MoD promotes new Bond book with helicopters, a warship and speedboats in display believed to cost the taxpayer thousands
Up the Thames they roared, on their not-so-secret service.
Anyone seeing the array of military hardware speeding along the river yesterday might have thought war had broken out.
Instead, the over-the-top display staged by the Ministry of Defence - and bankrolled by the taxpayer - was all in aid of promoting a book.
It was an extraordinary publicity extravaganza for Devil May Care, the latest James Bond novel, written by Sebastian Faulks.
Seven copies of the book were brought up the river aboard the Type 42 destroyer Exeter, one of two remaining Royal Navy warships still in commission from the Falklands War.
A pair of Lynx helicopters escorted the warship on either side and the novels were then brought ashore on a hi-tech speedboat known as a Pacific 24, which can move at more than 40mph.
They were carried in an attache case by 25-year-old model Tuuli Shipster, who is featured on the cover of Devil May Care.
It is not known exactly how much money was involved in the stunt, but thousands of pounds is thought to have been spent.
Yesterday the MoD was criticised over its lavish use of the expensive hardware.
It comes at a time when troops have had to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan with substandard equipment.
Tory MP Patrick Mercer said: 'I can think of far more effective ways the MoD could be spending their budget.
'If this is some sort of stunt to show off their fleet and boost publicity, then there are much better ways to do it.
'Clearly, certain individuals enjoyed themselves in all this, but I can't see how it was
to the benefit of the Armed Forces.'
The book, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bond creator Ian Fleming, is published today and the details of the plot have been kept secret.
All that has been revealed is that the story is set in 1967 during the Cold War and sees 007 travelling to London, Paris and the Middle East.
HMS Exeter was deemed ideal for the launch because it is the ship that the fictional Bond served on as an intelligence officer, before he went into the Secret Service.
As part of the launch, Faulks signed copies of the book with Ian Fleming's nieces Lucy Fleming and Kate Grimond.
He said it was a 'pleasure to be aboard the ship Bond himself sailed on'.
Faulks, best known for his war novels Birdsong and Charlotte Gray, was chosen by Fleming's estate and said he had to read all the previous 007 stories so he could capture the original author's style.
'It was quite a challenge, because people say these are simple, straightforward thrillers - but this is not the kind of book that I normally write,' he added.
'I normally write about people's inner lives and thoughts and emotions, and so on, often set in a historical context.
'And here I am trying to write about a man with, as far as we know, almost no internal life, a story which is just driven by incident and excitement the whole way through.'
An MoD spokesman denied taxpayers' money had been wasted on the stunt. He said: 'HMS Exeter was touring in London anyway and was not diverted from its usual course.
'The Lynx helicopters were flying from Southend to Yeovilton in Somerset and they would have flown over London anyway.
'We wanted to use the Pacific 24 speedboat as part of the launch to show this piece of equipment off to the public.'