Ian Fleming: the man
with the golden touch
Lucy Fleming and her sister Kate are the nieces of James Bond author Ian Fleming. Together they are involved in Ian Fleming Publications and the Ian Fleming Will Trust. Lucy, who was 16 at the time of Fleming’s death, discusses the legacy of Bond, her uncle’s Jamaican inspiration and driving around in his new Thunderbird.
By Andy Round
It must have been quite exciting when uncle Ian Fleming came to visit?
He always seemed so sophisticated. He always had these new cars, the latest gadgets and all these stories about where he had been travelling. I remember one time he had this giant Thunderbird and he took us for a drive it was fabulous. He had an incredible imagination and that was great for children. I think that people tend to forget he also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While Ian was recovering from a heart attack he wrote it for his son Caspar.
What was Fleming like?
He was so alive, so warm, so imaginative. It was as if the whole house lit up around him when he came over. He was very straightforward and like the best of everything.
Did Fleming and your father discuss their wartime experiences?
They didn’t. Not in public anyway. It just wasn’t that kind of generation after the war. Perhaps when they were alone together they might have.
To what extent was Bond modelled on Fleming?
I think Bond is an amalgamation of many of the people Ian met during the war. But he said Bond shared some of his foibles. I remember that Ian always like danger and excitement. He would ski down the black runs and he learned to scuba dive so he could understand what it was like when he was writing an underwater scene.
What is your favourite part of the recent Bond exhibition at the Imperial War Museum?
I like all the World War II gadgets that Ian adapted for his books such as the daggers embedded in shoes. His letters to readers are entertaining as well. At the end of From Russia with Love, Ian left Bond virtually dead and there a lot of letters from readers telling him to get well soon. Ian’s replies are very kind.
The release of the Sebastian Faulks novel must be quite a coup.
We were delighted that an author of Sebastian’s stature decided to write Bond’s new adventure. He reread all the books, found that he admired Ian’s style and wrote Devil May Care in the same way. Like Ian he wrote over six weeks, very quickly.
Why did Jamaica play such a significant role in Fleming’s life?
Ian originally wrote Casino Royale in a month and a half at his Jamaican home Goldeneye. He would do three hours in the morning a couple in the afternoon. He would close the shutters so the birds and view didn’t distract him. He would then write on one side of paper only. His motto was always, “Never look back”. Ian designed and built Goldeneye in 1946 – quite something at the time – after having visited Jamaica during the war. He loved the place.
Do you feel a great sense of cultural responsibility handling Fleming’s estate?
I feel a great pride. Ian achieved such incredible things. To see how people latched on to his character after the bleak war years makes me feel very proud. I see the centenary as an opportunity for people to extend their knowledge of Bond through the books. Of course they are thrillers and they may be far-fetched but he wrote them against a background of plausibility. Ian was incredibly prolific he wrote 14 books in 12 years. That’s amazing.
What do you think of the films?
I think they are great. It is like watching the history of fashion evolve. I particularly like the portrayal by Daniel Craig. I think that is the closest to Ian’s books. This is a man who falls in love, gets hurt, humbled, damaged.
Did Fleming like them?
He only saw the first, Dr No, he died before the second was screened. But he loved the whole process of film-making, the technology, the gadgets.
What do you think Fleming would have thought of the world today?
He would have loved the world of computers and technology. It would have amazed him.
As you are also an actress, how many times have you been asked if you would make a good Bond girl?
Occasionally! I’m sure I would have enjoyed it. But I see myself more as a Bond character in the background, perhaps M’s assistant.
Imperial War Museum senior historian Terry Charman talks about Fleming’s love of scrambled eggs, product placement for marmalade and why a Beretta is a “gun for ladies”.
“What are my favourite exhibits? Well, I’m afraid Fleming was never shy of a little product placement in his books. We have notes here that show that he received free Coopers Vintage Oxford Marmalade after mentioning them in his books. Another piece of Fleming history is his recipe for what he describes as ‘perfect scrambled eggs’. Bond was more of addict of fine food than Fleming.
“You have to remember that first Bond book was very exciting. It was after the war, rationing was still in force, people didn’t go on exotic holidays and Britain was no longer a global super power. Then along comes Fleming with a grown-up fairytale character that has guiltless sex, unlimited money, glamorous travels, eats caviar and has Britain punching well above its weight when really the country was shivering in the Cold War. It’s no wonder more than 40 million Bond books were sold by the time of Fleming’s death.
“When Fleming was in the navy his role was to examine ways that the British forces could destablise the Germans. One of his schemes featured a ‘tough crew of five British commandos dressed in blood, bandages and German uniforms’ dropped in the English Channel to attract the attention of German ships carrying critical naval codes. The aim was that the commandos would be rescued, the Germans overpowered and the codes seized. The plan was later dismissed as ‘dangerous nonsense’, but Fleming’s other schemes, including a propaganda radio station or the production of counterfeit currency to destabilise the enemy’s economy, actually found their way into the counter intelligence effort.
“To what extent was Fleming Bond? I think that Bond was a composite of the many agents Fleming worked with. He was never actively involved in action, although he witnessed a disastrous raid on Dieppe, but he would have known a lot of colourful characters who were extremely efficient in the ruthless business of dispatching people effectively.
Fleming introduced elements of Scottish ancestry
“When it came to the films at first Fleming wanted David Niven to play Bond and then Carey Grant so when Connery was chosen Fleming wasn’t best pleased. You have to remember he had been meticulous with the books they had been completely under his control. He double checked all technical details and even had input on the covers. He knew exactly what he wanted and with the first film he obviously wanted it to be a success. Of course the Connery decision was completely out of his hands.
“However, Fleming soon realised his mistake when Dr No was so successful and in tribute to Connery’s performance Fleming introduced elements of Scottish ancestry to Bond’s life. Fleming was bemused by the success of the films and found the world of Hollywood a riot. You really have to wonder whether the Bond character would have endured so strongly if he had remained in the novels.
“As a writer I think he got blocks and often found it hard to think of endings, particularly towards the end of his life when he was suffering from ill health. Still, you get the impression of a very warm, generous man who was happy to write back to readers who sent him letters even if they were correcting James Bond on technical details. When one reader asked Fleming to give Bond another gun because a ‘Beretta was for ladies’ he actually made the change.”