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License To Last: One Hundred Years of Fleming

A tribute or something to the shadow of Bond, one would like to think

[Photo of Fleming] Ian Fleming, 1908-1964

By Ian Dunross
May 27, 2008
Goldeneye, near Oracabessa, Jamaica.

On the eve of the Fleming centenary, I look at photographs of Goldeneye, his clifftop retreat in Jamaica. The lush tropical palms, the serenity of the sea—right away one has the impression that this little house overlooking the Caribbean Sea is someone's hideaway, enigmatic, remote, darkly verdant in the wild foliage that creeps all around it. Strikingly, there are steps carved out of the cliff, which lead down to a private beach. Goldeneye is a castle of solitude, of the silence in the inner realm of imagination. It is here, at Goldeneye, where Fleming often wrote in his head while out walking and thinking. And it is here, at Goldeneye, where all of the 007 books were written—all imaginative tales, striking our innate fascination for adventure and escapism. Whether or not you are fascinated by Fleming's less-than-dignified antics of dumping cow and donkey carcasses into the sea to watch sharks in feeding frenzy is another matter. Nevertheless, the solitude must have suited Fleming―a middle-aged journalist, alcoholic, yearner of action—as he clattered away on the typewriter, puffing clouds of cigarette smoke, and producing, in the span of a decade or so, a dozen novels and two collections of short stories, though I suspect he never thought his Agent 007 would end up as one of England's prominent emblems, alongside dim rainy weather, pubs, double-decker buses, and soccer rioting, just to name a few.

Neither, I suspect, did he realize he would end up as an elusive figure in whose name people of the most remarkably discrepant and various views have sought to find justification for them. He died of a heart attack on August 12, 1964, at age 56, his demise ushered by the habit of smoking seventy or so cigarettes a day. The state he left the Bond books is one of ambiguity—ambiguity in terms of their merit. To his detractors, Fleming was essentially a vulgar solipsist and his fiction is nothing more than crude pulp thrillers. Paul Johnson's review of Doctor No in 1958 offers perhaps the most well-known scathing comment, which sums up Fleming and his approach to fiction as the “nastiest book I have ever read,” containing the basic ingredients of “sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude snob-cravings of a suburban adult” (qtd. in Chapman 4). In recent years, Christopher Hitchens, ever babbling like the grumpiest journalist on the planet, asserts that Fleming was “quite a heavy sadist and narcissist and all-around repressed pervert” and his penchant for inserting vivid details in the books is nothing more than a ploy to “distract attention from the glaring lacunae in the plots, the amazing stupidity of the supposedly mastermind villains, and the reckless disregard for his own safety that this supposedly ice-cold agent displays by falling for every lure” ("Bottoms Up").

My, that's quite snooty. Fleming, these critics would have us believe, was the only egotist to write books, though they neglect to recall that 20th Century highfalutin literature is full of solipsists, both living and dead, of greater stature than Fleming. I think, of course, of your D.H. Lawrences, your Updikes, your Mailers, your Barths, your Martin Amis'—such writers have mapped the terrain of self-importance that Fleming never quit reached. Moreover, these critics fail to recount that Fleming himself never asserted literary pretensions, opting instead for self-mockery, particularly in his well known comment that “I have no message for suffering humanity.... The target of my books lay somewhere between the solar plexus and, well, the upper thigh” ("How to Write a Thriller" 1). So much for Fleming, the literary solipsist. On the other hand, those who admire Fleming have grasped the Bond novels as magnificent thrillers with something of a sophisticated veneer. As Umberto Eco says, “Fleming 'writes well,' in the most banal but honest meaning of the term. He has a rhythm, a polish, a certain sensuous feeling for words. That is not to say that Fleming is an artist; yet he writes with art” (163).

Umberto Eco, novelist and literary
theorist. He is one of the first
critics to offer a serious analysis
of the James Bond novels.

The Ian Fleming who writes with art: this is the Fleming I admire. He is ever present in the Bond books, an authorial voice who offers warm companionship—our guide, the one who carries something of a deeper knowledge of the world than ourselves, who knows the fine restaurants, the scenic drives in the Loire Valley, who has perhaps been to Algiers and Mandalay and speaks of such experiences with confidence and a sense of wisdom but remains friendly and eager to share his insights. This reflection piece (indeed, this entire web site) is an attempt to befriend that Ian Fleming. I begin by asserting that, in accord with Fleming's self-deprecation, his creation isn't great art. For example, Terrence Young1 provides an apt summary of the shortcomings of the novels: “Fleming's original book [Doctor No] was diabolically childish—like something out of a Grade B thriller. All Fleming's books are like that [sic]. He embellished them well, gave them a sophisticated veneer, but the stories themselves are infantile” (qtd. in Sterling 98). Nevertheless, what Fleming did offer from the wellspring of his imagination was a great idea: to romanticize the world of espionage while keeping intact the grim nature of spying. We are familiar with the many dramatic ideas in Bondian fiction: for example, globe-trotting adventures of a dashing spy, action and suspense, and encounters with beautiful mysterious women and baroque villains. These elements constitute the archetypal thriller-fantasy and have gripped the popular imagination.2

