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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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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