The name’s Fleming, Ian Fleming

Mr Londoner takes a gentlemanly stroll around the streets of James Bond’s creator.

Think of 20th century cultural icons. Who springs to mind – Churchill, Elvis, the Queen? How about Bond, James Bond? And of those cultural heavyweights only one is a made-up character. In this blog, Mr Londoner spotlights the former haunts of Bond author Ian Fleming and explores gentlemanly Mayfair and St James. We search out the streets and alleys, historic hotels, venerable tailors and artisan makers that shaped the character of a 20th century icon and world’s best – and most enduring – secret agent.

The Bond brand
The Bond story comprises 14 original novels, 22 films, short stories, spin-offs and computer games. It was, in part, inspired by the life and times of its creator, Ian Lancaster Fleming. Fleming, a former wartime intelligence officer (a Commander of course), penned the Bond novels when, short of cash, he was pursuing the next chapter in his own post-war life. He had no idea that he was unleashing one of Britain’s most powerful and defining brands.

The architecture of Westminster tube station is said to have been inspired by the 1979 Bond film, Moonraker. @Meetmrlondoner

Bond was probably everything Fleming aspired to be but couldn’t quite manage. (Who could in fairness?). As a naval officer from a military family – that had seen action in two world wars – there was plenty of inspiration. Fleming’s father, Valentine, served with Winston Churchill in the trenches and died in the conflict. His elder brother Peter, also a Royal Navy officer, had a glittering career. Fleming was in awe of them both.

Derring-do
Fleming was based for much of the war in what today is OWO (Part of the Raffles hospitality group). This is London’s newest hotel at Whitehall’s Old War Office – and now one of its swankiest. His harshest critics described Fleming at the time as ‘a chocolate sailor’. This was a riff on a popular advert at the time for Hershey’s chocolate. During his stint at the War Office, some said he commanded “in-trays, out-trays and ash trays”. It’s certainly true that Fleming’s smoking habit was legendary. He was a 70-a-day man and was frequently reported for leaving ash everywhere. Kinder commentators say his heroism wasn’t just confined to his smoking habit.

Fleming was involved in some significant derring-do while he reported to head of naval intelligence, Admiral Godfrey, thought to be the inspiration for ‘M’. Fleming worked alongside Charles Fraser Smith, who fashioned secret gadgets, known as Q-devices, supplied by Q (Quartermaster) Branch. Q-Ships were heavily armed merchant vessels converted to anti- submarine duties but cunningly disguised as merchant craft. The ships were fitted-out on the Irish coast at Queenstown, another explanation for the Q moniker. Queenstown is today known as
Cobh – the final departure point of the Titanic. Needless to say, Charles Fraser Smith was the inspiration for 007’s world-weary quartermaster – and head of Q-Branch, Major Boothroyd, aka ‘Q’, played so irascibly in the earlier films by veteran actor Desmond Llewelyn.

The Royal Navy officers of HMS Seraph, which took part in Operation Mincemeat in 1943. Ministry of Defence

Fleming claimed to be the man behind the original idea for one of the Second World War’s most successful decoy plans, known as Operation Mincemeat. The 1943 mission successfully misled the Nazis by diverting attention from the allies’ plans to invade Sicily. It involved depositing a dead body dressed as a Royal Marines officer with secret papers on to a Spanish beach. The story itself is straight out of the pages of a Bond novel. But it’s entirely true. It has inspired two major films and even a West End musical, currently showing at The Fortune Theatre.

The name James Bond was borrowed from a Jamaican-based ornithologist who published an authoritative tome on the island’s exotic avians. And why 007? Theories abound. There are seven apostles, seven wonders of the world and seven deadly sins. And the bus that transported Fleming from his Canterbury home to London was (and still is) the 007. It’s also said that the secret papers Fleming saw as a Commander in naval intelligence had 00 as a prefix.

A trip along Bond Street
Although the content of both novels and films are of their time (much of which jars with modern sensibilities) the look and style of the character, remains timeless. The first visit on any 007 tour is naturally, Bond Street. Built in the 1720s and named after aristocratic property speculator Sir Thomas Bond. It remains one of London’s most prestigious thoroughfares and one of the most expensive and desirable strips of real estate in Europe. Home to brands including Patek Philippe, Prada and Louis Vuitton, Bond Street has the highest density of high-end stores anywhere in the world, attracting “the rich, the famous, and the simply curious.”

