpensive, even if they were themselves wealthy.
Bond has an unlimited expenses account through Universal Exports.
Various Agencies around the world also provide a clothing allowance. If someone is off to the tropics, then off to a more cosmopolitan gig in New York or London, the wardrobe change is considerable.