Licence to Thrill tour, James Bond Thames River cruise: The tour designed for 007 groupies

We're speeding along the River Thames in a high-speed RIB (rigid inflatable boat), just like the one Daniel Craig commandeered in the climax of Spectre.

In that scene Bond manages to shoot down the helicopter that is whisking his arch nemesis, Ernst Blofeld, to safety.

If passengers on the more sedate tourist boats travelling on the Thames today are staring at us, it's probably because our guide, Richard, is playing the James Bond theme tune so loudly it's obvious we're on an hour-long Licence to Thrill tour.

With Craig now apparently locked in to play 007 at least one more time – making the 49-year-old the third most prolific Bond in movie history after the late Sir Roger Moore (seven films) and Sean Connery (six) and ahead of Pierce Brosnan (four), Timothy Dalton (two) and our own George Lazenby (one) – we'd left the Thames RIB Experience's wharf at Embankment Pier 20 minutes earlier. Then we had headed west, past the Houses of Parliament, to Vauxhall Bridge.

Richard had pointed out Horseferry Road, where the fictional Bond had his apartment. But most of our attention had been taken up by the Vauxhall Cross SIS Building – otherwise known as the MI6 Building, the real life HQ of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. That was the complex blown up so spectacularly in Skyfall, Craig's third outing as Ian Fleming's anti-hero.

Strangely, it is still intact. Apparently, the filmmakers used a model. Nor was it the first time the real MI6 Building had been bombed in a Bond movie, Richard tells us. In The World is Not Enough (Brosnan's third 007 outing), a suitcase he has stolen from villains in Spain turns out to be booby trapped, killing M's friend, oil tycoon Sir Robert King.

In the ensuring chase, Bond boards the "Q Boat" to chase Elektra in her Sunseeker. Brosnan insisted on doing the stunt but lost control of the Q Boat, crashing into Westminster Bridge. According to Richard, his words on being rescued were: "Shaken, but not stirred."

This tour takes us past various locations and spy-related sites. Somerset House, once Britain's repository of births, deaths and marriages, has doubled both as the KGB HQ in Connery's debut as Bond in Dr No and as the Ministry of Defence in Brosnan's Tomorrow Never Dies

As we pass under Blackfriar's Bridge, Richard reminds us that Richard Calvi – known as God's Banker because of his close ties with the Vatican – was found hanging from the bridge in 1982. Both the Mafia and KGB have been blamed for his murder.


But our ultimate destination is The Millennium Dome (now known as the O2 Arena), where Brosnan's Bond was thwarted by Elektra's escape in a hot air balloon, leaving Bond to tumble down the spectacular roof. 

Actually, Richard explains, the scene was shot at Pinewood Studios because the Millennium Dome wasn't finished when filming took place.

Our RIB ride is just one part of our day spent exploring Bond's background. Earlier that morning we'd taken a gentle three-hour walking tour of St James and Mayfair, exploring places associated with the fictional spy, his creator and the real espionage history of London. 

Fleming worked for British Naval Intelligence during World War II as the personal assistant of Rear Admiral John Godfrey. Fleming's codename was "17F". He worked in Room 39 at The Admiralty. And he was put in charge of several high-level missions, including Operation Goldeneye. His role meant liaising closely with the Special Operations Executive and Winston Churchill's staff as well as Colonel "Wild Bill" Donovan, President Roosevelt's chosen spy master.

But Fleming gave Bond many of his own tastes and foibles. Which is why our guide, Rex Osborn – a London Blue Badge Guide and a Labour councillor – takes us along Jermyn Street, famous for gentlemen's fashion since the days of Beau Brummell. 

Look, there's Crockett & Jones, where both Fleming and Bond bought their shoes. And there's Floris, where Fleming purchased his favourite eau de cologne, also worn by Connery's Bond in Dr No and Moonraker

Dunhill, in the same street, supplied the cuff links which Brosnan wore in Tomorrow Never Dies while Turnbull & Asher supplied "the James Bond cuff" (a mere £185 per pair) worn by both Brosnan and Craig.

