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Ian Fleming - from jute mills to dry martinis

03-May-2009 • Literary

It may not boast the opulent casinos of Monte Carlo or the palm trees of Jamaica, but 007's roots have been traced back to Dundee. Genealogists have examined Sir Ian Fleming's family history and discovered that his ancestors hailed from the City of Discovery, writes Marc Horne in The Scotsman.

While the Eton-educated author enjoyed a life of indulgence and international jet-setting, his great-grandfather eked out a living in a jute mill and lived in a cramped tenement.

Bond experts claim the bon viveur would have been surprised to learn of his humble Scottish roots, while Dundee City Council were keen to promote their ties to the late legendary novelist.

The research was carried out by Edinburgh family history firm Scottish Roots to mark the Year of Homecoming. It traced his relatives back to Dundee at a time when it was a grimy centre of Victorian heavy industry.

It stated: "John Fleming was something of an entrepreneur, having progressed from being an overseer of warpers in one of the jute mills for which Dundee was world-famous.

"A housekeeper was in residence at their home, but this perhaps paints too rosy a picture of their domestic circumstances, as the household lived in a two-roomed tenement apartment, sharing the address with 11 other families."

The research also shows that Sir Ian's great-grandfather later retired to his home parish of Kirkmichael in Perthshire, where he died aged 86 in 1858, while his ambitious son Robert remained in Dundee.

Genealogist Stuart Reid said: "By 1881, Robert Fleming became established in the comfortable middle-class villa known as Tighnavon in the city's West Newport and employed a housekeeper, a general servant and an errand boy.

"In keeping with his new status, he also recorded his father's occupation as having been tea merchant, when in fact he was a grocer in Dundee who doubtless also sold tea."

Robert, who founded the Scottish American Investment Trust as well as a merchant bank, was determined to cement his rise into the affluent middle classes by moving himself and his family away from the smoky and polluted city.

Reid said: "In present day terminology, Robert would be considered upwardly mobile, having moved across the River Tay to the more salubrious and affluent area of Newport.

"In the 19th century, Newport-on-Tay mushroomed from being a rural village to becoming a fashionable small town with an address desirable for those who made their money in the city but who preferred to live some distance from the dirt and grime of the industrial era.

"Robert's son Valentine became a successful banker and ultimately took his wife to live in London."

It was there, in affluent Mayfair in 1908, where Ian Lancaster Fleming was born, by which time his father had become a Conservative MP.

The family history expert said the writer's Tayside origins have been largely overlooked.

He said: "In many biographies of Ian Fleming the emphasis is on his wartime service and subsequent career as an author. Less well known are his Scottish connections, which may have indirectly led to James Bond being blessed with a Scottish background.

"It is not impossible that there are still Fleming descendants in Dundee today."

Fleming spent many years in his luxurious Jamaican retreat Goldeneye, but it appears that one of his ancestors made it to the Caribbean first. Reid said: "A gravestone in Kirkmichael, which commemorates another branch of the family, records the death of Thomas Fleming, who died in Demerara in 1819, so Ian was not the first Fleming to settle in the West Indies."

Ian Fleming was educated at Eton and Sandhurst before being recruited by naval intelligence on the eve of the Second World War.

He conceived an extraordinary plan to use the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley, who lived near Loch Ness, to trick Rudolf Hess into contacting a bogus anti-Churchill group, but it was halted when the high-ranking Nazi parachuted into Scotland in 1941.

After the war, he used his intelligence experience to pen the James Bond series, which became an instant success. He died in 1964.

Dundee City Council is keen to claim the title of the ancestral birthplace of James Bond.

A spokesman said: "We are more stirred than shaken by this news."

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