Sunday, May 17, 2020

Ian Fleming's Inspiration: The Backstories Behind The James Bond Novels

The Daily Mail offers an extract from Edward Abel Smith’s new book on Ian Fleming, Ian Fleming’s Inspiration: The Truth Behind the Books.

Handsome. Witty. Suave. Irresistible to women. Bon vivant. Lover of fast cars. Intrepid traveler to exotic locations. An audacious and cunning spy. 

Qualities that are the very essence of James Bond. And yet they are not purely the stuff of fiction. To a large extent, they were attributes of 007’s creator, the novelist and journalist Ian Fleming.

A larger-than-life character who spent many years involved with the British Secret Service, Fleming often explained that his plots were taken from his own experiences, ‘no matter how bizarre they might seem’.

As a result, his James Bond novels and short stories – and the phenomenally successful films that followed – are peppered with references to Fleming’s own exhilarating days in wartime naval intelligence and to the far-flung places he visited, as well as the personal traits, and even names, of some of his glamorous high society friends.

Fleming’s first biographer, John Pearson, wrote: ‘James Bond is not really a character in the books. He is a mouthpiece for the man who inhabits him, a dummy for himself to hang clothes on… to perform the dreams of violence and daring which fascinate his creator.’

Certainly, the numerous parallels are remarkable – be it the central plot of a story, 007’s favorite food, or simply the thrill he gets when driving one of his adored luxury cars… 

A larger-than-life character who spent many years involved with the British Secret Service, Fleming often explained that his plots were taken from his own experiences, ‘no matter how bizarre they might seem’

… A lifelong philanderer who was thrown out of the Army after an ill-advised encounter with a ‘woman of dubious virtue’ in Soho, Fleming was notoriously commitment-averse, only marrying at the age of 44 after a long public affair with his married mistress, Ann O’Neill.

Their relationship was a turbulent one. The outgoing, vivacious and charming Ann is thought to have provided many of the characteristics for Viv, the narrator of The Spy Who Loved Me, including her wavy brown hair, high cheekbones and cheerful optimism.

But it was an earlier girlfriend who was arguably more influential.

Muriel Wright was a stunning model who met Fleming at the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbuhel when he was 27 and she was 26.

They began a passionate relationship, but it was not long before Fleming started seeing other women.

Muriel’s indignant brother is said to have been so angry that he turned up at Fleming’s London home with a horsewhip to punish him. 

During an early visit to his adored Jamaica, where he eventually built a home called Goldeneye, Fleming was amused to hear a neighbor’s butler announce: ‘Vespers are served.’ He was delighted to take the name of the local cocktail – a combination of ice-cold gin and tropical juice – for Bond’s glamorous sidekick in Casino Royale, Vesper Lynd.

However, consumed with guilt after Muriel was killed in an air raid in London in March 1944, Fleming became deeply sentimental about her, refusing to return to restaurants the couple had once visited.

Although he never spoke of her again, his feelings surfaced in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1963, in which he describes in anguished detail the death of the love of Bond’s life, Tracy, in a hail of bullets.

Muriel, with her kind heart, exceptional beauty and sporting prowess, is believed to have been the inspiration for many Bond girls.

Fleming relished passing on his love of fine food and wine to James Bond, who, in Casino Royale, explains to Vesper that investing time in choosing what to eat and drink provides him with pleasure, because it makes his meals more interesting. Fleming’s favorite meal was breakfast. In his Jamaican retreat, fresh eggs, fruit and coffee would follow an early swim, while lunch featured fish, steak, kidneys, liver or the local specialty of curried goat.

… The author’s biographer John Pearson described Fleming as a man with a ‘sad, sardonic smile as he clenched the Dunhill holder between his battered teeth and drew heavily upon his umpteenth Morland of the morning’. 

… The CIA is one of the best-known intelligence institutions in the world. Less well known, however, is the key role played by Fleming in creating it. 

In 1941, he visited the US with his Naval Intelligence boss John Godfrey, with the objective of forging closer intelligence links with their American counterparts. Their first stop was to meet J. Edgar Hoover, the 46-year-old founder of the FBI in New York.

The visit was not a success, with Hoover telling the British pair he had no interest in their proposals. He did, however, take them to a shooting range in the basement of the building.

This was the beginning of Fleming’s lifelong fascination with guns – their look, sound, feel and smell.

Hoover also introduced the two men to Sir William Stephenson, the legendary wartime UK-US intelligence liaison chief.

For Fleming, this was another life-changing moment.

As his biographer John Pearson wrote: ‘Stephenson was almost everything a hero should be… he was very tough… he was very rich… he was single-minded and patriotic and a man of few words.’

When Stephenson asked Fleming to write a quote for the front cover of his autobiography many years later, the author boldly claimed that Stephenson was the real-life version of James Bond.

As the man who represented British Intelligence interests in the US, Stephenson had identified that the main reason for the lack of wartime co-operation between the countries’ intelligence services was simple disorganization.

There was no central American body to co-ordinate all the intelligence – and, most importantly, to decide what to share and with whom. Instead, the Navy, Army, State Department and the FBI all fought against each other.

Fleming was invited to design the structure of a centralized new secret service for the US, using his experiences of coordinated British intelligence. Working under armed guard, he produced a comprehensive 70-page document covering every aspect of the requirements of a giant secret intelligence organization.

Four weeks later, it was announced that $10 million had been allocated to get the new service up and running.

For Fleming, what had begun as a diplomatic visit to build ties in New York and Washington, had resulted in a huge personal triumph.

In gratitude for his work, the head of the new organization, Colonel William Donovan, gave Fleming a .38 Colt revolver engraved with the words ‘for special services’.

Fleming would proudly show the weapon to his associates, telling them it was given to him by the father of the American Secret Service. 

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link: 

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