Blades

A large chunk of the early portion of Moonraker is set at the fictional gentleman’s club of Blades.

Ian Fleming actually goes into quite a bit of detail about the background and history of Blades,

The exact date of the foundation of Blades in uncertain. The second half of the eighteenth century saw the opening of many coffee houses and gaming rooms, and premises and proprietors shifted often with changing fashions and fortunes. White’s was founded in 1755, Almack’s in 1764, and Brooks’s in 1774, and it was in that year that the Scavoir Vivre, which was to be the cradle of Blades, opened its doors on to Park Street, a quiet backwater off St James’s.

The Scavoir Vivre was too exclusive to live and it blackballed itself to death within a year. Then, in 1776, Horace Walpole wrote: ‘A new club is opened off St James’s Street that piques itself in surpassing all its predecessors’ and in 1778 ‘Blades’ first occurs in a letter from Gibbon, the historian, who coupled it with the name of its founder, a German called Longchamp at that time conducting the Jockey Club at Newmarket.

Doing a search for Scavoir Vivre brings up a book called Sporting Anecdotes, Original and Selected from 1822. It mentions a club by that name, and that The leading plan of the Scavoir Vivre was intended to patronize men of genius and talents; whereas soon became notorious as an institution tolerating every species of licentiousness and debachery. The address Fleming cites on Park street “a quiet backwater off St. James’s” is actually the location of Pratt’s club.

It is said that Fleming actually based quite a bit of Blades on the real club of Boodle’s, which is on St James’s Street, and which resides in the place of the “Savoir Vivre” club (note the slight difference) which folded in 1782.

He gives a further description of Blades as James Bond enters the club to have his dinner with M.

The Adam frontage of Blades, recessed a yard or so back from its neighbours, was elegant in the soft dusk. The dark red curtains had been drawn across the ground floor bow-windows on either side of the entrance and a uniformed servant showed for a moment as he drew them across the three windows of the floor above. In the centre of the three, Bond could see the’ heads and shoulders of two men bent over a game, probably backgammon he thought, and he caught a glimpse of the spangled fire of one of the three great chandeliers that illuminate the famous gambling room.

Boodle’s certainly fits many of the items mentioned here, the Adam frontage, and notably, the fact that it is recessed a yard or so back from the buildings on either side of it. The bow windows on the bottom floor, and the three windows in the center of the floor above.

Boodle's Club, St James Street.
Boodle’s Club, St James Street.
Boodle's from across the street
Boodle’s from across the street

The amenities and food and drink at Blades are second to none, and also described in rich detail, including the meal that Bond and M enjoyed together, as well as the club policies, even paintings on the walls.

Interestingly, Fleming refers to Boodle’s in Moonraker, towards the end of the novel, when Bond is tailing Sir Hugo Drax, the latter is lunching at Blades, while Bond sits in his car in the row of taxis outside of Boodle’s.

Both Blades and Boodle’s are also mentioned in You Only Live Twice. M was having dinner with Sir James Malony, to talk about Bond. It is August 31st.

On the next day, 1 September, those members who were still unfashionably in London would have to pig it for a month at Whites or Boodle’s. Whites they considered noisy and’smart’, Boodle’s too full of superannuated country squires who would be talking of nothing but the opening of the partridge season. For Blades, it was one month in the wilderness. But there it was. The staff, one supposed, had to have their holiday. More important, there was some painting to be done and there was dry-rot in the roof.

Fleming displays a bit of sardonic humor here. I’m sure we pity the poor souls who will have to “pig it” for a month at Whites or Boodle’s – two of the most famous and luxurious clubs in the world.

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Wolfschmidt Vodka

During James Bond’s night at Blades with M, they start their meal with some vodka.

“Ah, Grimley, some vodka, please.” He turned to Bond. “Not the stuff you had in your cocktail. This is real pre-war Wolfschmidt from Riga. Like some with your smoked salmon?”

Bond has a rather unusual method to drinking his vodka:

When M. poured him three fingers from the frosted carafe Bond took a pinch of black pepper and dropped it on the surface of the vodka. The pepper slowly settled to the bottom of the glass leaving a few grains on the surface which Bond dabbed up with the tip of a finger. Then he tossed the cold liquor well to the back of his throat and put his glass, with the dregs of the pepper at the bottom, back on the table.

M. gave him a glance of rather ironical inquiry.

“It’s a trick the Russians taught me that time you attached me to the Embassy in Moscow,” apologized Bond. “There’s often quite a lot of fusel oil on the surface of this stuff-at least there used to be when it was badly distilled. Poisonous. In Russia, where you get a lot of bath-tub liquor, it’s an understood thing to sprinkle a little pepper in your glass. It takes the fusel oil to the bottom. I got to like the taste and now it’s a habit. But I shouldn’t have insulted the club Wolf-schmidt,” he added with a grin.

