‘Designing 007 – 50 Years of Bond Style’ is the latest major exhibition at the Barbican Centre. Dedicated to the quintessential super spy, this exhibition covers all the bases – from Ian Fleming’s life and literary works to the Brocolli and Saltzman movie era and beyond. Visitors are first greeted by a waxwork of Sean Connery leaning nochalantly against an Aston Martin DB5 from a scene in ‘Goldfinger’, and then there are a series of classic movie posters in the lobby. That’s the last thing that you get for free however – at this point its time to stump up the £12 to enter the exhibition proper.
The first area is the ‘Gold Room’, with gold-lined walls dominated by a tableau featuring the slumped body of a gold-sprayed Jill Masterson from the iconic scene in ‘Goldfinger’. Around the walls are other items on the same theme – scene concept paintings and costumes from Goldfinger (including Pussy Galore’s gold waistcoat and Auric Goldfinger’s gold-trimmed jacket) and an item from the 9th movie, Scaramanga’s ‘golden gun’ (which turns out to be based around the body of a typically ostentatious 1970s Colibri cigarette lighter). Clearly the first part of the exhibition is supposed to wow visitors with its big visual impact, because the next section brings you back down to earth – first editions of hardback James Bond novels, Fleming’s typewriter and a display of postcards, letters and photographs filling in the author’s backstory in Royal Navy Intelligence and his career as an author. Did you know for example that the majority of the manuscripts were written at Fleming’s Jamaican estate, ‘Goldeneye’? Moving on, there’s an area dedicated to M, with a maquette of her office from ‘The World Is Not Enough’ and leather-pannelled doors from behind which Miss Moneypenny can be glimpsed…
The following area will probably appeal most to the gadget freaks – the ‘Q corridor’. Stacked to the ceiling with packing cases, this is a showcase for the devices, big and small, that helped 007 out of many a sticky situation. Models of the submarine Lotus Esprit and the Q Boat from ‘The World Is Not Enough’ are here, as are watches, pens, guns and even a Phillishave-cum-listening device that featured briefly in ‘A View To A Kill’. Arguably the main feature of the ‘Designing 007′ exhibition is the next room: set under glittering lights, and against a backdrop of gambling scenes from several of the films, there are more cocktail dresses and tuxedos on display than you could shake a well-mixed martini at – from the intricate purple beadwork of Pam Bouvier’s dress in ‘A Licence To Kill’ to George Lazenby’s highland outfit from ‘Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (the tartan he wore is the ‘McFarlane Hunting Modern’ if you’re interested). Via ‘Moonraker’ miniatures and spacesuits, the Zorin Industries blimp and storyboards from ‘Golden Eye’, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and ‘Octopussy’, its now time to feast your eyes on Ursula Andress – or at least her revealing bikini.
Then it’s through the public areas of the building to the Fountain Room for my favourite section of the exhibition – the part dedicated to the baddies, ‘Villains & Enigmas’. Accompanied by the on-screen grimaces and leers of Bond’s nemeses are cabinets full of iconic costumes and props – a frozen Boris Grishenko, Rosa Klebb’s stilletto-blade shoes, Grace Jone’s Ascot dress and Madonna’s fencing outfit all feature. The final part of the ‘Designing 007 – 50 Years of Bond Style’ can be found down in the depths of the Barbican, necessitating a journey in the lift down to level -2. Next to the cinema (did you know the Barbican had a cinema in the basement?) is ‘The Ice Palace’, a room dedicated to Bond’s exploits up mountains and down glaciers – skis, ski-doos and the ice palace itself from ‘Die Another Day’, modelled after the Syndey Opera House, feature.
Is a visit to ‘Designing 007 – 50 Years of Bond Style’ worth the entry fee? Well the exhibition is vast, covering the entire movie output, and I can’t imagine that this many James Bond artifacts will ever find themselves in the same place again. For Bond fans then it’s a definitive yes. For the rest of us, we can console ourselves with Daniel Craig’s little blue swimming trunks from the scene in ‘Casino Royale’ as you get to see those too, minus Daniel Craig unfortunately! ’Designing 007 – 50 Years of Bond Style’ runs at the Barbican until 5 September – you can pick up tickets when you arrive or online here.