Ian Fleming hated the producer Cubby Broccoli’s choice to play his character James Bond. Ian had in mind two friends that he thought were ideal for the role. Hoagy Carmichael, a popular saloon singer who can be seen in a bit part in the Bogart/Bacall film “Key Largo”. And David Niven, whom Ian thought epitomized British upper class sophistication. Broccoli had found a rough and tough sometime truck driver from northern Scotland. The battles were fierce and long but Cubby prevailed in the end. He said, in effect, “Look, Ian, I can teach a young tough how to drink a martini and wear a proper tuxedo. What I cannot do is teach rugged toughness to a matinee idol nor imbue him with enormous sexual power.” Ian folded, God bless him. And the world got Sean Connery.
Bond’s character was, like his creator’s, forged in battle in World War II. Ian was a Commander inside DNI, Department of Naval Intelligence, Room 39. Ian formed a group of raiders called “Ian’s Red Indians” that performed heroic acts of sabotage against the Nazis. His wartime service took him to Jamaica where he spied a piece of coastal property called Goldeneye. After the war he built a house there to escape his difficult marriage and to write his first book. Every morning he would snorkel among the colorful tropical fish on his beach with his neighbor and mistress, Lady Blanche Blackwell. More on her later.
When the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) first called, Commander Fleming’s desk was in Room 39, just outside the green baize door of Admiral John Godfrey, or, “C” as the Chief of SIS was called. Godfrey signed all of his secret documents in green ink with a large C at the bottom. Why Ian changed his boss, C, to M in the Bond books, is not clear. One theory is that he did this as a tribute to his own beloved Mother, but I find that theory shaky at best.
Ian used his naval service to great advantage as a thriller author. As an example, when C told him to find some way to capture a Nazi vessel and secure its codebooks, Ian wrote the following plan in this note to his superior:
A. Obtain from the Air Ministry an air-worthy German bomber.
B. Pick a tough crew of five, including a pilot, radio operator, and word-perfect German speaker. Dress them all in German Luftwaffe uniform, add blood and bandages to suit.
C. Crash the plane in the Channel after making an SOS call to the German Rescue Service in plain language (uncoded).
D. Once aboard the Nazi rescue boat, shoot the German crew, dump overboard, bring rescue boat back to English port.
Fact, meet Fiction
At Goldeneye, Ian typed the very first pages of Casino Royale on a golden typewriter, a gift from some wag who thought the would-be novelist needed all the help he could get. Fleming’s first authorial mission: find a good name for his hero. Something befitting a grey and bland public servant who kept to the shadows. One morning, he spied an old book on his shelf that he frequently referred to. The book was called “Birds of the West Indies.” The author was named James Bond.
When “Dr. No” was green-lighted, Lady Blackwell prevailed upon her paramour to give her 21-year old son a chance to score the music for the picture. Her son was an avid musician and fan of the melodic tunes of the Caribbean. Ian, knowing what was good for him, agreed. The young man’s name was Chris Blackwell and Chris went on to great fame and fortune as the founder of Island Records.
Finally, a wee bit of unknown Bond history: When noted architect, Erno Goldfinger, learned his name was being used in Ian’s forthcoming Bond novel, he threatened to halt its publication. Ian was furious at his publisher’s conciliatory response. He told Cape, his publisher, to insert an erratum slip “and change the name throughout the book to “Goldprick” and give the reason why.” Needless to say, Ian got his way.
PS: Ian Fleming always said that he would die of having lived too well. “I was born with one foot in the grave,” he always said of his health. He drank and smoked and lived to excess every day of his life. Feeling poorly in the late summer of 1964, he insisted on driving down to his beloved golf club, Royal St. Georges in Kent, to try and pull himself out of his downward spiral. He spent his days staring out his bedroom window at the sea in total misery. He died shortly after midnight, August 12, 1964.
Read Ted Bell’s latest spy novel,Warriors, with dashing James Bond-like counterspy Alex Hawke.
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