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Ian Fleming

On May 28, 1908, the modern-day spy novel was born.  Or, rather, the man who one day create it was born.  The date marks the birthday of the man who invented the character of the most famous super-spy of all time, James Bond, code name 007, licensed to kill. 

Novelist Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in London, the son of Major Valentine Fleming, a Conservative M.P. who was killed in World War I, and Evelyn St. Croix Fleming.  He received his education at the very proper schools of Eton and Sandhurst.  After resigning from the latter, he enrolled at the universities of Munich and Geneva, where he studied foreign languages.  He wanted to become a diplomat, but he failed the Foreign Service exam.  In his early twenties, he found himself out of school, out of work, and floundering.

In 1929, he took a position as a cub reporter for Reuters news agency in Moscow, a job he held until 1933 when he went to work as a banker and a stock broker in London.

During World War II, Fleming served as a high-ranking Naval officer in the British intelligence.  Owing in part to his facility with languages, he was a personal assistant to Admiral John H. Godfrey, whom he used as a character model for James Bond's commanding officer, "M."  But Fleming needed no such inspiration for his own bravado.  During a training exercise, the author swam underwater to attach a mine to a tanker.  This act became material for the climax of Live and Let Die (1954).  On another occasion, he spotted a group of German agents at a casino and devised a plan to take all their money in a game of baccarat.  He lost the game but later wrote a fictionalized account of the story in his very first James Bond novel, Casino Royale (1954).

Following the war, Fleming was a foreign manager of Kemsley Newspapers, a position he held until the newspaper group became Thomson Newspapers in 1959.  Among his greatest talents was his ability to describe his characters down to minute detail.

"It was a dark, clean-cut face, with a three-inch scar showing whitely down the sunburned skin of the right cheek.  The eyes were wide and level under straight, rather long black brows.  The hair was black, parted on the left, and carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow.  The longish straight nose ran down to a short upper lip below which was a wide and finely drawn but cruel mouth.  The line of jaw was straight and firm.  A section of dark suit, white short and black knitted tie completed the picture." - From Russia, with Love, 1957

Fleming began writing stories about James Bond while vacationing in Jamaica.  He loved bird watching and named James Bond after the author of Birds of the West Indies, which was one of his favorite books.  The spy books were incredibly popular, although they often received terrible reviews.  He said, "My books have no social significance, except a deleterious one; they're considered to have too much violence and too much sex.  But all history has that."

Today, James Bond is more than mere fictionalized character.  To many people around the world, he lives and breathes: 

He is the son of a Highland Scots father and a Swiss mother.  Both of Bond's parents were killed in a climbing accident when he was eleven, and an inheritance of 1000 a year let him add some other educational experiences to his boarding school years.  At the age of sixteen Bond lost his virginity in Paris.  He joined in the late 1930s the British secret service, but switched to the navy when the war broke out, attaining the rank of commander. 

Bond is a skilled golfer and the best card player, expert driver, and a crack shot. Among his friends is American Felix Leiter from the CIA.  Bond's favorite drink is vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, and he trusts his Walther PPK, originally designed for the German plain-clothes police, above all else.

Actor Sean Connery did as much as anyone to help bring James Bond to life, although at first, Fleming was against the choice to play his spy.  He thought David Niven would have been a better selection.  In the end, however, the author had to agree that Connery played the role "much as I had imagined."

Like his character, Fleming lived a full and active life.  A world traveler, he contributed to numerous periodicals under the pseudonym, Atticus.  Among his nonfiction books is the travel guide, Thrilling Cities (1963).  It was based on articles published in London's Sunday Times in 1959-60.  Fleming's first journey, paid by publisher Roy Thomson, took him around the world, and the second sent him on a tour of major European cities.  His text was sharply edited in the newspaper, although it appeared in total in his books. 

According to Fleming, the best hotel in Honk Kong is Peninsula Court.  In Japan a traveler must remember that sake should be taken warm, and in Monte Carlo the best casino is Beaulieu.  Fleming did not like New York, believing that it had lost its "heart," but in Hamburg he enthusiastically followed mud wrestling well into the night.

To many people's surprise, Fleming's work ranges far and wide from his popular 007 novels.  He wrote the runaway best-selling children's tale, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964), about a flying car.  The story was adapted into a musical film in 1968.  He wrote the book for his son, Caspar, who had committed suicide at the age of 23.

Ian Fleming, who lived life to the fullest, died in 1964, but his most enduring character lives on.  In 1981, John Gardner wrote several James Bond books.  Later, the series was continued by Raymond Benson and Robert Markham, the pseudonym of author Kingsley Amis.

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NOTE: All material on this site is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  Contact the editors for right to reprint.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2006 by the American Society of Authors and Writers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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