Writer’s Note: I was in high school when I first heard of “James Bond” and “007”. A classmate asked me out to the movies, and a James Bond film was playing. I can’t remember the name of the film, but I still remember vividly beautiful shots of beaches and resorts somewhere in the Caribbean, lots of action between good guys and bad guys, and beautiful women. Clearest of all, however, I remember Sean Connery. Connery was the first actor to play the role of British agent 007, James Bond. I have never accepted another actor as Bond. Sean Connery IS James Bond to me, and always will be.
Unlike Connery, Bond is not a real person. He is a fictional character created by British writer Ian Fleming. Was Bond a reflection of Fleming’s own life? Fleming’s alter ego? — GP
Special Agent 007
Nearly everyone has either seen at least one Bond movie or read at least one Bond book. Bond became known all over the world — especially after the movies launched during the 1960’s. Bond novels have sold millions of copies, and the film franchise that they launched has become one of the most successful in the world.
The primary appeal of both was the fast-packed adventures of a secret agent working against time to catch international criminals — almost always in some exotic locale. It didn’t hurt that Sean Connery was the first actor to play the Bond role. His appeal to both men (macho with a bit of smart mouth and a way with women) and to women (handsome, charming, and irresistible) helped “sell” the Bond brand in ways no future actors would quite achieve.
Many are surprised to learn that Bond, Special Agent 007, had something in common with two critical intelligence units used by Britain and the Allies during WWII (the 30 Commando Assault Unit and T-Force) and a children’s book (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). The common element? All were created by Ian Fleming.
Fleming was a successful British writer and journalist. Before that, however, he was a British Naval Intelligence Officer during WWII. Fleming’s life’s experiences — both in intelligence work and in his private life — laid the foundation for Bond’s character and adventures.
Fleming was born in London to a family well-connected in banking, politics, and high society. His father was a member of the British Parliament until he enlisted when WWI broke out. He was killed in action shortly after. A close family friend, Winston Churchill, wrote Fleming’s father’s obituary.
Growing Up A Fleming Wasn’t Easy
Fleming was never a scholar. His widowed mother tried valiantly to find a career for her son. He attended several schools before ultimately graduating from Eton College where he excelled in athletics and writing. He co-edited an issue of the school magazine and published his first short story there. Fleming was a rebel and often found himself in trouble because of drink, girls, and fast cars.
After a year at Sandhurst Military College (his mother thought that Sandhurst would help him develop a career in the military like his late father, but Fleming hated it), Fleming studied abroad to develop proficiencies in foreign languages for a career in the British Foreign Office. When he sat for the exams, he didn’t place high enough. Not to be deterred, his mother used her influence to get him a job with Reuters. It was there that Fleming’s talent for writing and love for journalism combined to give him a career that he embraced.
After several years with Reuters, Fleming tried to work in the financial world for a time to earn more money than journalism could offer. According to many, he was outstanding with the social parts of banking — entertaining clients with lunches, dinners, golf games, etc. — but he was bored with the actual banking work itself.
In 1939, Fleming was named Special Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence at the rank of Lieutenant in the Special Branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Bond’s and Fleming’s lives were beginning to intersect — this was the rank that Bond would later hold.
Fleming’s boss was Royal Navy Rear-Admiral John Godfrey, a man he admired. As Godfrey’s assistant, Fleming traveled extensively to help Britain develop collaboration strategies with the United States. Among Fleming’s duties was to advise the US on how to set up its Office of Strategic Studies (the predecessor to the CIA).
Fleming helped plan several covert operations during his time in the Naval Intelligence Division. His planning and oversight of the 30 Commando Assault Unit and T-Force brought him recognition for his wartime service. That work gave him the insight necessary to develop credible (well, mostly!) adventures for his fictional hero. Bond was a composite of many men he knew during that time.
Toward the war’s end, Fleming attended an Anglo-American naval conference in Kingston, Jamaica. He stayed with a friend at his friend’s villa in the Blue Mountains. He fell in love with Jamaica and for the rest of his life, Jamaica was to be his “happy place”.
Goldeneye — Fleming’s Jamaican Paradise . . .
In 1947, Fleming bought a former racetrack near Oracabessa on the Northern Jamaican coast. There he designed and built his own villa and named it “Goldeneye”. The name may have come from one of Fleming’s WWII intelligence operations by the same name, or perhaps because the Spanish translation of “Oracabessa” is “head of gold”. No one knows for certain.
The villa featured high windows which let in sunlight and views of the sky and clouds rather than the beach below and the sea. Fleming designed them on purpose so that he wouldn’t be distracted from writing what he told others would be “the spy novel to end all spy novels”.
In January 1952 (Fleming had negotiated his journalism contract so that he had two months off, with pay, each year so he could be in Jamaica to write), Fleming began writing the manuscript for Casino Royale. Memories from a trip to a casino in Portugal gave Fleming his setting. He realized that his main character needed a proper name. According to interviews, Fleming said he looked among the books on his bookshelf at Goldeneye and spotted a copy of Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies by ornithologist, James Bond. The name seemed “right”.
Three months later, Fleming married his longtime mistress, Ann Rothermere. In August of that year, Fleming’s only child (son, Casper, for whom he wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang based on bedtime stories Fleming made up for him) was born. Although they loved each other, the couple didn’t have an easy marriage. She preferred London and European high society; he preferred Jamaica and Goldeneye. As Fleming’s fame grew, they bought a number of houses — always trying to find something that suited them both. For Fleming, Goldeneye had no peer.
The Name is Bond.
James Bond . . .
Fleming went on to unprecedented success (and so unexpected that he kept his “day job” as a journalist long after his fortune was made “just in case”) with his Bond creation. Once Bond appeared, the books kept on coming at rapid pace — - Casino Royale (1953), (Live and Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), Diamonds Are Forever (1956), From Russia With Love (1957), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), For Your Eyes Only (1960), Thunderball (1961), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964), and The Man With the Golden Gun (1965).
Fleming lived to see Dr. No and From Russia With Love in the theater, and was able to visit the set of Goldfinger before a heart attack ended his life. Although Connery was not Fleming’s first choice to play Bond, the two became fast friends and collaborated on how the fictional character might best be “brought to life” on film.
During the two years following Fleming’s death, his Bond thrillers sold 60 million copies. To date over 100 million have been sold worldwide. The Bond movies have a combined gross of over $7 billion to date making it the 6th-highest-grossing film series.
Oh, And About 007
Among the many bits of trivia concerning the Bond character, one was especially interesting. Why “007”? It seems that Fleming gave Bond “007” based on something he had learned from his studies of English history.
John Dee, a spy for Queen Elizabeth I, was responsible for sending the queen private letters “for her eyes only” that contained his best intelligence on foreign intrigues. So that the queen would be assured that the letters were from him, Dee would sign his letters “00” followed by an elongated “7”.
Even in popular fiction, there is always a lesson.