You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face
Ian Fleming the intelligence operative of World War II, and accomplished author of the James Bond series died on this day in 1964.
Fleming was nearly as fascinating a character as his James Bond alter ego. He was born in England on May 28, 1908. His father Valentine was an MP (Minister of Parliament) for Henley. When World War I broke out, his father was commissioned as a captain in the Queen’s Own Hussars and was promoted to major just four months later. In May of 1917, the Queen’s Hussars were opposite the Hindenburg Line near St. Quentin. During an artillery barrage, Valentine was hit and killed instantly. Winston Churchill wrote his obituary for “The Times” and young Ian kept a copy of it in his bedroom for his entire life.
Fleming entered Eton College in 1924. He wasn’t the best student academically, however, he was an accomplished athlete, twice being named Victor Ludorum (Winner of the Games) for two years between 1925 and 1927. He also edited the school magazine, The Wyvern, and published his first short story, “The Ordeal of Caryl St. George.”
Fleming had a penchant for fast cars and faster women, much like Bond. The headmaster and his mother agreed that he’d leave school a semester early to prepare for the military academy at Sandhurst, hoping that he would mature. He remained there for only a year and left without a commission after contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
He tried to get a posting in the British Foreign Office, with the help of his mother but failed his entrance exams. As a result, his mother sent him to mainland Europe to study languages. Flemming lived in Austria, Munich, and Geneva, working on his German and French. His reputation as a womanizer was already well deserved until he met a Swiss woman named Monique Panchaud de Bottomes.
They met at a ball and Fleming was instantly smitten with “the slim, dark-haired local beauty.” She was equally attracted to the young, athletic Englishman. The couple considered themselves unofficially engaged and Fleming spent all of his spare time at the Bottomes’ chateau. But his overbearing mother, disapproving of the match, forced him to break it off, after using emotional, professional, and financial pressure on him.
Fleming may have carried a torch for her as his James Bond character would have a Swiss mother named Monique in the Bond novel, “You Only Live Twice.” In the book, Bond’s mother is described as Monique Delacroix, from the Canton of Vaud.
His mother got him a job with Reuters as a sub-editor and writer. Flemming was sent to Moscow. There he asked for an interview with Josef Stalin and received a handwritten note from the dictator apologizing for not being able to make it. He later went into banking and also worked as a stockbroker, neither of which he was particularly interested in nor very good at.
Fleming was saved from obscurity when the war broke out in 1939. He was recruited by Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy, to become his personal assistant. Despite being untrained, Fleming had found his niche. He was given the rank of lieutenant but quickly was promoted to commander (like Bond). Godfrey had to coordinate with all of the British intelligence sections including MI-6 and in that he used Fleming to great effect. The character of “M” in the Bond books was reportedly based on Godfrey.
Enroute to a U.S. visit, Godfrey and Fleming stopped in neutral Portugal. They took in the Casino Estoril where Fleming observed the eclectic mix of characters there. Casino Estoril would prove the basis of James Bond’s Casino Royale.
Fleming was behind the plan for “Operation Mincemeat,” which was a disinformation operation to throw the Germans off of the main Allied plan to invade Sicily. The British would drop a corpse off the coast of Spain with fake plans outlining an invasion of Sardinia and Greece. So completely did the Germans fall for it that Churchill was sent a memo, stating, “Mincemeat swallowed, rod, line, and sinker.” Godfrey also put Fleming in charge of “Operation Goldeneye” in Spain — another Bond reference.
Fleming also met with OSS chief William Donovan and he shared with the Americans some ideas on how to set up their own fledgling intelligence agency.
While visiting Jamaica during the war, Fleming fell in love with the place and wrote to his friends who already lived there, “when we have won this blasted war, I am going to just live in Jamaica and write books and swim in the sea.”
After the war was over, Fleming indeed purchased a property in Jamaica. He promptly named his property “Goldeneye.” It would be where he did all of his writing. Interestingly enough, Fleming’s “Goldeneye” villa in Jamaica is available for rent for any vacationers who would like to spend time on the island at the home of Fleming. For a cool $2,500 a night, you too can stay there.
After carrying on a longtime affair with Ann Charteris, the two were married in 1952 after it was learned that she was pregnant with his child.
During that time, Fleming wrote his first James Bond novel “Casino Royale.” Its writing process would become a ritual. Every January Flemming would begin a two-month period to write within which to write the next Bond story. He described Bond looking like a cross between himself and the singer Hoagy Carmichael.
After writing three Bond novels “Casino Royale,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” Fleming had grown tired of Bond, but the stories were proving to be immensely popular. He decided to write a fourth book, “From Russia With Love” in 1961. Then, the American media quoted new U.S. President John F. Kennedy as saying that the book was his favorite. In retrospect, Fleming’s decision to continue with Bond was a sound one.
He followed “From Russia With Love” with “Dr. No,” “Goldfinger,” and “For Your Eyes Only.” However, it was his next novel “Thunderball” that he hoped would bring his books to the big screen.
Fleming continued on with James Bond in the critically panned “The Spy Who Loved Me.” At that point, he suffered a major heart attack. His health had suffered from a lifetime of drinking and smoking that were finally catching up with him. His womanizing had not ceased either and both he and his wife were unfaithful during this time and carried on numerous affairs.
While recovering in the hospital, he was denied a typewriter so that he could rest. Nevertheless, he used a pen and paper to write the children’s book “Chitty-Chitty, Bang-Bang.” He then returned to James Bond with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” a book lauded as one of his best.
It was during this time that Fleming finally saw his character Bond enter the silver screen. James Bond would prove to be the most durable and profitable series ever. The first Bond film was “Dr. No” and it starred Sean Connery as James Bond. Fleming wasn’t happy that a working-class Scot was hired to play 007; he wanted Cary Grant or James Mason. Supposedly he said, “I am looking for Commander Bond, not some over-developed stuntman.”
Fleming would also see “From Russia With Love” released. He was involved in “Goldfinger,” too, but didn’t live to see the film released.
Fleming suffered another massive heart attack on August 11, 1964, and died the next day at the age of 56. His last work published before his death was “You Only Live Twice.” He left two other works that were published posthumously: “The Man with the Golden Gun” and the short stories “Octopussy” and “The Living Daylights.”
Fleming was buried in the churchyard of Sevenhampton, near Swindon.
Fleming was one of the most influential writers of his generation and his character, James Bond has endured and flourished since 1962. The latest Bond film “No Time to Die” was slated for an April 2020 release but due to the coronavirus, it has been pushed back to at least November.