Of course, he did this his way. Offered a job as manager of a newspaper group, Fleming only took it on on the
condition he could have two months a year off. During this time he would retreat to his home in Jamaica – dubbed
Goldeneye too – where he would, with military discipline, rise early to swim, then write 2000 words before his
lunchtime cocktail. Yes, a martini, shaken, not stirred. The rest of his day was spent at leisure. Two months saw
another novel done: “I extracted [the plots] from my wartime memories, dolled them up, attached a hero and a
villain, and there was the book,” as he put it.
From the outset the novels were criticised for being, as The New Statesman’s critic reviewed them, a litany
of “sex, snobbery and sadism - without doubt the nastiest book I have ever read”. His wife called them “cheap
pornography”. Even Fleming referred to his debut, 1953’s Casino Royale as an “oafish opus”. Yet they were
all best-sellers - regardless of their wavering quality. The revelation that President Kennedy loved them made
Fleming the biggest-selling crime writer in the US. Even The New Statesman begrudgingly acknowledged that
Fleming had created “a social phenomenon of some importance”, not least a reinvention of the very British regard for
the very British literary everyman heroes of the pre-war era, from Bulldog Drummond to Richard Hannay.
But, with banking in the family, Fleming knew how to follow the money regardless. No great fan of the movies –
Fleming only lived to see the first two, and had wanted David Niven or Roger Moore for the role – he nevertheless
appreciated their influence, and is said to have in part modeled his later literary portrayal of Bond around Sean
Connery’s performance. Likewise he struck a canny deal with an investment company by selling them the rights to 51%
of all future royalties for his books for a then sizable £100,000, conscious that much of his income would come less
from books as the box office.
For all of the sybaritic lifestyle – Fleming died at 56, the drinking, the dining, the 80 cigarettes a day all
leading Noel Coward to dub Goldeneye “Golden Ear, Nose and Throat” – Fleming’s post-war life never quite
matched the thrills of his time in the military. His relationship with his wife was fractious, and her
intellectualism was a bad match for his collection of risque images, obsession with golf and self-confessed complete
lack of literary aspirations (“if I wait for genius to come, it just doesn’t arrive,” Fleming joked). Indeed, as his
portrayal of women might suggest, he seemed to struggle to maintain a deep relationship with anyone of the opposite
sex, including his stern mother, who he referred to dispassionately as M, long before Bond’s boss was given the
title. Better for him to escape into a clubbish world of brandy, smoke and male company.
Indeed, writing arguably provided an escape not just for his readers, but for Fleming too – one reason, together with
his journalistic training, why he was a stickler for the verisimilitude achieved through accuracy. When a firearms
expert contacted Fleming complaining of Bond’s “deplorable taste in firearms”, in his use of “a ladies’ gun”, the
novelist was mindful to switch from a Beretta 418 to a Walther PPK for future books. His novels were a chance both
to take pot-shots at his enemies, be that by naming Blofeld after a rival at Eton, or Goldfinger after his
neighbour, the architect whose brutalist buildings he so despised, but also to join in on the thrills of a fantasy
version of himself.
These were, perhaps, small recompense for the real thing he’d once known. “Never say ‘no’ to adventures,” as Fleming
advised in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “Always say ‘yes’, otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.”
From the author who dubbed his own novel a "dreadful oafish opus" this grinning photograph seems appropriate in light
of the fact that in 2008, The Times ranked Fleming 14th on its list of "The 50 greatest British Writers since