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Bond author remains the master of the spy genre

Oct. 19, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

I see that a fictional countryman of mine enjoyed an anniversary recently. A week or so ago it was 50 years since James Bond first hit the screen in the movie 'Dr. No' and, with the 23rd movie in the series about to be released, it appears that he will be carrying on as a British secret intelligence agent for a while yet.

Bond first appeared on the scene nine years before the movie when Ian Fleming's novel "Casino Royale" was published in 1953. Double-oh-seven, as he is known, is supposed to be a member of an elite section of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service or MI6 which is the United Kingdom's equivalent of the CIA over here. He is usually portrayed as a suavely handsome Englishman who has a way with the ladies and who is deadly as far as Her Majesty's enemies are concerned.

Bond's creator would not, I think, have claimed to be as handsome as his hero, who was based on the actor Hoagy Carmichael, but in many respects his life was equally intriguing.

Fleming came from a rich, West London banking family. His father was a member of parliament until his death on the western front in the first World War and young Ian tried various careers, including the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, before entering the family trade of banking in 1933. He was not a success at this but, like Bond, his early years were full of romances with a large number of good looking young women.

In May of 1939 Ian changed careers again, becoming the personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey who happened to hold the post of Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy. Fleming had nothing to recommend him for the position but as it turned out he excelled at it. As part of the job he received a commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve but within months he was promoted to commander, the same rank that Bond is supposed to hold.

Fleming's position at the beginning of WWII led him into circles that would provide valuable background for his later career as a writer. He was the liaison with MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, as well as with the Prime Minister's office and various other secret organizations including the Office of Strategic Services which eventually became the CIA.

He was responsible for several wartime operations, the most successful of which was Operation Mincemeat. This was the plan to have what appeared to be a dead British officer wash up on a Spanish beach carrying documents that pointed to the Allied invasion of southern Europe coming through Crete instead of Sicily. It was a great success and the original suggestion had been Fleming's.

After the war Ian Fleming became the foreign manager for the newspaper group that owned the British 'Sunday Times'. It was a good job and allowed him to take three months leave every year at his estate, called Goldeneye, in Jamaica. It was here that he wrote all of his James Bond novels, completing the first in just two months. He said afterwards that when he was looking for a name for his hero he wanted him to be an 'extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened.' On his bookshelf he had a book by ornithologist James Bond and he decided that was the dullest name he'd ever heard so he borrowed it.

Fleming had a habit of writing people he knew into his novels and he was especially fond of using their names. Scaramanga, Goldfinger and Hugo Drax were all names of people he knew in real life. He also gave Bond many of his own tastes such as his love of golf together with his handicap at the game, his appetite for scrambled eggs, liking for gambling and even making sure they used the same aftershave.

The Bond novels had always sold well, but on March 17, 1961, Life Magazine published an article that said 'From Russia, with Love' was one of John F. Kennedy's 10 favorite books. Fleming had actually met Kennedy while in Washington and this revelation boosted sales until he was the biggest selling crime writer in America.

He seemed set to go on to greater heights but Fleming over- indulged in both cigarettes and alcohol and shortly after the 'Life' article was published he suffered a heart attack. He continued to write whilst recovering but surprisingly his next manuscript was the children's classic 'Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.'

Ian Fleming died of a second heart attack in 1964. He wrote a total of 14 Bond novels, the rest having been written by a variety of authors. As I said at the start of this article, the 23rd Bond movie is about to be released. I may see it when it reaches TV but doubt I shall go to the theatre to watch it. To my mind the later Bond books and movies are exciting and good entertainment but Fleming was the master of the genre and as far as I am concerned Sean Connery is James Bond. All others are just pale imitations.

Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.

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