The Spy Who Loved Me

24 Hours Of Spies

It's been a weekend in which I came home at gone 1am on both Friday and Saturday nights (or Saturday and Sunday mornings, if you prefer), which is unusual for me these days.

My pal Jeff of has been holidaying in the UK with his wife, staying in what turned out to be an incredibly swanky flat in Mayfair. On Friday night I was part of a gathering of likeminded souls who assembled to talk espionage fiction over wine and cheese, and it was well worth getting the night bus home from Brixton for.

On Saturday I went to A Celebration of ITC 2 with my friend Hannah, since we'd had such a great time last year. As is our tradition (i.e. we've done it twice now), we met around lunchtime in Elstree and settled in Wetherspoons for the afternoon before our evening at the studios.

As in 2018, the format was Q&A sessions with guests from the world of TV and film. The focus for 2019 was Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), fifty years old this year. Annette Andre topped the guest list; Kenneth Cope was unable to attend, but sent us a lovely phone message. I've heard Annette speak on two previous occasions, but I'll never get tired of hearing what a happy family Randall and Hopkirk was, and how actors in other Elstree productions would pop along to their set in spare moments because there was such a nice atmosphere.

The last and perhaps the loveliest guest was Derek Fowlds, best known to me as Bernard from Yes Minister but also longstanding in Heartbeat and as Basil Brush's straight man. Wonderfully warm and funny, he concluded by saying how lucky he was to have had such a long career in showbiz, which was the perfect end to the evening.

I was unable to find a white suit for the occasion, so I elected to dress as Roger Moore. I think he'd have liked it.

Cat Air

Make Some Noise

I spent yesterday afternoon standing in the rain at Dunsfold Aerodrome, waiting for a Vickers VC10 to make some noise.

I appreciate this is a niche pastime.

This particular aircraft was a Super VC10, the last of the model off the production line at Weybridge and now the property of Brooklands. I, along with 70 or so other punters, had come to see/hear it start up and taxi along the runway.

Riding round the perimeter track of an active airfield to the parking area, past security and a barrier at the gate, was a thrill in itself. At 1PM, a volunteer came to tell us that things would be delayed as the plane wouldn't start: "It started beautifully at 8:30 this morning!"

Ten minutes later, the engines began to run. It was worth the wait. Whenever I thought that this must surely be maximum noise, it got just a little noisier. Finally, the plane began to move, turned around (blowing a volunteer's hat off, to much hilarity) and made stately progress up the runway, turned around, and came back.


Then they ran the Napier-Railton, a beast of a 1930s race car with a 24-litre aeroplane engine. It has no starting-handle and requires bump starting, which on this occasion took five men running behind the car and getting a faceful of smoke when it eventually deigned to get going.


After things had quietened down, I went on board the VC10 to learn about its history and sit in the cockpit. When I was in the Air Training Corps, I went on a refuelling flight in one of these (we filled up two Jaguars and another VC10, and it was awesome), so I was a little sad to see it reduced to a museum piece. Walking past the huge fuel tanks in the rear of the aircraft brought it all back.

It was raining more heavily when I emerged, so I chatted to the Napier-Railton crew for a bit. (One of them was the dead spit of Bill Pertwee in Dad's Army, which was nice for me.) Of course, they all said "Nice bike you've got there! What'll it do?" and showed me photos on their phones of their own cherished, classic bikes.

When the weather eased I extracted myself and they waved me off with cries of "Mind how you go! Don't brake in the corners!"
The Spy Who Loved Me

Three Bonds

Taking out BFI Membership was an excellent decision. This month it has brought me priority tickets to James Bond Day, a triple bill of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (50th anniversary), Moonraker (40th anniversary) and The World Is Not Enough (20th anniversary, yikes, how can this be, I swear it came out a couple of years ago).

I went with my Twitter friend Hannah, who travelled down from The North for the occasion. We met at Waterloo and just had time to buy a drink before the first film.