Here are a couple of ads from that era. Keep in mind though, that M and Bond were drinking “prewar” Wolfschmidt, which was likely much different from what was being marketed later.

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Originally created in Latvia, Wolfschmidt is now owned by Luxco, Inc.

Cole Wallpaper

We get our first glimpse of James Bond’s flat in the novel Moonraker. As he is preparing for an evening at Blades:

He walked through into the smallish bedroom with the white and gold Cole wallpaper and the deep red curtains, undressed and threw his clothes, more or less tidily, on the dark blue counterpane of the double bed.

This is yet another example of Ian Fleming’s fondness for putting “brands” into his writing. While 60 years later, some of these brands and terms may not be familiar to us, many are still going strong. The Cole wallpaper is a reference to Cole & Son (which has a gorgeous, modern website) a company that dates back to 1875. Cole & Son has provided wallpapers for many historic houses including Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

A couple other notes from this scene – the “counterpane” of the bed – if you’re not familiar with that term, it is simply the bedspread, or top blanket of the bed. So the “smallish” room has white and gold wallpaper, deep red curtains and a deep blue bedspread. Not hard to picture, really.

Just prior to coming into the bedroom, Bond walks past “the ornate Empire desk near the broad window. ”

I wonder what Bond’s desk looked like. Given the relatively small proximity of the flat, I wonder if it was something like this 1950’s Empire Desk:

empire-desk

 

Scarne on Cards

In Moonraker, as James Bond is preparing for his evening at Blades with M, which promises a showdown at the card table with Sir Hugo Drax, he goes to his bookshelf in his flat and pulls out a copy of Scarne on Cards. This is a real book, originally put out by John Scarne around 1949.

scarne

You can still purchase the book, which remains in high esteem among card players.

A few pages earlier in Moonraker, Bond referenced his card-sharp mentor, Steffi Esposito, who had trained Bond for a pre-war job against a group of Roumanians in Monte Carlo. Bond says of Esposito that “He could shuffle the pack once and then cut the four aces out of it. Absolute magic.”

This was a trick that Scarne himself was well-known for.

In Diamonds Are Forever, when Bond is receiving his payoff at the Tiara, Tiffany Case “executed what appeared to be a faultless Scarne shuffle.”

Here’s a great vintage video of Scarne and his craft:

Tranby Croft

In Moonraker when M is outlining to James Bond the predicament involving Sir Hugo Drax, he makes the following reference:

Drax would have to resign from Blades and the next thing there’d be a libel action brought in his defence by one of his friends. Tranby Croft all over again. At least, that’s how Basildon’s mind is working and I must say I can see it that way too. Anyway,” said M. with finality, “I’ve agreed to help and”, he looked levelly at Bond, “that’s where you come in.

Tranby Croft is a reference to a baccarat cheating scandal from the 1890’s, which peripherally anyway, involved the future King of England. A certain Colonel William Gordon-Cumming was accused of altering his bets after the cards had been dealt. The scandal ended up with legal action, and finished the Colonel’s career in “high society” – though some to this day feel that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

The actual Tranby Croft is the estate where the incident took place, located in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Tranby_Croft

Dom Perignon ’46

After M places his wine order at Blades in Moonraker, James Bond asks the wine-waiter to make a suggestion.

The wine-waiter was pleased. “If I may suggest it, sir, the Dom Perignon ‘46. I understand that France only sells it for dollars, sir, so you don’t often see it in London. I believe it was a gift from the Regency Club in New York, sir. I have some on ice at the moment. It’s the Chairman’s favourite and he’s told me to have it ready every evening in case he needs it.”

moet-chandon-dom-perignon-brut-champagne

Here are tasting notes from this vintage:

Wine Spectator
94/100 (09-1986)
Really lives up to its reputation; rich and toasty like the Doms of old. Dry and full-bodied, pale gold in color, with fine, slow bubbles, smelling of fresh bread dough and toast. Highly extracted, lemony, toasty, smooth, elegant, clean and crisp, with very good acidity and balance. Long finish.

Colt Detective Special

As Moonraker opens, Bond is in the firing range in the basement of the headquarters building, getting some firing work in with the Instructor.

THE TWO thirty-eights roared simultaneously.

The walls of the underground room took the crash of sound and batted it to and fro between them until there was silence. James Bond watched the smoke being sucked from each end of the room towards the central Ventaxia fan. The memory in his right hand of how he had drawn and fired with one sweep from the left made him confident. He broke the chamber sideways out of the Colt Detective Special and waited, his gun pointing at the floor, while the Instructor walked the twenty yards towards him through the half-light of the gallery.

(A sidenote – the reference to the Ventaxia fan is yet another product placement by Ian Fleming. The company is actually Vent-Axia and provides exactly the type of fan described here.)

