Life of the Week: Ian Fleming
Renowned as one of Britain’s greatest writers, Ian Fleming first created the fictional character James Bond in the 1950s. Now, more than 60 years later, comes the 24th film based on Fleming’s world-famous novels – the long-awaited Spectre opens in cinemas this week
This article was first published in October 2015
Here, we explore the author’s life…
Born: 28 May 1908 in Mayfair, London
Died: 12 August 1964 in Canterbury
Remembered for: Writing the popular series of James Bond novels and the children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964).
Family: Fleming’s father, Valentine, was a member of parliament, and his mother, Evelyn St Croix Fleming, was a prominent English socialite renowned for her beauty. Fleming had three brothers, named Peter, Richard, and Michael, and a half-sister named Amaryllis.
Fleming married Ann Charteris (aka Anne) in March 1952, and five months later Ann gave birth to the couple’s only child, Caspar Fleming.
His life: Fleming grew up in an affluent family in Mayfair. His father, Valentine, died fighting on the Western Front in 1917.
After being educated at Durnford School in Dorset, Fleming attended Eton College between 1921 and 1927. He was then accepted to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1927. Between 1927 and 1931, Fleming travelled to Austria where he went to a small private school, before briefly studying at the Universities of Geneva and Munich.
After becoming a journalist for Reuters News Agency in 1931, Fleming became a stockbroker in 1933.
In 1939, Fleming began having an affair with Ann O’Neill, who was married to the Irish peer Shane O’Neill. After her husband died in combat in the Second World War, Ann married Lord Rothermere in 1945. Ian and Ann continued their affair intermittently throughout Ann’s two marriages.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Fleming joined the Naval Intelligence Division as a Lieutenant Commander. He worked as the personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, who was the director of naval intelligence, and Fleming played a key role in the communications between the Admiralty and the code-breaking centre Bletchley Park.
In 1942, Fleming began to develop the 30 Assault Unit – a group of intelligence recruits whose operational role was, according to the King’s College London Archive, “to move ahead of advancing Allied forces, or to undertake covert infiltrations into enemy territory by land, sea or air, to capture much needed Intelligence, in the form of codes, documents, equipment or enemy personnel”. Fleming once claimed that he “could not have had a more interesting time” during his work in the Second World War.
After the war ended, Fleming began working for the Kemsley newspaper group. In 1946 he built a bungalow in Jamaica and named the house Goldeneye. This house later became a place of solitude for Fleming, where he could write his spy novels. He later commented: “Would these books have been born if I had not been living in the gorgeous vacuum of a Jamaican holiday? I doubt it."
After Fleming’s lover, Ann, divorced Lord Rothermere in 1951, Fleming and Ann married in Jamaica in 1952. Their son, Caspar, was born five months later, in August 1952.
In 1952 Fleming began writing Casino Royale, which became the first of his James Bond novels. Casino Royale was published in 1953 and sold 4,750 copies within the first month of its release. A year later, Live and Let Die was published, followed by Moonraker in 1955. Between 1953 and his death in 1964, Fleming released a new James Bond novel every year.
In 1961, President Kennedy included Fleming’s From Russia With Love (1957) in his list of favourite books in an article in Life Magazine. As a result, sales of Fleming’s books increased considerably across the world, and Dr No (1958) was made into a film starring Sean Connery, released in 1962. This became the first of many James Bond films to be adapted for the big screen.
In 1961 Fleming suffered a heart attack and was advised by physicians not to work. While recovering, Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for his son, Caspar. Fleming’s health then began to deteriorate further. On 12 August 1964, Fleming experienced another heart attack and died in Canterbury, aged 56. The film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was released four years after his death.
Fleming wrote 14 spy novels in total – two of which were published posthumously – and 24 James Bond films have been made so far.
Spectre is out in British cinemas from Monday 26 October.