Whether it’s a classic or modern James Bond film—Thunderball, Live and Let Die, Casino Royale—rarely do you ever notice the chap behind the bar. He’s usually some nondescript, faceless, nameless man, whose one purpose in the film is to stand opposite Sean Connery or Roger Moore or Daniel Craig for a second or two and diligently fix the famed British spy his signature cocktail: a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.
Bond bartenders never get any love.
That is, except for 50-year-old English barkeep Nick Bennett. The owner of the Robin Hood pub and restaurant in Leigh, England, Bennett assures Made Man that he not only whips up a mean vodka martini (with a personal twist), but also knows James Bond better than the average person. That’s because Bennett is the Guinness World Record holder for the largest Bond memorabilia collection.
With somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000 pieces, Bennett’s collection has grown to truly epic proportions over the past 20 years.
With 12,463 pieces at the time of the original count—which took four people five hours to accomplish—and now somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000 pieces, Bennett’s collection has grown to truly epic proportions over the past 20 years. He started in 1995, when Pierce Brosnan broke onto the scene in GoldenEye, and from there, what started out as a few hundred pieces ballooned to storage units, houses, and finally, when the Guinness Records people came calling in October 2013, a 2,500 square-foot warehouse. At the time we spoke with him, Bennett was actually beginning the arduous process of putting the collection back into personal storage.
Although he grew up in the 1960s when Bond rose to prominence and remembers attending a double-bill of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and Live and Let Die (1973) in his childhood, Bennett actually got the Bond bug much later in life. It was a byproduct of his greater obsession with toys.
“I’m a Bond fan by default,” he says. “When I decided to go down the road of collecting just one subject, which was Bond, on the back of that comes a lot of knowledge. So I don’t spend a lot of time watching the films.” And while his favorite is the very first, Dr. No, what actually got him interested in collecting just Bond items was Batman, of all things. A good friend, who happens to collect all things related to the caped crusader, had an enviable man-cave featuring tons of vintage ’60s Batman memorabilia. A light bulb went off, and so started Bennett’s most excellent collecting adventure.
The collection itself is basically one big highlight reel of James Bond movie mystique, with a bunch of scarce standalones mixed in. Probably the rarest piece in his collection is a viewfinder, which you load with tiny comic scrolls that tell a nontraditional Bond story. Not used to promote a specific film, Bennett believes it’s the only one of its kind.
Then, of course, there are the decidedly gaudier items. “I’ve got a speedboat from Live and Let Die,” says Bennett, nonchalantly. It was one of 80 or so used in the United Kingdom for promotional purposes, and it’s tremendously condition-sensitive. “I’ve had it many years and I’ve restored it, and bits keep breaking on it, because of the metal fatigue, and it’s kept inside now, so that incurs storage cost,” he explains.
Stuff. Lotta stuff.
Asked if he’s ever taken it out for a spin—man-code for “a high-speed chase”—he shakes his head, saying it’s been next to impossible to find the right motor in England. (If anyone happens to have a mid-’70s Evinrude Starflite 135 in decent condition, please let him know.)
Like most collectors, Bennett finds the biggest thrill in the hunt, which has taken him around the world. He and three friends—one local, one from the Netherlands and one from Boston—have crisscrossed the globe together in search of buried treasure. “The good thing about [those trips] was we didn’t argue, because we all collected different things,” explains Bennett.
One trip that stands out in his mind is the time he flew to America and back just to pick up one item. “The reasoning behind that was the toy was large and relatively fragile, so I brought it back as luggage and I had a wooden crate made for it, and the Customs charges to get it back into the U.K., because of what I paid for it, were larger than the flight price,” he recalls. The item was an incredibly rare store display for Bond dolls from 1965—the year Thunderball hit theaters—still in its original box.
Bennett’s even had the opportunity to meet one Bond in person, Aussie actor George Lazenby, who famously portrayed Bond just one time in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But he’s never worked up the nerve to follow up with Lazenby or any of the other Bond portrayers about buying their personal memorabilia. “I’ve led a sort of solitary collecting life,” says Bennett. “I’ve never joined any collector clubs or associations or fan clubs; for some reason I just didn’t go down that route.”
Meanwhile, the concept of a permanent Bond memorabilia museum has been on his radar for years. At one point, he did talk to a fellow British collector who specialized in Bond vehicles about opening up an experiential exhibit—the two collections on display together—but before Bennett could make anything happen, the other fellow sold his entire collection to a Bond fanatic in Miami, Florida.
Yet that hasn’t completely rained on Bennett’s parade. He’s actually got a great idea for his collection (which would definitely be a major hit in Japan). “I like to think of a nice hotel with 25 bedrooms,* each based on a different Bond theme, subtly,” he explains. “And a little museum going on in a restaurant.” Of course, we had to suggest a twist, involving a live tarantula, for his hypothetical Dr. No Room, and not missing a beat, Bennett says, “That’s your room.”
*Officially, there are 24 Bond movies. The 25th would be 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which is hardly ever counted as an “official” Bond movie, because it’s a cruddy remake of 1965’s Thunderball. It does, however, star Sean Connery as Bond (at 52!) and feature an exceptionally hot, pre-fame Kim Basinger.