Five Things You Didn’t Know About Ian Fleming

by Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Ian Fleming, James Bond's creator

Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life. ~Colonel Pott (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)

Ian Fleming (1908-1964), the man who created James Bond was, sadly, a late bloomer who died young.

He finished his first book, Casino Royale, at 44 and succumbed to a heart attack twelve years—and twelve books—later. But what a legacy!

Ian Fleming himself was an fascinating man. Did you know that…

1. Winston Churchill Wrote His Father’s Obituary

During World War I, Fleming’s dad Valentine joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. A week before Ian turned nine, Valentine was killed when the Germans bombed his outpost in France. Winston Churchill, Valentine’s friend and fellow officer, wrote his obituary.

Fleming came from a privileged background, but lived in the shadows of his heroic father and scholarly brother, Peter, who went to Oxford.

Fleming’s academic and professional record was abysmal. Prestigious Eton boys’ school expelled him for an incident involving a girl. He went to Sandhurst Military Academy, but failed the officer’s training test. He then failed Foreign Office exam.

He finally found a job with Reuters news agency. He learned the basics of journalism, but abhorred the low pay.

2. Fleming Worked As A Stock Broker

Like Jules Verne, Fleming finally became a stockbroker to make ends meet.

He made enough money to live like a playboy. He threw parties with beautiful women and high-stakes card games.  He collected first editions and surrealist art. He might have become a complete wastrel if it weren’t for the war.

The Spy Who Love Me

The Spy Who Love Me (1962)

3. Fleming Became A Spymaster

In 1939, while still a stockbroker, Fleming took an odd freelance gig for The Times to report on a Soviet Union trade mission. However, he was probably spying for the Foreign Office, where he had friends and informants from his journalism days.

From there, Fleming became personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI), Admiral John Godfrey. His imagination, intelligence and charisma won him several important assignments during World War II.

In 1941 and 1942, Fleming visited Washington DC to help coordinate British/American intelligence operations. In fact, he wrote a memorandum detailing how to set up the CIA. He also spearheaded Operation Golden Eye, a plan to defend Gibraltar should the Germans attempt to invade through Spain.

Like every intelligence officer, however, Fleming had signed the Official Secrets Act. We can only guess what he did by reading into the Bond books.

But there’s no doubt Fleming excelled at his job. His boss, Admiral Godfrey, said: “Ian should have been DNI and I his naval adviser.”

4. Fleming Kept His Day Job After Hitting The Bestseller Lists

After World War II, Fleming worked for The Sunday Times as foreign manager. Then, at age 43, he began writing Casino Royale.

The official Ian Fleming site shared his rewrites of Casino Royale’s opening line:

First attempt: “Scent and smoke and sweat hit the taste buds with an acid thwack at three o’clock in the morning”

Second try: “Scent and smoke and sweat can suddenly combine together and hit the taste buds with an acid shock at three o’clock in the morning”

Finally (and satisfied): “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning”.

There you have it! Good writing is, indeed, rewriting.

Fleming sent the book to a poet friend, who gave it to Jonathan Cape Publishers. They released it in 1953, and as the official site says, “a British cultural hero was born.”

Live and Let Die followed in 1954, Moonraker in 1955, and thereafter Fleming wrote one Bond adventure a year until his death in 1964.

He continued to write for The Sunday Times, and persuaded his employers to grant him two months annual leave. In January and February of every year from 1952, he retreated to his second home in Jamaica (called Goldeneye) and penned the newest Bond installment.

5. Fleming Wrote A Famous Children’s Book

In 1962, the first Bond film Dr No debuted, starring an unknown Scottish actor named Sean Connery.

Fleming had his first heart attack the same year. While recovering, he wrote a adventure story about a family and their magical car for his young son, Caspar. It was entitled Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and made into a movie with Dick Van Dyke.

Two years later, at age 56, Fleming suffered a second heart attack and passed away.

I have always smoked and drunk and loved too much. In fact I have lived not too long but too much. One day the Iron Crab will get me. Then I shall have died of living too much.

Carte Blanche launch at St Pancras Station

Carte Blanche launch at St Pancras Station

Fleming’s Legacy

After Fleming’s death, his literary executors hired other authors to continue the James Bond novels, including Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and Raymond Benson.

