Friday, 6 May 2016

It belongs in a museum: James Bond's Walther PPK

Mention the words Walther PPK to anyone, and the chances are they'll identify it as James Bond's gun. There can't be many fictional characters whose handguns are so deeply embedded in popular culture. Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum is the only other example I can think of off-hand, but there may be others.

The Walther PPK is so closely associated with James Bond that any description or history of the weapon is likely to allude to its most famous user. This occurred to me when I visited the Royal Armouries in Leeds last week. The museum has been home to James Bond in the past – in 1997 it hosted the World of 007 exhibition – but it also contains a permanent display of guns that feature in the Bond novels.

The 007 display at the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Naturally there is a Walther PPK, but there is also a Beretta 1919/318, as well as a Luger Model 1908, Sauer Model 38-H, Colt Hammerless Pocket Model, Smith & Wesson Airweight Model 12, and others guns that are mentioned in the books.

It would have been reasonable to display the guns without reference to Bond – each no doubt has an interesting history in its own right – but Bond is useful and popular common factor that brings them together. It seems unlikely, however, that the display would have been considered had the Walther PPK not been so synonymous with Bond.
A Walther PP at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
James Bond is referenced in another display of handguns, this time in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford. Information next to a Walther PP again mentions that the PPK model was Bond's weapon of choice.

It is interesting to note that in both museums the Bond references are literary, with reference to the books, although it should be said that the display at the Royal Armouries includes posters from the Bond films. Arguably, however, it is the films which have done most to introduce and perpetuate the Walther-PPK-is-James-Bond's-gun meme in people's minds.

Bond's reluctant acceptance of the Walther PPK, replacing his beloved Beretta, at an early point of the first Bond film, Dr No, is likely to have been a factor; the scene is imbued with significance, and it established a link that hasn't been rivalled. If the gun had been introduced several films later, then chances are the link would have been weaker, because there would have been other, well-established guns, particularly the Beretta, and the Walther PPK would have been required to compete for recognition. In addition, the link has been reinforced by occasional on-screen acknowledgements, for example in For Your Eyes Only ('A Walther PPK. Standard issue, British Secret Service') or GoldenEye ('Walther PPK. Only three men I know use such a gun').

Incidentally, in the gift shop at the Royal Armouries I saw further proof of the strength of the Walther PPK-Bond connection when I picked up Guns: A Visual History by Chris McNabb and published in 2009 by DK Publishing. The book is an illustrated guide to guns through the ages and the information presented is largely technical. Yet, flick through to the section on the Walther PPK and you will see a double-page spread on its role in the Bond films.

As with the vodka martini or the Aston Martin DB5, the Walther PPK is inextricably linked with Bond. The association is so close that no museum display or reference work that features the gun is complete without acknowledgement of it.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Who was the real James Bond?

Over the years, there has been no shortage of speculation about which commandos Ian Fleming meant when he said that James Bond was 'a compound of secret agent and commando types I had met [during the war]'. Among the usual names linked to Bond are Fitzroy Maclean, Patrick Dalzel-Job, Conrad O'Brien Ffrench, and Dusko Popov.

To this list we can add Forest Yeo-Thomas, whom Sophie Jackson in her 2012 book, Churchill'sWhite Rabbit, has claimed was the real inspiration for Bond. As with the others, the evidence is at best circumstantial, but what is perhaps of more interest in this and other cases is the way that the perceived connection, however tenuous, provide selling points for books about the individuals.

It must be said that the wartime exploits of Forest Yeo-Thomas – a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who was parachuted into occupied France, captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned at Buchenwald, and made a daring escape – are the very stuff of Bondian-like adventure. What's more, Ian Fleming was aware of them.

During her research into Yeo-Thomas, Sophie Jackson uncovered a top-secret letter written in May 1945 by Fleming in which he expressed his happiness on learning that Yeo-Thomas, after being sent on his mission, was still alive and had escaped, and his thoughts about the publicity value of Yeo-Thomas' remarkable story.

While the letter proves that Fleming knew Yeo-Thomas and his exploits, it does no more, and the evidence Sophie Jackson offers in addition to the letter to suggest that Yeo-Thomas was the inspiration for Bond – Yeo-Thomas' capture, torture, and escape is worthy of Bond, as is his apparent popularity with women – is hardly conclusive.

But that's firm enough evidence for Sophie Jackson's publisher, The History Press, who makes the most of the connection. The book's subtitle is 'The true story of a real-life James Bond', while associated publicity states that the book reveals how Yeo-Thomas 'provided the inspiration for Ian Fleming's famous secret agent, James Bond.'

