James Bond’s London: Where to see 007’s haunts around the British capital

Carla Passino treads in the footsteps of James Bond and his creator, author Ian Fleming.

With three recycled-plastic ships floating in mid air above gush ing fountains and a Ukrainian flag flying defiantly above the South Wing, Somerset House hardly recalls St Petersburg, but the London landmark played the role brilliantly in GoldenEye. Filmed on a steely day in April, the scene has Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond driven by CIA operative Jack Wade in a crumbling car that breaks down in the middle of ‘Central Square’, against the backdrop of a fake Lenin bust, only to be fixed with a good hammering. Location consistency has never bothered 007 filmmakers, so, two years later, in a much swankier motor — his customary Aston Martin DB5 — Bond, still played by Mr Brosnan, passes through Somerset House’s North Wing arch to meet Judi Dench’s M in Tomorrow Never Dies.

The James Bond walking tour of London. Illustration: Fred van Deelen

Conveniently sandwiched between Rules — where Ralph Fiennes’s M sits opposite a haunting nautical painting in Spectre — and the Savoy Grill, one of Ian Fleming’s favourite restaurants, Somerset House is the perfect starting point to explore 007’s London. From there, a walk along the Victoria Embankment Gardens, where flowers grow on land reclaimed by the genius of Joseph Bazalgette, the civil engineer who gave London its underground sewers, reaches the gateway to prime James Bond country — Embankment Place. It is here that turncoat agent Silva emerges in Skyfall, after being pursued by Bond across a packed District Line train, down two escalators and up a ventilator shaft.

Although the Tube scene nominally takes place between Temple and Embankment, the entire sequence was filmed on a disused Jubilee platform at Charing Cross. ‘The platform is straight for most of it and then it curves at the end,’ says Antony Richards of Detective Tours, which runs bespoke film and television tours. ‘You can have a train leaving on the curved part, [then] you go to the other end and you see a train arriving on the straight part — it looks like a different station.’ However, he adds, when Bond is running along the carriages at what’s supposed to be Temple, eagle eyes can spot a picture of Nelson’s column in the background.

Theabandoned platform at Charing Cross station that closed in 1999, when the Jubilee line extension opened. It has since been used in the filming of many movies.

Recommended videos for you

Even the vent from which Silva exits has nothing to do with the Embankment station: it’s the stair leading to the National Liberal Club’s basement — rather an ignominious role for a building that has played host to no fewer than seven Prime Ministers (from founder Gladstone to Churchill) and some of Britain’s greatest minds, such as George Bernard Shaw, Jerome K. Jerome and H. G. Wells.

The venerable club also had a villain of its very own, albeit one bent on lining his pockets rather than destroying the world. Liberal MP and developer Jabez Balfour set up a building society that syphoned investors’ money and lent it to companies that bought properties from Balfour himself. Before his downfall, however, he built an elegant block of flats next door to the club, Whitehall Court, which not only briefly appears in No Time to Die, but also housed, in the early 20th century, the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). Its first chief, former naval officer Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, who signed his name as C, became one of the inspirations for Fleming’s M.

MI6 HQ SIS Building Vauxhall Cross Houses on the banks of the River Thames, London.

On camera, the SIS has moved addresses more frequently than Bond has changed faces. Vauxhall Cross’s SIS building — which made its first appearance in GoldenEye — fits the part best, not least because it’s home to the real secret service, but the blocky appearance that earned it the sobriquet of ‘Legoland’ is a steep fall from the Ministry of Defence (which ‘played’ itself in For Your Eyes Only, but became the MI6 Offices in No Time To Die) or the ornate glories of the Old War Office (first featured in Octopussy and a place that Fleming knew well, having worked there as a naval intelligence officer). It took 29,000 tons of Portland and York stone and 25 million bricks to give the Old War Office its stately look, but the domed turrets upon which Bond — standing on the roof of 55, Whitehall — gazes wistfully after M’s death in Skyfall had a functional purpose: they were added to disguise the building’s irregular shape.

