By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes
In spite of last night’s Oscar snub of Skyfall, it is arguable that no Hollywood character has been more enduring or more popular over the decades than Bond. James Bond. Novelist Ian Fleming’s never shaken, never stirred superstar agent of Britain’s MI-6.
Watching the Bond movies would likely leave viewers thinking that Fleming was a novelist with a good imagination and little or no knowledge of the often grueling, sometimes tedious, and almost always dangerous work done by real life intelligence operatives. The lavish spending on equipment and accommodations and the hours spent tossing money around in posh casinos filled with apparently lonely, glamorous women would make average MI-6 employees chuckle to themselves. But Ian knew more about MI6 then he ever explained to the public.
Fleming came from a wealthy Scottish-English family that some sources say traces back to an Elizabethan intelligence operative, John Bond, whose motto was Non Sufficit Orbis, or, “The world is not enough”. Fleming grew up in posh private schools. After graduating from Eton College with some of the highest honors ever achieved by an Etonian, he entered Sandhurst Military Academy. Fleming found Sandhurst boring and tedious and left early, though on good terms with the staff.
He then traveled to the continent to study and perfect his abilities in French and German in preparation for applying to work in the British Foreign Office. The brilliant Fleming mysteriously failed the Foreign Office exam and did not opt to retest. He quickly found a position as a journalist with the Reuters news service and spent part of 1933 in Moscow.
In retrospect, his failure on the Foreign Office exam may have been arraigned by MI6 recruiters to keep him “clean” of association with the British Foreign Office in order to enable “deep cover” peace time work for the British intelligence community. On the eve of WWII, Ian accepted a reserve commission as a subaltern in Britain’s renowned Black Watch regiment. In 1939, Rear Admiral John Godfrey recruited Fleming to work in Naval intelligence.
In the snail’s pace promotion world of the British Navy, Fleming quickly rose to the rank of commander. His imagination served him well in naval intelligence. He commanded a very secretive, elite special intelligence force known “Assault Force 30.” Fleming selected men that he felt had the intelligence and sophistication to recognize valuable information that normal commandos might not notice.
Fleming also helped found the highly successful “T Force” for the purpose of recovering Nazi technology from the collapsing Nazi empire at the end of the war. T Force was more successful than anyone imagined possible. Anyone but Fleming, that is.
In the last year of the war, T Force used intelligence from a variety of sources to locate and acquire valuable information on the latest NAZI inventions. The Nazis had developed several new weapons that they no longer had the industrial infrastructure to produce, or could not produce in significant numbers. The British and their allies profited tremendously from T Force’s acquisitions of the latest German developments in jet engines, rockets, chemistry, submarines and electronics.
Flemming never spoke of his war-time activities to outsiders. Some say that Assault Force 30’s heavy casualties when they were misused by allied commanders in the Normandy invasions had left him deeply affected. To strangers and journalists, Fleming always minimized his war experiences with vague stories of a paper pushing office life. However, enough information was pieced together over the years by curious investigators to know that the man who wrote the charming and fun James Bond series, as well as the children’s story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was a real life, deadly special agent and the leader of British naval intelligence’s most elite WWII group.
One charming story of Fleming is that he once heard about a party to celebrate the production of a Bond movie that he had not had a hand in. The party was allegedly held at a mansion in the Bahamas and attended by several British royals and other VIPs. Given the concentration of politicians, millionaires, and royals, the security effort for the party was massive and included troops of machine gun armed guards with guard dogs. The party was held on a large patio-pool area and adjoining lawn on a hill top overlooking the Atlantic. Fleming allegedly slipped his way through the security cordons, walked through the crowd, accepted a glass of champagne from a waiter, was noticed by a few of the movie people who knew him, and, as a murmur grew in the crowd, he stepped out of the light and vanished.
On August 12, 1964, Ian Lancaster Fleming died of a heart attack. He is interred next to his wife, Anne Fleming (1931-81), and their only child, Caspar Robert (1952-75), in the village of Sevenhampton, England near the Welsh border. His entertaining character, James Bond, lives on.
The 23 Bond films are not only fun and interesting, they are a photo album of the last fifty years of changing societal issues and attitudes toward war, space travel, feminism, realism in film, and exactly what constitutes a hero.