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James Bond: Inspired by Ian Fleming’s Experiences as an Intelligence Officer During World War II

Updated on January 18, 2018
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming

During the Second World War, Ian Fleming was a naval intelligence officer involved in the planning and oversight of British intelligence units. Many people believe it was the time he spent working as an intelligence officer that influenced his James Bond novels. In his books, “M” is James Bond's boss. There are those who knew Fleming during his service as an intelligence officer and believe this character is based on British navy Admiral Godfrey. How much of Fleming's experience was used in his James Bond spy novels will never be known. The British government made Fleming swear to secrecy concerning his work during the war.


Early Years

On May 28, 1908, Ian Fleming was born in London, England. His mother's name was Evelyn St. Croix Rose. His father's name was Valentine Fleming, and he served as a member of Parliament. Ian Fleming was the grandson of Robert Fleming who started an international merchant bank known as American Investment Trust. Fleming's father became a soldier during World War I and was killed. It happened in 1917 on the Western Front when Valentine Fleming’s unit was shelled by the German Army.


Education

Fleming went to Durnford School in 1914 and did not like the time he spent there. The food was awful, and the school had students experience various physical challenges. Fleming was also severely bullied at the school. He then attended Eton College in 1921. Fleming was only average academically but was very successful with athletics. The top athlete in the school was given the title of Victor Ludorum. Fleming held this title for two years. It was a time when Fleming was an editor for the school's magazine. His independent style and relaxed attitude caused conflict with the school’s housemaster. It was Fleming’s easy-going manner, hair oil as well as having a car and being popular with women the housemaster disliked so much. Fleming left the school a term early so he could work on gaining entry into the Royal Military College. Fleming was accepted there and left without earning a commission due to medical issues. He was then sent to a school in Austria to prepare for entry into the Foreign Office. The school was run by a former British spy, and his wife was a novelist. After leaving this school, he attended Munich University. Fleming finished there and then became a student at the University of Geneva.


Early Career

Fleming applied for a job with the British Foreign Office. He failed the examination and was denied employment. Fleming's mother spoke with the head of the Reuters News Agency in 1931. After this, Fleming was given a job working as an editor and journalist. In 1933, Fleming was in Russia reporting on a show trial of engineers from a British company. During this time, Fleming attempted to get an interview with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. He was surprised to get a note personally signed by Stalin apologizing for not being able to meet with him. There was family pressure on Fleming to work in the banking industry. In 1933, Fleming worked for Cull & Co. financiers. In 1935, he worked for Rowe and Pitman as a stockbroker. Fleming did not like the work and was a disappointment in both jobs.


Ian Fleming as British Intelligence Officer
Ian Fleming as British Intelligence Officer

British Naval Intelligence

John Godfrey was a British Rear Admiral who was the Director of Naval Intelligence. In 1939. He recruited Ian Fleming to be his personal assistant. During this time, Fleming was given the codename “17F.” Since he held this job, Fleming was given a commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a lieutenant. A few months after earning this rank, Fleming was promoted to commander. Fleming had no real qualifications for the job, but worked hard and was considered an extremely important personal assistant to Godfrey. Fleming was known for his excellent administrative abilities. Godfrey had a reputation for being confrontational, and this earned him several influential enemies within the government.


Intelligence Division Geographical Handbook Series

Soon after the start of World War II, Rear Admiral Godfrey distributed a memorandum many people believe may have been written by Fleming. It was known as the Trout Memo. It covered a variety of ideas that could be used to get German U-boats and other Axis power ships to sail into hidden underwater minefields. A professor of Geography at Oxford University was contacted by Rear Admiral Godfrey and Fleming to provide information about the geographical locations of countries participating in military operations. The information they collected was used to create the Naval Intelligence Division Geographical Handbook Series used during World War II.


Operation Ruthless

Fleming and Rear Admiral Godfrey devised a plan to obtain details of the codes used by Nazi Germany's navy known as the Enigma codes. Fleming and Godfrey released their memorandum detailing their plans in 1940. The goal was to get control of a German bomber. The aircraft would then be flown with a crew of English people who spoke German and had on Luftwaffe uniforms. The plane would then be intentionally crashed into the English Channel. When Germans tried to rescue it, the crew on the plane would attack the German rescuers and get their Enigma machine. It would then be taken back to England. The operation was never given the authorization to take place.


Commando Unit

Fleming formed a unit of commandos in 1942. Members of the unit were trained in unarmed combat. They also were trained to be experts in lock-picking as well as safe-cracking and more. It was known as 30 Assault Unit. Its members were specialist intelligence troops. The unit's goal was to be in front of advancing allied troops and get enemy documents from their headquarters. Fleming was not with the unit when they did their work. He would select targets and direct the operations. Fleming would make certain the commandos always got what they needed to do their job. The commando unit had many successes and became a valuable part of British naval intelligence.