Round the corner, in St James's Street we pause in front of White's, the oldest gentleman's club in London, founded in 1693. Fleming was a member before transferring to the less stuffy Boodle's, further down the street. Famously, only two women have ever been allowed into White's: Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister.

Rex explains that the man who was the inspiration for Fleming's M was also a member of White's. Major General Sir Stewart Menzies was Chief of MI6 from 1939 to 1952. Menzies remains a controversial figure. 

He had an excellent World War II, taking control of codebreaking, overseeing Alan Turing's work at Bletchley Park which capitalised on the breach of the Nazi's supposedly impregnable Enigma Code. 

But during the Cold War, Menzies protected Kim Philby, even though he was warned Philby – like Burgess and Maclean before him – could be a Soviet double agent. It seems Britain's spymaster couldn't believe a man like Philby (who had all the social graces and been to all the right schools) could possibly be batting for the other side.

Between White's and Boodle's (founded 1762), you'll find Davidoff Cigars, which supplied the Romeo and Juliet cigar case used by Connery in Thunderball (though Fleming's Bond was primarily a cigarette smoker, a 60-a-day man made specially for him by Morland of Grosvenor Street).

Apart from Fleming, Boodle's has another Bond association. David Niven, who played Bond in the spoof version of Casino Royale, was a fellow member. He returned from Hollywood to serve his country, commanding the "Phantom" commando squadron, playing his part in the recruitment of actor Clifton James to impersonate Field Marshal Montgomery to deceive the Nazis about Allied invasion plans, and taking part in the Normandy Landings. 

Behind Boodle's, you can see the unimaginative building in Ryder Court that was the wartime office of two of Britain's best-known spies –  the defector Philby and the journalist/novelist Graham Greene. Both were charismatic womanisers with an unconventional view of patriotism. According to Rex, Greene visited Philby after he fled to Moscow and may have helped him get his memoirs published in Paris.

Our tour continues to St James Square. Strictly speaking, Norfolk House – US General Dwight Eisenhower's HQ before D-Day – has nothing to do with Bond. But sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Rex says one day the entire Top Secret D-Day plans blew out of an open window – only to be returned by a passing Brit who knocked on the door and said, "Excuse me ... are these yours?" 

St James Square is as good a place as any to learn about the career of Sir Mansfield George Smith Cumming, the first director of what we now know as MI6, the foreign arm of British Intelligence at the outbreak of World War I. Cumming is supposedly the inspiration for both John Le Carre's Control (in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Control signs as "C" in green ink as Cumming did), while Fleming apparently chose the first initial of Cumming's Christian name – M – as his code name.

But really on any Bond tour, there's only one question any self-respecting 007 groupie needs an answer to. 

Where did Fleming drink his first Vesper martini? That drink so fabulous (when shaken not stirred, obviously) that he not only named his first heroine Vesper in Casino Royale, but reinvented the martini as a tourist emblem for generations to come?

The answer is Dukes Hotel – more or less the office pub in the days of Fleming, Niven, Greene and various traitors.

Rex tells us how to find it, tucked away in a secluded cul-de-sac, just nine minutes walk from Buckingham Palace. But as this is a morning walking tour, we quickly move on to other Bond trivia. 

So later that night I return to Dukes and order a Vesper Martini. What can I say? I feel both shaken and stirred.




Thames Rib Experience runs a one-hour group tour, Licence to Thrill, the Ultimate Spy Tour; £550 for the group. See

Rex Osborn is one of several London Blue Badge Guides who offer spy-based walking tours of London:


Captain's Choice 22-day Northern Sea Route aboard the Silver Wind begins in Ilulissat in Greenland and visits Iceland, the Faroe, Shetland and Orkney islands and finishes in London at the Savoy Hotel. From $29,000 per person, twin share, it departs Australia on June 28, 2018. Call 1300 176 681 or 

Steve Meacham travelled as guest of Captain's Choice.