In that regard, the book is in good company. The subtitle of the 2002 edition of Patrick Dalzel-Job's autobiography, From Arctic Snow to Dust of Normandy, is 'The war memoirs of the real James Bond'. (This is retained in the French edition, though the Bond connection is emphasised: Le Vrai James Bond. Des neiges de l'Arctique aux sables de la Normandie 1939-1945.) The back cover blurb of Penguin's 2009 edition of Fitzroy Maclean's classic Eastern Approaches begins, 'Fitzroy Maclean was one of the real-life inspirations for super-spy James Bond'. The back-cover text of Russell Miller's 2005 account of Dusko Popov, Operation Tricycle, is more cautious but mentions James Bond all the same.

As Henry Chancellor suggests, there is probably more of Ian Fleming in James Bond than any one commando (and to my mind, judging by statements made by Fleming and the style of the Bond books, a good dash of American private-eye thrown in for good measure). Nevertheless, the link between numerous wartime heroes and Bond remains strong, thanks in part to publishers' copy-writers and continued interest in the role of secret agents and commandos in the Second World War.


Chancellor, H, 2005 James Bond: The Man and his World, John Murray
Macintyre, B, 2008 For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, Bloomsbury

Monday, 25 April 2016

Two food and drink companies inspired by James Bond

I recently came across two examples of eating and drinking companies where James Bond had inspired aspects of their marketing. One is a cocktail bar in Bristol with the name of Her Majesty's Secret Service, which obviously derives from the title of the film (or book), On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

In addition, the bar's logo has a hint of the heraldic-like artwork used for the marketing of the film, comprising as it does a coat-of-arms-style device of a crowned medallion containing the name of the bar, and flanked by two birds.

The drinks offered on the menu (nicely designed to resemble a passport and available online) are a little unusual – there is no vodka martini in sight – but patrons looking for a Bondian drink could choose a Mojito (which Bond drinks in Die Another Day), an Old Fashioned (ordered by Bond in the book of Live and Let Die), or a Mint Julip (a cocktail which Bond accepts from Goldfinger). , 

If those don't appeal to you, then how about a boiler maker – a shot of spirits followed by a beer
which is also on the menu? Bond goes for a boiler maker (in his case a schnapps washed down with a Löwenbräu) in the short story, 'The Living Daylights'.

The second company is the UK pie-sellers, Pieminister, whose tasty pies are available in pubs, restaurants and by mail-order. At one pub, the words 'Live and Eat Pie!' were spotted on a Pieminister menu. This exhortation is clearly a play on Live and Let Die, and provides further evidence that the title of Live and Let Die is a hugely successful meme, being memorable and adaptable and deeply embedded in popular culture.


Leigh, D, 2012 James Bond drinks: The complete guide to the drinks of James Bond, 2 edn

Friday, 15 April 2016

Dining out with Bond and Marlowe

He went into the kitchen and cooked himself Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs and toast, washed down with coffee. James Bond having a spot of breakfast? Actually, no. This is a breakfast consumed by Raymond Chandler's dogged and wise-cracking private eye, Philip Marlowe. But it could easily have been Bond's breakfast too, bacon, coffee, and in particular scrambled eggs being Bond's favourite. Only the cooking separates the two heroes; Bond has a housekeeper for that.

Re-reading Chandler's 1953 novel, The Long Good-bye, I was reminded how large a role food plays in the Philip Marlowe mysteries, almost rivalling the Bond books for food mentions and descriptions.

In the same book, while investigating the murder of a wealthy socialite, the apparent suicide of the only suspect, her husband, and babysitting an alcoholic author, Philip Marlowe consumes more Canadian bacon for breakfast, a chicken salad sandwich lunch, and evening meals of hamburger, mashed potato and onion rings, and prime ribs and, somewhat incongruously, Yorkshire pudding.

It's clear from interviews with Ian Fleming that James Bond owes his origins in part to the tradition of hardboiled detective fiction, particularly that of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The last two thirds of The Spy who Loved Me is pure American pulp-fiction (in the best possible way), and generally the action, spare prose, and dry humour (yes, there is some) of the Bond books wouldn't be out of place in a Chandler novel. To that list we can add food descriptions, which offer another point of similarity.