The result is intriguing: in Fleming's hands, the thriller-fantasy gains two aspects. On one level, we have the adventure; on another level, we find bits of serious things to say about the human predicament as well as literary techniques that go beyond the canvas of a thriller. Fleming did strive to elevate the quality of his fiction, so much so that he assessed his craft in a witty article, "How To Write a Thriller," asserting that “while thrillers may not be Literature with a capital L, it is possible to write what I can best describe as 'Thrillers designed to be read as literature' ” (2).3 Hence, one of the dominant characteristics of his fiction is the erudite meditations—brief essayistic narratives—on subjects such as the rise and fall of casino resorts in Northern France in Casino Royale, the paranoiac impulses of the criminal mind in Moonraker, the nature of power in Doctor No, genealogy and the quest for self-knowledge in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and the Japanese culture in You Only Live Twice. These may derive from Fleming's sophisticated readings (he was an avid book collector), but the other aspect to his fiction's uniqueness lies certainly in his own background and experience of the world: Fleming, we must admit, was bound by the legacy of fantasy literature he was aware of—that is, the conventions that made the likes of Poe, Verne, Leroux, Sax Rohmer, and Conan Doyle famous—and most likely absorbed ideas in the air, so to speak, reinventing or reinterpreting them for his fiction.

The stories Fleming concocted are essentially dated, but conceptually—in terms of the framework of the thriller-fantasy and the essence of the Bond character—they've held up well, even if James Bond's excessive drinking and cigarette smoking, and his hard driving and consumption of women and other 007-style epicurean tastes are essentially frowned upon today. Even Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has lasted long enough to reach the celebrated status as a classic children's book, despite holding the potential to encourage cynics of escapist joy to dismiss Fleming’s theme that one should “Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes’—otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” These works, along with some non-fiction books,4 emerged in the last dozen years of his life. In that short span, Fleming was quite prolific and adhered to a pattern of labor: he wrote at Goldeneye in the first three months of the year, then returned to London for the publication of the book he had written the previous winter, and then set off to some far away place on newspaper business, leading to more travel to live up to that free spirit of adventure, all the while polishing his current book, before returning to Jamaica.

Ian Fleming, circa 1960.

Twelve novels and two short story collections about Agent 007 were published consistently until 1965. The first novel, Casino Royale (1953), was written in about four weeks,5 an endeavor that, according to Fleming lore, the author pursued to keep his mind off the horror of his imminent marriage to one Ann Rothermere. "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning," so goes the opening words in Casino Royale, which segues into the introduction of a world-weary secret agent—in the midst of the gaming tables of the Hotel Splendide—to a world still haunted by the devastations of two immense wars and the bleak reality of an unfolding Cold War. Yet something in the character and in the subsequent novels struck a chord with readers, and the concept Fleming established was enough to spawn a film empire—still the longest running series6 in cinema history, spanning 46 years with 22 films and counting, and packaged from the outset for universal export.

But back to the other Fleming, the one who embodies that authorial voice. It's just as well known in Fleming lore (as sketched by his biographers, John Pearson and Andrew Lycett) that the Bond creator's own life had its share of hardship and drama and tragedy. His father, Valentine Fleming,7 was killed in May 1917 during a German bombing raid at Picardy, France days before little Ian's ninth birthday. Then followed a childhood of living in the shadows of a brilliant older brother8 and contending with his mother, Evelyn, a commanding figure who meddled with every aspect of his life. Years later, during his stint at a private school in Kitzbühel, Austria, Fleming got engaged to a Swiss woman, Monique Panchaud de Bottomes, but Mum Fleming had a different plan for her son and thus intervened, leaving the young Ian heartbroken and frustrated. That agonized state may have been the catalyst for Fleming's cynical view of women and the alleged inclination for misogyny. Then again, Fleming may have reacted differently, perhaps adding his mother to his personal list of the most despised people on the planet. Or he may have snapped and ran to the nearest pub and threw his sorrows into reflections in a double bourbon. The point is, we will never know what, if any, psychological baggage got loaded into Fleming's mind in the aftermath of that breakup. John Pearson, his first biographer, may have stumbled on clues as to the man's state of mind. He extracted some lines from one of Fleming's notebooks (though the passage reads more like a private diary entry than something to be exposed to the world), providing us with a glimpse into Fleming's outlook on human relations:

Women have their uses for the relief of tension and for giving a momentary relief from loneliness. The only time people are not alone is just after making love. Then the warmth and langour and gratitude turn them into happy animals. But soon the mind starts to work again and they become again lonely human beings ( The Life of Ian Fleming 93).

