I’m watching A Spy Among Friends on MGM+, which is a true story about the British spy, traitor and KGB agent Kim Philby and his fellow British intelligence officer and friend, Nicholas Eliot. The series is based Ben Macintyre’s fine book.
Fleming was also a principal character featured in the Netflix series Operation Mincemeat, another series based on a Ben Macintyre book. I find Ian Fleming’s wartime experiences as interesting as the fictional exploits of his iconic character James Bond.
Back in December of 2021, I interviewed Mark Simmons, the author of Ian Fleming’s War: The Inspiration of 007, in my On Crime column in the Washington Times.
You can read the column via the below link or the below text:
With the 25th James Bond film “No Time To Die” doing well in theaters, fans of the hugely successful film series may be interested in reading about the genesis of the most popular fictional character in cinema.
Ian Fleming, the late, great thriller writer
who created Bond, was a British naval intelligence officer in World War II, and
much of what he experienced during the war found its way into his James Bond
Mark Simmons, a former British Marine
commando, journalist, and author, explores Commander Fleming’s wartime
experiences and points out direct links between reality and the plots and
characters in the Bond thrillers in his book, “Ian Fleming’s War: The
Inspiration of 007.”
I reached out to Mark Simmons and asked him why he wrote
“In 2018, I wrote `Ian Fleming and Operation Golden Eye:
Keeping Spain out of World War II.’ In research for that book, I read the two
main biographies of Fleming by Andrew Lycett and John
Pearson, both of which only devoted a chapter or two to his wartime work. Yet
there was a wealth of material on his time at naval intelligence, and I felt it
deserved a book,” Mr. Simmons replied.
How would you describe Ian Fleming?
“He was a man embedded in his time the 1930s-1950s, and the
highlight of his life was his wartime role in naval intelligence, even more so
than becoming a bestselling author.”
How did Ian Fleming’s WWII experiences in naval intelligence inspire his James Bond novels?
“As I explain in the book, all the Bond stories are rooted in
WWII, and 007 often refers to the war,” Mr. Simmons said.
What primary intelligence operations was Ian Fleming directly or indirectly
“The list would be rather large, to say the least. Operation
Golden Eye, which involved keeping Spain neutral, was one of the main ones.
Another was the creation of the OSS in the United States, the forerunner of the
CIA, which he had a hand in.”
Ian Fleming assembled an
intelligence-gathering commando group known as the 30 Assault Unit. What major
successful operations did 30 AU accomplish?
“Two examples spring to mind among several, on Sicily they
captured Italian Air Force Ciphers which led directly to safer missions for RAF
bombers. And in northwest Europe, they captured German radar coding which led
to a virtual blackout of German radar for several weeks,” Mr. Simmons said.
Ian Fleming’s biographers state that he was a desk man rather
than a man of action like Bond. But as you note in your book, Mr. Fleming did serve in the field at various
times and did, in fact, face a measure of danger.
“Fleming’s trips to Spain, Portugal and North Africa were
probably the nearest he came to being a secret agent in the field,” Mr. Simmons said. “While certainly in France
in 1940, he came under fire during the retreat to Bordeaux and the evacuation
I noted that Commander Ian Fleming was aboard a British Navy
destroyer off the coast of Dieppe, France, in August of 1942 during “Operation
Jubilee,” the disastrous amphibious landing that involved his 30 AU commandos
in their first raid.
What aspects of Ian Fleming’s war can you most directly link
to his Bond novels?
“Probably “Casino Royale” is the most obvious, which directly
came out of Fleming’s time in Portugal and gambling at the Estoril Casino. “Moonraker”
was heavily influenced by operations with 30 AU against the V1 and V2 rocket
sites they came across as Europe was liberated from the Nazis,” Mr. Simmons said.
Did one person inspire James Bond, or did Mr. Fleming create Bond with several
commandos and intelligence officers in mind? Did he also infuse Bond with some
of his own personality, tastes and views?
“007 shared many of Fleming’s traits. As far as the influence of
other people is concerned, Fleming remained rather reticent on this
Are the James Bond novels and films relevant today?
“Ian Fleming’s Bond books are very much of their time, but still
remain very readable, a testament to his skill as a writer,” Mr. Simmons said. “As to the films, I am no
expert, and after Sean Connery stopped playing 007, I confess to losing
interest. Although I always felt George Lazenby did a pretty good job in ‘On
Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’”
Fans of the Bond films will enjoy this well-researched and
fascinating look back at Ian Fleming. I also suggest they read Ian
Fleming’s James Bond novels, which are darker and more complicated than the
• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction
You can also read my Counterterrorism magazine piece on Commander Ian Fleming wartime experiences via the below link: