Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The Daily Constitutional London Library No.1. Moonraker

Welcome to The Daily Constitutional London Library

In this ten-week series of posts I'll be drawing in literary fiction, popular fiction, graphic novels and non-fiction to create a reading list as disparate and inspiring as London itself. 

The ten titles are linked in so much as each one features at least one London location – each post will also feature a map to one of the locations

No. 1. Moonraker by Ian Fleming (1955)

The jet set nature of James Bond’s remit means that those looking for London settings in the novels of Ian Fleming must make do with fleeting glimpses of St James’s (his club), Regent’s Park (his “office”) and King’s Road (his apartment) before he sets off for adventures in climes exotic.

The exception is Moonraker: the third Bond novel is set entirely in England.

In pursuit of Hugo Drax, a megalomaniac would-be dictator, arms manufacturer and (worst of all in M’s book) card cheat, Bond gambles, drinks and takes amphetamines in St James’s, meets with Assistant Commissioner Vallance at Scotland Yard and prangs his vintage Bentley in the prosaic surroundings of the capital's South Circular ring road. He later road tests his new motor, a four-and-a-half litre 1953 Bentley Mark VI on Birdcage Walk SW1.

Drax remains one of Fleming’s best villains; Bond is at his most bullet-proof in this tale, bouncing back from the events of the previous assignment (Live and Let Die); and the glimpses behind the mask of M bring one of popular fiction’s most enigmatic supporting characters leaping from the page. But it is perhaps the behind-the-scenes look at Pall Mall’s club land that holds the most delicious London detail – Fleming makes for a fine tour guide.

(Fleming often functioned thus – his descriptions of air travel throughout the books seem stultifying to the modern reader, but when they were published they provided an astonishing glimpse of the good life to the post-war and thoroughly earthbound thriller reader.)

It also features my favourite line in all of the James Bond canon – books and movies included. After a particularly heavy night, Bond groans: "Champagne and benzedrine. Never again!"

Birdcage Walk… 

… watch out for speeding Bentleys.

The road is named for the royal menagerie and aviary which stood here at the time of King James I.

Blades Club…

… is a fictional club but stands roughly at the spot where the real life Pratt's Club can be found in Park Place. Bond is NOT a member, but is here as the guest of M. It is believed to be an amalgam of White's, Boodles, The Portland Club & Brooks's. At one time or another Ian Fleming was a member at all four clubs.

Next week… 

The Austerity Olympics: When the Games Came to London in 1948

By Janie Hampton

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