Fleming the misogynist, though, comes to life in the eyes of some acquaintances. He got bored with love affairs quickly, admitting to a friend (who conveniently remains anonymous) that "women were like pets or dogs; men were the only real human beings, the only ones he could be friends with" (Hudson). Even so, how do we explain the Ian Fleming who sympathized with his wife, as Andrew Lycett recounts, during the birth of their son? That version of Ian Fleming found the process of a Caesarean birth unbearable and weeped in the lap of a woman who occupied the room next to his wife in St Mary's Hospital in Paddington:

Mrs Ludovic Kennedy—better know as Moira Shearer, the dancer—had just delivered her daughter.... At about ten o'clock that evening, she was lying in bed reading a book, when a tall, gaunt man she did not recognize entered the room. Her first reaction was to raise the alarm but, when she realized he was crying uncontrollably, she tried her best to comfort him. He knelt beside her bed, buried his face in her lap and continued to sob. After some time he looked up and said, "Please forgive me, but my wife is having a terrible time next door." (228)

Now consider this: many years earlier, Muriel Wright, a dispatch rider during the war who had romantic ties with Fleming during his days as a London stockbroker, was killed in 1944, a victim of an air raid. The bombing ripped through her building, and she died instantly when a piece of masonry struck her head. It was Fleming, her only known contact, who identified her body, which was still in a nightdress. In grief, Fleming walked along the streets and made his way to a friend's apartment and “poured himself a large glass of whiskey, and remained silent,” feeling guilty at “the cavalier way he had treated her,” especially since she had just been out on his behalf to collect a special order of cigarettes. Fleming was never the same: he became “very sentimental about Muriel, refusing to return to restaurants they had once visited together” (Lycett 151-152). The image, then, of Fleming becomes obscure: the variety of interpretations of the man suggests to the outsider that he was something of a blank and probably contradictory. Just as he can be regarded in a negative light, we can find events in his life that present him (lo and behold) as a reasonable man, even human.

There is something in both those opposites within the man. But they seem more pronounced than they are if one does not realize and keep in mind that Fleming was veiled by a temperamental quality and appeared as an entirely different person to different people. From his biographers, as well as other commentators, we learn that he was vain, arrogant, someone who throughout his life had “the habit of getting his own way” and didn't have “too much concern for the feelings of people with whom he failed to get on” (Sellers 75). Yet he was also charming and exuded a melancholy air, which was apparently enough of a persona to maintain a robust supply of female company. Of course, he was a skirt chaser, particularly with married women, including the wives of close friends. What a guy. He must be saluted for being such a class act. Allow me to designate this version of the man as the Ignoble Fleming. This one was fascinated by sex, though one gathers he was much more interested in seduction than courtship. Charles Higgins, author of the young Bond novels, suggests that the Ignoble Fleming adhered to a tactic of efficiency and, well, pragmatism when it came to matters of seduction: "His own approach was direct to the point of bluntness. He would ask a woman, often on slender acquaintance or first meeting, to go to bed with him; if she declined, he would simply move on, unashamed, unresentful and unembarrassed. He was successful as often as not—odds which he seemed to find perfectly acceptable" (Higgins).

How is one to deal with the plethora of biographical notes on this trait of the man? Well, we can turn to Kierkegaard, of all people. For the lifestyle of the Ignoble Fleming recalls the Dane's view of the hedonist who seeks a life based on immediate sensual pleasures and ultimate personal gratification. Thus, various accounts point to the Ignoble Fleming's disturbing interest in flagellation. The armchair psychologist would link this interest back to whatever beatings young Ian received at Eton; if so, memories of the whackings were put to creative use in the décor of his London flat: the place, so the story goes, “was full of books about flagellation: men and women standing over each other with a whip” (Hudson). Even at Goldeneye, the Ignoble Fleming supposedly “amassed a large collection of erotica,” which he was eager to show “to visitors of either sex” ("100 things you didn't know about Ian Fleming"). There are also references in the Bond books to this, shall we say, sort of practice. “Now don't you start on me, Penny,” Bond tells the renowned Ms. Moneypenny after she taunts him about the Shrublands health farm near the beginning of Thunderball. “Any more ticking-off from you and when I get out of this place I'll give you such a spanking you'll have to do your typing off a block of Dunlopillo” (7). Consider also the revolting torture scene in Casino Royale, wherein our hero undergoes a vicious lashing on his nads from Le Chiffre's carpet beater. We are, so to speak, back to where the Fleming detractors started.

