You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face

I’ve always been a James Bond fan since as far back as my memory goes. I remember being enthralled by the derring-do of Bond since I sat quiet (for once) and was mesmerized by Goldfinger. After that, I couldn’t get enough of Bond and can’t wait until “Bond 25” hits the theaters. James Bond was the creation of British author and intelligence operative Ian Fleming, who based the character off of some spies he met as well as himself during World War II.

Fleming was almost as colorful as his Bond character. He was born in England on May 28, 1908. His father Valentine was an MP (Minister of Parliament) for Henley. Fleming was enrolled in the prestigious preparatory Durnford School in Dorset in 1914. He hated it, and although the headmaster Tom Pellat encouraged individuality in the boys, there were regular beatings, frequent bullying as well as spartan conditions and bad food.

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 Ian kept a copy of it in his bedroom for his entire life.

Valentine Fleming, (top row, far right) in the Queen’s Hussars. Winston Churchill is in the center.

In 1921, Fleming entered Eton College. While not a brilliant scholar, 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 was already living the life of a James Bond character, with a penchant for fast cars and faster women. The headmaster and his mother agreed that he’d leave school a semester early to prepare for the military academy at Sandhurst. He remained there for only a year and left without a commission after contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

His mother was trying to get him a posting in the British Foreign Office and sent him to mainland Europe to study languages and he lived in Austria,  Munich, and Geneva, working on his German and French languages. His reputation as a womanizer was already well deserved until he met a Swiss woman named Monique Panchaud de Bottomes. The duo was briefly engaged but his mother, disapproving of the match forced him to break it off.

Fleming may have carried a torch for her as his James Bond character would have a Swiss mother named Monique in his writings. Failing his Foreign Office examinations, his mother got him a job with Reuters as a sub-editor and writer and spent time in 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 as a stockbroker. Neither of which he was particularly interested in nor very good at.

World War II Service: Once the war broke out in 1939, Fleming 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. Godfrey had to coordinate with all of the British intelligence sections including MI-6 and it was here, he used Fleming to great effect.

Again, the character of “M” in the Bond books was reportedly based on Godfrey. Fleming also met with OSS chief William Donovan and sent the Americans some ideas on how to set up their own fledgling intelligence agency.

Enroute to his US visit, Godfrey and Fleming stopped in neutral Portugal and took in the Casino Estoril and after observing the eclectic mix of characters there, it proved to once again provide 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 to invade Sardinia and Greece. So completely did the Germans fall for it, 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.

While visiting Jamaica during the war, Fleming fell in love with the place and wrote 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.”

Post War Years: Once the war was over, Fleming was good to his word and purchased a property in Jamaica which he promptly named “Goldeneye” and would prove to be where he did all of his writing. After carrying on a long-time affair with Ann Charteris, the two were married in 1952 after it was learned that she was pregnant with his child.

During this time, Fleming wrote his first James Bond novel “Casino Royale” and this became a ritual. Fleming every January would begin a two-month timeframe to write about the next Bond story. He described Bond looking like a cross between himself and the singer Hoagy Carmichael.

Operation Mincemeat, the Death of a Homeless Man Safeguards the Sicily Invasion

Read Next: Operation Mincemeat, the Death of a Homeless Man Safeguards the Sicily Invasion

After writing three Bond thrillers, “Casino Royale”,  “Live and Let Die”, and “Diamonds Are Forever”, Fleming had grown tired of his character Bond, but the stories were proving to be immensely popular. He decided to go thru with a fourth title, “From Russia With Love” in 1961 and then the American media quoted new President John F. Kennedy that the book was the President’s favorite. Fleming’s decision in retrospect to continue with Bond was a sound one.

He followed those up with “Dr. No”, “Goldfinger”, and “For Your Eyes Only.” However, it was his next novel that he hoped would bring his books to the screen, “Thunderball.”

Fleming continued on with James Bond in the critically panned “The Spy Who Loved Me” and then suffered a major heart attack. His health had suffered from a lifetime of drinking and smoking and it was finally catching up to him. He and his wife were both unfaithful and carried on numerous affairs. 

While recovering in the hospital, he was denied a typewriter so that he could rest but wrote with a pen and paper the children’s book, “Chitty-Chitty, Bang-Bang”  He then returned to James Bond with a book lauded as one of his best, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

It was during this time that Fleming finally saw his character Bond transformed into the silver screen and it proved 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 would see “From Russia With Love” released and was involved in “Goldfinger” but didn’t live to see the film released. His last work published before his death was “You Only Live Twice”.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale.

He suffered another massive heart attack on August 11, 1964, and died the next day at the age of 56. He left two other works that were published after his death, “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 thru 24 films with the 25th already in the planning stages. James Bond will live on. 

Photos: Wikipedia