Love and Let Die: Ian Fleming ‘The Complete Man’

Behind the shaken-not-stirred-martini-drinking James Bond, there was Ian Fleming, whose real life was marked by glamour and tragedy in equal measure.

Ian Fleming biography by Nicholas Shakespeare: Pico Iyer reviews at Air Mail: During his six years in naval intelligence, as Shakespeare informs us, (Ian) Fleming organized covert operations in Nazi-occupied Europe and North Africa and was one of fewer than 30 people with access to the decryptions generated at Bletchley Park; he claimed, quite plausibly, to have drafted the original charter of the Organization of Strategic Services in the U.S., which would become the C.I.A. And Camelot was so besotted with James Bond (even Jackie) that it appears that many of the C.I.A.’s wackiest plots, as well as J.F.K.’s Cuban policy, came straight from Fleming or his creation.

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, in 1963.

Yet even as the scrupulously reticent soul refused to talk much about his greatest achievements, he came to be known for dreaming up a rather empty smoothy who had in fact a far less distinguished career, especially when it came to intelligence, than his maker. Fleming’s curse, Shakespeare suggests, is that he always felt overshadowed: by his war-hero father, who died in combat; by his golden-boy elder brother Peter, who won fame through books describing daring adventures from Brazil to Tashkent; and even by his grandfather, who had risen from a slum in Dundee to a 110,000-acre estate.

At some level, he produced books he could look down upon—his “great annual cowpat” is how he referred to the winter frolic he sent every year to his publisher—so he wouldn’t have to risk looking serious.

It is, throughout, a melancholy tale. The man we associate with Aston Martins and martinis shaken, not stirred, lost his father when he was eight. His mother, in Shakespeare’s typically zesty characterization, was “imperious, melodramatic, entitled, and a narcissist.”

Photo by Danjaq/Eon/Ua/Kobal/Shutterstock (5886279c): Sean Connery, Ian Fleming Dr. No – 1962 Director: Terence Young Danjaq/EON/UA BRITAIN On/Off Set James Bond Action/Adventure Dr No / Doctor No James Bond

When Fleming finally married, at 43, his socialite wife, Ann, not only filled the house with intellectuals who mocked her husband but carried her flirtations far beyond the dining room. In 1956, even as the prime minister, Anthony Eden, was coming to recuperate from the Suez crisis in Fleming’s celebrated house on the beach in Jamaica, Goldeneye, Ann Fleming was in bed with the leader of the opposition, Hugh Gaitskill, in the Hôtel Beaujolais in Paris.

The final sorrow came when Fleming made Bond, and Bond, in a sense, made Fleming. Suddenly, the solitary man most at home on the golf course was receiving more attention than he knew what to do with. Many of his friends were convinced that Bond in some senses murdered Fleming, as everyone closely associated with 007 somehow ended up in litigation, Fleming twice. The author of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang died, at 56, on the 12th birthday of his only child, Caspar, and Caspar himself would take his own life 11 years later.

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