The portrait drawn in these accounts reveals one bizarre chap. Perhaps it reaches its darkest rendering when you consider that his marriage to Ann Rothermere was an express train to ruin. Lycett's biography, in particular, covers all this personal stuff in detail and he doesn't try to gloss over the sordid parts. Their relationship was, to say the least, quite sick. As something of a synopsis to his Fleming biography, Lycett writes, in the Sunday Times, that the alluring dark-haired Ann had been Fleming's occasional mistress for a number of years and “became pregnant with Fleming's child, who died shortly after birth.” The cuckold Viscount Rothermere (owner of the Daily Mail) learned of his wife’s affair and, in a less-than-dignified conduct, ran to Lord Kemsley (of Kemsley Newspapers) to complain about his lecher of a foreign manager.9 Alas, the passion between Ian and Ann “was too intense to be snuffed out.” In this melodrama, she became pregnant by him again, and Fleming apparently had enough sense to do the decent thing. “After a quick divorce,” Lycett recounts, “she joined him in January 1952 in Jamaica, where they were married two months later” ("Adultery, Cambridge spies, a Jamaican idyll - Ian Fleming's biographer traces the origins of James Bond").

Ann Fleming, circa 1937.

This Ann Fleming was another existential wreck. She provided the support he needed to get moving on his oft-postponed writing. She served as his psychological stability, freeing him to settle into whatever routines he needed to write, secure in the knowledge that her strength would keep him from plunging into any black moods. (Yes, this Ignoble Fleming who succumbed to marriage was prone to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt and was possibly a candidate for the psychiatrist's couch.) Ann, however, was fierce, clever, and something of a snob. As she mingled with high-brow literary types,10 she couldn't refrain from feeling embarrassed by the mass-market appeal of the Bond books. One particular line from Lycett's biography speaks volumes about the Fleming marriage: in Ann, the Ignoble Fleming found the “combination of her haughtiness, intellectual sharpness and unassailable social position” an inspiration for him “to perform for her, to create some literary manifestation of their sado-masochistic relationship” (Ian Fleming 217). Even in their early days of courtship, there were signs of demented relations: as Fleming writes to his future wife, “I am the chosen instrument of the Holy Man to whip some of the devil out of you, and I must do my duty however much pain it causes me. So be prepared to drink your cocktails standing for a few days” (182). She, on the other hand, welcomed his antics. “It’s very lonely not to be beaten and shouted at every five minutes,” she once wrote to him in 1948. “[I] must be perverse and masochistic to want you to whip me and contradict me, particularly as you are always wrong about everything and I shall go on saying so for ever and ever” (181). Fortunately for the Ignoble Fleming, he found the ideal woman, whose patience and magnanimity as a spouse complimented his whims for sheer sadism and abuse. It is under this guise that Ann Fleming would qualify as today's patron saint of today's codependency and low self-esteem groups.

Not surprisingly, it was a noisy marriage, quite manic, with enough tears and plate-throwing and adultery tossed into the chaos. Hauntingly, Fleming sketches a portrait of marital folly in the short story "Quantum of Solace," 11 perhaps as an attempt to grasp his troubled marriage. The dramatic centerpiece of the tale is the theory of human relations, as proposed by the Governor General of the Bahamas during a dull after dinner chat with Bond:

‘When all kindness is gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn’t care if the other is alive or dead, then it’s just no good. That particular insult to the ego—worse, to the instinct of self-preservation—can never be forgiven.... I’ve thought about this and I’ve invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it The Law of the Quantum of Solace.’ (90-91)

That one fundamental element in human relations—at the very least, a degree of respect and compassion for the other to form a basis of comfort, of humanity, in the relationship—was almost snuffed out of the Fleming marriage. Each tormented the other: the arguments grew furious and the bizarre desire to inflict punishment on one another pervaded. Ann could be scathing, describing her husband's writing as “pornography”; he, in turn, was quite open about his dislike for her stuffy social circle. Troubled by feelings of inadequacy, he needed to strike back big. The answer: hop on a plane to Jamaica and gad about in a long affair with a neighbor, Blanche Blackwell.12 Not to be outdone, Ann hooked up with the leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell. She was jealous; he was unusually aloof. When they were apart, they longed for one another. Together they were furious with each other and it never once occurred to them that the reason they were so unhappy is that each was too self-absorbed to love the other.