By the end of the century, a feckless upper-class ‘tribe’ known as the Bond Street Loungers dominated the scene. They wore expensive wigs, adopted foppish mannerisms and paraded about to draw attention. The Bond Street Loungers were a universe away from the hyper-masculine world of James Bond. Neverthless, Ian Fleming knew these streets, their upper-class residents and their rich stories well. Fleming would have made a link between 007, his own illustrious forebears and indeed the neighbourhood’s colourful history.

Old-school
Floris is a truly beautiful, very old-school, shop on Jermyn Street. This thoroughfare runs just south of Piccadilly and is another of London’s most elegant and exclusive shopping streets. Floris opened in 1730 and remains the Capital’s oldest perfumier. Some of the scents, like the grassy vetiver, have to be made up as a special order. However, most of its famous fragrances are readily available.

The old-world charm of Floris. @Meetmrlondoner

Marilyn Monroe was a customer. Winston Churchill wore Floris 127. Its powerful scent was designed to mask the all-consuming smell of his Cuban cigars. It’s sometimes stocked at the Churchill War Rooms – one of the more expensive items in its gift shop. Fleming, a man with a taste for the finer things in life, favoured the masculine and woody tones of Floris 126 and his novels Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker reference the brand’s fragrant products. Fleming writes that Bond himself used the bath essence. And Bond, like Fleming (and Churchill come to think of it) enjoyed a soak in luxurious surroundings.

The world of Churchill, his Chiefs-of-Staff, Fleming and James Bond are inextricably linked. Photo. Imperial War Museum

A few doors down from Floris is Turnbull and Asser. This is the tailor that made up Churchill’s siren suits (a sort of superannuated onesie). There’s a sumptuous bottle green example in the basement. Churchill was fascinated by the world of technology and there’s a strong link between the wartime PM and James Bond. Winston championed the tank, commandos, special forces – and spies. Fleming was involved training British and American agents alongside US Col ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan in the basement of St James’s wine purveyor, Berry Bros and Rudd. Veteran military man Donovan was behind the creation of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – America’s wartime secret service agency. The OSS became the CIA – the inspiration for which Fleming himself like to take the credit.

Get ahead. Get a hat. Mr Londoner sports his Norwegian woolen cap from Lock and Co. Photo @MrsLondoner

Get ahead. Get a hat
London’s oldest hat shop sits in a charming old building on St James Street. The venerable Lock and Co, dates back to 1676. It has a long- standing relationship both with Fleming and with the Bond franchise. The early Bond films featured Bond landing his trilby on the hat stand in Moneypenny’s office. The headwear was made by Lock and Co. Alas Bond, like millions of other men across the western world, later went hatless. The blame rests with international trendsetter JFK. The US President singlehandedly torpedoed global hat sales – simply because he opted not to wear one himself. Undaunted, in 2022, Lock and Co marked the 60th anniversary of the birth of Bond by launching its 007 hat collection. There’s the tweedy flat cap favoured by arch villain Erno Goldfinger and a natty straw trilby in grey/black – a copy of the one sported by Sean Connery in the same movie.

Spies like us. St James’s and Westminster are full of quirky little corners. @MrsLondoner

You only drink twice
Fleming loved Duke’s Hotel, tucked away in a quiet courtyard off St James’s Place. So did Princess Di, who apparently had a permanently-booked table for tea. This is where the famous Vespa Martini – shaken and not stirred (to give you the correct quote from the novels) was devised. The tragic Vespa Lynd was the anti-heroine of Casino Royale. You can toast her memory here with the famous cocktail – a little bit bitter and a little bit sweet with its blend of gin and vodka – but only twice. This combination is a potent one and the bartender will happily shake you two martinis. A request for a third will, however, be met with a polite but very definite No. In total, Bond orders an impressive 19 vodka martinis and 16 gin martinis throughout Fleming’s novels and short stories.

Join Mr Londoner for ‘We were expecting you’ – a walking tour of the gentlemanly and decidedly old-world thoroughfares of St James, Piccadilly and Mayfair – the streets that shaped James Bond.

 

 

About the Author

Mr Londoner is former museum director and writer Antony Robbins. His ‘Mr Londoner Presents …’ tours take bold and adventurous visitors off the well-worn tourist trail and deep in to the secret city. You can book a bespoke tour with Mr Londoner here