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Bond - Fleming expo opens at Imperial War Museum

Worth a look if you like drink, cigs or gadgets

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After the war, the IWM show moves on to focus on James Bond more than his creator. It has a fascinating letter from Geoffrey Boothroyd, a British gun nut who advised Fleming on Bond's weapons and appears in the books as Major Boothroyd, Secret Service armourer and firearms expert.

Boothroyd advises Fleming that Bond's original gun - a Beretta .25 - is "a ladies' gun... and not for very nice ladies, at that". He advises Fleming that Bond should pack a revolver, and another bigger one in his car - recommending the .38 Smith & Wesson Airweight Centennial worn in a Berns-Martin spring holster, and a "man-stopper" .357 magnum for car use. Fleming duly re-equipped Bond with an Airweight, later supplanted by a Walther PPK.

There are lots of other things on show to please the gadget fancier, many of them from the movies. In particular, the Bell hydrogen-peroxide jetpack used by Sean Connery's 007 in Thunderball can be seen, along with the "Little Nellie" autogyro from You Only Live Twice. Scaramanga's snap-together Golden Gun is also there, though the curators note that in the book it was a mildly more conventional weapon - a gold-plated single action .45 Colt revolver, supposedly firing "gold cored slugs, jacketed with silver and cross-cut at the tip on the dum-dum principle for maximum wounding effect".

Further fodder for argument as to the exact nature of Bond's armed-forces career is provided in the form of the uniform jacket worn by Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies. Not only is Bond no longer an RNVR officer (reasonably enough, the RNVR having disappeared in 1958), he wears pilot's wings - and also, flat-topped "Sabre" parachute wings, usually displayed only by "badged" members of the army SAS. (The comparatively unremarkable jacket worn by Fleming to Dieppe is also there.)

The special For Your Eyes Only exhibit costs £8, though entry to the museum is free. If you don't fancy stumping up, there's plenty of other stuff at the IWM to interest those who like their spooks and gadgetry - and plenty of real-life items that could have figured in a Bond novel.

There's a German "Biber" one-man submarine, for instance, and an Italian "Siluro a Lenta Corsa" SLC human torpedo. According to the FYEO info, Fleming based Bond's limpet-mining swim against Mr Big's boat in Live and Let Die on wartime Italian frogman raids, many of which employed SLCs. The contemporary British "Charioteers" used similar minisub/torpedoes. And there's a whole section on "Secret War", full of exhibits on the real spooks and spies and special forces.

It seems that Fleming's painstaking research was finally his undoing - in particular his Bond-like insistence on heavy smoking and drinking. Apparently the novelist was already polishing off a bottle of gin and 70 specially-made cigarettes every day at the end of the war, and in 1961 he suffered a serious heart attack. He finally expired in 1964 at the age of 56. ®

Bootnotes

*Fleming also departed from the kiss-kiss-bang-bang genre to write Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

**The so-called "wavy navy", from the wriggly rank stripes worn by its officers to distinguish them from the former merchant seamen of the Royal Naval Reserve and the lordly pre-war regulars of the RN itself. RNVR and RNR officers, though looked down upon by the regulars, mostly saw more wartime action than the RN - though not in Fleming's case.

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