Ian Lancaster Fleming (1908-1964), the author of the James Bond 007 novels, was the grandson of a Scottish banker and the son of a Conservative MP (Member of Parliament). His father died in the first world war. In his will, he bequeathed his property to his widow on condition she never remarries.
Ian’s youth was inauspicious. He was expelled from Eton following a sexual liaison with a girl. He left Sandhurst without obtaining an officer’s rank, having been caught violating the curfew. He continued his education in Kitzbuhel, Austria, in Munich and in Geneva where he studied languages. But the chain of disappointments continued apace. He failed in a Foreign Service exam and had to join Reuters as a journalist. There he successfully covered a spy trial in Russia (1929-32).
He then joined a British investment bank as a stockbroker and moved to live in a converted temple in Belgravia, a fashionable district of London, where he entertained the members of the Le Cercle Gastronomique et des Jeux de Hasard.
In 1939, Fleming took on an assignment for The Times in Moscow – in effect a cover. He was spying for the Foreign Office and later for Naval Intelligence where he attained the rank of Commander.
During the second world war, he worked from room number 39 in the Admiralty building in Whitehall as assistant to Admiral John Godfrey. He was involved in the evacuation of Dieppe in 1940, in the smuggling of King Zog out of Albania and in setting up the Office for Special Services, the precursor of the CIA.
As commander of the 30th Assault Unit, he sometimes operated behind the German lines, trying to secure important documents and files from destruction. But, mostly, he directed the Unit’s operations from London.
When the war was over, he built a house – Goldeneye – in Jamaica. He worked for the Kemsley group of papers and vacationed every winter in the island.
While awaiting the divorce of one of his numerous paramours – the pregnant Lady Anne Rothermere – the 44 years old Fleming wrote “Casino Royale” published in 1953. It was the first of 12 James Bond thrillers, translated to 11 languages and with total sales of 18 million copies. James Bond novels are now being authored by a new generation of writers.
In 1961, John F, Kennedy, the newly elected president, listed a James Bond title as one of his favorite books. Many movie plots were loosely based on Fleming’s novels and have grossed, in total, more than $1 billion. The 007 trademark was merchandised and attached to everything, from toys and games to clothes and toiletries.
But Fleming was also renowned for his non-fiction: tomes like “The Diamond Smugglers” and his “Atticus” column in The Sunday Times where he served as foreign manager (1945-9). He successfully branched into children’s literature with “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1964), also made into a movie.
Ironically, his mother died and left him a fortune in 1964 – when Fleming was already wealthy and dying. The trip to her service may have done him in. His son committed suicide in 1975 and his wife died in 1981. He left behind one heir: James Bond.