The Colt Detective Special is short-barrelled revolver favored by detectives for both its stopping power (.38 Special) and ease of concealment.

Bond was likely using a second series CDS here, which were manufactured between 1947 and 1972.

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This is a 1956 model, so about a year or two away from the events of Moonraker, but as part of the second series of the CDS, the overall design would’ve been the same as the one James Bond was using.

Tee-Hee in Live and Let Die also carried a .38 Colt Detective Special, which Bond took off him after knocking him out. Bond then used the gun to shoot his way out of the garage.

Mouton Rothschild ‘34

In Moonraker when James Bond and M are having dinner at Blades, 007’s boss gives his wine order:

“Then what?” asked M. “Champagne? Personally I’m going to have a half-bottle of claret. The Mouton Rothschild ‘34, please, Grimley. But don’t pay any attention to me, James. I’m an old man. Champagne’s no good for me.

A few bottles of the 1934 Mouton Rothschild are still circulating and people are still opening and tasting them.

A 2008 professional review from the link above:

The 1934 Mouton Rothschild immediately seized control of this flight with its deeper, richer and lusher nose. It was very brooding by comparison with its incredible and trademarked chocolate aromas, accompanied by earth, minerals and nuts. The nose also had an intense trio of cedar, ceramics and mahogany. The palate was intense and hearty, meaty and long with great acidity. The finish was thick and grainy. Rob picked up on some also trademarked ‘mint.’ Earth and oak flavors rounded out this beauty…

mouton-rothschild-34

 

mouton-rothschild-34b

You can click on the second image for some tasting notes from someone who has tried this particular vintage.

4 ½-litre Bentley With Supercharger

We’re introduced to this car in Casino Royale. He also drives this car in Live and Let Die and Moonraker.

Bond’s car was his only personal hobby. One of the last of the 4½-litre Bentleys with the supercharger by Amherst Villiers, he had bought it almost new in 1933 and had kept it in careful storage through the war. It was still serviced every year and, in London, a former Bentley mechanic, who worked in a garage near Bond’s Chelsea flat, tended it with jealous care. Bond drove it hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure. It was a battleship-grey convertible coupé, and it was capable of touring at ninety with thirty miles an hour in reserve.

As mentioned in Live and Let Die:

The Grey Bentley convertible, the 1933 4 ½-litre with the Amherst-Villiers supercharger, had been brought round a few minutes earlier from the garage where he kept it and the engine had kicked directly he pressed the self-starter.

And in Moonraker:

He had a small but comfortable flat off the King’s Road, an elderly Scottish housekeeper – a treasure called May – and a 1930 4½-litre Bentley coupé, supercharged, which he kept expertly tuned so that he could do a hundred when he wanted to.

We’ll use the year on the last entry, as by 1933, the 4½-litre was no longer being made. In Casino Royale, it is merely stated that Bond bought the car in 1933, not that it was a 1933 model.

Only about 720 4½-litre Bentleys were produced, and only around 50 of those had the supercharger or “blower.”

Blower_Bentley_Profile

This appears to be the 1930 coupe. I don’t think James Bond had the Union Jack on his car though. The grey device directly above the number plate is the Amherst-Villiers supercharger.

640px-Bentley_4½_Litre_Blower

Here is a look inside at the dash:

30_Bentley-4-5Liter-DV-12-GCA_i03

Here’s another interesting look inside the cab.

inside-bentley

There is a website – Vintage Bentleys – which is dedicated to finding and tracking all of remaining cars of this type in the world. They’ve done a stunning job at cataloging the cars.

For more information and photos on this model, check this page.

Taittinger Blanc de Blanc

In Casino Royale, James Bond and Vesper are having champagne, and Bond originally requests a Taittinger ’45. The wine waiter replies:

‘A fine wine, monsieur,’ said the sommelier. ‘But if the monsieur will permit,’ he pointed with his pencil, ‘the Blanc de Blanc Brut 1943 of the same marque is without equal.’

Bond accepts the suggestion, noting to Vesper that while this is not a well-known brand, “it is probably the finest champagne in the world.”

In seems that Bond has spent time extolling the virtues of Taittinger to others, including his boss, M. From Moonraker:

We’ve got some good champagnes, haven’t we, Grimley? None of that stuff you’re always telling me about, I’m afraid, James. Don’t often see it in England. Taittinger, wasn’t it?”

Bond tries to play it down, saying it was only a “fad” of his, but we know better. Following Grimley’s suggestion however, Bond ends up with a Dom Perignon ‘46.

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond has checked into the Hotel Splendide, he “ordered from Room Service a bottle of the Taittinger Blanc de Blanc that he had made his traditional drink at Royale.” 

So, that tradition appears to have begun in Casino Royale.

This ad is from just a couple of years after OHMSS was written:

taittinger