The names Fleming, Ian Fleming

Another 'JB'? Ian Fleming's alternative hero – The James Bond International  Fan Club

The recent posts of this blog have been directed towards identifying individuals who could have inspired Ian Fleming when he came to James Bond. So far, we have looked at Forest Yeo-Thomas the heroic SOE agent captured and interrogated by the Nazis, Patrick Dalzel-Job the courage British naval commando who served in 30 Assault Unit which led by Fleming, Duŝan ‘Duŝko’ Popov the charismatic double agent and William Stephenson the British spymaster who was based in New York City. Beyond these individuals, a further character also had a profound impact on the development of 007 and that was Fleming himself.  Soon after the release of the Bond novels comparisons between Fleming and his fictional character were made but Fleming was quick to disagree with such a view. In 1963 he stated that he ‘didn’t have his [Bond’s] guts’ and he was totally unlike Bond.[1] However, Fleming’s biographer, John Pearson, noted that Fleming did have many similarities with Bond.[2] Both were heavy drinkers, womanisers and frequent gamblers and the physical description of Bond, detailed in From Russia with love was very similar to Fleming’s physical appearance.[3] William Plomer, who was one of Fleming’s oldest friends, stated in 1965 that ‘there may be something Flemingish about Bond’.[4]

Beyond these characteristics and physical similarities there was also the concept that through the creation of Bond Fleming was able to live a fictional lifestyle and in turn, was fictionalising his narrative of his wartime experiences. Godfrey admitted that in the course of the war Fleming frequently requested to be sent on missions with 30 Assault Unit or have more field intelligence experiences but such requests were rejected as ‘he was always too valuable to be spared’.[5] After interviewing Anne Fleming about the creation of Bond, John Pearson, Fleming’s biographer,  noted ‘what is so interesting about Bond is that the character of the secret serviceman gives Fleming a chance to turn his life he had been leading in an acceptable myth…in other words he [Bond] should be Fleming’. In essence, the world of Bond was a dreamlike world which Fleming wished he could have experienced and the Bond ‘books were his dreams. Pure Walter Mitty’.[6] Another good acquaintance of Fleming, Robert Harling, stated that ‘Bond was a Fleming alter-ego’ and he recounted a conversation with Fleming about how the fictional character was essential Fleming. Harling also asked if Bond was a manifestation of Fleming’s wartime dreams of ‘grandeur and glory’ and Fleming responded by stating that ‘there’s probably a grain of truth in that’.[7] The biographer Andrew Lycett has noted that James Bond was the man of action that he [Fleming] would have liked to have been’ and through Bond, Fleming was living out the secret service life he wished he had experienced in the war.[8] This is particularly evident in the publicity photo shoots in which Fleming posed as if he was 007 with his licence to kill. It can be said that Bond was in effect a combination of several different secret agents, special operators and Fleming’s desires and as such the result of this amalgamation was the creation of a unique fictional hero which create a legacy for both author and fictional hero. These distinctive qualities of Bond as the mythical secret agent and man of action was only achievable due to Fleming’s interactions with the special operations side of British intelligence.

See the source image

1‘Ian Fleming’, BBC Home Service, 5 Aug. 1963.

2 Pearson, The life of Ian Fleming, p. 114, 235‒7, 256‒9.

3 Macintyre, For your eyes only, pp 50‒1; Fleming, From Russia with love, pp 43‒5.

4 Plomer, ‘Ian Fleming remembered’ in Encounter, Jan. 1965, pp 64‒5.

5 Notes on interview with John Godfrey, 3 March 1965 (Pearson papers, Godfrey, Lilly Library, Indiana University).

6 Notes on interview with Anne Fleming, 16, 24, 25 Feb. 1965 (Pearson papers, Fleming, Anne, Lilly Library, Indiana University).

7 Harling, Ian Fleming, pp 323‒4.

8 Lycett, Ian Fleming, p. 223.

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Jonathan Best

I historian of modern British history. In particular my research has focused on the activities of British secret services during the twentieth century, particularly during the two world wars and the early decades of the Cold War. In addition to this my current research has also examined the history of British spy fiction with a particular focus on the British spy novel between the late Victorian era and the 1960s. This interest is fueled by my personal passion for the secret world of espionage, intelligence, clandestine operations both fictional and factual.

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