Ian Lancaster Fleming, from an upper-middle-class Scottish family, was brought up, as he said, “in a hunting-and-fishing world where you shot or caught your lunch.” His was a conservative and patriotic environment in which “Rule Britannia” was accepted both as a duty and as a right conferred by God. Ian’s father, Major Valentine Fleming, was a Tory member of Parliament from South Oxfordshire who lost his life on the Somme in 1916. His obituary in The Times was written by Winston Churchill.
Fleming received an education in conformity with the traditions and expectations of his place in society: first at Eton College, for which he was presumably registered for admission at birth, then at the famous Royal Military College at Sandhurst, where he learned to shoot well enough to participate on the school’s rifle team when it competed against West Point. He became a second lieutenant, but the prospect of serving in a modern mechanized army gave him little joy: “A lot of us decided we didn’t want to be garage hands running those bloody tanks.” He resigned his commission and, following his mother’s advice, began to prepare for a career in the diplomatic service.
Fleming attended the Universities of Geneva and Munich to learn French and German. He placed seventh in the foreign-service entrance examination, but diplomatic postings were rare and only the top five were selected. In 1931, Fleming joined Reuters as a foreign correspondent. He was sent to Moscow, where he learned Russian and, on one assignment, reported the trial of some British engineers accused of espionage. He later described the whole Soviet experience as “fun . . . like a tremendous ball game.”
In the next four years, Fleming rose to the position of assistant general manager for the news agency’s Far East desk. The job did not pay well, however, and in 1933 he decided to earn some money by going into investment banking. He remained a stockbroker until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when he secured a commission in the Royal Navy.
During the war, Fleming served in the key post of personal assistant to the director of naval intelligence, Rear Admiral J. H. Godfrey, who became the model for the character “M” in Fleming’s later fiction.
Fleming’s return to civilian life marked his return to journalism. From 1945 to 1959, he was with the Kemsley Press, principally as foreign manager of The Sunday Times. By the time of his resignation, he was already famous as the creator of James Bond. From the appearance of his first book, Casino Royale, in 1953, Fleming managed to turn out one volume per year, writing at the rate of two thousand words a day. A heavy smoker—usually consuming three packs a day—Fleming suffered his first heart attack in 1961. Three years later, his second coronary proved fatal.
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...
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