Ian Fleming

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Ian Fleming Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 23/12/15

Ian Fleming died in August 1964 and upon hearing the news, Sean Connery would elect to play another round of golf in Spain with Rex Harrison. Recalling the precision with which the author had described his hero’s encounter with Goldfinger, the actor was moved to say “It seemed somehow appropriate”.

Who would have guessed that his literary creation, conceived in 1952, would be alive and well in 2016? If you’re familiar with the films but have never read his work, then dip your toe in, his attention to detail is astounding.

His one and only work for children – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – hinted at a parallel career he might well have developed further, had he not died at the early age of 56.

Born in 1908, Fleming was an Old Etonian who came from a wealthy establishment family. His father was a Conservative MP who was killed in the First World War.

Among his earlier jobs was working as a journalist for news agency Reuters, for whom he reported from Moscow on the trial of British engineers accused of espionage. He left to work in the City but was not a success.

His life was transformed when he got a job with naval intelligence in the Second World War and was involved in planning various important operations, including the setting up of a secret commando unit. “I couldn’t have had a more interesting war,” he later said.

He wrote his first James Bond book Casino Royale in 1952. He was later asked by Roy Plomley on the radio programme Desert Island Discs “Is there much of you in it?” The author replied: “I hope not… I certainly haven’t got his guts, nor his very lively appetites.”

However Fleming’s sexual appetite was every bit as voracious as 007’s. “No one I have ever known had sex so much on the brain as Ian,” said a girlfriend Lady Mary Pakenham. While at Sandhurst he caught a sexually transmitted disease from a prostitute and his mother forced him to resign from the army officer training centre. In 1935 he met Muriel Wright, a society model, at the fashionable Austrian ski resort of Kitzb¼hel. “Mu” – as she was known – became besotted with Fleming but Fleming was never one to stay faithful to one woman and while he was dating Wright he also had affairs with others.

He once declared women to be “like pets, like dogs.” Outside of the bedroom, he much preferred the company of men – whom he described as “the only real human beings.” Women were there to be chased and bedded and then discarded.

Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels (and two collections of short stories), producing them at a rate of one a year, more or less, until the accumulated effects of a Bondian lifestyle ended his life prematurely at the age of 56.

Recommended listening

Desert Island Discs (5/8/63)


A fascinating, yet sadly incomplete interview with Fleming a year before his death, in which he talks about how he first imagined James Bond to distract him from the ‘agony’ of getting married.

He also discusses writing ‘The Spy Who Loved Me,’ and visiting the film-set of ‘From Russia with Love’ in Istanbul.

Recommended viewing

Ian Fleming - The CBC interview


Recommended reading

The Battle for Bond (Robert Sellers) 2008

Create a ‘cash cow’ and watch the the opportunists crawl out of the woodwork. Now there’s an old maxim if ever there was one, and never more true than in the mink linked world of 007, for whilst James Bond has battled many villains hell bent on world domination, his longest running fifty-year saga has involved legal battles and rogue projects.

In November 2013, and almost fifty years on from the November 26th 1963 out-of-court settlement that saw Ian Fleming end lengthy litigation with Kevin McClory over the copyright and film rights to ‘Thunderball,’ Danjaq and MGM would announce their acquisition of rights and interests owned by the McClory estate, thus bringing all the remaining Bond intellectual property under one roof. For the first time in more than three decades, the real possibility existed for the return of Bond’s arch nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the man with the white persian cat.


Sean Connery has described Fleming as a superb raconteur and convivial company, whilst harbouring misgivings about the author’s views on his literary creation. Interviewed early into his period of ‘Bondage,’ the actor was suitably forthright about Fleming’s literary style.

“I probably wouldn’t like Bond if I met him on the street. I’m referring to the way he was conceived in the novels. I discussed the character with Ian Fleming. You know, he was a terrific snob. And yet, once you got past that, he was really a very nice guy, very intelligent, highly original and most curious. But he had a snobbishness that he wrote into Bond in the novels. It was that lack of humour about himself and his situation which I didn’t like about the character.”

Sellers’ authoritative book is diligently researched, well illustrated – including shots of Connery in New York on a location recce for the aborted “Warhead” script – and reveals many hitherto unknown facts about the High court case. One minor criticism of the book – surely Tomahawk Press could have gone for a larger typeface? At my age, I need progressively more light as the evening wears on, to read each chapter!


Ian Fleming - The official website


James Bond First Editions


Prices of the Bond books have escalated substantially over the past 30 years, a fact that had passed me by, until I began reseqarching the marketplace for Fleming’s literary creations. Partly it is a market phenomenon: a lot more people read the Bond novels than T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, and if a set percentage of the readership becomes collectors, there will always be more demand for the Bond books than those by highbrow literary writers. But the same could be said for Barbara Cartland, and nobody collects her.

Like Sherlock Holmes, Bond is not merely a hero, but an archetype. Unlike the ultimate reasoning machine, Bond is an embodiment of the man of action, fit for any purpose, the ultimate answer to the manifold faces of evil. That the collecting market should respond to such figures (in children’s literature think of Christopher Robin or Bilbo Baggins) is understandable enough. Collectors pursue a wide variety of agendas, but one of them is undoubtedly the (often unconscious) search for a figure with whom to identify, or one who touches some nostalgic chord.

For those with serious money to burn, the following website offers some superb screen shots, and descriptive captions for each first edition.

http://www.meierandsons.com/collecting-james-bond-first editions

Nine of Fleming’s iconic dust jacket covers were designed by the artist Richard Chopping. The Norfolk-educated artist, began producing his 007 artwork in 1957 with ‘From Russia With Love’ and would continue generating eye catching covers until 1966, ending with ‘Octopussy’ and ‘The Living Daylights.’ But even though his James Bond artwork made him famous, Chopping hated the books’ glorification of violence, and personally disliked Ian Fleming.