A Quantum of Knowledge

I’m not necessarily an easy person to watch a film with. Period dramas are especially tricky. However fine the acting, I’m easily jolted out of whichever century I’m supposed to be immersed in if the books or maps are wrong: 19th century spines in an ’18th century’ library; books that would have been brand new when the action is set which have a patina of age; things which are simply wrong in terms of what the character might reasonably have had access to, even if the period is correct. Get the details right and I’ll swallow almost any old tosh, but I am not easy to please. I know I’m not alone, but we all spot different things: I heard a long rant once about how the plumbing wasn’t right in the 1997 film ‘Titanic’.

When the setting is ‘present day’ my interest is rather different. Set dressers are trying to give us what we expect: what sort of sofa would this character have? What kind of wallpaper? Any ornaments on the mantelpiece? It can be exaggerated for comic effect, but the underlying idea is that it should be believable, and contribute to our knowledge of the characters involved. Every now and then a map comes into shot, and then I’m on the edge of my seat, trying to work out what it is and what it’s doing there. I wrote a chapter on 20th century map use for the catalogue accompanying the British Library’s groundbreaking 2016 exhibition, ‘Drawing the Line’, and an element of that was contemporary appreciation and display of maps which were already antique, both original and reproduction. Film and tv provide tantalising glimpses of 20th century interiors.

Of course, when it comes to James Bond films, the greatest effort goes into visualising ‘which super-villain would live in a volcano like this?’, but as it turned out the MI6 offices proved the richest hunting ground for antique maps in a contemporary setting. For my cultural enrichment during lockdown I watched all the Bond films in order and made notes on the maps I spotted. I’d read the novels but had only seen a couple of the movies (none of them this century), so it was mostly fresh for me. Very little in a Bond film escapes scrutiny by fans, from watches to swimming trunks, and I even found a delightful webpage devoted to tracing the full biography of Desmond Llewelyn’s ‘Q’ through his school, regimental and club ties. Time to add maps into the mix.

The classic Blaeu Huntingdonshire and repro Saxton England combo in M’s office, as encountered in Thunderball.

I got my eye in when Sean Connery entered Moneypenny’s office in Thunderball (1965) and there was a decorative mid 17th century county map on her wall: Joannes Blaeu’s map of Huntingdonshire. Passing into M’s office there were two maps, hung one above the other: Christopher Saxton’s 1579 map of England and Wales and, curiously, below it was Blaeu’s Huntingdonshire again. All were displayed in the ubiquitous, narrow Hogarth frames (not quite compulsory mid century, but being a framer must have been a lot easier back then) and the maps clearly match audience expectations for what is appropriate to a government office.

The Saxton is a modern reproduction of an example in the British Library (then still part of the British Museum), published by Taylowe Ltd; the county maps in the atlas were also reproduced, and the earliest I’ve seen had the copyright date 1959. Tom Harper has been exploring the use the same map was put to in the 1970 historical epic ‘Cromwell’. They frequently turn up today, and you can get the ‘Bond look’ for about a tenner. There was no intent to deceive: in a broad margin at the foot of the map is an imprint containing the copyright information, publisher, and a caption, in this case ‘Saxton’s map of England and Wales, 1579’. I still have to disappoint the occasional optimist who brings one into our shop for valuation, but at the time they were cheap but respectable wall decoration. Might we expect M to have the real thing? That’s the big question for me. The Bond producers weren’t expecting me to freeze-frame and zoom right in to work out what the maps are, so I’m left dangling: are we meant to assume that M is a map collector, or would nobody in the 1960s have given two hoots if the maps were original or not? I’m inclined to the former. M has some rather nice marine prints by Huggins, Duncan, and Thomas Goldsworthy Dutton in his office, and when we see his home there’s a decent run of original prints from Pine’s Armada Tapestries.

I’m almost certain the Blaeu Huntingdonshire is real. I mean no offence to any readers who hold the county in affection, but I can’t think of a good reason a facsimile would have been chosen: it has never been heavily collected and is excellent value in terms of pounds per square inch of decorative county map. Did the production spring for two copies or was it carried from one office to the other between takes? It strikes me as a most unlikely map for M and Moneypenny to have in common, and it creates a bizarre back story: both grew up in the same, small, landlocked county, joined the navy, worked together, and bought the same antique map for their adjoining offices. An unlikely bond.

In ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967) Bond is recovered safely after a fake burial at sea and brought on board a British submarine, where M and Moneypenny have transferred their offices complete with furniture – which includes the facsimile Saxton. Moneypenny has it in this film, setting a precedent for the casual sharing of maps as if we wouldn’t notice. There was a shocking switcheroo in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969). Yes, for the first time there was a new Bond, but Moneypenny had ditched her Blaeu and the Saxton for some sort of ‘antique-style’ map of the West Indies, which looked as though it was made by one of the companies who were then churning out drinks globes. Most upsetting. But towards the end of the film we see that M has both his regular maps, the Blaeu Huntingdonshire with the Saxton Anglia above; rehung on the other side of the window since we last saw them, but still present and correct.

More changes in ‘Live and Let Die’ (1973). Moneypenny has seen the error of her ways and palmed off her map of the West Indies onto the next Bond (we are now in the Roger Moore era), who has paired it with a similarly unspeakable map of Puerto Rico and hung it in his kitchen, near his fancy coffee machine.

Bond at home, working his new-fangled espresso machine for M, with a lamentable pair of maps on his kitchen wall.

We’re straight in with a map sighting after Lulu’s Bond theme (‘he has a powerful weapon’ etc) at the opening of ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (1974). M has his Blaeu Huntingdonshire again, in a smart new green mount and hung alone on the left hand side of the door as one enters his office. Moneypenny has her Huntingdonshire back too, but I advise you to make the most of it – there are no more antique maps in MI6 until 1983. The rest of the seventies was bleak. However, the new M in Octopussy has a traditional pairing to the left of his window. The upper map is old faithful, the Blaeu Huntingdonshire, perhaps as a tribute to his predecessor? The map below is partially obscured by library steps, but it is another facsimile from the same series as Saxton’s ‘Anglia’ printed by Taylowe; this time we see ‘Saxton’s map of Cornwall, 1576’. Much more appropriate for a nautical man, somehow.

Moneypenny’s turn to enjoy both the Huntingdonshire and the repro Saxton Cornwall
(which replaces the England and Wales) in A View to a Kill. I had that computer, or one very like it.

There’s more map sharing in ‘A View to a Kill’ (1985). Moneypenny has both the Huntingdonshire and the Saxton Cornwall in this film, and the white margin with the publication details is particularly obvious on the latter. ‘Licence to Kill’ (1989) is a touch vexing on the map front. There are two entirely new maps in Moneypenny’s office which we only glimpse fleetingly and partially. On the right of the door we seem to have a ‘carte à figure’; to the left a city plan in the style of Braun and Hogenberg. Both repros, I’m sure.

And then we enter more lean years. Antique maps, real or otherwise, went out of favour in the offices of the intelligence services, as imagined in the Bond universe. Does this reflect reality? From my perspective map collecting over the last 30 years seems only to have gone from strength to strength, and I think antique maps have a wider appeal than ever before, so I find it curious that they were banished from the walls. At last, at the end of Skyfall (2012) the new M has a rather fine antique globe in his office. I have hopes for Ralph Fiennes’ M as his style of office decor is crying out for some really good maps, but I hope they give him a proper map budget. Frustratingly, over the years the Broccolis seem to have blown most of the available funds on sharks and exploding helicopters, and fancy gadgets like magnetic wristwatches, keyrings that beep if you whistle, and seagulls that can be worn on the head as a disguise (my favourite). More maps please.

Villains in Bond tend to restrict themselves to modern maps, although they sometimes use them to good effect,
as demonstrated by General Orlov’s flamboyant pointing in Octopussy.

The only Bond villain with any taste in vintage cartography is Drax in ‘Moonraker’ (1979) who has a rather nice globe and an armillary sphere in one scene. Other villains have tapestries, bronzes and oil paintings aplenty (including the stolen Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington displayed by Dr No) but the maps – when they appear – are usually ‘functional’. Inverted commas there as I have my doubts about the utility of some of them as aids to world domination, but I’m going to take this away with me as one of the underlying themes of the Bond franchise: good guys buy antique maps, villains don’t.


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