For Special Services: The Evolution of the Cover Art

September 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of John Gardner’s second Bond book, For Special Services. The third 007 continuation novel sees Bond placed on Special Services to the US government alongside Cedar Leiter, the attractive and capable daughter of Felix Leiter to infiltrate the organisation of Markus Bismaquer, whose ventures threaten to “set the world ablaze”. The pair pose as art experts, a cover designed to win over Bismaquer who famously loves art. And speaking of art, join us as we celebrate 40 years of this much-loved thriller by looking at the evolution of its covers.

When For Special Services was first published in 1982, the cover for Jonathan Cape’s UK hardback edition was created by British artist, illustrator and designer Bill Botten, whose work has decorated over 250 books, including novels by Kingsley and Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Ian Fleming’s old friend William Plomer, Salman Rushdie, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Crichton and J.G. Ballard. Among James Bond fans, Bill’s work is most recognisable from John Gardner’s novels Icebreaker and, of course, For Special Services, but it can also be found on Christopher Wood’s screenplay novelisations of The Spy Who Loved Me and James Bond and Moonraker.

The snake adorning the first edition of For Special Services – referencing the deadly thirty-foot pythons in Nena Blofeld’s house in the Bayou – is reminiscent of the artwork created by Richard Chopping for Ian Fleming’s original James Bond books, even down to the black cloth and gold lettering. When interviewed by Literary 007, Bill said that this was the only time that Jonathan Cape gave an indication of what they wanted on a cover. For the other books, it was (creative) Licence to Bill.

The paperback editions of For Special Services were published by Coronet Books, which soon became the third publisher of paperback James Bond novels in the UK. Like the hardback, the cover made by Coronet featured a snake but its block red background and the addition of a spy silhouette contributed to a bolder and more commercial look for the novel. It emphasised the speed and captured the action of John Gardner’s storytelling as well as his mission to “bring Mr Bond into the 1980s”.

In 1995 Coronet revamped the entire 007 series with vibrant new covers by David Scutt, Bill Gregory and Paul Robinson. This series is the most complete set of James Bond books to date. It would be the last set to include Colonel Sun and the only set to include both John Gardner and Raymond Benson titles. A 2003 omnibus containing the first three John Gardner books (Licence Renewed, For Special Services and Role of Honour) used the artwork from For Special Services.

In 2012 all fourteen of John Gardner’s James Bond titles were republished by Orion. The cover artist on this series, Dan Mogford, explains on his website how the concept came to him at the very last minute after he had decided to go in a different direction from the typical spy clichés of sex and villainy. The snake previously associated with the For Special Services covers moved (or sssssslithered along to) Scorpius, Gardner’s seventh 007 book, during the climax of which Bond’s bride, Horner is killed by a snake. On the new For Special Services cover, a satellite replaces the python, which arguably gives a more accurate impression of the novel’s atmosphere: aeroplane hijackings and a murdered CIA agent’s body, not to mention SPECTRE’s world-threatening plans to gain control of America’s military space satellite network.

It was Cover Renewed once more for For Special Services in 2020 as Orion created a dramatic new jacket, inspired by the parachuting scene that opens the thriller. Gardner’s novels continue to find new fans and first editions, complete with dustjackets showcasing the artwork at its best, are much sought after by collectors. We look forward to seeing the next evolution of cover designs.

40 years of For Special Services
John Gardner, author of For Special Services