Welcome to MI6 Headquarters

This is the world's most visited unofficial James Bond 007 website with daily updates, news & analysis of all things 007 and an extensive encyclopaedia. Tap into Ian Fleming's spy from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig with our expert online coverage and a rich, colour print magazine dedicated to spies.

Learn More About MI6 & James Bond →

007 Chronicles (12-08-64)

12th August 2013

'Sorry to trouble you.' On this day in 1964, Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond 007, died from a heart attack

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
Share The Story

Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond 007, was struck by a heart attack whilst vacationing at Sandwich with his wife and 12 year-old son on August 12th, 1964. In the ambulance speeding him to Canterbury, where he died three hours after arrival, he managed one last civilized Bond-like gesture, "I'm sorry to have troubled you chaps," he told attendants.

Below are obituaries published the following day by two of the world's foremost newspapers: The Times of London and The New York Times.

The Times
Mr Ian Fleming, whose death at the age of 56 is announced on another page, was one of the most successful and controversial thriller writers in recent years.

Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in 1903, son of Major Valentine Fleming, MP, DSO. He was educated at Eton and Sandhurst, and then at Munich and Geneva universities. In 1929, having failed to secure a place in the Diplomatic Service, he joined Reuter's at a time when the international wire services were struggling for supremacy. 'Reuter's was great from in those days,' Fleming said afterwards, 'a very good mill. The training there gives you a good straightforward style. Above all, I have to thank Reuter's for getting my facts right.'

He covered the trial of the Vickers engineers in Moscow in 1933, and was offered the job of Reuter's assistant general manager in the Far East. He decided instead to seek his fortune in the City, an attempt which continued, without much success, first as a banker, then as a stockbroker, until he joined the Navy in 1939. As personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, he found the war 'intensely exciting'. When it was over, Lord Kemsley offered him the foreign managership of Kemsley )now Thomson) newspapers. Fleming accepted on condition that he could have two months' holiday a year to spend at his house, Goldeneye, in Jamaica, where he subsequently did most of his writing.

If his war experiences and his post-war job provided the background for his thrillers, Fleming maintained that it was his marriage to Anne Viscountess Rothermere in 1952 which spurred him to start writing. 'I was in the process of getting married,' he said, 'which is a very painful thing to do at the age of 44; so to take me mind off the whole business, I sat down and wrote a novel.' The noel was a spy story, Casino Royale (1953), remotely derived from a real case in the history of Soviet espionage activities in France: it introduced the handsome, ruthless British agent, James Bond ('007 - licensed to kill'), and the various elements - a gambling scene, a torture scene, physical luxury and knowingness about the world's ways - which were to become the hallmarks of Fleming's style. It was well received and he soon followed it with other James Bond adventures, Live And Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), and Diamonds Are Forever (1956).

Soaring Popularity
His popularity soared: his books became fashionable and the roused fierce opposition. He was accused of trading sex, snobbery and sadism. Fleming replied by explaining his own attitude to James Bond: 'I wanted to show a hero without any characteristics, who was simply the blunt instrument in the hands of the government. Then he started eating a number of meals and dressing in a certain way so that he became encrusted with characteristics much against my will... apart from the fact that he wears the same clothes that I wear, he and I really have very little in common. I do rather envy him his blondes and his efficiency, but I can't say I much like the chap.'

In 159 Fleming left regular newspaper work to devote himself to his books and the management of what had become a very valuable literary property. By now there was already a slight flagging in his style, a tendency to repeat his effects. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) he tried the bizarre experiment of telling a James Bond story through the eyes of the heroine. He knew it was a failure, and the next book, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), reverted to normal: but, like Holmes after the Reichenbach Falls, Bond never seemed quite the same man again. You Only Live Twice (1964) provoked discussion, not because it was shocking, but because it was not: two-thirds of it was mere travel writing about Japan. Fleming was finding the process of invention increasingly difficult.

The snowball of success, however, continued quite unchecked. Each book headed the bestseller list for weeks. Paperback editions proliferated: James Bond was imitated and parodied. President Kennedy and Mr Allen Dulles were numbered among his admirers. The fame and profitability of the books were spectacularly enhanced by a triumphant film debut. With Mr Sean Connery as Bond, Dr. No maintained a delicate balance, hovering on the edge of farce; its successor, From Russia With Love, was outstandingly successful; a third, Goldfinger, will be released shortly.

