James Bond's Britain

To mark 50 years since 007's first film outing, and with his latest adventure Skyfall now in cinemas, Garry Maddox traces the steps of the world's most famous spy.

Puttering along the Thames on a stunning summer afternoon, tour guide Gary chats colourfully about the sights. He points out Big Ben, the wrong-way-facing Cleopatra's Needle, the National Theatre that Prince Charles once compared to a nuclear power station and the imposing new Shard building with its £50-million penthouse.

But once the speedboat passes under Tower Bridge, the real fun begins. Gary sits, the engines gun, the boat accelerates and passengers grab hold of whatever's handy for support.

From the speakers bursts a familiar theme. You can't help but smile.

As the boat carves great arcs across the Thames at speed, it's suddenly the opening boat chase in The World Is Not Enough. Welcome to James Bond's Great Britain.

In the 50th year since Sean Connery first played 007 in Dr. No and as Daniel Craig returns in Skyfall, fans of both the movies and Ian Fleming's books are being encouraged to see the country through Bond's history.

Just as a younger generation of moviegoers might visit King's Cross station to look for platform 9¾, Skyfall fans will soon be visiting Britain's National Gallery to look for the bench in front of a Turner painting where Bond meets the youthful Q for the first time.

High times

Just after that speedboat chase in The World Is Not Enough, Pierce Brosnan tried to stop an assassin escaping by hot-air balloon. When she blows it up, he drops onto the surface of what was then known as the Millennium Dome - now The 02 Arena - and rolls down to certain death. Well, certain death if he wasn't James Bond.

Taking a tip from Sydney's Harbour Bridge Climb, the concert arena now has a walkway over the top for Bond fans and anyone else who enjoys heights.


So at twilight, with a warm breeze blowing, a small party dons overalls, listens to instructions then climbs - surprisingly steeply at first - to a central platform at the top of the arena.

The view is exceptional - a panorama of London looking across at a cable-car ride across the Thames in one direction, buzzing life in every other. It is neither as long nor as challenging as Sydney's version and, unlike Brosnan, climbers are safely shackled to a cable.

Walking with spies

We meet discreetly outside a bank at Piccadilly Circus. I know him only by first name and the white booklet he is carrying.

"Are you Richard?" I say, half expecting him to require me to spout some exotic phrase like "I hear the ducks are crossing the Alps early this year" before responding.

Thus begins a Spies' and Spycatchers' London walk. Richard Walker, an actor with the look and style of Terence Stamp, tours sites linked to such fictional spies as Bond and John le Carre's George Smiley, and such real-life ones as the Cambridge Five, who passed information to the Soviets during World War II.

"Espionage is an important tool for statecraft, that great chess game of powerful nations competing with each other," Walker says. "Where better to talk about Bond for the kick-off than Jermyn Street, the gentlemen's street in London? This is where you get your badger-hair shaving brushes, your cologne, your shirt-collar stiffeners. Not that James Bond needed any kind of stiffener, I think, except for vodka."

Over an absorbing couple of hours, Walker reveals how much Fleming drew on the colourful real-life spy Sidney Reilly, a multilingual adventurer who enjoyed the finer things of life and female company, when he created Bond.

The finer things

What would a Bond experience be without a Vesper martini?

At Dukes hotel in St James's, a bar that Fleming used to frequent, Alessandro Palazzi wheels over a cocktail trolley and theatrically mixes the cocktail that Bond named for his love interest in Casino Royale. It appears to contain a month's supply of gin, vodka, angostura bitters and vermouth.

"You cannot make the Vesper the way Fleming wrote in the book," Palazzi says without revealing too much. "It's impossible."

The Vesper, produced more than 200 times during a busy day at the bar, is potent enough to have you reaching for the wall when you stand up. So potent, in fact, that Dukes has a limit of two per drinker. Any more than that, it seems, and you find yourself seeking world domination with a nuclear device.

At the St James's bespoke tailor Turnbull & Asser (established in 1885), the nautically named James Cook leafs through a book of famous clients to show photos of Sean Connery and Daniel Craig being fitted with crisp white shirts for Dr. No and Casino Royale respectively. Pierce Brosnan, Ian Fleming and David Niven, who played Bond in an "unofficial" movie, have also been clients.

For Casino Royale, Craig was carefully measured then sent away to train for the physical scenes. When his shirts were delivered, the English actor had muscled up so much that they no longer fit.

"We had to rush out to Barbados to remeasure him," says Cook, who was an extra in Die Another Day's ice palace scene. "We had to start from scratch."

For one of the Brosnan movies, the company had to make 100 shirts for a single action scene - 70 for the star and 30 for his stunt double; tight shirts for sitting down, looser ones for moving.

The price of a bespoke shirt? A crisp £245 ($375), minimum of six.

For more finery, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a Hollywood Costume exhibition featuring one of Craig's dapper tuxedoes.

Bond fans also wander regularly into another nearby store: Floris at 89 Jermyn Street.

The connection: Fleming was such a fan that he mentioned the company's scents and bath essence in the novels to suggest 007's class.

The likeable ninth generation of the family, cousins Edward Bodenham and Polly Gredley, show off a 1958 thank-you note the company sent to Fleming for mentioning Floris in Dr. No, enclosing a bottle of Limes Bath Essence.

"The No.89 was Fleming's fragrance of choice," Bodenham says.

Other iconic sites

London is full of sights from Bond's history.