Through it all, Fleming had fits of discouragement from the slowness of success, and the fact that his books' mood grew more wintry is not surprising. He continued to smoke and drink heavily, questioned the viability of the Bond books, feared boredom, and struggled to come up with new stories, writing in anguish, often depressed over ill-health, going through cycles of self-doubt as he contemplated ending the whole series by having his hero killed off. There were glints of success, namely from improved book sales (helped along by From Russia, With Love landing on the list of JFK's top ten favorite books) and the purchase of the film rights by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. His last few years were troubled by worsening health and the thorny plagiarism accusation of the complex Thunderball court case.13

By the early 1960s, it seemed as if the entire world was reading the Fleming books. Even Sartre, to the consternation of the intellectual Left in France, was supposedly an avid 007 fan (Linder 78). There were nearly 400,000 copies of the Bond books sold in Britain and over ten million paperbacks were printed in the United States. Meanwhile, the first two James Bond films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, were box office hits that launched Sean Connery into stardom. Fleming himself was also on the summit of glory, with his name blazing on theater marquees. “How does it feel to have your name in lights?” wrote Lady Mary Clive to the celebrated author, reminding him of how in their youth he had dreamed of fame (Lycett 431).

Fleming's portrait, by Amherst Villiers.

The Ian Fleming who emerges during this time was a shadow, living in a twilight existence as he faced his declining health. In the months before his death in 1964, he was essentially alone, weakened by heart disease, and knew he would never see Goldeneye again. He spent most of the time at the Sussex coast, sitting on a bench, smoking and staring into the English Channel. In his hotel in Brighton, he found it strenuous to have visitors and preferred to sit by the window for a long while, looking at the sea. Ann was somewhere, usually keeping herself busy at their home in Sevenhampton. What did Fleming see from his window? Did he see his past, remembering an adventurous time when he found his forte in naval intelligence during World War II? Perhaps he was thinking of Goldeneye and the bright happy days in Jamaica. Or perhaps he only saw the emptiness of the sea and watched the glints of sunlight on the waves because the room, he felt, was growing darker each day, just as he sensed the world outside was fading in darkness, realizing that, one by one, he and Ann were turning into shades.

Fleming never really got to enjoy his success and he died two months before the release of Goldfinger, the film that catapulted the series into its stratosphere and ushered the spy craze of the sixties. He was buried at Sevenhampton, and Ann plunged into grief and regretted the failed marriage. Their son, Caspar, offered his own tragedy in 1975, overdosing on drugs at age 23. Ann masked all the sorrows with alcohol and died of cancer in 1981.

Today, all of Fleming's books and papers are stored in the Lilly Library of Indiana University at Bloomington. Fans of the author can view proof copies of the Bond novels, which contain his notes and corrections. Additional materials include letters and biographical material, as well as Fleming's collection of rare books and first editions of treatises such as Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra and Percival Lowell's First Photographs of the Canals of Mars. The collection is considered one of the most valuable of rare first editions in the world and depicts another side of Fleming—a man with wide interests and passionate of ideas. Indeed, that his collection would be preserved and available for scholarly use and that his complete opus would end up in the hallowed halls of academia point to an ironic victory, considering that Fleming himself wasn't the academic type14 and that the intellectual literary set did nothing but offer snide criticism of his work. Take that, Mr. Cyril Connolly. Most of your colleagues from the 1950s literary establishment have disappeared in the fog of forgetting, but Fleming has achieved intimations of immortality.

Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana
Romanova in From Russia With Love.

