As a kid I loved James Bond books, so much so that as an adult I tried to write one. This was before I discovered that Ian Fleming Estates come at you with a, well pick your favourite Bond villain weapon, if you so much as use the letters M and Q in any story about spying. They've been a good deal more generous with London's most underrated museum that has put together an exhibition which reflects their interest in social history and war as a focus for change.
Bond as prototype mod with his sharp suits, fondness for amphetamines and foreign food might have offended the snob in Fleming yet in part that was why 007 was brought into being. He was, unlike the other global British exports, by Conan Doyle and JK Rowling, a deliberate piece of Brit lit propaganda aimed at enemies and friends. Certainly in terms of cool he holds all the aces over Hugh Hefner and the American 'playboy model'.
The exhibition traces the relationship between the life of Fleming and that of Bond. Fleming was heavily involved in the war effort on the intelligence front with several notable successes to his name. He was also a well connected upper class socialite with a huge circle of friends and a taste for, what my grandmother would have referred to as, the racier sort of girl. He liked travel, good food and had a definite political agenda that the British should aspire to more than their allotted post war misery. He also wanted to write a great spy novel, make money and settle some scores. This is the mix from which Bond emerges. If all you know are the Bond films the exhibition will open up a whole new, and richer, side to 007. Even if you have read the books there is still much to learn even if overall the information is better chosen than delivered.
Taking into account the quality caff, other free exhibits (especially the Secret War one) and opportunity to buy some truly silly souvenirs a visit to the Imperial War Museum is the basis for a top afternoon's entertainment. Definitely one for the boys who like clothes, tanks, gadgets and girls but also one for the girls who like boys who etc. Also if you have incoming older relatives this is a clear winner. Remember if you want to show off don't forget that the Imperial War Museum was once the insane asylum of Bedlam and that if you are approaching it from Lambeth North on the left is Century House the former MI6 Headquarters and the pub in the corner (the Stags) was where Charlie Chaplin learned to do his silly walks.
By Chris Roberts
Image circa 1960: Studio headshot portrait of British author Ian Fleming (1908-1964), the creator of James Bond, smoking a cigarette in a holder. (Photo by Horst Tappe/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.