In March of this year, Fleming struck a unique and ingenious bargain, under which he sold 51 per cent of all his future royalties, excluding film rights, to Booker Brothers, the sugar and investment company, for £100,000.

Fleming had completed, and was revising, a new novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, set in the West Indies, and there are several James Bond short stories which have not yet been published in book form. He had one son.

The New York Times
Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, Agent 007 of the British Secret Service, died early today in a hospital at Canterbury after suffering a heart attack. He was 56 years old. Mr. Fleming was stricken last night at his hotel in Sandwich, where he was spending a golfing vacation with his wife, Anne Geraldine Fleming, and their son, Caspar, who became 12 years old today.

The novelist suffered a coronary thrombosis three years ago. It forced him to curtail his activities and reduce his daily quota of gold-tipped cigarettes, which Bond smoked incessantly, from 60 to 20.

Captured Public Eye
In a little more than a decade James Bond became the world's best known secret agent. Countless readers avidly followed his undercover war against Soviet master spies and terrorists and later against a mysterious international crime syndicate.

Mr. Fleming equipped his hero with an impeccable social background, good looks, bravery, toughness and a disillusioned sort of patriotism. More important, the double-O identification number carried by only three men in the British Secret Service, authorized him to kill in the line of duty. It was a privilege Bond exercised frequently and sometimes reluctantly, most often with a .25-caliber Beretta automatic that he carried in a chamois shoulder holster.

President Kennedy and Allen Dulles, while he was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, said that they enjoyed Mr. Fleming's books, in fact, it was probably the President's praise in 1961 that was largely responsible for their enormous popularity here. In Britain, Prince Philip led the cheering section.

Mr. Fleming wrote 12 books, all but two about Bond, and was working on the 13th when he died. All told, they sold more than 18 million copies, mostly in paperback editions, and were translated into 10 languages. Two highly profitable films, "Doctor No" and "From Russia With Love," were made from his novels, a third, " Goldfinger," was recently completed and is awaiting release and others are planned.

Mr. Fleming had made $2.8 million from his books, according to his agent, Peter Janson-Smith. In March, in a complex transaction for tax purposes, he sold a 51 per cent interest in his future income to a British holding company for $280,000.

Critics on Both Sides
Critics differed on the merits of his works. Some said he was an aristocratic Mickey Spillane, pandering to the public's taste for sadism and sex. A critic in London's New Statesman called "Doctor No," which tells of how Bond destroyed a missile-sabotage center in the Caribbean, "the nastiest book" he had ever read.

"There are three basic ingredients in 'Doctor No,'" he said, "all unhealthy, all thoroughly English; the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude snob-cravings of a suburban adult. Mr. Fleming has no literary skill. But the three ingredients are manufactured and blended with deliberate, professional precision."

On the other hand, the contemporary novelist Kingsley Amis, in a 40,000-word study, described Bond as tender rather than sadistic, classless rather than snobbish and a moderate Tory rather than a Fascist.

On the whole, American critics did not take Mr. Fleming quite so seriously, regarding his books as thrillers that had tended to become less thrilling in recent years. Mr. Fleming said he thought of them as entertainment of no special significance. He attributed their popularity to a hunger for larger-than-life heroes that was left unsatisfied by most contemporary fiction.

At the same time Bond's adventures slaked a public thirst for information about espionage that had been whetted by such events as the trial of Dr. Klaus Fuchs, the Burgess-McLean case, the U-2 incident and the growing awareness of the work of the C.I.A.

The first of the novels, "Casino Royale," published in London without fanfare in 1953, described Bond's destruction of Le Chiffre, the head of the French branch of Smersh, the Soviet espionage and terror ring, Bond's nearly fatal torture and his discovery that the woman he had fallen in love with was a Soviet agent.

Mr. Fleming later said he wrote the book because he needed to keep his mind off his impending marriage, marking the end of his bachelor days. "Writing about 2,000 words in three hours every morning," he said, "'Casino Royale' dutifully produced itself. I wrote nothing and made no corrections until the book was finished. If I had looked back at what I had written the day before I might have despaired."

Hewed to the Contemporary
Other novels followed rapidly. In "Goldfinger" Bond foils a plot to rob Fort Knox; in "Moonraker" he prevents the firing of a missile into the heart of London; in "Live and Let Die" he destroys Smersh's chief agent in the United States, a Negro dabbler in voodoo and racketeering known as Mr. Big.