OHMSS is in my top three Bond films anyway, and it's my #1 for settings and costumes. '1960s ski lodge' is very much my aesthetic (see also North by Northwest). The Connery films might have that early-1960s cool but in 1969 we get Bond in an orange rollneck/brown polyester suit combo, and even Miss Moneypenny has a wedding hat with psychedelic swirls.

Afterwards, we had the very wonderful experience of a Q&A with George Lazenby, hosted by David Walliams. Lazenby was amiable and sweary and I'm pretty sure at least 50% of what he told us about filming Bond was lies, but charming ones. st_crispins, they played his scene from The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.! (He looked mortified.)

We were told that George would be signing autographs on the balcony, and we got in the queue. It was...costly, but we agreed we would only regret it later if we didn't go for it.

While we were queuing, I spotted my friend Ed of James Bond Food below me. Luckily he saw me before I was forced to shout his name from the mezzanine. Then someone else in the queue asked if I was Alice, and revealed himself as a fan of my Twitter. Hello there!

At last it was my turn to select a photo and have it signed.

"A-L-I-C-E?" George asked. "YesandthanksforbeingBonditmeansalottome," I replied. He nodded vaguely.

Then we had to rush back to the auditorium for Moonraker. Roger Moore is my least favourite Bond (sorry, Rog; sorry also, Hannah) but I'll admit his films are the most fun to watch on the big screen with an appreciative audience. I managed, for once, not to blub at the end of OHMSS, but made up for it by crying with laughter at the end of Moonraker ("I think he's attempting re-entry!")

(It turns out that Austin Powers 2 has completely ruined me for this one, and it was only a superhuman effort of will that kept me from yelling out "JOHNSON!!" in the middle of NFT1.)

I thought we'd have up to an hour's interval between films for a coffee and a chat. As it turned out, it was all a bit of a rush. There certainly wasn't time to eat, and if Hannah hadn't given me half a Scotch egg and some Milkybar Buttons I would probably have died.

We did manage to visit the bar in preparation for The World Is Not Enough. I filled Hannah in on the rules of the Pierce Brosnan Drinking Game, and we clinked our plastic pint glasses as the lights went down.

One is a lot more forgiving of all the innuendo and horndoggery in Moonraker than in TWINE, partly because everyone should have known better by 1999 and partly because Roger is Roger while Pierce always has a slight aura of sleaze about him (sorry, Pierce). But there's lots to enjoy in the Millennium Bond Film. Just not always in the way the producers intended.

We made our exit during the end credits and headed back to Waterloo.

I was so excited about having met an actual Bond that I couldn't sleep.

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Found in La Mancha

I didn't think there was anything I wanted to see at this year's London Film Festival, but then they announced a surprise late addition: a preview screening of Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, plus Q&A with Terry afterwards. I bought a ticket as soon as booking opened.

Years ago I watched Lost in La Mancha, the documentary cataloguing the series of disasters that prevented the film from being made the first time round, so I was eager to see the final product. I loved it to bits.

It's got lukewarm reviews elsewhere, so I should include a couple of disclaimers: 1) I am very easy to please when it comes to Don Quixote, and 2) we all got free T-shirts. (Terry made us put them on after the film, and took a photo.)

The plot: film director Toby, played by Adam Driver (whence my new favourite movie credit, 'Driver to Mr Driver'), revisits the location of his student film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and discovers that the Spanish cobbler he chose to play the lead is now convinced he really is the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. Toby, in the role of Sancho Panza, is dragged into a series of surreal, spectacular, silly and scary adventures.

Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Don Quixote, and clearly having a whale of a time with it. Terry said in the Q&A that Pryce, an old friend, had wanted the part from the very beginning, and Terry had to keep fobbing him off because he wasn't old enough or skinny enough. Finally he has matured into the role.

I love Don Quixote - I think it may be the greatest story ever written - and I love that it keeps changing and evolving. As the film promises, Don Quixote will never die.