The latest Bond book, Carte Blanche by American Jeffery Deaver, launched a few days ago under the stupendous architecture of  London’s St Pancras Station.

(I’ve been there. It’s like a gothic metal cathedral.)

A model on a motorbike and the Royal Marine Commando display team dropped in for champagne (Bollinger, no doubt). It’s the first reboot of the print novels — Bond is a veteran of Afghanistan.

In a 1962 article, Fleming wrote:

My contribution to the art of thriller-writing has been to attempt the total stimulation of the reader all the way through, even to his taste buds…

And I’d say he succeeded, on his own unique terms.

44 years old. 12 years left. 12 books written.
What are we waiting for?

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Leave a Comment

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy | Treatment Talk

How interesting. I liked all those movies and remember watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with my kids. Fun to read Ian Fleming’s history.

Reply

Debra Eve

Hi, Cathy! My husband and I rented Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a few months ago (yes, we like to watch old children’s movies) and saw his credit come up. I was surprised and that’s what started the research for piece. Thanks for stopping by.

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David Stevens

Hi Elle B
Great research, thank you. I’m 56, got another 44 or so in me I reckon. Keep on blooming!
be good to yourself
David

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Debra Eve

Thanks, David! And definitely…I want to make it to 100 too!

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Marianne

Very interesting article, Elle B. Great info. I read one of his novels while in my teens, however, I don’t remember which one. It was ahead of my time though, lots of racy stuff (hehe). Haven’t been much of a fiction reader since then (not due to the Fleming book). Thanks for sharing.

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Debra Eve

Thanks for stopping by, Marianne! There’s no doubt Fleming could be a bit racy, but he was actually somewhat middle-of-the-road for the thriller genre in the 1950s/60s!

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Brian Cormack Carr

Another thing not many people know about Ian Fleming – he was a good friend of the infamous (and much misunderstood) occultist, Aliester Crowley.

Both were great supporters of the notion of “being who you are”. Crowley said “every man and every woman is a star”. I think Fleming would have agreed….

Nice post!

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Debra Eve

Hi Cormack! Thanks for that info. I read somewhere that Crowley might have been the inspiration for Le Chiffre, but another biography discounted that, and I wasn’t sure how to work it into this post. I didn’t realized they’d been good friends.

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Dave

What a fascinating life. I really loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when I was a kid, I didn’t realize Ian Fleming was the author. 12 books in 12 years is pretty stunning too.

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Debra Eve

Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by! I didn’t realize about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang either until my husband and I re-watched it recently. It’s a shame Fleming died so young, but what a life!

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Michael

I did actually know about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as it’s still one of my all time favorite movies. Fleming was fascinating in many ways.

Great site by the way, I’ll definitely be a frequent visitor!

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Debra Eve

Thanks for stopping by, Michael! My husband and I rewatched it on Netflix several months ago and saw his byline. I have to admit I was surprised. Interesting fella!

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Daniela Gitlin

Hey Elle B! Loved this post. The blog is great! So enjoyable. I’m always left wowed and appreciative of people. A lovely antidote to the effect of the news. Thanks so much!

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Debra Eve

Thank you, Daniela! That’s my goal.

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Alicia Street

Great post, Debra!

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Alicia! He was an fascinating fellow.

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Jenny Hansen

Fantastic post, Debra!!

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Debra Eve

Thank you, Jenny! Glad you liked it.

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K.B. Owen

Debra, this is fascinating! I’ve read Thunderball, years back. I remember being surprised by how gritty it was, compared to the films. Cool stuff!

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Kathy! I recently reread a few Bond books. They’ve definitely been altered for the big screen. Casino Royale was an attempt to get back to their roots.

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Atticus

Have you read “The Irrgulars” by Conant? It’s an awesome book.

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Debra Eve

No, I haven’t. Just added it to my Goodreads to-read list. Sounds fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation, Atticus.

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Jay Holmes

Thanks for this great article on Ian Fleming.

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Debra Eve

You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by, Jay.

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lyle @ From 50 On

Hey Debra and thanks for the informative post on Mr. Fleming! As you know, your article helped me with one of my posts and your work is greatly appreciated :)

Take care and all the best.

Lyle

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Debra Eve | @DebraEve

My pleasure, Lyle. And thank you!

Reply

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