The Original Bond–Ian Fleming

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.

Ian Flemingfair use under US copyright law

Ian Fleming
fair use under US copyright law

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.

What are your favorite Bond films and why? Are there any you would like us to review?

29 comments on “The Original Bond–Ian Fleming

  1. K D George says:

    Hi Piper,

    FYI in Brit-speak it’s ‘Eton’ and ‘MI6’ not ‘Eaton’ and ‘MI-6’

    Best regards,   K.D.George

    ________________________________

  2. “Oscar snub of Skyfall”

    Piper/Jay,

    While I don’t have much time for Oscars in general, I recognize they give a certain glow to reputations.

    If, “Skyfall,” were to gain ANY award, it would have been a disgrace. The movie is sexist tripe of the worst sort. For decent critics like Kermode to call the long winded nonsense worth watching beggars belief. It was JUNK, a real bum burner and offensive.

    The woman in the shower, then her execution value at less than a glass of Macallan? Stupid, and vile. The rest of it, plotless running around shooting and explosions. A truly dreadful movie.

    The shame is, there is a great story in Bond. When Daniel Craig opened up this latest set, with a direct assassination of a traitor, I thought, ahah, we’re going to get this right. Then we had the shag in the shower and the Operatic death of his girlfriend.

    The finest evocation of Bond is to be found in the hands of Timothy Dalton. He played it right. Bond was a nasty, vicious killer for the Government. That’s where the real drama and story lies.

    The rest is just forgettable, and Skyfall is thoroughly nasty, sexist tripe. Yuk.

    brendan

  3. I’ve always found the Bond movies great entertainment, never for the intellectual quality, and loved Connery best in the role. Fleming is where the real story is! What an intriguing and talented man. Thanks for this reminder.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I agree, Patricia. Fleming is where the real story is. He and the people he knew. For example, he had an amazing lover in Polish aristocrat Krystyna Skarbek who easily equals the fictional Bond. If her and Fleming’s true life stories were written up in fiction, editors would reject them as too fantastical to sell.

  4. I never really watched the Bond movies when they came out as they were rather silly – and designed to make money. Now I watch them as”period pieces” that reflect an era.
    The Bond character I have always liked – a modern hero image – with style. (Having a sense of humor helps when watching the film – it’s movies, not real life.)
    Thanks for the history – I knew some but not much. Few recognize how important the T Force acquisitions were.
    Great post

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Exactly. They are movies, and born of pulp fiction, at that. Most of them display a sense of humor and are intended to be viewed with one, as well.

      • People would have fewer blood pressure problems if they would lighten up?

        • “People would have fewer blood pressure problems if they would lighten up?”

          Philosophermouseofthehedge,

          This is my blood pressure.

          http://www.brendanstallard.com/gallery/index.php/2012-10-07-17_26_30

          I’m sorry if my opinions grate on those who regard the current Bond as good entertainment. I think it is a tragedy of bad writing, poor execution, disgraceful male attitudes toward women and frankly a miserably boring movie.

          I get that my opinions run contrary to the majority. Fair enough. Won’t be the first time.

          The culture we consume says a lot about us. The image of that poor, abused woman, being murdered during the Macallan scene left an nasty taste in my mouth.

          brendan

          • ?
            Some like Bond movies, some hate them, a whole bunch don’t care either way.
            I have no idea whether your opinions run contrary to the majority or not – I suspect most just yawn at this movie and forget it
            Yes, art/drama generally reflects and mimics society – and always has.
            A “good” movie encourages people to reflect, think, and have civil friendly discourse.
            So this post must be a success.

  5. tomwisk says:

    Began reading Bond books in eighth grade in Catholic school, that pleased the nuns. Like any good reader I researched Fleming. Knew about spook past. But the greatest part of his legacy is all those nerdy students who read the books daydreamed and tested and were recruited into the service. They were on the cusp of the cold warriors and the techno-warriors. Wonderful piece. Perhaps a young lad or lass will peek at your post and read the Bond books and maybe daydream.

  6. Dave says:

    If Skyfall were taken seriously and judged as cinematic art, then I would have to agree with Brendan. But life provides me with all the seriousness I require, so mindless entertainment suits me just fine. More serious movies can wait for NetFlix.

    The fact that we can all agree to disagree rather than simply cite the party line is, in some measure, the result of work done by people like Ian Fleming and Holmes.

  7. Hi Piper/Holmes

    Bond is an institution. Not that I like every movie, but I’ve enjoyed a lot for entertainment. They’re not serious and don’t reflect real life, but they don’t pretend to. They poke fun at themselves and follow a formula. The bad guys are often as memorable as Bond (a great sign to my mind). The macmillan scene? Yes, I thought I was unnecessary to the plot and cast Bond in a brutal light. But what have people said to Bond in numerous of his films? He’s a dinosaur, irrelevant to the modern world. And what part did he play? Except that in the end he makes the point that there is still relevance. We all sleep soundly because rough men stand ready. Women, too, of course (only I wouldn’t call any of them rough because they’d break me in two 🙂

    Cheers!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I agree that the Macmillan scene was not my favorite part of the movie. Seemed orchestrated for drama and had no value to the plot, but the movie was well into unrealistic before that with the crawl-in-the-enemy’s-shower scene. Honestly, I kept waiting for Bond to do what he did only a few moments after the woman died, which was disarm his opponent and kill the bad guys. I would have liked the movie more if he’d done that in time to save the woman. But then, there is the problem of what to do with the woman. If I had to guess, I would say the writers killed her because she had no further part to play and she would just get in the way. That being said, I loved the movie. I don’t go into them taking them seriously.

  8. Diana Beebe says:

    I had no idea about Ian Fleming’s life–thank you for sharing that. I also didn’t know he wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I’m not sure which of the James Bond films is my favorite. I enjoyed Skyfall but thought the one before was better.

  9. Julie Glover says:

    I loved this, and now you’ve whet my interest in Anne Fleming. From the little I gleaned about her, she and Ian had quite a few trysts themselves. I wonder how all of that played into his writing.

    As for favorite Bond films, I am still rather partial to the one that began it all–Dr. No. Sean Connery remains my favorite Bond, although I thought Pierce Brosnan carried the role well and I liked the somewhat stronger women of that time (like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies). I haven’t seen Skyfall yet.

    I’m also interested in learning more about the secondary characters. Having only read CASINO ROYALE, I don’t know whether Mrs. Moneypenny and Q make appearances. I do find the choices of who played them in the movies intriguing.

  10. I LOVE Bond films! Thank you for this informative and interesting look into the life of the man who first spun those stories. I always wondered if he had first-hand experience as an operative … now I know!

  11. I totally did not know he also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Still love that movie! Very fun!

  12. I love Bond. Probably because my dad loves Bond and he forced us to watch the movies over and over again when we were growing up. My favorite Bond movies are any of Sir Connery’s and Craig’s. I didn’t think I’d like Daniel Craig as Bond, but I do. A lot.

  13. donnagalanti says:

    Love hearing more about the man behind this fascinating Bond series that has changed over the past 50 years, but stayed much of the same. Adore Sean Connery – love the ruthless hero. But Casino Royale with Craig was perfection, disappointed with Quantum, and mildly liked Skyfall. But my fave to read is The Spy Who Loved Me. I totally forgot he wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! Thanks for the reminder.

  14. […] a favorite James Bond? What about the original?  Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes share The Original James Bond – Ian Fleming.  Fascinating […]

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