Exploring James Bond’s London

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by Gretchen Kelly

“Do you like wild things, Mr. Bond, Mr. James Bond?”
—Fiona Volpe, Thunderball

James Bond’s Dandy Daddy

Ian Fleming wrote that James Bond’s family motto was “The world is not enough.” The world might have not been, but London was another matter. For both Ian Fleming and his famous creation, James Bond, London represented the mother lode of style and substance. Mother is the operative word here.

Like Judi Dench’s redoubtable “M,” Ian Fleming’s mother Evelyn (for whom some say “M” is named) was both elegant and iron willed. She brought up her son in the tony London enclave of Mayfair at 27 Green Street (a street location on the Bond tourist trail)—a hothouse world of fashion and privilege that is still very much as it was in Fleming’s day. His mother and Mayfair tutored Fleming in dandyism (he had a particular fondness for foot-long cigarette holders) and a love of fine living that was passed in the blood to his most famous character, James Bond.

Fleming learned to dress in the time-honored tailor shops of St. James’s and to flaunt his style in its private clubs. He learned his love of drink in tucked away bars like the intimate rooms in Dukes Hotel that now make a brisk trade on Bond-style martinis said to have been born there. He got his cologne from Floris, the perfumer to the Royal Family and his gossip from Boodles, the private club where the staff would iron gentlemen’s newspapers and where women were banned on general principal. “He stood for working out a way of life that was not boring and he went anywhere that led him,” wrote his wife, Ann Fleming.

According to some biographers, “anywhere” also meant venturing into sexual realms familiar to today’s readers as 50 Shades of Grey—Fleming’s private library apparently full of books and images of flagellation, a form of gratification his wife wrote fondly of to him in her private love letters. This combination of love and cruelty is evident in the way Bond relates to “his” women—the famed Bond girls of both the books and the films.

Mayfair and St. James’s (especially the area called Shepherd’s Market) have also been long known for their private houses of pleasure where gentlemen and ladies could practice the time-honored arts of cruel love once called “the English vice.” Today’s Shepherd’s Market is known mostly for Lou Lou’s—the griddle hot nightclub housed in Robin Birley’s private club 5 Hertford Street (www.5hertfordstreet.co.uk)—whose excruciating glamour is its own form of fetish.
Spending time in both Mayfair and St. James’s (especially in the shops that Fleming frequented) it’s easy to see how well Fleming and his character James Bond fit into this world of private privilege whose hermetic codes of fashion, style, and living were as alluring and dangerous as 007s.

The Suit Makes the Man

Although Daniel Craig has famously sported Tom Ford’s fashions in Quantum of Solace, he (and Sean Connery and Ian Fleming before him) started out being suited by St. James’s Turnbull & Asser (www.turnbullandasser.com). Created in 1885 and at the same location at 71 and 72 Jermyn Street since 1903, bespoke tailors at this surprisingly intimate shop have measured the inseams of the likes of Winston Churchill, Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, and even George W. Bush.

The shop is also famous for creating the first James Bond suit, worn by a fledgling 007 in Dr. No. According to T&A’s master shirt maker, David Gale, Sean Connery came for a full fitting, was given the suit and then was told to sleep in it. “Connery was asked to go home and sleep in the suit for a whole night,” Gale says. When he woke up in the morning, the fit was as fabulous as when he had bedded down for the night (no word on what he did in bed while fully clothed). The clothier is also famous for creating the “James Bond cuff”—also called the “Cocktail Cuff” and the “two-button turn back cuff” seen in almost all the Bond films starring Conner, as well as in some of the Roger Moore films on both leisure and dress suits.

The Scent of Power

At 89 Jermyn Street nearby, Floris (www.florislondon.com), the celebrated London perfumery, has been crafting scents as bespoke as Turnbull and Asser’s shirts for over 200 years. It’s considered one of, if not the world’s oldest working perfumery Ian Fleming bought his favorite scent, No. 89 here, which is supposed to be Bond’s favorite fragrance as well. Orange, bergamot, lavender and neroli are warmed with a touch of spicy nutmeg here to create what some call the “quintessential” British man’s fragrance.

You can smell it in the original shop that still exudes the alchemical feel of its early days. If you’re lucky, you’ll come on a day that Edward Bodenham, Marketing Director and scion of the owner family is in the shop. A winsomely handsome man with a boyish charm, Bodenham has a whip-smart knowledge of scent, its glamour and trappings. He will tell you that the scent has not changed or been substantially reformulated since Fleming’s days (a rarity in the fragrance world). Its crisp yet sensually manly scent is what Fleming himself would have smelled of, fresh from the shower and dressed in his best for drinks at Dukes.

Drinking and Bedding with Bond

Google “Martini shaken, not stirred” and inevitably you’ll run into Dukes.
Dukes (www.dukeshotel.com) is a small Mayfair hotel that was run for many years by the famed hotelier Gordon Campbell Grey but has now changed hands. A tad less intimate than in former years, the property retains an air of clannish charm, only slightly less exclusive feeling now because of all the Bond fans eager to belly up to the bar for a “authentic” James Bond martini.

The “authentic” James Bond martini courtesy of bartender Alessandro Palazzi comes in several versions: the Vesper and the regular Bond “shaken not stirred” variety. Both are made with very cold vodka and lots of it. So much of it, in fact, that Palazzi insists that he never serves more than one per customer (we’ve seen him break his rule). They are indeed intoxicating, if somewhat bitter (courtesy of the Angostura aromatic bitters in the Vesper).

Legend has it that Fleming came up with the idea of his hero craving a “shaken, not stirred” martini here at Dukes bar. Although some may doubt the veracity of the legend, it is true that Fleming drank and smoked here (he was known to down more than a bottle of gin a day). Today, you can only drink yourself to the edge of oblivion (one martini will do this—and if you can get Palazzi to make you two, you’ll be well on your way), but you can’t smoke anywhere near the premises.
Upstairs, the redesigned rooms have lost some of their chintzy charm but the redo is restrained and the feeling of being ensconced in a cocoon of privilege is still intact. Waking up in a hotel room, smelling of Bond’s aftershave, dressed only in one of his Turnbull & Asser shirts and shaking off a two-martini hangover is a particular pleasure the unrepentant Ian Fleming would no doubt have approved of.

Along with the premiere of the latest Bond film Skyfall, David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones is planning a biopic called The Man Behind James Bond that delves into Ian Fleming’s private life and darker sexual proclivities described above. Around the release of Skyfall, a sweepstakes competition in each of the 21 markets in which VisitBritain operates will also get underway. Winners will visit the UK where they will get the chance to “Live Like Bond”—including a private behind the scenes tour of the Aston Martin headquarters and a master class to learn how to make the perfect martini. Guests will enjoy a three-night stay at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel in London. For more information on James Bond’s Britain go to www.visitbritain.com