Buckingham Palace, of course, featured in Danny Boyle's great London Olympic opening ceremony, when 007 collected the Queen for their parachute drop into the stadium.

But true Bond fans know the palace is also where villainous Gustav Graves collected his knighthood by helicopter in Die Another Day.

And at Sotheby's auction house, Bond switched a Faberge egg in Octopussy

Outside London, Bond played golf with Auric Goldfinger at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire, both Fleming and Bond were educated at Eton College, and Ascot racecourse featured in A View to a Kill and doubled for Shanghai airport in Skyfall.

For Die Another Day, Holywell Bay near Newquay doubled for a North Korean battlefield.

Until the end of the year, the National Motor Museum in Hampshire has a display of Bond vehicles, including the famous Aston Martin DB5, the amphibious Lotus Espirit S1 from The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldfinger's Rolls-Royce Phantom III.

Bond in Scotland

Scotland has many connections to Fleming, 007 and Sean Connery.

In You Only Live Twice, Fleming wrote that Bond had attended Edinburgh's Fettes College, his father's old school, after being removed from Eton.

And while the spy was reputedly named after an American ornithologist, a real-life James Bond did attend Fettes and, like the fictional one, went on to a naval career.

Before establishing Bond as one of the most famous characters in cinema history, Connery grew up in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh. There is reputedly a plaque to mark the site of his family's now demolished home, though our directions failed to locate it while driving through the city.

We were headed to the Balmoral Hotel, which Connery reopened a while back after renovations. Many of the rooms feature prints of him as 007 and there are Bond-inspired cocktails at its Bollinger Bar.

As Skyfall shows, the suave British agent was raised in the rugged highlands at Glencoe.

During filming for the movie, Craig and Judi Dench stayed at striking Inverlochy Castle at Fort William. While it looks ancient, it was actually built in 1863.

In the evening, you look out of your window and see cattle calmly grazing in a lush field by a lake. Through the mist in another direction, you can see Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain.

Expect there to be a demand for the surprisingly pink room that Craig stayed in.

The World Is Not Enough featured Eilean Donan Castle near Kyle of Lochalsh, first built in the 13th century and rebuilt after extensive damage in a battle, as the MI6's temporary operations centre, complete with satellite dishes and aerials.

Two very theatrical tour guides - one in full battle kilt - show visitors the secret passageways and spy holes that once allowed the castle's security to spy on guests.

"This castle was a seething hotbed of anti-government activity," says Alexander, presumably talking about its Scottish ancestral owners rather than MI6.

And even without any specific connection to 007, canny tourism authorities are encouraging travellers to live an upmarket Bond lifestyle elsewhere in Scotland.

At Cameron House, a resort on Loch Lomond, guests can try clay pigeon shooting, archery and - hopefully afterwards rather than before - yet more martinis.

You'll also find encouragement to visit Glengoyne Distillery near Glasgow, which "if James Bond had visited Scotland, this is where he would have gone". Hmm ...

Well, there is one tenuous connection: no doubt, too much single malt will leave you shaken, not stirred.

Garry Maddox travelled to Britain courtesy of VisitBritain.

Not-so-secret locations

The Bond movies have always been as famous for exotic locations as for evil villains, glamorous women, clever gadgets, droll one-liners and colourful plots.

It started with Bond travelling to Jamaica for Dr. No 50 years ago. Though 007 has never been to Australia in the movies, he has travelled as widely as East Germany in Octopussy, Fort Knox in Goldfinger, the Khyber Pass in Tomorrow Never Dies, North Korea in Die Another Day and outer space in Moonraker.

While Skyfall is largely based in Great Britain, it starts with a traditionally action-packed chase filmed in Turkey — in Istanbul, Adana then the spectacular Varda bridge — before heading to Shanghai.

Filming was based at the famous Pinewood Studios, just outside London, where the sets included the interior of the MI6 offices, a lavish casino and the exterior of the abandoned island where Bond villain Silva, played by Javier Bardem, lives.

The film used such locations as the Old Vic tunnels as an MI6 training area and the entrance to Broadgate Tower as a Shanghai office building.

The filmmakers shut down both Vauxhall Bridge and Millbank for a scene where M witnesses an attack on MI6 headquarters.

Trip notes

Getting there

British Airways flies daily, Sydney to London via Singapore, from $1651.

Staying there

In London, Corus Hyde Park has 389 rooms, two restaurants and a bar at Lancaster Gate. corushotels.com/corus-hotel-hyde-park.
In Glasgow, One Devonshire Gardens is a luxury boutique hotel with 49 rooms.
In Fort William, Inverlochy Castle has 17 bedrooms.
In Loch Lomond, Cameron House has 132 luxury rooms, a spa and Michelin-starred restaurant.
In Edinburgh, the Balmoral Hotel has 188 luxury rooms and suites plus 10 conference rooms and banqueting suites. thebalmoralhotel.com.


Up at The O2 the climb takes 90 minutes and costs £22-£28 ($34-$43). theo2.co.uk/upattheo2.
Thames RIB boat the Ultimate London Adventure takes 50 minutes and costs £34.95, children £20.95. londonribvoyages.com.
Spies' and Spycatchers' London walk costs £9, concession £7 . walks.com.
Turnbull & Asser turnbullandasser.com.
Dukes hotel dukeshotel.com.
St James's stjameslondon.co.uk.