The icing on the cake was bumping into two friends on my way to NFT1 who were also heading for the screening, and going for a coffee afterwards. In our T-shirts.

Life, the Universe and Everything

Today is my 42nd birthday (thank you for the virtual gift, st_crispins!) and also the first day of my new job. Or rather, the first day of a bewildering week of inductions in which I met many people and was told many things. We were constantly reassured that we didn't need to remember it all right off the bat.

I am one of 20 interns in four digital specialisms, and we'll be seeing a lot of each other over the coming year. Today was in central London, then we have two days in Croydon and two days working from home to absorb all the information we've had thrown at us.

There was an introductory talk, at which we were told we'd each beaten hundreds of applicants to get where we were. Then we had the dreaded 'talk to the person next to you and find out an interesting fact about them'. My interesting fact was that it was my birthday, which worked out well because someone bought a coffee for me in the break.

We were given new laptops, and it was a while before we all managed to get logged in, online and sorted. Then it was lunch, then we split into our specialisms to talk to our new colleagues and mentors.

The day started at 10:30 and was over by ten to three, but I had to absorb an awful lot in that time, and there is more to come.

And now: pub.
Husky Airways

Balloon, Mein Herr?

Thursday's BFI film treat was a newly restored print of The Third Man.

The restoration, and the big screen, made the locations and cinematography extra impressive, and put more zing in the zither. I also noticed details I hadn't spotted before, like Anna sleeping in Harry's pyjamas (they have 'HL' on the breast pocket).

Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart definitely went on the same military training course as Trevor Howard's Major Calloway. And got his army duffle coat out of the same skip.

I was keeping an eye out for Bernard Lee but failed to spot him as the comedy sergeant who's a big fan of Holly's novels. He aged a great deal between 1949 and 1962's Dr No.

Another important Bond nerd point: The Living Daylights, which has several scenes in Vienna, nods to The Third Man in the fairground scene. (There is, of course, also a Remington Steele episode involving a system of underground tunnels accessed by advertisement hoarding.)

So, what did we learn?

  • You're probably better off dead

  • Cats, puppies and small children will grass you up

"I have this urge to watch The Living Daylights now," I informed my companion as we emerged.

"Don't you have that urge every single day of your life?" he asked.
Cat Air

Beer, Wine and Cider 9: Au Revoir

Monday 26th August

Our hosts made us a round of ham sandwiches and waved us off, and we began the long journey back to Dunkirk and the 6pm ferry.

There was a small detour to visit a Breguet Deux-Ponts in the grounds of an airfield. It's in use as a café, though sadly wasn't open this morning. Instead, a caretaker greeted us, apologised for not speaking English and offered a glass of ice water, which we gratefully accepted.

Time to make for the main roads and rack up some serious miles. We sat in a layby to eat our sandwiches ("Bon appetit!" said a passing walker), and made one final stop at a supermarket for petrol and supplies. Looking at my haul of biscuits, grenadine, sardines and tins of lentils with sausages, I realised I had inadvertently created a Brexit stockpile.

We made the ferry in plenty of time and sat on deck until falling temperatures drove us in to the lounge.

Docked at Dover, we emerged into a golden evening that made me fall in love with my home country again, as always happens after a holiday spent falling in love with other people's countries.

Miles: 368.7
Total miles: 1732

< Back 
Cross stitch

Beer, Wine and Cider 8: Party Time

Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th August

I woke at 7.30 to the sounds of clattering metal and French voices. This turned out to be the French side of the family setting up a huge barbeque on which they would roast a lamb, a pig and a chicken, the juices dripping down onto big trays of potatoes.

More friends and relatives arrived for breakfast - some from guest rooms or the attic, some from lodgings in the village, others fetched from hotels or the station in the nearest town.

Among the guests were two dogs, bouviers Suisses named Cuddy and Polo. Polo's nickname is Polo the Miserable because he always looks sad ("Comme le chien de Columbo," someone commented), but he's fine really.