Ian Fleming looking at copy of Casino Royale
Ian Fleming looking at copy of Casino Royale

Casino Royale

While working as an intelligence officer during World War II, Fleming mentioned to those around him he was interested in writing a spy novel. During the 1950s, Fleming wrote his first novel of the James Bond series called Casino Royale. Fleming permitted his friend Bill Plomer to read a copy of the manuscript during its finals stages. Plomer sent a copy of it to Jonathan Cape book publishing. The company was not excited after reading the book. Fleming's brother was published with the company and was able to convince them to publish Casino Royale. The first of the Bond novels, Casino Royale, was released on April 13, 1953, in Britain as a hardcover. The design of the book's cover was done by Fleming. It was a huge success and demand for it exceeded all expectations. Three print runs were required to keep up with the numbers of people purchasing it.


Ian Fleming and Sean Connery
Ian Fleming and Sean Connery

Writing Career

Casino Royale was the first of Fleming's twelve subsequent James Bond novels. He also wrote a number of short stories involving James Bond. The first movie featuring James Bond was released in 1962. The name of the film was Dr. No, and Sean Connery played the role of James Bond. Cubby Broccoli was able to produce several movies featuring the James Bond character. They became one of the most popular and longest-running movie series in film history.


Ian Fleming gravestone
Ian Fleming gravestone

Death

Ian Fleming was known for drinking to excess as well as being a heavy smoker during his life. This behavior caused him to experience significant heart disease. He experienced his first heart attack in 1961 and had a difficult time recovering from it. In 1964, Fleming was dining with some friends when he collapsed from a heart attack. Ian Fleming died on August 12, 1964. Two of Fleming’s books were published after his death. They were Octopussy and Man with the Golden Gun.


Legacy

Ian Fleming created the James Bond character who continues to play a major role in pop culture. Legendary actors including Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and others have played James Bond. Current and future generations will continue to enjoy the characters and stories involving pretty girls, amazing gadgets as well as guns of all types. Stories created in the mind of Ian Fleming


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      6 days ago

      You're welcome.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

      Readmikenow 

      7 days ago

      Good story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 days ago

      Yes, it is. In an interview Popov was asked if he was ever scared. Popov said, "Only once. I started being scared when I got in and I stopped being scared when I got out."

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

      Readmikenow 

      8 days ago

      Mr. Sacchi, thanks for reading the article and sharing that information. Sounds fascinating.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      8 days ago

      I enjoyed this Ian Fleming bio. One of his inspirations for the James Bond character was Dušan "Duško" Popov. Popov was very valuable to British Intelligence. He could have been invaluable to the U.S. but the FBI never trusted him and got tired of the FBI's ineptitude.

      In 1954 the anthology series Climax! had an episode Casino Royale, Barry Nelson played James Bond.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

      Readmikenow 

      8 months ago

      Madan thanks. I'm sure there will still be James Bond movies long after I depart this world. He's that popular.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 

      8 months ago from Abu Dhabi

      James Bond is one of my favourite characters aĺong with Sherlock Holmes. You have done a great job in telling us about the author Ian Fleming and the character he created. The only flaw is that Britain is a fifth rate military power ńow and James Bond looks an oddity.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

      Readmikenow 

      9 months ago

      Alan, thanks. I know I only touched the surface of Ian Fleming. There is so much more he did and was involved with.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      9 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello Mike, pushed the boat out at the New Year? I tripped on a half-buried stone walking onto Wanstead Flatts in the dark with the wife (to watch the fireworks all around from Redbridge via Newham to Waltham Forest and round back to Redbridge... Fell on me wallet, didn't half hurt!

      Anyway, couple of things you might like to add here:

      1. Fleming was in a destroyer off the French coast at Dieppe for 'Operation jubilee' whilst 30 Commando went into Dieppe Harbour under cover of the general raid. Their brief was to secure German Enigma codes, documents and encrypting device from Kriegsmarine HQ. The whole 'show' as they put it back then was a fracas, a failure and Fleming didn't get what he sent in the commandos for, but was exonerated not long after with the securing of all three from a U-Boat in the Med by three RN personnel, two of whom lost their lives when the scuppered sub went down.

      2. George Lazenby's ill-fated spell as James Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" with Diana Rigg, set in the Swiss Alps (I think, they all look the same, 'wedding-cake icing' resorts).

      There's more online about 'Jubilee' than there is in my 'Chronicle of the Second World war' - very sketchy. One our 'glorious failures' we revel in, like Dunkirk (difference is thousands were brought back from France in 'Operation Dynamo' and hundreds were taken prisoner in 'Jubilee'. Lack of foresight and accurate planning nearly cost Mountbatten his job in Combined Ops. Fleming's role was overlooked.

      Just as well he started his writing career, as an Intelligence officer he left a lot to be desired. The booze and ciggies got him.

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