Ian Lancaster Fleming created a pop culture icon of major proportions in his novels and short stories featuring James Bond, the suave British secret service agent, number 007, whose “double 0” designation gives him license to kill, if necessary, to complete his mission.
Fleming’s father, Valentine, died in World War I when his son was not quite nine years old. Fleming and his brother, Peter, later a writer of true adventure stories, were raised by his mother, Evelyn St. Croix Rose Fleming, in upper-class wealth, although her late husband’s will provided that she have access to his money only so long as she remained unmarried.
Ian Fleming’s writing career did not start until 1952, in the months leading up to his marriage to Anne, Lady Rothmere, who was pregnant with Fleming’s child and awaiting a divorce from her husband. Fleming later said he wrote Casino Royale as a way of easing his anxieties about the end of his bachelorhood.
He had no idea that it was any good and, when he sheepishly confessed to a friend that he had written a spy novel, had to be persuaded to submit it to a publisher. That book and the ones that followed would set off a much-imitated publishing phenomenon featuring the secret agent superhero.
Fleming had attended Eton, Sanhurst, and the Universities of Munich and Geneva, where he learned several languages. He worked for the Reuters news service in London, Berlin, and Moscow from 1929 to 1933, then back in England as a banker and stockbroker.
During World War II, he became an assistant to the director of British Naval Intelligence, Admiral John H. Godfrey, later the model for Bond’s boss, “M.” In 1941, while in Lisbon, Fleming talked Godfrey into letting him join a high-stakes card game with the idea of winning money from German officers to fund British intelligence activities. Fleming lost his money, but he had Bond use the idea more successfully against the Russians in his first novel. Like Fleming, Bond loses his first funds to the villain whose bank he is trying to break, but in the book he is rescued by an infusion of money from his counterpart in the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Felix Leiter.
“Although he is almost entirely a product of my imagination, I used various people I came across during the war—secret service men, commandos, newspaper men—as a basis for him,” Fleming said of his creation, as quoted by Jack Fishman, with whom Fleming worked in journalism circles, in For Bond Lovers Only (1965). “My experiences during the war and my knowledge of intelligence work led me to write about them in a highly bowdlerized way, and I simply used Bond as the central figure.”
After the war, Fleming resumed his journalism career, first as foreign manager for The Sunday Times of London, then vice president for Europe of the North American Newspaper Alliance, and finally foreign manager for Kemsely Newspapers. He built a home in Jamaica, where he would retreat for the first few months of each year to work on his next novel, and he continued producing the Bond stories for more than a decade. He also produced two nonfiction books, mostly derived from newspaper columns he wrote,...