The Old War Office, Horseguards Avenue, Whitehall, Westminster, London.

Around the corner from Whitehall’s mini-sterial grandeur, Trafalgar Square is another 007 filming hotspot. The windows of Malaysia House, festooned with images of Kuala Lumpur’s skyscrapers and Bornean rainforests, belie its location, in The Living Daylights, as MI6 front Universal Exports. Almost opposite it, the unassuming 35, Spring Gardens, was the safe house to which M, Q and Moneypenny repaired in Spectre.

Even the hallowed halls of the National Gallery have appeared in 007 films — in Skyfall, Daniel Craig meets the new Q in front of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire. However, cautions Dr Richards, diehard Bond fans that visit the gallery are likely to find the room in which Temeraire hangs much smaller than they remember. That’s because ‘they had to move that painting from one gallery to another, so they could get all the big cameras in’. As well as cementing the link between 007 and Q, the Temeraire sequence reveals that an affinity for art is not among Bond’s many qualities. Q is moved by the melancholic painting, but when he asks 007 what he sees in it, his reply is a blunt: ‘A bl**dy big ship.’

Bond shows greater appreciation for well-made attire and it’s easy to imagine him striding down Pall Mall towards Jermyn Street and Turnbull & Asser (which has made shirts for the films since Dr No), Sunspel (for Daniel Craig’s polo shirts) or Crockett & Jones (for his shoes). Along the way, he would likely make a pit stop at the Reform Club, which doubled up as M’s beloved Blades Club in Die Another Day, with Bond fencing against villain Gustav Graves among the extravagant interiors that contrast with the building’s understated façade (the very same interior becomes the Foreign Office in Quantum of Solace).

However, the real inspiration for Blades partly came from Boodle’s, in St James’s Street, of which Fleming was a member. In Moonraker, Bond dines there with M — lamb cutlets so tender you could cut them with a fork and Dom Pérignon ’46 liberally seasoned with Benzedrine — ahead of playing cards with Hugo Drax. Of course, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to have a dry Martini at the club — ‘made with vodka. Large slice of lemon peel’. Quite particular about his Martinis, Bond invents the Vesper in Casino Royale, telling the barman: ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’

The credit for first mixing the drink for Fleming has often gone to another bartender, Gilberto Preti of Dukes Bar, although he only took over at Dukes in the late 1980s, well after Fleming’s death. Mr Preti did, however, revive the Vesper after the discontinuation of Kina Lillet threatened to put an end to it and, today, the bar lists a staggering number of Bond-inspired Martinis on its menu (made tableside on a drinks trolley).

Although legend has it that Fleming penned some of his stories at Dukes, he wrote most of his books either at his Jamaican villa or when living at 16, Victoria Square, his London home from 1953. He must have walked past nearby Buckingham Palace 1,000 times, but even he couldn’t have imagined that The Queen herself would one day appear in a James Bond sequence. It wasn’t a film, of course, but a sketch promoting the London Olympics, in which Daniel Craig accompanies The Queen on a helicopter journey from Buckingham Palace to Stratford, parachuting with her onto the Olympic Stadium.

Mr Craig has revealed in interviews that he was incredulous the scene would ever happen, but, according to royal dresser Angela Kelly’s The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe, Her Majesty was ‘very amused by the idea’ and even chose to have a speaking part — although she left the parachuting to a body double.

Yet despite the impact that Bond has had on popular culture, Fleming’s house in Victoria Square bears no trace of a blue plaque — it was apparently refused by subsequent owners. Instead, the honour goes to his former bachelor pad at 22B, Ebury Street, where he lived in the late 1930s, entertaining his girlfriends and carousing with the men that belonged to his Cercle Gastronomique. Although no 007 story was ever written there, it is very much the spiritual home of James Bond.

The creator of James Bond lived at 22 Ebury Street, Belgravia, SW1W.