Ian Lancaster Fleming (May 28, 1908 – August 12, 1964) was a British author, journalist and Second World War Navy Commander. Fleming is best remembered for creating the character of James Bond and chronicling his adventures in 12 novels and nine short stories. Additionally, Fleming wrote the children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two non-fiction books.
Fleming’s famous alter ego represents a modern hero who is at home in the modern world which emphasizes technological expertise over spiritual values. Set in the context of the Cold War, of good vs. evil, Bond nonetheless operates in the shadows, in the amoral mass of combat between “shadowy figures.” However, that realism is overlaid with exotic locales, exotic women and the glamour of the “jet set,” as Bond proves his mastery over every situation. Bond represents the desire for mastery in an increasingly complex world that has reduced the human sense of size and value.
Ian Fleming was born in Mayfair, London, to Valentine Fleming, a Member of Parliament, and his wife Evelyn Ste Croix Fleming (née Rose). Ian was the younger brother of travel writer Peter Fleming and the older brother of Michael and Richard Fleming (1910–77). He also had an illegitimate half-sister, the cellist Amaryllis Fleming. He was the grandson of Scottish financier Robert Fleming, who founded the Scottish American Investment Trust and merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co. (since 2000 part of JP Morgan Chase). He was cousin to actor Christopher Lee; actress Dame Celia Johnson was his sister-in-law (wife of his brother Peter) and Great-uncle to the composer Alan Fleming-Baird.
Fleming was educated at Sunningdale School in Berkshire, Eton College, and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was Victor Ludorum at Eton two years running, something that had been achieved only once before him. He found Sandhurst to be uncongenial, and after an early departure from there, his mother sent him to study languages on the continent. He first went to a small private establishment in Kitzbühel, Austria, run by the Adlerian disciples Ernan Forbes Dennis and his American wife, the novelist Phyllis Bottome, to improve his German and prepare him for the Foreign Office exams. From there it was on to Munich University, and, finally, to the University of Geneva to improve his French. He was unsuccessful in his application to join the Foreign Office, subsequently working as a sub-editor and journalist for the Reuters news service, including time in 1933 in Moscow, and then as a stockbroker with Rowe and Pitman, in Bishopsgate. He was a member of Boodle’s, the gentleman’s club in St. James’s Street, from 1944 until his death in 1964.
His marriage in Jamaica in 1952 to Anne Charteris, daughter of Lord Wemyss and former wife of Viscount Rothermere, was witnessed by his friend, playwright Noel Coward.
World War II
In 1939, on the eve of World War II, Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy, recruited Fleming (then a reserve subaltern in the Black Watch) as his personal assistant. He was commissioned first as a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant, and subsequently promoted to Lieutenant Commander, then Commander. His codename was 17F.
In 1940 Fleming and Godfrey contacted Kenneth Mason, Professor of Geography at Oxford University, about preparing reports devoted to the geography of countries engaged in military operations. These reports were the precursors of the Naval Intelligence Division Geographical Handbook Series produced between 1941 and 1946.
He also conceived of a plan to use British occultist Aleister Crowley to trick Rudolf Hess into attempting to contact a fake cell of anti-Churchill Englishmen in Britain, but this plan was not used because Rudolf Hess had flown to Scotland in an attempt to broker peace behind Hitler’s back. Anthony Masters’s book The Man Who Was M: The Life of Charles Henry Maxwell Knight asserts Fleming conceived the plan that lured Hess into flying to Scotland, in May 1941, to negotiate Anglo–German peace with Churchill, and resulted in Hess’s capture: this claim has no other source.
Fleming also formulated Operation Goldeneye, a plan to maintain communication with Gibraltar as well as a plan of defense in the unlikely event that Spain joined the Axis Powers and, together with Germany, invaded the Mediterranean colony.
In 1942, Fleming formed an Auxiliary Unit known as 30AU or 30 Assault Unit that he nicknamed his own “Red Indians”; it was specifically trained in lock-picking, safe-cracking, forms of unarmed combat, and other techniques and skills for collecting intelligence. He meticulously planned all their raids, alongside Patrick Dalzel-Job (one of the Inspirations for James Bond), going so far as to memorize aerial photographs so that their missions could be planned in detail. Because of their successes in Sicily and Italy, 30AU was greatly enlarged and Fleming’s direct control was increased before D-Day.
Fleming even visited 30AU in the field during and after Operation Overlord, especially after the Cherbourg attack, in which he felt that the unit had been incorrectly used as a frontline force rather than as an intelligence gathering unit, and from then on tactics were revised.
As the DNI’s personal assistant, Fleming’s intelligence work provided the background for his spy novels. In 1953, he published his first novel, Casino Royale. In it he introduced secret agent James Bond, also famously known by his code number, 007. Legend has it that Camp X included Fleming, though there is evidence against this claim. The character of James Bond was supposedly based on Camp X’s Sir William Stephenson and what Fleming learned from him. two men have supplied the basis for Bond’s character: naval officer Patrick Dalzel-Job, and Fleming’s brother, Peter. Casino Royale: Bond appears with the beautiful heroine Vesper Lynd, who was modeled on SOE agent Krystyna Skarbek. Ideas for his characters and settings for Bond came from his time at Boodle’s. Blade’s, M’s club (at which Bond is an occasional guest), is partially modeled on Boodle’s and the name of Bond’s arch enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, was based on a fellow member’s name. Bond’s name came from famed ornithologist James Bond, the son of the Bond family who allowed Fleming the use of their estate in Jamaica to write. The Bonds were wealthy manufacturers whose estate outside of Philadelphia, Pa. eventually became the grounds of Gwynedd Mercy College. Fleming used the name after seeing Bond’s Birds of the West Indies. (1936).
