99 Years Old

Filed under: Ian Fleming on May 28, 2007 at 12:00 am

Today, May 28, 2007, marks the 99th birthday of a man who wrote the “spy story to end all spy stories”, a man whose legacy continues today in novels, films, and various other media. Coming from a strong Scottish descent he was given the name Ian, and the middle name Lancaster in memory of John of Gaunt, whom his mother claimed as one of her forebears. His father, Valentine, was a Member of Parliament and a hero of the Great War who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order posthumously after dying on May 20, 1917 a mere eight days before Ian’s ninth birthday; his obituary was written by Winston Churchhill for The Times.

As Ian Lancaster Fleming grew up he was overshadowed by the fame and success of his father and his older brother, Peter. He attended Eton College, Sandhurst military academy, and the University of Geneva before attempting to join the Foreign Service. He failed and was later hired as a journalist for Reuters where he had great success covering a spy trial in the Soviet Union. Following that, Ian like his brother Peter and his famous grandfather Robert Fleming, briefly went into the banking business in Belgravia. Later he was hired by The Times to report on a government trade mission once again in the Soviet Union. This time, the Soviets suspected Fleming of being a spy (he was indeed) for the Foreign Office and arranged for a girl to keep an eye on him. Unaware of this, Fleming seduced the girl.

On May 24, 1939, Fleming had lunch with two admirals, one being John Godfrey a recent appointee to the position of Director of Naval Intelligence. Several months later, Godfrey made sure Fleming became a Lieutenant and later Commander in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as well as his personal assistant, a position he held through the events of World War II.

During the war, Fleming commanded the 30th Assault Unit (30 AU), also known as “Ian Fleming’s Red Indians”, a highly successful and specially trained commando group that worked behind enemy lines while Fleming planned and coordinated their missions to the ‘T’ in London.

After the Second World War, Fleming bought an estate in Jamaica, Goldeneye, and took on the position of foreign news manager for the Kemsley newspaper group. By 1952 he was married to Lady Anne Rothermere whom he had been having a long-term affair with and in May of the same year sat down at Goldeneye and wrote, “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino combine together and hit the taste-buds with an acid shock at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt at the smell of it all”. It later became

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

The rest is, as they say, history. James Bond was created and published in the first explosive novel, Casino Royale, on April 13, 1953. The book was followed by eleven novels as well as two anthologies housing nine short stories. Fleming also wrote the children’s story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two published non-fiction books (The Diamond Smugglers -1957 and Thrilling Cities – 1963) before his death on August 12, 1964 at the age of fifty-six.

By the time of his death, Fleming’s Bond novels had sold 40 million books worldwide in twenty-three languages, two of which had been adapted for film by Harry Saltzman’s and Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions. Though successful, Fleming never saw the true feat of his works. In 1965 alone 27 million Bond novels were sold worldwide and the release of Thunderball on the big screen solidified James Bond in the hearts and minds of fans everywhere.

For a more in-depth biography, you may wish to read:

  • The Life of Ian Fleming by John Pearson
  • Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond by Andrew Lycett

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