James Bond's Britain
In China it's the Year of the Rat and the forthcoming Olympics - but in Britain, quiet commemorations of another kind are going on in honour of one of Britain's finest exports - the fictional spy, James Bond - aka, 007.
While 2008 has not exactly been officially declared Year of the Bond in the UK, there are a whole host of events to mark the centenary of the birth of his creator, Ian Fleming. A new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, with Daniel Craig in his second outing as the action-loving secret agent, hits UK cinemas on 31 October, and a week later gets its American release on 7 November. Furthermore, a brand new Bond novel, Devil May Care, penned by top British novelist, Sebastian Faulks, was published on May 28 on what would have been Fleming's 100th birthday.
And if London's Imperial War Museum doesn't already offer enough insight into the role of Britain's intelligence services from World War II to today's war on terror there's the aptly-titled For Your Eyes Only, which opened in April and runs until March 2009. This is the first major exhibition devoted to the life and work of Ian Fleming and explores the Bond author's life. Exhibits include his research notes forFrom Russia With Love, written in Istanbul and a selection of annotated Bond manuscripts. You don't have to be a secret agent to decipher that Fleming didn't just write spy novels - the exhibition includes a manuscript of Chitty Chitty Bang Bangwritten for Fleming's son and later made into a film.
There's a desk and chair from Goldeneye, Fleming's Jamaican mansion where he wrote the Bond novels, and a Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver, presented to Fleming by the Colt company in 1964. But perhaps most fascinating of all are the exhibits and props from the films themselves, including the sinister Rosa Klebb's deadly flick-knife shoes from From Russia With Love, a blood-stained shirt worn by latest Bond, Daniel Craig, from Casino Royale, and a popular draw for male Bond fans, the orange bikini worn by Halle Berry in Die Another Day. There's also the baddie's golf shoes from Goldfinger, a yellow helmet worn by Drax's men in Moonraker, the cello pierced by a bullet from The Living Daylights, a spear-gun from Thunderball and the overcoat worn by Sean Connery in Dr No.
Talking of clothes; if you haven't got the toned physique of Daniel Craig, don't despair. All is not lost because you can still dress like him. Dapper fans of 007 head, not to London's Bond Street, but to 71-72 Jermyn Street. This is home to the bespoke tailors Turnbull and Asser. Not only did they provide Daniel Craig's shirts for Casino Royale but also pyjamas for M - the character played by Dame Judi Dench. In fact, from the first Bond film, Dr No, in 1962, to Casino Royale, every 007 actor has had custom designed shirts and ties made by Turnbull & Asser. Their special James Bond cuff is a double cuff that angles back and reveals two buttons underneath.
Alternatively, head for Harrods in Knightsbridge where there's a Turnbull & Asser concession, and where American designer Tom Ford has recently launched in the UK. Ford has kitted Daniel Craig out for Quantum of Solace and the actor is reported to have ruined around 40 bespoke suits during filming already. "It really is a crime. It makes me weep every time. They're great suits," Craig told the British press recently.
Food and Drinks
Even top secret agents have to eat. In the Bond novels 007 routinely uses the staff canteen whilst at MI6. However, Bond sometimes dines at Scott's, the famous London fish restaurant, ordering 'dressed crab and Black Velvet or roast grouse and pink Champagne'. Scott's was Fleming's favourite restaurant and was located in Coventry Street when he wrote the Bond novels although it later moved to 20 Mount Street in Mayfair. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2001.
Fleming adored good English food - in particular Colchester oysters, scrambled eggs and grilled sole. An English savoury dish, he said, was the best food in the world, accompanied by a little pink Champagne. Scott's current menu still offers many of Fleming's favourite dishes, like Angels on Horseback - oysters wrapped in bacon on toast and Scotch Woodcock - scrambled eggs crisscrossed with anchovies.
For the ultimate martini - 007's cocktail of choice - head to Dukes Bar in the Dukes Hotel in St James's Place, Mayfair. The author was a regular here and Bond 's infamous "shaken, not stirred" phrase was inspired by a hotel barman here. Bond's famous cocktail can be made being at your table one of their bar team. Coincidently, 2008 is also the 100th anniversary of Dukes, and to celebrate there's a special Bond About Town package that includes a double room 3-course dinner in The Dining Room, a Miss Moneypenny Manicure and a Martini Master Class including a Vesper Martini.
Of course, no James Bond film is complete without a special set of wheels that enables 007 to keep one step ahead of villains. You don't even have to be a petrol-head to enjoy the James Bond Experience at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in the New Forest. On display are some of the extraordinary vehicles featured in the Bond films - the AMC Hornet used to chase the villain, Scaramanga, in The Man with The Golden Gun, the Aston Martin Volante from The Living Daylights, the BMW R1200 Motorcycle, used in the chase sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies and every Bond fan's favourite on-screen vehicle - the amphibious Lotus Submarine Car from The Spy Who Loved Me - with the famous wheel arches that turned into fins.
Aptly, Beaulieu was also where Britain's MI6 based their headquarters during World War II. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) Finishing School was the training ground for secret agent saboteurs. An exhibition reveals the secret skills the agents were taught, and some of their teachers - including the current Queen Elizabeth's dress designer, Hardy Amies.
During World War II, codebreakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, including Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming - as he was then known - worked with the Director of Naval Intelligence and masterminded Operation Ruthless, a bid to crack the German Naval Enigma. Bletchley Park is now a museum open to the public and exhibits include WWII memorabilia, diplomatic wireless, cryptology machines and post-war computers. On 25 August, Bletchley Park hosts a special From Bletchley With Love event with a parachute display and a large collection of Aston Martins.
Although Bond's adventures took him to exotic destinations to save the world from probable destruction, a surprising number of British locations have provided the backdrops. His base is in London, and the eyecatching waterfront MI6 building in Vauxhall, south London. The River Thames nearby provided the setting for the action-packed high-speed boat chase at the start of The World is Not Enough. The College of Arms near St Paul's Cathedral is where Bond went to check Blofeld's ancestry in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Sotheby's auction house is where Bond switches a rare Faberge egg with a fake in Octopussy. The famous Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly is where Bond stayed in Diamonds are Forever although Bond pedants know that in the books Bond stayed at The Savoy. South of the river, in Pimlico, a National Heritage blue plaque at 22 Ebury Street marks Fleming's birthplace 100 years ago.
Outside London, there are also many places now on the Bond trail. Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire - and the 007 Stage where all the spectacular engineering movie feats are filmed - may be off-limits to the public but the national park nearby, Black Park is not. This was the rebel camp in Uganda at the start of Casino Royale. The same film uses Dunsfold Aerodrome, near Guildford in Surrey, for the exciting Miami Airport runway scenes when a terrorist attempts to blow up a prototype passenger jet. Epsom race course, in Surrey, stood in for St Petersburg Airport in Goldeneye.
From Maidstone to Dover in Kent, south-east of London, is where Bond went in pursuit of the evil rocket scientist Drax from in a supercharged Bentley in
Also in Kent, there's a picturesque old pub called the Duck Inn in Pett Bottom, near Canterbury, which is featured in the book, You Only Live Twice. Fleming found inspiration for some of the 007 novels here in his favourite seat in the pub's garden. It is still there and bears a commemorative plaque in his honour.
While bar staff here won't attempt to produce a martini as good as Dukes's Bar in London, they do serve mean cask ales. Just don't ask for yours to be shaken not stirred.
© 2008 Max Wooldridge - www.visitbritain.com
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