MI6 looks back to October 1966 with America Life Magazine, and what John Pearson had to say about Ian Fleming.

Life Magazine - "Alias James Bond" - The Real Story of Ian Fleming by John Pearson
25th April 2006

With the release of the fourth James Bond adventure on the silver screen, the spy hype was at an all time high and the James Bond producers and creators were under constant media scrutiny. In October 1966, Life magazine published "The real story of Ian Fleming", an in-depth look at the life of the James Bond creator. Today, MI6 re-discovers what his friends and associates had to say about Mr. Ian Fleming, in the height of the James Bond phenomenon.

Ian Lancaster Fleming, the second of four siblings, was brought up in a stately Oxfordshire country home. It was clear from an early age that Ian was to be "the difficult one". Growing up he soon found and voiced his real dislikes: horses, dogs, and family gatherings to name a few. It was clear he had no ear for music, or interest in politics and his brother, Peter Fleming, commented that Ian had "no feeling for land." It was in 1914 that his father was sent to war, leaving his mother, Evelyn St. Croix Fleming, to bring her four boys up alone. The next year, their mother sent the two oldest, Peter and Ian, to Durnford School on the isle of Purbeck.


While at school, Ian received regular postcards from his father, stationed in France. In April of 1917, the final post card arrived and on the 20th of May, Major Valentine Fleming was killed in action.

"When he wrote The Times' obituary in You Only Live Twice for 'Commander James Bond,' Ian Fleming recorded that Bond's career at Eton was 'brief and undistinguished.' Fleming's was neither."

When Fleming turned 13, he was accepted to Eton. With strikingly good looks and tall for his age, Fleming developed mannerisms that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Brother Peter was already attending Eton and Ian immediately felt out-classed and shown-up by his elder brother. However, Ian dealt with this in his own way - he never strived to be top-of-the-class or strongly academic but he simply behaved as his slightly eccentric self.

"Rupert Hard-Davis, the publisher, remembers him as 'something of a swell, walking down late for breakfast of buttered eggs.'"

At his time at Eton, Fleming preferred to keep to himself but when he did enter into discussion, acquaintances remarked on his unique wit and turn of phrase. However, Ian's mother often received reports of his poor work ethic and eventually agreed that Ian should leave Eton to pursue a career in the military.

Fleming was sent to a Sandhurst school to prepare for the military entrance examination. He passed 6th in the country. Before entering the academy, Ian went abroad to Austria for further study at a private school. The school was run by Ernan Forbes Dennis, who encouraged Ian to participate in outdoor activities such as swimming, skiing and mountaineering. When Fleming returned to Sandhurst, he immediately realised he wasn't suited to the military and he made no secret about it.

Above: Front pull out cover of Life Magazine - Issue October 7 - 1966 : Volume 61 Nuumber 15

"It was after a 'horrible experience in the Cavalry school at Sandhurst' that Fleming said how profoundly he 'agreed with whoever said that horses are dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle.'"

When, inevitably, the life of a cadet didn't work out for Ian, he returned to Ernan Forbes Dennis in Austria for study of topics of his choice. Fleming found an interest in social history, anthropology and history of science and technology and it was soon after returning to the school that Phyllis Bottome, the wife of Forbes Dennis, encouraged Fleming to pen his first short story - "Death on Two Occasions".

"Years later … he referred to those early days as 'the golden time when the sun always shone.' He loved the Tyrol, the skiing, the climbing, the freedom. And the girls."

1930 came and went and it was time for Ian to leave Austria and make it on his own. He returned to his mother, and with her help found a job at Reuters press agency. For a year he worked on in-office tasks, but in 1933 Fleming was lucky enough to be asked to report on the trial of six British engineers, taking place in Moscow. On location, Fleming used his creative flare with words to write his stories…

"He began a fill in story with the knowledgeable line, 'When the big hands of Moscow's 300 electric clock reach the hour of six…' 'How do you know there are 300?' asked another reporter. 'How do you know there aren't?' said Fleming."

Ian impressed the officials at Reuters and was offered further work reporting form Shanghai. But that August his grandfather passed away, and to Ian's shock, he did not stand to inherit any of his estate, valued at over $12 million.

