Wednesday 23 May 2018

Bond at Bletchley Park - a report

Inside Hut 12 at Bletchley Park
I was lucky enough to have been at Bletchley Park yesterday to attend a special press view of the new exhibition of artwork inspired by the James Bond novels: 'Bond at Bletchley Park: Illustrations and Inspirations'. The exhibition, which also explores Ian Fleming's connection to the World War Two codebreaking centre, was opened by Anthony Horowitz, who spoke about his introduction to James Bond, his interest in the wartime work at Bletchley, and his latest Bond novel, Forever and a Day

Click here to read my report on the event on the James Bond Dossier website.

Monday 21 May 2018

Does James Bond eat Jell-O? Historical menu collection provides food for thought

Can the James Bond novels be used as historical documents, a reliable source of information on people, places, and events? Almost certainly, given Ian Fleming’s journalistic background and his determination to get factual details right. Take the food represented in the novels as an example. I was recently alerted to the existence of ‘What’s on the Menu’, an online collection of historical menus, largely of American restaurants, hosted by the New York Public Library (NYPL). One can search by restaurant, meal or food type, and decade or year, and even download the entire dataset. Browsing through the vast collection, it’s clear that the meals Bond eats or considers during his American adventures accurately reflect what was served and consumed at the time.
Cover of 1958 menu from Voisin. Image: NYPL 'What's on the Menu' collection

For instance, in Diamonds are Forever (1956), we read that Bond has a meal of two vodka martinis, Oeufs Benedict and strawberries at Voisin’s in New York. One of the menus available in the NYPL collection is a lunchtime menu from Voisin’s (closed Mondays) dating to 1958. The menu doesn’t offer eggs Benedict as such, but it does list Oeuf Poch√© √† la Reine (priced at $2.50). Berries in season with cream (presumably including strawberries if available) are also listed and would have cost Bond $1.75. The menu doesn’t show drinks, but a martini from the Hotel Astor (where Bond stays in Diamonds are Forever) cost 90 cents. 

I’ve tended to think of Bond’s choice of camembert, which Bond orders on the train to Jacksonville in Live and Let Die (1954), as being somewhat incongruous. However, browsing through contemporary menus, it’s clear that the cheese was a standard option in American restaurants. Bond regards domestic camembert as ‘one of the most welcome surprises on American menus.’ It was a surprise to me too: from low-price diners to fancy restaurants, it seems that there aren’t many restaurants where it wasn’t available. 

Another curiosity for me is the fact that the only meals for which prices are given in the Bond books are chicken dinners. At Sugar Ray’s in New York in Live and Let Die, Bond notes that the special fried chicken dinner cost $3.75. In an eatery near his hotel in Saratoga Springs in Diamonds are Forever, Bond orders a chicken dinner for $2.80. Looking through the menus, the prices are pretty accurate, although Sugar Ray’s appears to be on the pricier side. Perhaps its special was something very special.  

For contemporary British readers, a chicken dinner would have conjured up images of roast chicken served with roast potatoes, stuffing and vegetables and smothered in gravy, and was what people could win at village fetes and association raffles. Something approaching an English-style roast dinner was of course available in America. A menu dated to 1958 from Chickland, a chicken restaurant based in Massachusetts, lists among its many items a ‘roast turkey dinner’, comprising turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy. But, as we know from Sugar Ray’s, a chicken dinner could also involve fried chicken. Chickland naturally also served several fried chicken specials, such as the ‘General Lee Special’, comprising southern fried chicken, French fired potatoes and, to follow, ice-cream and coffee, all for $2.50. The celebrated Knotts Berry Farm restaurant in California offered a fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as a pudding and drink, for $2.25 in 1956 [menu not in the collection].
Cover of 1958 menu from Chickland restaurant. Image: NYPL 'What's on the Menu' collection

Interestingly, Bond declines another opportunity to have fried chicken. He rejects the chicken ‘French fried to a golden brown, served disjointed’, listed on the menu on the train to Jacksonville, as ‘eyewash’.

Puddings served with chicken dinners, incidentally, could include fruit pie, ice-cream, a hot biscuit or Jell-O. I wonder which one Bond had with his chicken dinner in Saratoga Springs. (My bet’s on ice-cream.)   

The NYPL’s ‘What’s on the Menu’ collection is a treasure trove of information on dining and food culture mainly in the US from the 19th century to the present day. For the Bond aficionado, the resource provides useful background and context to Bond’s American adventures. The collection isn’t comprehensive; so far, the collection does not include many restaurants and hotels that Bond frequents and even fewer menus from those establishments that date to the year of publication. However, there is more than enough information from contemporaneous menus to show that Bond’s food choices (probably based on Fleming’s own experiences) accurately reflect the cultural environment around him. Time to go back to the online resource for a second helping!

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Casino Royale's lookalikes

I’m enjoying Dynamite’s version of Casino Royale, adapted from Ian Fleming’s novel by Van Jensen and Dennis Calero. The story is, of course, familiar, but so too are some of the faces. As Bond aficionado Mark Ashby pointed out in a Facebook post, Felix Leiter appears to be based on Jack Lord, the actor who played Leiter in Dr No, as this image demonstrates:

Jack Lord                        Felix Leiter

The artist seems to have used other well-known faces as reference material, especially for some of the minor characters, and so, in the spirit of a running feature in the satirical magazine, Private Eye, here are some of the other Bondian ‘lookalikes’ that I’ve spotted.

James Bond’s opponents on the Baccarat table include a star of the silver screen and acquaintances from his cinematic adventures. Appropriately enough, Carmel Delane, an American film star, seems to be modelled on Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly                  Carmel Delane

Monsieur Sixte, the wealthy Belgian, has more than a passing resemblance to Kristatos, as played by Julian Glover in For Your Eyes Only.
Kristatos                     Monsieur Sixte
Meanwhile, the Greek, owner of a profitable shipping line, has a similarity to Columbo, as played by Topol in the same film.

