007 on Display: Imperial War Museum
"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No, Mister Bond! I expect you to go to the museum!"
In just over a week it will be exactly a hundred years since the birth of Ian Fleming, wartime intelligence officer and creator of cultural icon James Bond 007.
To mark the occasion, the Imperial War Museum in London has opened a special Fleming'n'Bond themed exhibit, For Your Eyes Only, which will run until May '09.
He left Reuters to become a stockbroker and then a banker, but didn't do very well at either - though his accomplishments in the fields of drinking, smoking, gambling and womanising were apparently notable.
At the outbreak of World War Two, however, Fleming landed on his feet - and this is where the IWM curators start to take a serious interest. Commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve**, Fleming was appointed as personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, Director of the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) of the Admiralty.
As Godfrey recalled, Fleming was "the only officer with a finger in every pie", who liaised with most of the British spook services as well as those of America. The FYEO exhibit has some good stuff on NID's successes during the war. Many of these were based on the use of ULTRA intelligence - the codeword for info gleaned by decrypting German naval signals traffic protected by the Enigma system.
NID also directed more active capers, such as Operation MINCEMEAT - in which it was arranged for the dead body of a supposed British courier to wash up on the Spanish coast, in an area where a German agent was known to be active. The faked plans carried by the imaginary "Major Martin" led Germany to divert troops away from the Allied landing zones in Sicily.
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".
The exhibition examines the extent to which the book and films reflect the reality of the Cold War and how much they were a product of Fleming’s prodigious imagination.