The feast was ready by mid-afternoon (the children present had been given ham sandwiches to keep them going, and I had managed to sneak one too). We sat down at long tables, French and English together, passing each other bread and salad.

Later I was persuaded into the paddling-pool with the kids (I did not need much persuading). I slid down the slide, straight through the pool and into a bush, to the amusement of all onlookers.

And suddenly it was late. After darkness fell there was a birthday croquembouche, held together with caramel, topped with nougatine and washed down with fizzy wine.

The party split into small groups, chatting and drinking under the trees. Howard went to bed. A small boy dragged me off to play billiards, and beat me. An elderly French neighbour described seeing American soldiers march through the village in 1944, when he was eleven. Around 1am rhum agricole started to circulate, and after some of that I decided to call it a night.

Sunday was a quiet day. Guests departed, while those of us staying another night lounged about. There were plenty of leftovers to eat and drink. The most energetic thing we did all day was go on a walk to find the Biggest Tree in the Village. Polo and Cuddy departed, which meant that our host's sweet little cat, who had been lying low, put in an appearance for stroking and fuss.

The day ended, again, with a communal meal. I went to bed at midnight to the sound of owls hooting.

Miles: 0

< Back | Forward >
  • Current Mood
    happy happy
  • Tags
The Spy Who Loved Me

Beer, Wine and Cider 7: Closely Inclined Planes

Friday 23rd August

Today we were heading deeper into France, to the little village where our friends' party would be held the following day. I managed one last swim before checkout.

Our first stop was the Plan Incliné de Saint-Louis Arzviller, a lift that allows canal boats passage through the Vosges Mountains, replacing 17 locks. We were lucky enough to see it in action, raising a boatload of tourists before our very eyes.

After coffee, it was time to press on. We chose to avoid tolls, so the route was a mix of motorway, dual carriageway and straight, almost empty country roads. My fly-by treat for the day was a Mirage 2000 fighter, spotted near a French air base.

"No, when was that?" said Howard when I asked later if he'd seen it.

"When I slowed down for no apparent reason."

"I should remember to check the sky when that happens."

We arrived at half-past five, precisely when we'd said we would. Our friends had very kindly offered us a room, and I was allowed to unpack and change before their daughter whisked me off to inspect her treehouse.

Other guests had arrived, or were arriving. We had a tour of the village, which took about 20 minutes, then ate pizzas outside in the dusk before bed.

Miles: 293.4

< Back | Forward >
The Spy Who Loved Me

Cary Grant Fest, Part 3

More from the BFI's Cary Grant season. Last night I attended a talk, 'Shadows and Light: Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant', about the four films they made together and the several they didn't for one reason or another. Grant was perhaps the only actor with whom Hitchcock had a genuine friendship, allegedly because at the time they met they were the only two people in Hollywood who knew what Liquorice Allsorts were.

After the talk, I had 45 minutes before a screening of one of the four Hitchcock/Grant movies: To Catch a Thief. My friend Matt, who was coming with me, met me outside the BFI bearing a currywurst so I wouldn't starve to death, since I'd come to the talk straight from work.

The film, in which Grant plays a reformed cat burglar trying to clear his name, was new to both of us, and we enjoyed it a great deal. It's just the kind of 1960s caper I like: shot in the glamorous, sun-drenched setting of the French Riviera, with a comedy car chase, fun characters and a real cat.

"I bet there's a Remington Steele episode that references this," I thought. (There is, and I have watched it.)

Biggest laugh of the evening: Grant as John Robie introduces insurance agent Hughson to quiche Lorraine.

I'm never sure whether I prefer young, lissome, monochrome Cary or the grey-templed Technicolor version. He certainly looks very good here, with his tan and his collection of stripey tops worn with neckerchiefs.

I've seen North by Northwest a number of times, and Notorious as part of the current season, which leaves only Suspicion of the quartet to view. Maybe I'll see if it's still playing...
  • Current Mood
    enthralled enthralled
  • Tags