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Celebrating 50 years of James Bond

Published: Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 12:14 p.m. CDT

Alas, I can’t claim to be a Bond Girl.

But in honor of the 50th anniversary of James Bond films — with the latest, “Skyfall,” opening worldwide — I decided to tour Bond-related sites in and around London. After all, Bond is the longest-running movie franchise in history. From clothes to cars to champagne, the fictional character of James Bond especially comes alive here.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the first Bond book, “Casino Royale,” penned in just two months in Jamaica by British author Ian Fleming. It was published a year later, in 1953, the first of 14 novels in the series, which introduced the world to thrilling, high-octane entertainment, including vodka martinis, fast cars, beautiful women, intrigue, glamour, gambling, high-tech gadgets, spies and assassinations. It also introduced a cast of characters, including the exotic Bond Girls, Q, M and Miss Moneypenny. The first Bond movie, “Dr. No,” opened in 1962 and is renowned for Sean Connery’s introduction: “The name’s Bond: James Bond.”

“I’ve never seen him so nervous as that day,” recalled actress Eunice Gayson, who was in that scene, during a television interview.

She took him to the studio commissary for a drink, and he returned, smoothly saying that famous line perfectly.

“Who knew it was going to be such an iconic success?” she mused.

A world traveler who enjoyed the fine things in life, Fleming hit on a popular formula at the height of the Cold War — and the rest is history. President John F. Kennedy was a big fan (his favorite was “From Russia With Love”). And who can forget Queen Elizabeth II being escorted by Daniel Craig from Buckingham Palace during the summer Olympics’ opening ceremony. She also appears to royally relish 007.

Before he died at age 56 in 1964, Fleming, who was in naval intelligence and espionage during World War II, had stints in banking, stockbroking, and as a newspaper correspondent and columnist. He based the Bond books on his personal and wartime experiences and intriguing people he knew. He even used the names of friends and acquaintances in the books. (An architect named Goldfinger, however, was not amused.)

“The interest in Bond is at an all-time high,” noted Akin Gazi, my guide on the James Bond Tour of London (“Step into the dangerous world of 007”), who led our group of a dozen in a minibus, regaling us with Bond tidbits and showing onboard film clips. We hopped off and on to photograph locations of various Bond movies, including Somerset House, the Thames River (scene of high-speed boat chases), the MI6 Building, the National Gallery, Tobacco Dock and Greenwich. Later we also stopped at other Bond sites, including the 02 Arena (which some of our group climbed) and in front of Buckingham Palace, where a character in “Die Another Day” dramatically parachuted. We toured the Four Seasons Hotel London at Canary Wharf, featured in the “Skyfall” film.

In the 007 spirit, we sipped martinis, a la James Bond, at Dukes Hotel, a hangout of Fleming’s and the spot where the term “shaken, not stirred” reportedly was first coined.

For another Bond experience, we stopped at the funky outdoor Cigar Room upstairs at the May Fair Hotel to sample their signature martinis while a few in our group exotically puffed on the hand-rolled cigars.

We also browsed in Floris, in business since 1730 (and which holds two royal warrants), where fragrance No. 89, launched in 1951 and a favorite of Fleming’s that featured in “Dr. No,” is still popular with Bond enthusiasts.

Another stop was the famed Turnbull & Asser (in business since 1885), where Fleming was a customer and which has made custom shirts for all the Bond actors. Signed celebrity photos line the walls, including one from Prince Charles and others from Brosnan and Craig. There are also three framed ties from the Bond movies.

It takes about an hour to make a pattern and then some three weeks for the shirt. The price is about $350 each, with a minimum order of six.

“We made 80 shirts for Pierce Brosnan and another 80 for his stuntman,” a staff member told me.

Later our group met Fleming’s niece, Kate Grimond, who joined us for tea at Fortnum & Mason’s. She noted that her famed uncle “would be amazed to see how James Bond has outlived him; he never thought it would go on like this. I think there’s been a global interest for a long time.”

At the Beaulieu National Motor Museum in Hampshire, the largest collection of original Bond vehicles is on display until the end of the year, including three (two motorbikes and a Land Rover) used in “Skyfall.”

“When I ask visitors what their favorite Bond car is, it’s either the Lotus Esprit ‘Wet Nellie’ or the Aston Martin DB5 ‘Goldfinger’ car,” noted guide James Ellis.

As visitors snapped photos, nearby film clips showed the Bond cars in action. One of the most amazing was of the AMC Hornet from “The Man With the Golden Gun.” A stuntman drove it over a 40-foot river in Thailand; it did a 360-degree midair barrel turn in one take, as eight cameras simultaneously captured the action. In the film it was shown in slow motion for more dramatic effect.

Besides the recent release of several new Bond-related books, there’s also a documentary, “Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007” about the first 50 years of Bond films.

“With ‘Skyfall,’ we’ve just tried to make the best movie we can,” Craig recently said. “It’s the 50th-year celebration and that’s a bit of pressure, but a good kind of pressure.”

After this whirlwind 007 tour I’m feeling more like a Bond Girl, after all. But I could use another martini — shaken, please, not stirred.

Sharon Whitley Larsen is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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