007 – and a ‘Madcap Count’ – Canterbury’s hidden past.
Guiding visitors arriving in Canterbury, often involves a coach set-down at St George’s Bus Station and whilst we are waiting to tour the city or visit the Cathedral, we might catch a glimpse of the National Express Coach making its way between Dover and London. Chances are that we can see the number of this bus, and it might well be 007. So perhaps it comes as no surprise to us that Ian Fleming, novelist and creator of the James Bond novels knew Kent well, and spent a considerable amount of time here. An inspiration for his secret agent’s code number ?
He wrote, in his novel Goldfinger, of a game of golf played between Bond and Goldfinger at Royal St Marks ! – probably based on the Royal St George’s Golf Course in Sandwich, Kent. Fleming had played many a game here over the years, and one can imagine the beautiful May day, he described, with the larks singing over this great seaside golf course – today occasional host to The British Open Golf Tournament – I wonder whether Ian Fleming would have relaxed afterwards in the club house and sampled one of those famous dry martinis -’shaken, not stirred’ ! Sadly, It was also to be the stage for the author’s final curtain call. Elected captain for the club 1964/5, he was present for a committee meeting on August 11, 1964, and suffered a heart attack. Fleming died at age 56 in the early morning of 12 August —his son Caspar’s twelfth birthday, in Canterbury. It is said that his last recorded words were an apology to the ambulance drivers for having inconvenienced them, saying “I am sorry to trouble you chaps. I don’t know how you get along so fast with the traffic on the roads these days.
Throughout East Kent we can see signs, sites, villages, houses and views associated with Ian Fleming and his James Bond novels, including one on The Duck Inn, Pett Bottom, where, it is claimed, he wrote: ‘You Only Live Twice’
Ian Fleming wrote of James Bond turning off the A2 Canterbury/Dover Road at Lydden village, and following an older road into Dover and I know, well, exactly where he would have spotted, what he described as, ‘the wonderful cardboard castle’ For sure, Dover Castle is so impressive that many a visitor has asked, in wonder, ‘ is that real’ ? Well it certainly is, and very much worth a visit when touring in Kent
The little seaside village of St Margaret’s Bay is central to the James Bond – Moonraker – novel.
It was here that Ian Fleming bought the house, called White Cliffs, down on the beach, in the 1950s. It can easily be recognised today, and it is
worth a detour on a visit to Dover to have a look at this small but pretty bay, full of history. This was Fleming’s holiday home for a crucial decade when he conceived and wrote many of the James Bond books. Perhaps, it is less well known that Ian Fleming was the author of a novel called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all about a car that could fly ! – Later made into a film, starring Dick Van Dyke. The inspiration for this novel also has connections with Canterbury. Count Louis Zborowsky, born in 1895, son of a Polish racing driver and an American heiress has been described as ‘eccentric’,’madcap, ‘a daredevil’ and a bit of ‘a playboy’ At just 16, he inherited Higham Park Estate near Canterbury where he was to build his own miniature railway ‘ just for fun’ ! He had married a chorus girl, Violet, and seemed to really ‘live the high life’ He designed and built his own racing cars, amongst them the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang !
It is thought that Ian Fleming had seen this car racing at Brooklands Circuit, and been transfixed by it, when just a lad – motor racing was a new and glamorous sport back then. Not surprisingly, he remembered it later when he put pen to paper to write his novel: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Count Zborowski’s ambition was to drive for Mercedes. In 1924 he got his wish and entered the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Sadly on the 44th lap he lost control of his car and was killed.
Today, from the windows of the 007 bus between Dover and Canterbury, we can glimpse Higham Park (not currently open to the public) behind the English Hedgerows, and, pause to imagine how it might have been with Count Louis at the helm back in the ‘Roaring Twenties’