My own childhood met up with the Bondian world in Toronto during the 70s. One Saturday afternoon, I discovered Ian Fleming during my first viewing of a Bond film—actually, three Bond films. It was a triple feature, consisting of From Russia With Love, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice, shown (if memory serves me well) on the giant screen of the Odeon theater on Carlton Street. But it was Russia that made the strongest impression, especially to the eyes of a kid who had just seen Tatiana Romanova, in Bond's hotel suite, wearing nothing but a black ribbon round her neck. The film was full of mysterious characters: aside from the Russian beauty, there was a dark-haired hero who was alone, traveling to strange lands; a villain whose face is never shown, speaking in a low sinister voice as he petted a white Persian cat; some scary assassins and a creepy old woman who wore poisoned-tip boots; and—even more mysterious—there was a name in the title credits, a somebody called Ian Fleming, who it seemed to my young mind, knew something about Tatiana, or at least had something to do with the story, and was therefore the ideal person to consult about the Russian beauty—and I wanted to find her, or at least to learn more about her! I remember thinking, with all the concentration a little kid can summon, on the reasons why this actress and I were so far apart. She was stunning but unreachable. Why did it have to be like this? I had some serious questions to ask that Ian something. I wanted, very much, answers to a great mystery. Hence, I delved into the Signet paperback, and thus was born my admiration for Fleming. The first books in my personal library were Bond novels, and many of my interests such as sports cars, fine wines, travel, well-tailored clothes, fine craftsmanship, and technology all derive from Fleming—Fleming the authorial voice, the loquacious narrator, the keen observer of this world. And, most importantly, it was that Ian Fleming who inspired me to become a writer.

As I think of him on this eve of the centenary, I realize that the really striking, inspiring thing about him isn't just that he was imaginative; he was also courageous. He never stopped doubting his effectiveness as a writer, but he also never stopped pursuing the kind of fiction he wanted to write or the lifestyle he wanted to live. For his writing, he did this not by ignoring the dictates of society during his time, but by confronting them and engaging them. One incident comes to mind: the reaction of Al Hart, the editor of the first six Bond books in America, to the name Pussy Galore. Raymond Benson, in his admirable The James Bond Bedside Companion, notes that Fleming was adamant about keeping the name. “You can't use this name,” insisted Hart. Keeping his ground, “Fleming grandly stated, ‘Oh yes I will, and not only that, we're going to get away with it!’” (42). This spirit of courage was also expressed in his journalism. “Have no fear,” Fleming advises reporter Anthony Terry in 1955, “you are by far the best correspondent in Germany and all you have to do is to write what you think and not be afraid of it” (Lenart 65). Even in matters of health, he was courageous to confront his mortality, despite pleas from doctors to scale back on the smoking and the drinking and the vigorous lifestyle. We may cringe at the self-defeating defiance, but this is Fleming bravely embracing life and living it his way. And with such life affirmation, we may also marvel at the Ian Fleming who hungered for life and at the image of the man that emerges from all this bravado for living: the individual who had the courage to be.

I suspect that had he lived longer, he would have pursued a different kind of writing. Tired of the Bond affair, he would have left it all behind and explored his passion for travel and adventure through fictional travelogue-cum-epic adventures, perhaps something along the lines of a James Clavell opus—adventure tales of expatriates and their cross-cultural encounters in far away lands. There are elements of this type of fiction in Fleming's last novel You Only Live Twice,15 an epic story itself, exotic in setting, haunting and austere with its meditations on death and rebirth, and abundant in travelogue narratives concerning the Japanese culture. It is a unique novel in the Bond canon, suggesting once again that Fleming had the courage to experiment with fiction, and opens the door to what might have been a different path for the author.

(Top) Fleming in Capri, 1938.
(Bottom) Commander Fleming
in Room 39 of The Admiralty.

The prominent photos of Fleming depict him in the last years of his life; but there are two earlier photos of him that I've always liked. The first was taken in Capri in 1938: Fleming, dark-haired, pensive, wearing a dark polo shirt (perhaps one of those sea-island cotton shirts that Bond is fond of wearing) appears to be writing in a little notebook. It is a romantic image of the young Ian Fleming and prefigures the pensive moments he would have 14 years later, during the writing of Casino Royale at Goldeneye. The second photo, taken during his military service, shows him in his dashing Royal Navy uniform. In this photo, he stands near the fireplace in Room 39 at the Admiralty. He is young, with dark hair and a commanding presence that give him an uncanny resemblance to a certain enigmatic spy.

Then there are the photos of Goldeneye. I look at them again, and I am reminded of a bygone era: the glitter of expatriates who settled in Jamaica, a handful of 50s and 60s elites—the likes of Noel Coward, Errol Flynn, Katherine Hepburn—raging in evening attire at the cocktail circuit of the North Shore, sheltered in the colonial dream, savoring the carefree lifestyle in the tropical sun. The past still lingers in Jamaica. This is the land of buccaneers and ancient coastal forts, a land where the harbors conjure images of magnificent galleons and swashbuckling adventures, and where Bloody Morgan's laughter, a spectral echo in the wind, howls over his hilltop look-out at Port Maria.16 I remember Fleming's gold-plated typewriter, 17 and I imagine the cloud of smoke from a Morland Special, the mysterious clatter of ice cubes in a glass, and Fleming himself, his face lined and red, looking out the window of his cliftop retreat, the gleam in his eyes reaching us, like a long warm smile, and we are reminded of the joy we've been privy to share with him, a great fictional entertainment that spawned from his imagination—which is reason enough to toast a glass of Dom Perignon '53 to Mr. Fleming on his 100th birthday, and to tip a steel-rimmed bowler hat to Mr. Bond as well.



