Ian Fleming’s London: 5 Key Historical Locations to Visit | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

Ian Fleming’s London: 5 Key Historical Locations to Visit

Follow in the footsteps of James Bond’s creator and trace his life and work through the bars, clubs and hotels of his home city.

Tristan Parker

20 Sep 2021

Although the world’s most well-known spy, James Bond, was constantly jetting off to exotic locations around the world, he also spent his fair share of time in London. This was no doubt due to the deep connection that his creator, Ian Fleming, had with the city, having been born there and spending a large portion of his adult life in the city. 

Fleming worked various jobs in London, as a stockbroker, journalist and naval intelligence officer, as well as wining and dining at some of the most exclusive clubs and restaurants. It all provided invaluable writing material for James Bond’s adventures, and there are certainly times in Fleming’s novels that his spy’s London journeys mirror his own, just with some added flourishes for dramatic effect.

Below, we’ve selected five key locations from Ian Fleming’s London that helped shaped both him and his writing. 

Image Credit: Alla Tsyganova / Shutterstock

1. Dukes London

Dukes is a luxury hotel and bar in Mayfair, an affluent area of London, England. Famous faces have been a regular occurrence at Dukes ever since it opened in 1908. Princess Diana and the Queen Mother are both rumoured to have visited.

Ian Fleming was a regular at Dukes Bar, and there are various tales attached to Fleming’s time there. Some state that it was the venue in which he created the iconic Vesper Martini (composed of several measures of gin, one of vodka and half a measure of French liqueur Lillet) that Bond orders in both the novel and film version of Casino Royale. Other stories claim the bar inspired him to coin Bond’s ‘shaken, not stirred’ catchphrase, in reference to how he prefers his martinis.

Dukes is still open today, offering visitors martinis and champagne afternoon tea.

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Image Credit: Smuconlaw/Wikimedia Commons

2. The Old War Office

A Grade II-Listed building in the Whitehall area of London, England, The Old War Office (OWO) was completed and opened in 1906. It served as the main base for British military operations until 1964. Various prime ministers and senior British political figures have been based in the building, including Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Herbert Asquith and Lord Kitchener.

The office was also the workplace of Ian Fleming while he was a British Naval Intelligence Officer. It’s thought that Fleming came up with the idea for Bond during his time at the office.

In a fitting tribute to Bond’s creator, the OWO building has been featured in a grand total of five James Bond films – more than any other venue – as the headquarters of MI6, Bond’s employer. In chronological order, these appearances of the OWO are: Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), Licence to Kill (1989), Skyfall (2002) and Spectre (2015).

The OWO building has been converted into high-end living quarters.

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Image Credit: Paul Farmer / CC

3. St James’s Club

Found in the affluent London area of Mayfair, St James’s Club is a historic venue and private members’ club dating back to 1857. Its former members have included the politicians Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as well as the authors Evelyn Waugh, Henry James and Ian Fleming.

It’s believed that Fleming actually lived at the club briefly during the 1940s, leaving in 1946. Fleming spent a lot of time around Mayfair (where St James’s Club was – and still is – based) and its exclusive clubs, and was actually born in the area.

More recent members of St James’s in its newer incarnations have included Liza Minelli, Dudley Moore, Michael Caine, Pete Townshend and – fittingly considering the Ian Fleming connection – Sean Connery, the first actor to portray James Bond in a film.

St James’s Hotel and Club operates today and claims that it welcomes new members.

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Image Credit: Fred Romero / CC

4. El Vino, Fleet Street

El Vino, Fleet Street is a historic wine bar located on a road famous for its former status as the heart of London’s newspaper industry. In its heyday, the Fleet Street branch of El Vino was a hub for journalists and editors – due to its location near numerous newspaper offices – as well as other writers and lawyers working in the area.

One famous regular was Ian Fleming, who visited the bar while working as a stockbroker, first for Cull & Co, then for Rowe & Pitman, both in London’s Square Mile. Later, from 1957 to 1964, Fleming also had a writing office nearby in Mitre Court, a small road running just off Fleet Street. It’s thought that Fleming would usually visit the bar during lunchtimes before its notoriously rowdy evening atmosphere took hold.

Today, there are five branches of El Vino operating in London, including the Fleet Street branch.

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Image Credit: Debonairchap/Wikimedia Commons

5. Boodles

Boodles is an exclusive private members’ club in London, England, renowned for having hosted former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, politician John Profumo, philosopher David Hume, economist and philosopher Adam Smith and author Ian Fleming.

Fleming used to visit the club for lunch, though it’s not known whether he enjoyed the club’s famous Orange Fool, an indulgent traditional British dessert made with fruit and cream that became synonymous with Boodles.

It’s said that Fleming based Blades, a fictional private members’ club in the James Bond series (mentioned in two Bond novels, 1955’s Moonraker and You Only Live Twice in 1964) largely on Boodles. Certainly, the architectural features and opulent décor of Blades described by Fleming in his novels both bear similarities to Boodles.

Boodles continues to operate today and membership is still only possible through an election process.

A suave secret agent and fictional character turned household name and multi-billion dollar franchise: we all know James Bond. But what about the man behind him? In this episode, hear about the people and places that inspired Ian Fleming as he wrote the stories of 007. Professor Klaus Dodds researches geopolitics and security, ice studies and the international governance of the Antarctic and the Arctic at Royal Holloway, but he is also an expert on Fleming and Bond. Listen as he discusses the influence of Fleming’s childhood, of his experiences during the Second World War and of his family’s exploits.

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