Bond for a day in London: Exploring the old world charm of the city

By Stuart Forster

Published: Thu 28 Oct 2021, 3:41 PM

We are in the city of spies. During the Cold War, there were around 5,000 spies operational in London. Now it’s reckoned by the security services that there’s around 12,000 spies active in this country — in London, in particular,” said our guide Andy, eliciting mutterings of surprise and — reminiscent of Roger Moore playing 007 — raised eyebrows from participants in the new Bond for a Day experience.

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Wearing a union jack waistcoat and round, wire-framed spectacles, our redheaded tour guide spoke with a gravitas that commanded attention. A dozen of us were sitting around a boardroom-style table in a private room at the Civil Service Club in Whitehall. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, the world’s most famous fictional spy, was no stranger to such rooms. Andy explained that during World War II, the building was used as a clearing house for interrogation.

Admiralty House where Ian Fleming was based during WWII
Admiralty House where Ian Fleming was based during WWII

At that time, Fleming worked for the Naval Intelligence Department and was based nearby in the Old Admiralty Building. After finishing our breakfast, Andy led us towards Whitehall and gestured to the premises in which Fleming had been employed. He served as a personal assistant to Admiral Godfrey, the man who subsequently became the template for the character M in Bond novels. Fleming’s duties included liaising with other intelligence departments. He played a key role in developing the Trout Memorandum, outlining more than 50 ideas to deceive and disrupt the enemy during World War II. “Ian Fleming is just as interesting as James Bond. He created a commando unit called 30AU. The assault unit’s sole job during the invasion of Normandy was to go in with the forces, find enemy headquarters, seize all of the intelligence they could find and bring it back to London… Fleming was a dark horse. What you see in Bond is what Fleming would like to be. What Fleming did is what Bond is. The two are inextricably bound together,” said Andy.

He then invited us to climb into leather-seated luxury cars to be transported past the long-established clubs of Mayfair towards Camden. On Camden High Street, we descended steps into AGL Airsoft to hone our target shooting, firing gas-propelled pellets. “We like to involve guests as part of the story and root everything in good historical accuracy with really great stories,” said Brendan Murphy, CEO, Imagine Experiences. The company began offering their immersive tour ahead of the worldwide release of No Time To Die, the fifth and final Bond movie to star Daniel Craig.

Horse Guards building at Whitehall
Horse Guards building at Whitehall

Travelling back towards St James’s district, we debated which actor played the best 007. My vote went to Craig but Sean Connery edged it. We also discussed whether a woman might play the role at some point. We were dropped outside the Floris perfumery in Jermyn Street. Andy explained that Floris scents are mentioned in several Bond novels. Fleming himself wore No. 89, an eau de toilette named after the perfumery’s street number. The shop has supplied perfumes to well-known figures, including Marilyn Monroe, Noel Coward and Winston Churchill. The family business was established back in 1730 by an ancestor of Edward Bodenham, the current perfumery director, who I asked what it meant to him for Floris to be mentioned in Bond novels. “We’re very proud. It’s an honour,” he answered. “From being a Bond enthusiast myself and having read all of the books, you know how Ian Fleming really takes time to appreciate every detail in whatever he’s wearing or drinking — everything is down to the details. There’s a specific reason why he’ll pick anything and it’s to do with the quality of it, so it’s very flattering to be mentioned in the books and the fact he was a customer.”

Leaving Floris, smelling a little like Bond, thanks to a spray of No. 89, we transferred to Queen Anne’s Gate where Mansfield Smith-Cumming established Britain’s secret service in 1909. After discussing countersurveillance techniques, Andy led us to the nearby St Ermin’s Hotel to discuss the role of the Special Operations Executive’s covert agents in setting Nazi-occupied Europe ablaze. Stirred but not shaken by the day’s insights and anecdotes about Fleming, Bond and the world of espionage, I was already planning to view No Time To Die by the time the tour ended.

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