In "From Russia With Love," Bond escapes from Smersh's plot to destroy him but appears to be dying of poison as the book ends. Concern over his fate mounted among the public. His publishers finally stated, " After a period of anxiety the condition of No. 007 shows definite improvement."

Mr. Fleming liked to point out that Smersh, although often thought to be a fictional organization, existed as a Soviet counterespionage organization during and after World War II. Its name is the combined form of the Russian words "smyert spionam," meaning death to spies. When Smersh was disbanded, Mr. Fleming set up SPECTRE, as Bond's opponent. It was unquestionably fictional, the word being formed from the initials of Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence Terror, Revenge and Extortion.

Under the leadership of Ernest Stavro Blofeld, whose career began as a double or triple agent in prewar Warsaw, SPECTRE has enlisted the services of former Gestapo agents, disenchanted Smersh operatives, members of the Mafia, the Red Lightning Tong and other master criminals.

In "Thunderball" Bond balks the organization's plot to extort millions of dollars from the United States with a stolen nuclear bomb. He continues his pursuit of Blofeld in "On His Majesty's Secret Service" and appears to have destroyed him in his most recent adventure, "You Only Live Twice," both of which were serialized in the magazine Playboy.

Mr. Fleming was often accused of making Bond a thinly disguised projection of himself. In their love of fast cars, golf, gambling and gourmet cooking, in their skill with firearms and cards, the two men were indeed similar, but Mr. Fleming once said, "Apart from the fact that he wears the same clothes that I wear, he and I really have little in common. I do rather envy him his blondes and his efficiency, but I can't say I much like the chap."

Mr. Fleming said he had conceived Bond as "a hero without any characteristics who was simply the blunt instrument in the hands of his government." However, as with most authors, Fleming's experiences largely shaped those of his creation.

Father in Parliament
Mr. Fleming was born on May 28, 1908. His father, Major Valentine Fleming, at one time a Conservative member of Parliament, was killed while fighting on the Somme in 1916. His obituary in The Times of London was written by Winston Churchill.

The boy was educated at Eton, Britain's most exclusive school, and Sandhurst, the military academy. While there he was a member of the rifle team and competed in a match against the United States Military Academy. He earned a commission, but resigned before beginning active service in the largely inactive British Army of the 1920's. He also said later that he regarded tanks and trucks as a step downward from horses and sabers.

Planning to enter the diplomatic service, he learned excellent French and German at the Universities of Munich and Geneva. He stood seventh on the service's entrance examinations, but since there were only five vacancies he decided to try journalism.

Worked for Reuters
He joined Reuters, the international news agency, and in 1929 was appointed its Moscow correspondent. "Reuters was great fun in those days," he said. " The training there gives you a good straightforward style. Above all, I have to thank Reuters for getting my facts right."

There was a difference of opinion about this among Bond fans. They delighted in finding errors in the novels, such as the sending of a woman gang leader to Sing Sing, a men's prison. After four years he was offered the post of assistant general manager of Reuters in the Far East, but feeling the need for money, he decided to join a private bank in London. In 1935 he became a stockbroker and remained one until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Mr. Fleming was commissioned in the Royal Navy and became in time personal assistant to Rear Admiral J.H. Godfrey, director of naval intelligence. The admiral was the prototype of "M," the retired seadog who heads Bond's secret service. More important, it was Mr. Fleming's wartime service, from which he emerged as a commander, that provided the insights into the technique and practice of intelligence work that his readers found enthralling.

After the war, he became foreign manager of The Sunday Times of London. His contract provided for two months of vacation a year, which he spent at Goldeneye, his home near Oracabessa in Jamaica. Mr. Fleming did most of his writing there and the island provided the background for many of his novels. Like Bond, Mr. Fleming was tall (6-foot-1) and slender (168 pounds). His curly hair was graying, his complexion was ruddy and his nose had been broken.

The novelist was a collector of first editions and rare books and published The Book Collector, the bibliophilic magazine. Besides his widow, whose marriage to Viscount Rothermere ended in divorce in 1952, and his son, Mr. Fleming is survived by two brothers, Peter, the explorer and writer, and Richard, a banker.

Share The Story

MI6 Confidential Magazine

Open in a new window/tab