1 Terrence Young directed Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball. A contemporary of Fleming's, Young was urbane and carried his own stylish savoir faire that accorded with the essence of the literary Bond.
2 Although Fleming was a 20th century figure, I sense that he was still rooted in a 19th century worldview. There are disturbing things in his books, such as racial expressions and the elitist stance of the Colonial embodiment, James Bond. Perhaps these trace back to the ideologies that still lingered in Fleming's generation, such as militaristic and nationalistic ideologies, colonial racism, and the Victorian sense of superiority—cultural impulses, if you will, that burst from Fleming like hereditary traits.
3 The article "How to Write a Thriller" was originally published circa 1962 in Show, an arts magazine.
4 There are two official non-fiction books from Fleming. The first, Thrilling Cities (1963), is a collection of travel articles that Fleming wrote for the London Sunday Times, but the American edition (1964) contains an obscure James Bond short story, "007 in New York." The second, The Diamond Smugglers, is an account of an elaborate diamond smuggling operation in South Africa and was published in Britain in 1957, followed by an American edition in 1958. Fleming had plans for a third non-fiction book: in 1960, the Kuwait Oil Company commissioned him to write a book about the country and its oil industry. It remains Fleming's only unpublished work—with its dismissive tone, the book failed to meet the approval of its patrons. The only copy resides in the Fleming collection at the Lilly Library in the University of Indiana.
5 John Pearson, Fleming's first biographer, dated the writing of Casino Royale from January 15 to March 18, 1952. But Andrew Lycett offers evidence that Fleming had completed the manuscript in a shorter time. In a diary fragment, Ann Fleming notes that the start of the book was followed by Noel Coward's visit to dinner. Coward, however, didn't arrive in Jamaica until February 16, which suggests that Fleming "completed his first novel in just four weeks" (Ian Fleming 216-217).
6 Eon Productions has been producing the Bond films since 1962, beginning with Dr. No. The organization is a subsidiary of Danjaq LLC, the holding company that oversees the copyright and trademarks to the Bond characters and elements of the films. Eon was started by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry S. Saltzman in 1961. In 1975, Saltzman sold his shares of Danjaq to United Artists (at the time, the distributor of the series). Broccoli died in 1996, but Eon Productions is still owned by his family.
7 Valentine Fleming was a member of Parliament. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His friend and fellow officer, Winston Churchill, wrote his obituary.
8 Peter Fleming, the elder brother of Ian's, was a brilliant student and fine sportsman. He became a successful travel writer and celebrated in his day.
9 In 1945, Fleming became the foreign manager of Kemsley Newspapers.
10 Ann Fleming had the reputation of a grand hostess to the London literary scene. She hobnobbed with the likes of Evelyn Waugh, Peter Quennell, T.S. Eliot, and Cyril Connolly.
11 "Quantum of Solace," first published in Modern Woman magazine in November 1959, was an experimental piece for Fleming, a throwback to the kind of story-within-a-story anecdote one finds from Somerset Maugham. It is one of the tales in the short story collection For Your Eyes Only and concerns a compelling anecdote about a government bureaucrat and his disastrous marriage to an attractive flight attendant. Although its title is used for the upcoming 22nd film in the series, none of this moody piece will be adapted, I'm sorry to say. For an analysis of the short story, refer to the essay Narrative Rapidity in 'Quantum of Solace'.
12 During Fleming's time, Blanche Blackwell was a renowned Jamaican socialite. A former model, Blanche was no spring chicken when she met Fleming at age 40; but she captivated the Bond author and offered inspiration when she gave him a boat called Octopussy. Her son, the record producer Chris Blackwell, founded Island Records and made Bob Marley an international star. He now owns Goldeneye as part of a luxury resort complex.
13 In the late fifties, Fleming attempted to bring James Bond to the screen by developing a screen treatment with Ivar Bryce (a wealthy longtime friend) and filmmaker Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham. When the project faltered from lack of financial backing, Fleming adapted the storyline to his ninth novel Thunderball. It led to legal problems when McClory and Whittingham claimed the novel was based partly on their work and sued in the High Court for breach of copyright. The case developed into complex litigation and was not resolved until 37 years later. An excellent account of the Thunderball controversy is covered in The Battle for Bond (Tomahawk Press, 2007) by Robert Sellers.
14 The academic life didn't suit Fleming. It was a blow to his mother, who considered him not bright enough to follow brother Peter to Oxford. At best, Fleming's experience with higher learning was flimsy, though he did attend the Universities of Munich and Geneva to improve his foreign language skills. He wound up in the army class division, the alternate path for the so-called intellectually challenged students of his time, to gear up for a military career. I suspect he would have raised an eyebrow to his take-over by the academic world, because he sought the vibrancy of life, not the static world of learning, where everything becomes a matter for discussion and nothing for action.
15 You Only Live Twice, published in 1964, was the last novel that Fleming completed in its entirety. He died before he could revise the first draft of The Man with the Golden Gun. Consequently, it was completed by his literary executors and published posthumously in 1965. In addition, Fleming left behind three short stories that his literary executors grouped into the collection Octopussy and published posthumously in 1966. The original hardcover contained two tales, "Octopussy" and "The Living Daylights." But the subsequent paperback edition included a third story, "The Property of a Lady."
16 "Firefly," Noel Coward's small retreat, now stands on Bloody Morgan's look-out and is preserved as a museum by Island Outpost. Visitors can see displays of Sir Noel's paintings and belongings and a photographic exhibit of his celebrated guests.
17 When his old Imperial typewriter wore out, Fleming ordered a gold-plated replacement from The Royal Typewriter Company in New York.

