Sunday 13 October 2019

James Bond in Biarritz?

During the summer, I took a road-trip from Le Touquet on the north French coast to Coppet in Switzerland, just north of Geneva, following the route that James Bond takes in the novel of Goldfinger (1959). At various points, James Bond consults a Michelin guide, and so to give me further insight into Bond's journey, I acquired a copy of a vintage edition of the guide, specifically the 1958 edition, the year in which Fleming wrote the novel.

When I returned to England, I watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), having also visited Piz Gloria while in Switzerland. It was then that I noticed for the first time that the book that Bond (George Lazenby) has on the passenger seat of his Aston Martin at the beginning of the film is the Michelin guide to France. Presumably, the edition used in the film is a more recent edition than mine, but it was nevertheless instantly recognisable. 

The Michelin guide, as seen on On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that the guide is open at a town plan that extends across two pages. Obviously, the map could not be of Estoril in Portugal, where the hotel scenes were shot and where Bond was presumably heading to in the film. Nor is the map that of Le Touquet or any other coastal town on the north French coast that inspired the fictional seaside resort of Royale-les-Eaux that appears in Casino Royale and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. So, what place does the map show?

After consulting my Michelin, carefully studying the maps that cover two facing pages and comparing them with a screenshot of the Aston's passenger seat, I can reveal that the map is of... Biarritz, the fashionable resort on France's south-western coast that has long been popular with the international jet-set. 

The plan of Biarritz, from the 1958 edition of the Michelin guide

While Biarritz the sort of place where James Bond would feel at home, it's unlikely that he's making his way there in the film. That said, Biarritz is not without a Bondian connection. In his biography of Ian Fleming, Andrew Lycett records that during a holiday there in the 1950s, Fleming decided to write a piece about casinos. The resulting article, 'How to win at roulette with only £10' was published in various forms, appearing, for example, along with references to James Bond, within the Monte Carlo chapter of Thrilling Cities.

Returning to OHMSS, I imagine that the set dressers simply required a town plan - any plan would do - that covered two pages and had relatively little text. They chose well. It's impossible to make out the name of the town on the screen and none of the other text is legible. And though film viewers can see that the book is open at a plan, the shot is gone in a blink of an eye. Details can only be made out after pausing the film.

Whether intentional or not, the appearance of the Michelin guide in the film provides a nice link to the literary 007, serving as a nod to James Bond's adventures in France in the novels.