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Celebrating 50 years of James Bond

BY SHARON WHITLEY LARSEN Modified: October 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm •  Published: October 28, 2012

Alas, I can't claim to be a Bond Girl.

But in honor of the 50th anniversary of James Bond films — with the latest, "Skyfall" (the 23rd), opening worldwide — I decided to tour Bond-related sites in and around London.

After all, Bond is the longest-running movie franchise in history. From clothes to cars to champagne, the fictional character of James Bond especially comes alive here.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the first Bond book, "Casino Royale," penned in just two months in Jamaica by British author Ian Fleming. It was published a year later, in 1953, the first of 14 novels in the series, which introduced the world to thrilling, high-octane entertainment, including vodka martinis, fast cars, beautiful women, intrigue, glamour, gambling, high-tech gadgets, spies and assassinations. It also introduced a cast of characters, including the exotic Bond Girls, Q, M and Miss Moneypenny.

The first Bond movie, "Dr. No," opened in 1962 and is renowned for Sean Connery's introduction: "The name's Bond: James Bond."

"I've never seen him so nervous as that day," recalled actress Eunice Gayson, who was in that scene, during a television interview.

She took him to the studio commissary for a drink, and he returned, smoothly saying that famous line perfectly.

"Who knew it was going to be such an iconic success?" she mused.

A world traveler who enjoyed the fine things in life, Fleming hit on a popular formula at the height of the Cold War — and the rest is history.

President John F. Kennedy was a big fan (his favorite was "From Russia With Love"). And who can forget Queen Elizabeth II being escorted by Daniel Craig from Buckingham Palace during the summer Olympics' opening ceremony (as her beloved corgis looked on). She also appears to royally relish 007.

"Her majesty was very game," commented Craig later in a TV interview about the spoof, which featured a stand-in dressed as the queen parachuting into the stadium.

"Wasn't that marvelous?" added Sir Roger Moore, one of the six James Bonds (besides the current Craig — and Connery — others included George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan).

"What a tribute to Bond in its 50th year, to be recognized by the queen in agreeing to do that," said Moore. "It was a brilliant idea."

Moore has written a new book, "Bond on Bond: Reflections on 50 Years of James Bond Movies," and was speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Before he died at age 56 in 1964, Fleming, who was in naval intelligence and espionage during World War II, had stints in banking, stockbroking, and as a newspaper correspondent and columnist.

Besides the Bond series, Fleming also wrote two nonfiction books, a collection of short stories and the popular children's book "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" — also made into a film.

He based the Bond books on his personal and wartime experiences and intriguing people he knew. He even used the names of friends and acquaintances in the books. (An architect named Goldfinger, however, was not amused.)

"The interest in Bond is at an all-time high," noted Akin Gazi, my guide on the James Bond Tour of London ("Step into the dangerous world of 007"), who led our group of a dozen in a minibus, regaling us with Bond tidbits and showing onboard film clips.

We hopped off and on to photograph locations of various Bond movies, including Somerset House, the Thames River (scene of high-speed boat chases), the MI6 Building, the National Gallery, Tobacco Dock and Greenwich.

Later we also stopped at other Bond sites, including the 02 Arena (which some of our group climbed) and in front of Buckingham Palace, where a character in "Die Another Day" dramatically parachuted. We toured the Four Seasons Hotel London at Canary Wharf, featured in the "Skyfall" film.

In the 007 spirit, we sipped martinis, a la James Bond, at Dukes Hotel, a hangout of Fleming's and the spot where the term "shaken, not stirred" reportedly was first coined.

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