List of Illustrations

"Ian Fleming at his desk." Online Photograph. Mi6.co.uk. 19 April 2008
"Goldeneye." Online Photograph. BBC. 16 May 2008
"Umberto Eco." Online Image. CBC. 26 May 2008 <http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/eco.html>.
"Ian Fleming, the traveller." Online Photograph. Mi6.co.uk. 26 May 2008
"Ann Fleming." Online Photograph. 16 May 2008.
"Ian Fleming's portrait." Online Image. Picassa Web Albums. 1 May 2008.
"Daniela Bianchi in From Russia With Love." Online Photograph. Siberian Light. 20 May 2008.
"Fleming in Capri, Fleming in Room 39." Photo arrangement by author.
Ian Fleming. By Andrew Lycett. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995. 221-222.

Works Cited

Benson, Raymond. The James Bond Bedside Companion. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1988.
Chapman, James. Licence To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films. New York:
Columbia University Press, 2000.
Eco, Umberto. "Narrative Structures in Fleming." The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the
Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1979. 144-172.
Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale. 1953. New York: Berkley, 1986.
---. "How To Write A Thriller." Rpt. in Bondage 13 (1984): 1-7.
--. “Quantum of Solace.” 1959. Rpt. in For Your Eyes Only. New York: Berkley,
2nd printing: 1982. 75-99.
---. Thunderball. 1961. New York: Berkley, 1982.
Higgins, Charles. "The Spy Who Loved It." Times Online. 7 April 2008 22 May 2008.
Hitchens, Christopher. "Bottoms Up." TheAtlantic.com. April 2006. 8 May 2008.
Hudson, Christopher. "Why it was Ian Fleming's wife who invented James Bond."
The Daily Mail. Feb. 2008 26 April 2008. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-511863/
Lenart, Judith, comp. Yours Ever Ian Fleming: Letters to and from Antony Terry.
Nelson, New Zealand: Printhouse Nelson Ltd, 1994.
Linder, Christopher. "Criminal vision and the ideology of detection in Fleming's 007 series."
The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader. Ed. Christopher Linder.
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. 76-88.
Lycett, Andrew. Ian Fleming. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995.
---. "Adultery, Cambridge spies, a Jamaican idyll - Ian Fleming's biographer traces
the origins of James Bond." The Sunday Times. 5 Nov. 2006 20 Nov. 2006
"100 things you didn't know about Ian Fleming." Scotsman.com. 28 May 2008 28 May 2008
<http://news.scotsman.com/jamesbond/100-things-you-didnt- know.4124702.jp>.
Pearson, John. The Life of Ian Fleming. 2003 ed. London: Aurum Press Ltd.
Sellers, Robert. The Battle for Bond. Sheffield: Tomahawk Press, 2007.
Sterling, Martin, and Gary Morecambe. Martinis, Girls and Guns: 50 Years of 007.
London: Robson Books, 2002.
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