Being a relatively frequent visitor to the US – though not to California, where Marlowe plies his trade (at least not in books; Bond does travel to California in the 1985 film, A View to a Kill) –  Bond would be familiar with Marlowe's food choices. In Live and Let Die, Bond eats a charcoal-grilled hamburger and has a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee at his New York hotel, and orders a chicken sandwich during his rail journey to Florida. In Miami (Goldfinger), Bond enjoys roast prime ribs of beef. Admittedly, Bond doesn't eat Yorkshire pudding in the US or elsewhere for that matter, but he does have a passing thought about toad-in-the-hole, which uses the same batter recipe.

Given their shared tastes, someone really ought to get Marlowe and Bond together for a dinner date. Now that's a parody waiting to be written. Thinking about it, we already have an idea of how that might look on the page. The Bond books feature a laconic private detective, Bond's friend and comrade-in-arms Felix Leiter (who, by his second appearance, is a Pinkerton's agent), with much of Leiter's time spent, it seems, in restaurants and bars.

Not only does Felix Leiter know his food, but he also has his fair share of wisecracks. In Diamonds are Forever, before entering Sardi's, where Leiter introduces Bond to brizzola ('Beef, straight-cut across the bone. Roast and then broiled. Suit you?'), Leiter quips that in Texas, 'even the fleas are so rich they can hire themselves dogs'. Philip Marlowe would be proud of that one, and would no doubt enjoy dining at Sardi's too.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Ian Fleming, Q Central and Q Branch

I was interested to learn recently of the history of Q Central, a British wartime establishment that was just as secret and vital to the war-effort as the code-breaking base at nearby Bletchley Park. What is especially intriguing is the likelihood that Ian Fleming was well-acquainted with the operations of Q Central and its satellite units.

Q Central was based at RAF Leighton Buzzard, a purpose-built station on the edge of the Bedfordshire town. Its importance cannot be overstated. The station served as the communications hub for all radio signals produced by the RAF, navy and army, and those of MI5, MI6 and MI8, as well as other secret units. Operators there also intercepted German radio traffic, which was then forwarded to Bletchley Park, and were responsible for transmitting coded messages and misinformation. It also operated, at the time, the largest telephone exchange in the world.

As personal assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence Division (NID), Ian Fleming would have been well aware of Q Central. He is likely to have known that signals sent by the Admiralty were routed through Section 2 of Q Central, and he was a regular visitor to other establishments in the area that were linked to Q Central.

Milton Bryan studios. Photo by Jayembee1969 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

One of these was, naturally, Bletchley Park. Another, perhaps lesser-known, location was Milton Bryan, a village eight miles north-east of Leighton Buzzard. This was home to the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), Britain's 'black propaganda' unit. Led by Sefton Delmer, a Daily Express journalist and friend of Ian Fleming, the unit recruited writers, foreign-language speakers, PoWs, and forgers to create and transmit material designed to demoralise the enemy.

Much of the information that formed the basis of radio broadcasts directed at the German navy was supplied by the NID. Ian Fleming, along with NID colleague Donald McLachlan, even set up two radio stations, which, from Milton Bryan, transmitted demoralising information to U-boat crews.

Fleming often visited the studios to see the work of the unit first-hand, and when broadcasts of propaganda to what had been occupied France ceased in April 1945, Fleming joined members of the PWE at Milton Bryan for an end-of-operations celebration.

The PWE at Milton Bryan was one of a number of secret and otherwise special establishments in the area, including No. 60 (Signals) Group, which operated radar stations, the Met Office, based at Dunstable, and USAAF Cheddington, whose crews flew sorties to drop propaganda leaflets. At the heart of all this activity was Q Central.

Given its name, and Ian Fleming's connection to the area, it is tempting to link Q Central with Q Branch of the James Bond books. There is no suggestion in the books that Q Branch was based on the wartime establishment – the role of Q Branch is one of supply, gadgets and equipment, rather than communications – but it's possible that Fleming had Q Central in mind when he came up with the name (it should be remembered that there is no Quartermaster in the books). This is, of course, highly speculative, but it seems just as likely as the alternative hypothesis that the name of Q Branch derived from the Q ships of the First World War.

Brown, P and Herbert, E (eds), 2014 The secrets of Q Central: How Leighton Buzzard shortened the Second World War, The History Press 
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner

Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Aston Martin DB5 revolving number plate

The other day, as I was idly looking at my James Bond Aston Martin DB5 number plate keyring (bought at the Bond in Motion exhibition a while back), it struck me how well thought out the registration plates are.

As everyone who's paid attention to Q's briefing knows, the DB5 that features in Goldfinger is equipped with revolving vehicle registration number plates.