Columbo                   The Greek

John Cleese has already appeared in two Bond films, and here he makes his debut in the artwork of Casino Royale, this time as the croupier.
John Cleese                   The Croupier

Finally, as Ian Fleming’s first Bond heroine, it is fitting that Vesper Lynd has some of the appearance of the most significant woman in Fleming’s life, Ann Fleming. Vesper’s facial features are a little different, but the hairstyle is a very close match.
Ann Fleming                Vesper Lynd

The appearance of famous faces in Casino Royale, presumably intended as Easter eggs for the reader, provides added excitement to what is a thrilling read. Does that mean that we can call Grace Kelly a Bond girl?

Sunday 6 May 2018

On location: James Bond's New York

A recent trip to New York to speak at a conference at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World gave me the chance to look up a few of the locations mentioned in Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’ and experience something of James Bond’s adventures in the city.

Arriving into JFK (formerly Idlewild), I didn’t quite get the red-carpet treatment that Bond received (LALD, chapter 1), but I beat the worst of the queues and got through passport control in less than half an hour. I had been a bit worried, because I reached the passport control booth without having filled out the customs declaration form (I had no pen), but the passport control officer kindly lent me a pen so that I could fill in the form then and there (I was afraid he would send me to the back of the by now very long line), which I reckon is as red a carpet as one is likely to get these days.  

I jumped into a taxi and headed towards downtown Manhattan via the Van Wyck Expressway and the Triborough Bridge, following Bond’s routes into the city in Live and Let Die and ‘007 in New York’. Alas, staying at the St Regis was out of the question, but my first New York breakfast – in a diner on Broadway – was inspired by Bond’s breakfast in that hotel. I ordered coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, and rye toast, and had to make do with grape jelly, rather than marmalade. The eggs and bacon, incidentally, arrived with fried potatoes, which I hadn’t ordered, but seem to come as standard. My eggs Benedict that I had the next morning were also served with fried potatoes.
Scrambled eggs and bacon, US style
Conference business didn’t give me a lot of time for sightseeing, but I took the opportunity of a few spare hours in the morning of my second day in New York to find 33 East 65th Street, located in the city’s Upper East Side just off Madison Avenue; the ground floor and adjoining garage doubled for the Oh Cult Voodoo Shop in the film of Live and Let Die.

Oh Cult Voodoo Shop

With conference proceedings over by my third and final day in New York, I was at last able to do some proper exploring. Armed with copies of the relevant novels and a print-out of a map of Bond locations created by Bond Maps (if you haven’t already done so, I urge you to check out Matt Bunnell’s excellent Google map and blog), I rode the Subway to Times Square-42nd Street and began my walking tour. 

I couldn’t see everything, but I visited the principal sites. Sardi’s, the restaurant in which Felix Leiter introduces Bond to Brizzola in in Diamonds are Forever (chapter 8), is still there on West 44th Street in the heart of New York’s theatre district, but unfortunately, Brizzola is no longer on the menu.

The restaurant is famous for its caricatures of its famous patrons, and I could see that James Bond had actually visited – a portrait of Daniel Craig was hanging in the window.
Daniel Craig in the window of Sardi's

A few steps away, on West 45th Street, is the site of the Hotel Astor, where Bond stays in Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’. The hotel is no longer there – the site is now taken up by One Astor Plaza – but the Marriot Marquis hotel next door provides an alternative place to stay. I walked along to 6th Avenue and headed to the site of House of Diamonds on West 46th Street. The area remains an important diamond centre, and diamond stores line this and neighbouring streets.

I walked up 5th Avenue (just as Bond does in Live and Let Die), and turned into West 52nd Street and found 21 Club, the bar and restaurant where Bond and Tiffany Case dine in Diamonds are Forever and where Bond considers having lunch in ‘007 in New York’. The restaurant, nestled somewhat incongruously between modern office blocks, was closed for refurbishment, so unfortunately, I couldn’t follow Bond and indulge in a martini or stinger.
21 Club

My next stop was the St Regis on East 55th Street, Bond’s hotel in Live and Let Die. The hotel’s King Cole Bar, is curiously not mentioned in the book, but was a favourite haunt of Ian Fleming’s. Opposite the hotel, I spotted another place with a Bondian connection – a branch of Crockett & Jones, bootmaker to James Bond in the film Spectre.
The St Regis hotel

I saved the best till last for my final stop – the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal. In ‘007 in New York’, James Bond considers the restaurant’s oyster stew (with crackers and Miller High Life beer) to be the best meal in New York, echoing Fleming’s own view, expressed in Thrilling Cities, that oyster stew is perhaps the only dish ‘that has maintained its integrity in the New York’ of his experience.

The Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal. (The youth in the corner hasn't been a naughty boy, but is listening to the station's famous whispering walls.)

Naturally, I ordered the dish, and I wouldn’t disagree that it is superb. (A recipe for oyster stew inspired by the Oyster Bar version can be found in my James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook.) Miller High Life is no longer available in the restaurant, so I had a Brooklyn beer, which is more like an English ale, instead.
Oyster stew from the Oyster Bar

I was pleased to see a little nod to James Bond in the oyster bar – the Vesper martini was on the menu.
The Oyster Bar's Vesper

Then it was straight into a taxi and back to the airport. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in New York, and I would like to go back. My Bond sightseeing was a whistle-stop tour, and there is plenty more to see. Still, it was thrilling to see just some of the Bond locations, and the visit has helped me to picture the scenes in the books much more clearly.