London is a city of museums. I counted 43, and that was just up to the letter ‘B’. I got bored after that. There are museums of firefighting, cartoons, fans, clocks, prisons, furniture, rooms, nursing, musical instruments, freemasonry, Jewish military contributions and now the museum of steam and water, just opened on Green Dragon Lane in Brentford (with a special feature on sewage! Great!) but the growing trend in cities is setting up your own private museum to make money.
In other countries I’ve been to the museum of chocolate, hemp, ideas and erotic corkscrews (don’t ask), but most are money-making exercises. The list of London museums you’ll find on Wikipedia is extraordinary, and they’re nearly all run because of bequests or collections made available over the years. However, there are now private profit-making museums, too, although they don’t advertise themselves as such. One is the relatively new London Film Museum, which has worked out that it’s the rolling exhibitions that pay.
I went there when it first opened and found it to be a horrible tourist rip-off, with almost nothing of interest on display, but now it’s going for legitimacy with an exhibition of James Bond’s hi-tech transport, from the Octopussy microjet and the Thunderball jetpack to the rather more boring Skyfall Honda bike. Pride of place goes, of course, to the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger and Goldeneye. I saw the car on the set of Goldeneye and it’s very hard not to fall in love with.
We won’t know whether the exhibition is any good just yet (it’s about to open), but it will have to beat the excellent 007 exhibition at the Barbican. Sadly, the last great museum to go bust and not gain support from a government grant was Covent Garden’s Theatre Museum – surely a city with so many theatres and theatrical life ingrained within its soul deserved to keep a museum on the subject? But no, the collections were split up, and some can now be seen at the V&A.