Sunday, 8 April 2012

Reflections in a Mercedes 300 S

I've always had a soft spot for Moonraker, both the film (not least because of its exciting laser battle in space and a villain relaxed to the point of being supine) and the novel. I was aged about 12 or 13 when I first read the novel. The story was a good one – a grotesque villain, a card game as exciting as any gun battle, a rocket targeted on London – but what gave the adventure a particular resonance with me was one of its locations.

In the last third of the book, Drax, his henchman, Krebs, and assistant, Gala Brand, drive in a Mercedes through Kent from Dover to London, pursued by Bond. On the way, Drax drives through the county town of Maidstone. Now, Maidstone was where I grew up and went to school, and it was therefore very familiar to me. So when Fleming describes streets and places, I knew exactly where he meant, and I pictured Drax's journey as if I were in the Mercedes with him.

In chapter 18, Fleming describes Drax waiting at traffic lights at the junction of King Street and Gabriel's Hill. Knowing that he took the A20 from Dover, this suggests that Drax enters the centre of Maidstone from the east on Ashford Road (the A20), which becomes King Street. To get to Gabriel's Hill, Drax needed to turn left at the lights. Instead, he pulls out slightly to overtake a car, and continues westwards into the High Street.

On the High Street, Drax passes the Royal Star Hotel. The hotel, built in the 16th century as a coaching inn, still exists, but is now an upmarket shopping centre. Drax continues westwards (actually towards the south-west), leaves the town centre and turns north-west still onto London Road (still the A20).

The next landmark is the Thomas Wyatt hotel. Gala Brand manages to persuade Drax to stop there so that she can surreptitiously look through Drax's book of Moonraker launching calculations. The Sir Thomas Wyatt is on London Road almost 2 miles north-west of Maidstone town centre. Today, travelling from London, one would leave the M20 at junction 5 and follow signs for Maidstone. The Sir Thomas Wyatt is now a Beefeater restaurant, and indeed I ate at the place a number of times when I lived in Maidstone.

The detailed references to streets and places of Maidstone show that Ian Fleming was familiar with what he was describing, probably because he frequently took the journey himself as he travelled from Dover to his London home in Ebury Street (notably Fleming placed Drax's home on the same street).

1 comment:

  1. Ages since last blog...still expect you are busy sometimes, Bond was never a dad was he...

    ReplyDelete