This revelation prompted Fleming to leave Reuters and set up business for himself, as a merchant banker. Together with some friends, Fleming began a club he entitled the "Circle". They had regular bridge nights and trips to the golf club.

"Fleming took too many risks to be a reliable bridge player… [A friend] remembers Fleming trying to construct a complicated hand which was later to figure in the bridge battle in Moonraker."


Above: Ian Fleming died on 12th August 1964, at the Royal St. George's Sandwich golf course in Kent, suffering a heart attack.

After one failed engagement Fleming promised to treat all woman with ruthlessness and associates recall many short affairs. Fleming was never shy about the topic of sex, and frequently suggested so to women at parties he'd barely known for half an hour. If such advances were rejected Ian never let it bother him. This was the same with jealousy…

"I told him once I had spent the night with a marvelous man and had had breakfast with him afterwards. All Ian bothered to ask me was exactly what type of jam the man gave me with my toast"

Fleming returned to Moscow, in the spring of 1939. Officially he would be reporting for The Times, unofficially he was reporting to the Foreign Office. With war looming and his Moscow task a success, Fleming was asked to meet with Rear Admiral John Godfrey. Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence, was after a sectary. Ian impressed the Admiral with his charm and spirit of adventure, but also his unspoken air of authority.

"Within a month," says Godfrey, "he had a better all-round picture of the N.I.D. [Naval Intelligence Division] and its place in the Admiralty than most of the people who had been there for years"

Quickly Fleming received the promotion of Lieutenant Commander and shortly after, the full rank of Commander. Many remarked on the enthusiasm Fleming held for his job. Along with his industrious and business like side, was the dreamer and longing for adventure.

"A lot of Fleming's ideas," says Admiral Denning, "were just plain crazy… But a lot of them had just that glimmer of possibility in them…"


Fleming's longing for adventure was fulfilled when he suggested that the Admiralty send him to ensure the surrender of Jean Fancois Darlin, a French Admiral. To his surprise, Ian's proposal was accepted and he was winged off.

However, Darlin stubbornly refused to surrender to Fleming, and when the Germans bombed the Admiral's chateau, Darlin and his men escaped.Fleming was ordered to let the Darlin go, and to assist with the evacuation of the British citizens, within the bombed area.

In 1941, Fleming, Godfrey and other associates including Mr. Bill Stephenson, made a diplomatic trip to America.

In the novel, Casino Royale, Fleming describes 007's first kill, a Japanese cipher clerk in New York. This is an inflated account of one of Fleming's own experiences where he and a fellow agent staying in NYC, broke in and "borrowed" the cipher's codes.

"To Stephenson it was a straightforward operation, to Fleming it was a gleeful adventure."

After his time in the US, Fleming joined his companion Bill Stephenson in Canada, where he set up a school for sabotage and subversion. Fleming spent several days there as a trainee, picking up many of the techniques he would later pass on to his Agent 007.

Ian excelled at the swimming task, where each trainee swam to an anchored freighter, planted a "mine" and returned to safety before the "explosion". Again, this talent was passed on to James Bond and used in Live and Let Die. The final task was an assassination. One of the instructors checked into a cheap motel and each trainee was given the location and room number. The whole escapade was set up to be as real as possible. When it became Fleming's turn…

"He got as far as the landing, and there he waited for a long time. Then he went away. He apologized about it. 'You know,' he said, 'I just couldn't open that door. I couldn't kill a man that way.'"

In 1942 Godfrey vacated the position of Director of Naval Intelligence and, to his successor, Commander Fleming was just a P.A. - no longer an adviser or right-hand-man. Fleming put up a fight to hold his position and his tasks. It was on the occasion that Commodore E.G.N. Rushbrooke, the new Director of Naval Intelligence, sent him to liaise with the 30th AU Division, in the field, that Ian Fleming was asked about his post-war plans. He replied with…

"Why, write the spy story to end all spy stories."

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Thanks to Paul, Life Magazine; Alias James Bond The Real Story of Ian Fleming by John Pearson and R.R & C author (LTD); Issue October 7 - 1966 : Volume 61 Nuumber 15