|One of the many assumptions regarding the James Bond phenomenon is that he was based on the actions of a real life character. And so he was - sort of. But was that real life character Ian Fleming himself?
It is fairly well documented that Fleming chose the name James Bond because of its nondescript sound, like John Doe or Jim Smith. The real James Bond was an ornithologist whose book Birds Of the West Indies graced Fleming's coffee table. So that's how the name came to be, but what about the character? Were Bond's adventures based on Fleming's own wartime experiences? The simple answer is no. The more complicated answer is that James Bond was who Ian Fleming wanted to be!
Fleming used much of his own background for Bond's history, although a great deal of this is not seen until later in the series of novels, particularly the obituary chapter from You Only Live Twice. He provided Bond with his own experiences, exaggerating where necessary and filling in any blanks. For example, whereas both of Bond's parents died in a climbing accident when he was still quite young, it was just his own father, Valentine Fleming, that died while Ian was aged nine, killed in action in 1917. Evelyn, his mother, lived a long and happy life and he survived her by only three weeks.
Ian Fleming was educated at Eton. However, unlike the young 007, he was not expelled for a brief clandestine relationship with one of the school's maids. Bond continued his schooling at Fettes, "his father's own school" where "both academic and athletic standards were rigorous." While Bond's athletic prowess is on record - "he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight and had, in addition, founded the first serious judo class at a British public school." - Fleming was not idle. He won practically every event at the school's sports day in 1924, and as a senior (i.e. over 16) he was "Victor Ludorum", champion of the games, two years in succession, a feat not achieved by any other Eton pupil.
As a young adult, Ian Fleming was considered to be strikingly good looking and, although he wrote that Bond resembled a young Hoagy Carmichael, he also added some of his own characteristics to Bond's general demeanour. He gave him his height, his hairstyle and his eye colour. He also gave him his general outlook concerning women. Fleming was a notorious womaniser and, during his bachelor years, his affairs were numerous. He had his own ideas as to how a girl should look and dress. He disliked make up and long, painted fingernails, and almost all of Bond's heroines wear just lipstick and have short, unpolished nails. As soon as any girl appeared to be getting close, Fleming would drop her and move onto another. In the majority of the Bond stories, any lady that finds favour with Bond by the end isn't usually around by the beginning of the next adventure (see Tiffany Case, for example). And yet, like Bond's Vesper Lynd, like his tragic wife Tracey, Fleming would eventually find someone to love. Enter Lady Anne Rothermere.
Bond was not averse to the occasional married woman (Bond had three on the go at once ) and Fleming found himself embroiled with the wife of Lord Rothermere. Although they had know each other when she was Lady O'Neill (her husband, Lord Shane O'Neill, was killed during the war) it is not clear whether she and Fleming were anything other than good friends at that time. But there was certainly amour between them during her time with Rothermere. Her divorce and their marriage followed, which must have been a staggering wrench for this confirmed bachelor. Many of Fleming's thoughts were written into Bond's life and the following passage, the opening to a short story that he never finished, gives, perhaps, an indication of his opinion of wedded life.
"In the early morning, at about 7.30, the stringy whimperings of the piped radio brought visions of a million homes waking up all over Britain of him, or perhaps her, getting up to make early morning tea, to put the dog out, to stoke the boiler. And then will this shirt do for another day? The socks, the pants? The Ever-ready, the Gillette shave, the Brylcreem on the hair, the bowler hat or the homburg, the umbrella and the briefcase or the sample case? Then 'Dodo', the family saloon out on the concrete arterial, probably with her driving. The red-brick station, the other husbands, the other wives, the clickety-click of the 8.15 round the curve by the golf course. Hullo Sidney! Hullo Arthur! After you Mr Shacker and the drab life picking up speed and flicking on the rails between the conifers and the damp evergreens.
Bond switched on his electric blanket and waited for his hot water with a slice of lemon and contemplated the world with horror and disgust."
One can imagine both Fleming and Bond hating the idea of the hum-drum, boring, staid English marriage.
Ian Fleming didn't actually see very much active service during World War II, unlike our heroic spy. That's not to say that he was idle - far from it. But the majority of his wartime experiences were obtained from behind a desk. Fleming had a position of the highest security, vetting war plans and collating information, and his knowledge of the world of the spy was second to none, if only on paper. He rose in the Naval Intelligence Department to the rank of Commander, a rank he bestowed upon his creation. His senior officer, Admiral Godphrey, appeared to be one of the only men above him that he respected. One can see him looking to Godphrey for the inspiration for the character of M, Bond's own chief, although the name (or title) M seems to have come from his pet name for his own mother.
