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Happy Birthday James Bond

by Hilary Macaskill

Forty years after the first James Bond film, Dr. No, interest in the world’s favourite secret agent shows no sign of abating. The 20th 007 movie, Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan and with a title song by Madonna, is due for release in November. In March, 2003 it will be 50 years since the book that introduced us to Bond, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, was published.

Anyone keen to spy on 007 should visit Britain, where the anniversaries are being marked with some gadget-packed exhibitions and other events. Bond fans can also see several of the film locations and places linked with Fleming, whose experiences in naval intelligence helped to create the fictional special agent.

Inside the entrance to the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, Yorkshire, is a sleek grey Aston Martin DB5, with wire wheels and magnum of Bollinger cradled between the front seats. It is the archetypal Bond car - the one driven by James Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) in Goldeneye. Together with a video of the dramatic race with Xenia Onatopp’s Ferrari en route to Monte Carlo, it forms the introduction to the “Bond, James Bond” exhibition (until September 1, then at London’s Science Museum from October 16, 2002 until spring 2003).

The displays also include original objects such as Oddjob’s deadly bowler hat and Rosa Klebb’s lethal shoe. You can enter M’s office, explore Q’s workshop, and find out how the films’ special effects are made. Visitors gain entry using their own Agent Card, which can also be used on the museum’s website.

Meanwhile, at the other end of England in the New Forest, 90 miles from London is a rather different exhibition. The National Motor Museum, well known for its record-breaking cars, is rather unexpectedly showing off memorable Bond boats (until the end of 2003).

See the world record-holding jumping speedboat from Live and Let Die; the Q ‘road boat’ from The World Is Not Enough and the ‘bath-o-sub’ used by Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever, along with other props and gadgets such as Miss Moneypenny’s costume from Octopussy and the harpoon gun from The Spy Who Loved Me.

Planned for November is a celebration of the humour found in all the Bond films, to be staged by the British Comedy Society at Pinewood Studios at Iver Heath to the west of London. It will include a charity auction, talks by those working in the films and the participation of at least one past Bond star. Film humour will be taken to another level in summer 2003, when Universal Pictures release Johnny English, a spy comedy starring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) as a master British agent.

What about those who want to follow in the footsteps of Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator who bore more than a few of the traits of his alter ego? The starting point is Eton, near Windsor, the school where Fleming, along with many literary luminaries, from Henry Fielding to George Orwell, studied. Another master of the genre of spy fiction, John Le Carre (as David Cornwell) taught there for a time. There are regular tours of the school, memorable for its extensive wood-carved graffiti.

In London, a blue plaque marks Fleming’s home in 22 Ebury Street, near Victoria, but he also lived, in the 1950s, in Carlyle Mansions, when he finished Casino Royale. The site of his offices can be visited: one in 4 Mitre Court, just around the corner from El Vino Wine Bar (a favourite watering hole of the author’s) in Fleet Street, where he worked after leaving his job as Foreign Manager of Kelmsley Newspapers.

Then on to the Admiralty in Whitehall (not open to the public), at the heart of British government. Here, in Room 39 on the ground floor (now renumbered 52), overlooking Horse Guards’ Parade where the Trooping of the Colour takes place, Commander Ian Fleming served as Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence throughout the war.

The factual world of espionage can be explored further in the “Secret War” exhibition, now a permanent fixture at London’s Imperial War Museum. (The museum puts on James Bond-style evenings as part of its corporate hospitality.)

Fans of the books can plot a route around their hero’s movements: visit the Ritz Hotel, where he stayed, and eat at his favourite restaurant, Scotts (it was in Coventry Street but has moved to Mount Street and therefore is not completely authentic). Or even, if so inclined, take a trip to Kent to play a round of golf where he did, at Royal St Mark’s course in Sandwich.

As for the films, the pre-title high-speed boat chase in The World is Not Enough is one of the most memorable Bond scenes. You can see the locations along the River Thames: from the real MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall eastwards to the Tower of London, Tobacco Dock and the Millennium Dome (the short clip took two months of filming). Or be ahead of the game and visit the settings for the new film, Die Another Day, such as Buckingham Palace, where arch villain Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) arrives for a press conference - by parachute.

The sands of Holywell Bay, near Newquay, south-west England, appear as a North Korean battlefield. But most spectacularly, the Eden Project – a much acclaimed ‘indoor tropical rainforest’, also in Cornwall -- plays a prominent role as the villain’s lair.