Military Intelligence, Section 6, otherwise known as the Secret Intelligence Service, has always played home to the world’s leading fictional spy. With its main offices in London, the city has often played an important role in the James Bond film franchise. The city’s buildings have appeared either as real or fictional offices, and sometimes local buildings have substituted for foreign locales. In fact, there are so many used for even the most fleeting of moments that it would be impossible (or very tedious) to list them all here, so we’ll try to focus on some of the more important scenes.
Perhaps the first major London location to be used in the Bond franchise is Le Ambassadeurs Club. An exclusive casino that has operated in Mayfair since the 19th Century, you’ve got to have some money and notoriety to get in this club…unless you’re 007. As a filming location, it appeared as the very first Bond casino in Dr. No, where it played the part of the Le Cercle casino.
Besides La Ambassadeurs, a couple of other clubs have played prominent roles in the Bond franchise. The Reform Club in Westminster has appeared as least twice. The first time it appears is as the club “Blades” in Die Another Day, where Bond has a fencing duel with Madonna (arguably one of the more believable moments in that film). It also sees service in Quantum of Solace as the Foreign Office. Given its use in two stinkers, it’s probably best that The Reform Club has yet to reappear in a Bond film.
Of course, while that is perhaps the first London location to appear in James Bond, it may not be as important as Bond’s office—MI6 HQ. Several buildings have played this role over Bond’s 50+ year history. Perhaps one of the more well-known exteriors for MI6 comes from the films Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and License to Kill—the Old War Office. Several buildings served as the real SIS HQ over the years, from 64 Victoria Street (when the department was still the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau) to Century House where MI6 was located for nearly forty years.
During this time, other buildings have also served as the exterior for SIS, whether as MI6 or as Universal Exports, the shell company that often provided a cover for Bond’s missions. This includes Malaysia House that played the exterior for Universal Exports in Timothy Dalton’s first film, The Living Daylights. Since 1994, the fictional HQ of MI6 and its real-life counterpart have been one and the same—Vauxhall Cross. The following year after SIS moved into the building, it was first scene as the exterior of MI6 in Goldeneye. It has further appeared as the HQ in nearly every Bond film since, including Skyfall. However, filming on the building’s grounds is still not permitted, so any close-up locations tend to be other London buildings, such as Whitehall Court as the Ministry of Defence in Tomorrow Never Dies and The Barbican in Quantum of Solace.
Even chase scenes utilise great bits of London. One of the most well-known comes from The World is Not Enough, in which an attack on Vauxhall Cross sends Bond in a boat chase down the River Thames and past many of the river’s docks until it finally ends at the Millennium Dome. For Skyfall, the Tube chase between Bond and a disguised Silva takes place largely in the Charing Cross Underground Station. The car chase that follows runs through Parliament Square, Whitehall, and Smithfield Market in Holborn.
With Vauxhall’s fate in Skyfall, what’s old is new again as MI6 reorganizes to fight Silva. The Old Vic Tunnels become the new underground HQ. Located beneath Waterloo Station, the Old Vic Trust purchased the tunnels to transform them into a performing arts venue. The Bond franchise uses them as the old Cabinet War Rooms from World War II, repurposed until MI6 finds its new home. This, of course, is its old home in Whitehall, but this time utilising the Department for Energy and Climate Change. It is from here that Bond stands atop the roof, ready for the next mission as the credits roll.
Of course, these locations are by no means the only ones that have appeared across all the films. Let us know what some of your favourites are in the comments, and remember…
JAMES BOND WILL RETURN.