Icons / October 2017

How Ian Fleming Created James Bond

For someone with zero literary aspirations, Ian Fleming managed to create the most influential spy character of all time, and all with such apparent ease.

Ian Fleming circa 1960, photographed at his writing desk in his Goldeneye retreat, with cigarette in hand, of which he was known to smoke 80 a day. (Photograph by Harry Benson).

They say novelists should write about what they know. Ian Fleming – son of a major, educated at Eton and Sandhurst, then in Munich and Geneva, foreign correspondent and then personal assistant to the director of naval intelligence during World War II, married to a countess with whom he’s had an affair, and a lover of the finer things in life – did just that, adding in perhaps just a hint of thuggishness missing from his own personality.

The line between himself and his most famous literary creation – James Bond, not Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – was a thin one, even if Fleming wasn’t so sure of this himself. His hero, he said, was “simply the blunt instrument in the hands of the government. Apart from the fact that he wears the same clothes that I wear, he and I really have very little in common. I do rather envy him his blondes and his efficiency, but I can’t say I much like the chap.” Bond, he also conceded, was braver and better looking than he was too.

And yet, if 007 was ready with a quip at a time of high danger, it was Fleming who likewise announced that the war had been “intensely exciting” - among his many escapades was an elaborate hoax involving a dead body and faked invasion plans to fool the Germans of Allied intentions, as well as the forming of a plan to undertake sabotage operations in fascist Spain, codenamed Operation Goldeneye. An habitual womaniser, Fleming claimed that it was the process of getting married – “a very painful thing to do at the age of 44,” he noted – that drove him to start writing novels, to take his mind off the whole shebang.

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Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a writer on menswear, design and much else for the likes of Wallpaper, CNN, Robb Report and The Times. He's the author of several books on menswear, the latest 'The Details', published by Laurence King. He lives in London, has two small children and is permanently exhausted.