There are three plates, a British one carrying the registration BMT 216A, a French plate with the registration 4711-EA-62, and a Swiss plate marked LU 6789. In the film, just the British plates are seen, although the other two were displayed during publicity tours. The revolving mechanism of the plates was designed by Jimmy Ackland-Snow.

The plates appear to mirror Bond's journey on the trail of Goldfinger from England to Switzerland via France, as described in the novel, although in the film Bond and Goldfinger take a direct flight with British Air Ferries from England to Geneva.

Nevertheless, there's a particular point of interest in the French plate. Its final two digits indicate that the plate was registered in the department of Pas-de-Calais in northern France. As discussed in an earlier blog post, this region is the likely location of the fictional coastal town of Casino Royale, at least according to information in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Whether by accident or design, the number plate is a nice link to this Bondian location.

The initial letters of the Swiss plate indicate that the plate was registered in the canton of Lucerne. The region plays no role in the novel or the film, but some of the exterior scenes of Goldfinger's Swiss factory were filmed around Lucerne.

Worrall,  D, 1993 The most famous car in the world: The complete history of the James Bond Aston Martin DB5, Solo Publishing

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Ian Fleming and The Traveller's Tree

One of the most thrilling – and chilling – aspects of Live and Let Die, when I read it for the first time aged 11 or 12, was the description of a voodoo ceremony took from Patrick Leigh Fermor's 1950 book, The Traveller's Tree. At the time, I had never heard of the book, and thought nothing of the extended excerpt. To me, the passage was an essential part of Fleming's novel, adding veracity to the tale and putting me into Bond's shoes; I was learning about voodoo with Bond.

Thinking about it now, it does seem a little odd that Fleming lifted almost verbatim several pages of a celebrated book (in fact, passages from two chapters) that had not long been out before Live and Let Die was published in 1954. Fleming's novel does not suffer unduly for it, but it does leave Fleming open to an accusation of lazy writing.

One can't imagine today's editors being so indulgent towards their authors, but the use of the extract does reflect Fleming's love of books and admiration for, and almost a deference to, experts and writers. Fleming may also have been motivated by a desire to thank Patrick Leigh Fermor, known as Paddy, for the mention Paddy gave him in The Traveller's Tree. (Incidentally, Fleming's footnote in Live and Let Die that gives the publisher and price of the volume is absent from current editions.)

As source material and part of Bond's library, The Traveller's Tree is firmly part of Bond lore. I was therefore keen to read Artemis Cooper's superb biography of Paddy to learn more about the origins of the book.

The idea for the book emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War, in which Paddy, serving with the Intelligence Corps and then the Special Operations Executive, fought alongside the resistance in Crete (one of his spectacular achievements was the kidnapping of General Kriepe, the commander of German forces on the island). Among Paddy's comrades-in-arms was Costa Achillopoulos. In 1947, Costa was commissioned to produce a book of photographs of the Caribbean, and he asked Paddy to accompany him and write the text for the book and as many spin-off magazine articles as possible.

Once in the Caribbean, Paddy was soon to encounter its diversity and exoticism, and the deprivation among many of its inhabitants (he discovered that slavery continued to cast a long shadow). While in Jamaica, he also paid a visit to Ian Fleming's home, Goldeneye, being a close friend of Ann Fleming. Paddy witnessed the voodoo ceremony which appalled Bond so much in Haiti. Paddy was fascinated by voodoo's admixture of African and Catholic religion and rituals, and saw in its origin, at a time of slavery, a sort of freedom from the harsh reality of the adherents' lives, and a link with their ancestral past.

Paddy travelled to Normandy in 1948 and began to write The Traveller's Tree (the title was Costa's). In the weeks that followed, Paddy moved around France and Italy, usually staying in monasteries where he was able to write without the distraction of convivial company, parties and bright lights, to which he was susceptible. The writing didn't come easily at first – he was overwhelmed by the amount of material he had collected – and at the monastery of Saint-Jean-de-Solesmes resorted to taking benzedrine. But later, in the monastery of San Antonio, near Tivoli, Paddy was particularly productive.

The Traveller's Tree was published in 1950 by John Murray to enthusiastic reviews, and it was awarded the Heinemann Foundation Prize. Artemis Cooper's biography of Paddy is also well worth reading, and gives not just a fascinating account of Paddy's life and the background to The Traveller's Tree, but also an insight into the literary and social scene in which Ian Fleming also moved, if somewhat on the periphery.


Cooper, A, 2012 Patrick Leigh Fermor: An adventure, John Murray
Fermor, P M L, 1950 The Traveller's Tree: A journey through the Caribbean islands, John Murray