Sunday, 16 November 2014

Where does James Bond live?, and other observations from Bond in Motion

Where does James Bond live? We know where the literary James Bond lives – in a ground-floor flat in a house located in a square lined with plane trees off King's Road, London. Fleming and Bond biographer John Pearson identifies the square as Wellington Square, while John Griswold suggests that Markham Square is equally likely. Griswold notes, however, that neither possibility fully matches the details in Fleming's writing, which instead may have described a fictitious location inspired by real places.
Me, about to enter Bond in Motion
It is less certain, at least from the action on the screen, where the cinematic Bond lives, despite audiences seeing the inside of his apartment twice (in Dr No and Live and Let Die). That is not to say, however, that the film makers have not given Bond a home address. When I visited the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum recently, I was interested to see some of the props prepared for some of the more recent films on display. These included passports, driving licences, and even a car rental contract, all prepared by or with the support of government agencies and commercial companies. They were in many respects genuine documents. Such attention to detail never ceases to impress me, especially considering that the props are barely seen on screen, if at all.

What especially intrigued me was the fact that the same home address was used in all documents on display from Pierce Brosnan- and Daniel Craig-era films: 61 Horseferry Road, Westminster, London, SW1. There were occasional variations – the Avis car rental agreement produced for Tomorrow Never Dies misspelled the first line of Bond's address as 61 Horsen Ferry Road, and gave the postcode as S1 – but essentially the same address has been used for some years through different Bond actors and changes in prop department staff.

Horseferry Road is not far from Bond's literary residence – King's Road is about two miles west – but fans wishing to add the address to their Bond-tour itinerary will not find the property. As Gary Giblin notes in his comprehensive reference work, James Bond's London (2001), 61 Horseferry Road does not in fact exist, which is just as well for a spy. The closest visitors can get to Bond's home is 65 Horseferry Road, which is the Westminster Coroner's Court, and, on the other side of the road, 62-64 Horseferry Road, which is home to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Incidentally, while the passports produced for the Bond films were no doubt prepared with the help of HM Passport Office, some of them do not meet its strict official requirements. The passport prepared for Casino Royale's (2006) Vesper Lynd, on display at Bond in Motion, carries a photograph of Eva Green, who is smiling and has her head turned slightly to the side; the rules state that the individual must be facing forward, looking straight at the camera and wearing a neutral expression.

There were two other points of interest from my visit to the exhibition. One concerned the manual for the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, which is also on display. This is the thick document that Bond 'shoots through' in a second or two in Die Another Day (2002). The front of the manual bears the words MI6 Q Division. I am not sure why or when Q Branch became Q Division (possibly the change reflected organisational realities in MI6), but the change does not appear to have survived the long absence of Q in subsequent films, which obviously precluded any replication of the term 'Q Division' either in the script or on props, or competition from the term 'Q Branch', which remains more culturally prominent. In Skyfall (2012), which reintroduces the character of Q, Daniel Craig's Bond shows Raoul Silva “the latest thing in Q Branch. It's called a radio”.

Something else that caught my eye was the two pairs of skis on top of Tracy's Mercury Cougar from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). These were made by the Franz Kneissl ski company and, as the legend on the skis proclaim, are from “the world's first factory for plastic skis”. This is an interesting detail, and adds to the types of skis that James Bond uses. In the novel (published in 1963), Bond borrows a pair of aluminium skis made by Head, and reminisces about the steel-edged hickory skis he used in his youth.

The Bond in Motion exhibition was fascinating not just because of the many Bond cars it had on display (as exciting as they were), but also because of the props and other items of incidental interest on show. These gave an insight into the care and level of detail given to the production of props, and revealed intriguing information about James Bond.

References:

Giblin, G, 2001 James Bond's London, Daleon Enterprises
Griswold, J, 2006 Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, Author House
Pearson, J, 1973 James Bond: the authorized biography of 007, Sidgewick and Jackson

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