Initially Fleming’s Bond novels were not bestsellers in America, but when President John F. Kennedy included From Russia With Love on a list of his favorite books, sales quickly jumped. Fleming wrote 14 Bond books in all: Casino Royale (1953), Live and Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), Diamonds Are Forever (1956), From Russia with Love (1957), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), For Your Eyes Only (1960), Thunderball (1961), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964), The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), and Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966).
In the late 1950s, the financial success of Fleming’s James Bond series allowed him to retire to Goldeneye, his estate in Saint Mary Parish, Jamaica. The name of the house and estate where he wrote his novels has many sources. Notably, Ian Fleming himself cited Operation Goldeneye, a plan to bedevil the Nazis should the Germans enter Spain during World War II. He also cited the 1941 novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers. The location of the property may also have been a factor–Oracabessa, or “Golden head.” There is also a Spanish tomb on the property with a bit of carving that looks like an eye on one side. It is likely that most or all of these factors played a part in Fleming’s naming his Jamaican home. In Ian Fleming’s interview published in Playboy in December 1964, he states, “I had happened to be reading Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers, and I’d been involved in an operation called Goldeneye during the war: the defense of Gibraltar, supposing that the Spaniards had decided to attack it; and I was deeply involved in the planning of countermeasures which would have been taken in that event. Anyway, I called my place Goldeneye.” The estate, next door to that of Fleming’s friend and rival Noel Coward, is now the centerpiece of an exclusive seaside resort by the same name.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) stylistically departs from other books in the Bond series as it is written in the first person perspective of the (fictional) protagonist, Vivienne Michel, whom Fleming credits as co-author. It is the story of her life, up until when James Bond serendipitously rescues her from the wrong circumstance at the wrong place and time.
Besides writing 12 novels and nine short stories featuring James Bond, Fleming also wrote the children’s novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He also wrote a guide to some of the world’s most famous cities in Thrilling Cities and a study of The Diamond Smugglers.
In 1961, he sold the film rights to his James Bond novels and short stories, those already published as well as future rights, to Harry Saltzman, who, with Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, co-produced the film version of Dr. No (1962). For the cast, Fleming suggested friend and neighbor Noël Coward as the villain Dr. Julius No, and David Niven or, later, Roger Moore as James Bond. Both were rejected in favor of Sean Connery. Fleming also suggested his cousin, Christopher Lee, either as Dr. No or even as James Bond. Although Lee was selected for neither role, in 1974 he portrayed assassin Francisco Scaramanga, the eponymous villain of The Man with the Golden Gun.
Neither Saltzman nor Broccoli expected Dr. No to be much of a success, but it was an instant sensation and sparked a spy craze through the rest of the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. The successful Dr. No was followed by From Russia with Love (1963), the second and last James Bond movie Ian Fleming saw.
During the Istanbul Pogroms, which many Greek and some Turkish scholars attributed to secret orchestrations by Britain, Fleming wrote an account of the events, “The Great Riot of Istanbul,” which was published in the The Sunday Times on September 11, 1955.
Fifty-six-year-old Ian Fleming died of a heart attack on the morning of August 12, 1964, in Canterbury, Kent, England, and was later buried in the churchyard of Sevenhampton village, near Swindon. Upon their own deaths, Fleming’s widow, Ann Geraldine Mary Fleming (1913–1981), and son Caspar Robert Fleming (1952–1975), were buried next to him. Caspar committed suicide with a drug overdose.
Fleming will forever be associated with his popular creation, James Bond, especially after the success of the film franchise. However, Fleming was an interesting person with many facets. A high-ranking intelligence officer during the war, afterwards he was foreign manager of the London Sunday Times. He was also a noted bibliophile who collected a library of books that had, in his opinion, “started something,” and therefore were significant in the history of western civilization. He concentrated on science and technology, e.g., On the Origin of Species, but also included other significant works ranging from Mein Kampf to Scouting for Boys. He was a major lender to the 1963 exhibition Printing and the Mind of Man. Some six hundred books from Fleming’s collection are held in the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.A.
In March 1960, Fleming met John F. Kennedy through Marion Oates Leiter who was a mutual friend who invited both to dinner. Leiter had introduced Kennedy to Fleming’s books during his recovery from an operation in 1955. After dinner Fleming related his ideas on discrediting Fidel Castro; these were reported to Central Intelligence Agency chief Allen Welsh Dulles, who gave the ideas serious consideration.
In observance of what would have been Fleming’s 100th birthday in 2008, Ian Fleming Publications commissioned Sebastian Faulks to write a new Bond novel entitled Devil May Care. The book, released in May 2008, is credited to “Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming.”