The author very much liked Americans and their way of life. It therefore seems only fitting that Bond's best friend should be an American. "Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and most of them seemed to come from Texas. " Felix Leiter, the blonde haired Texan, became an integral part of many of Bond's adventures.
James Bond's code number, 007, gave him a licence to kill. This "licence" is not based on a factual licence, of course. If anything, the 00 number comes from the prefix given to the many Whitehall documents that Fleming would have seen while working for Naval Intelligence. Bond's 00 grading was given because of a mission involving the assassination of a Japanese cipher clerk; although the assassination was fictitious, there really was a Japanese cipher clerk who worked in an office in New York, one floor below where Fleming was visiting Sir William Stephenson, the head of the British Intelligence office in America.
Two aspects of James Bond's expertise that can not be directly attributed to Ian Fleming are firearms and gambling. His lack of hand to hand service meant that all of Bond's knowledge of guns and ammunition had to be researched by Fleming; but, with the same perseverance and resoluteness of Bond, Fleming made sure that this research was of the highest possible standard. As to gambling, Fleming didn't have the luck or the skill to have been anywhere near as successful as our James was. At one particular card game he sat facing several German officers and began to think about bankrupting them and, in turn, the Third Reich. This fantasy was very short lived as he lost heavily, but it served as the basic idea behind the plot for Casino Royale. His research on the odds and his own knowledge of the finer arts of games like bridge and canasta more than made up for his lack of high stake experience and the famous Bridge hand used by Bond to beat Sir Hugo Drax in Moonraker was based on a real life incident that fascinated Fleming.
Bond's habits and dress are definitely from Fleming. He wore lightweight blue suits, cotton island shirts and black knitted silk ties, and preferred moccasins to other types of footwear. He loved fine wines and good food and, although he instructed his black cook to serve the most ridiculous and indigestible meals at times, he adored scrambled eggs and sauce b arnaise. He smoked 70 cigarettes a day and kept them in a gunmetal case. His drinking habits varied, but Vodka Martinis were certainly available at Goldeneye, Fleming's Jamaican home (whether they had to be shaken and not stirred has not been reported!).
Another parallel between the two men was the people that they met. Like our own Raymond Benson, the current James Bond novelist, Fleming named several characters after people he knew:
Hilary Bray, a long-standing friend and co-worker of his, became an expert of Coats of Arms in On Her Majesty's Secret Service;
Donovan "Red" Grant was a boatman with whom Fleming spent much time while exploring the Rio Grande river; Fleming turned him into a ruthless killer in From Russia, With Love;
Fleming's advisor and his greatest friend (and co-defendant in the McClory trials over the ownership of the Thunderball story) was Ivar Bryce. Bond and Tania Romanovich became Mr and Mrs Bryce, also in From Russia, With Love. The Bryce's had a housekeeper named May Maxwell - Fleming took her name and mixed her idiosyncrasies with that of his own cook to create James Bond's housekeeper;
Ernest Cuneo was a friend from Fleming's journalist days and an important figure in Washington during the war. With almost sadistic glee, Fleming had him shot as the friendly and trustworthy taxi driver who assists Bond in Diamonds Are Forever;
Richard "Dikko" Hughes was an Australian ex-boxer who was the Sunday Times' Far East correspondent. A man who lived life to the full, he was Fleming's guide as they travelled Japan together, researching for You Only Live Twice; he became Richard "Dikko" Lovelace Henderson, Bond's Japan contact in that book;
The list goes on and on, including well know friends such as Noel Coward and David Niven who found themselves "mentioned in dispatches" (Niven, along with Richard Burton and James Stewart was Fleming's choice for Bond when questioned as to who should play him in the films).
Although James Bond is fairly ageless throughout the series and continues to be so even now, Fleming never actually gets around to mentioning Bond's date of birth. He wrote that Bond lied about his age to see active service in World War II  and from this we can assume that Bond was born between 1924 and 1925. Interestingly, Fleming gives his own date of birth to Bond's greatest nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld - May 28th 1908. How ironic that Fleming should die in the same year that the book in which Bond finally kills Blofeld was published. On August 11, 1964, Ian Fleming proved that James Bond had something that Fleming could never have achieved - immortality. Or did he? Bond lives on in film and in print. As long as both genres continue to credit the man to whom we owe so much, maybe Fleming is immortal too.
Copyright © 1999 by "Rhino"
(Sources: The Life Of Ian Fleming by John Pearson and several key novels from Fleming's own James Bond series, specifically You Only Live Twice ,  and , Moonraker  and Casino Royale )