Title:                      Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence

Author:                 Nigel West

West, Nigel (2009). Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence: Fact and Fiction. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press

LCCN:    2009011491

PR6056.L4 Z89 2009


Date Updated:  April 23, 2015

In 2013 I did a tour in Britain of Ian Fleming key locations, including one of the houses in which he lived and one of the pubs in which he did a lot of writing. The tour was led by Nigel West, and he has always seemed on point and tenacious for accuracy in his writing. I have listed many of his books in my Intelligence Blog.

The Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence includes hundreds of dictionary entries on actual cases of espionage, real-life spies, MI5, SIS, CIA, and KGB, as well as on the short stories and novels that define one of the most extraordinary fictional characters of all time.

Twelve novels and nine short stories define one of the most extraordinary fictional characters of all time, creating the basis for the most successful movie series in cinematographic history, watched by more than half the world’s population. The single person probably more responsible than any other for glamorizing the murky world of espionage is Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, who himself lived a remarkable double life of spy and writer. Everyone has an opinion on why 007 became so successful, but one possible explanation is the ingenious formula of fact, fiction, and sheer fantasy. Certainly the author drew on friends and places he knew well to provide the backdrop for his drama, but what proportion of his output is authentic, and what comes directly from the author’s imagination?

These questions and more are examined in the Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. This is done through a chronology, an introduction, a bibliography, and hundreds of cross-referenced dictionary entries on actual cases of espionage, real-life spies, MI5, SIS, CIA, KGB, and others. It also contains entries on Ian Fleming’s novels and short stories, family and friends, his employers and colleagues, and other notable characters.

Nigel West is currently the European Editor of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence and teaches the history of postwar intelligence at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in Alexandria, VA. He is the author of many books, including the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, Historical Dictionary of International Intelligence, Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence, and Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage. In October 2003 he was awarded the U.S. Association of Former Intelligence Officers’ first Lifetime Literature Achievement Award.

Nigel West examines the fascinating double life of spy and writer Ian Fleming, who will forever be known for creating James Bond, one of the most intriguing fictional spies in modern history—as well as the most lucrative; the Bond movies have been seen by more than half of the world’s population. The volume consists of a chronology, an introduction, a bibliography, and hundreds of cross-referenced entries on actual cases of espionage and real-life spies, along with entries on Fleming’s novels, his family and friends, his employers and colleagues, and other notable characters from his work.

A few readers note that there are mistakes in the book, notably the year of death of Hugh Gaitskell (actually January 18, 1963).

Words from Roy Berkeley about Ian Fleming[1]

In London, near Buckingham Palace and Lower Grosvenor Place is Victoria Square. Just before the tiny paved square is Victoria Square. From 1953 until 1964, when he died at age 56, Ian Fleming lived here with his wife Anne and their young son Caspar. The first of the Bond books, Casino Royale[2], was published a month after the move here from Carlyle Mansions. The last of Fleming’s Bond books, The Man with the Golden Gun, was published after his death. More than 20 million of his books sold during this time.

But, throughout these years, Fleming was often depressed, chasing an elusive happiness. Anne was witty and charmingly outrageous but essentially unsupportive (‘those dreadful Bond books,’ she called them). In this house she gave frequent dinner parties for people with possibly more literary pretensions, and certainly more literary achievements, than Fleming. He often spent those evenings hiding out at his club. ‘The marriage survived one of its rockier moments,’ Henry A. Zieger tells us in Ian Fleming: The Spy Who Came in with the Gold, ‘when Fleming came home one night to find Cyril Connolly reading page proofs of the first Bond book aloud to the assembled multitude with heavily theatrical emphasis which the guests evidently found amusing.’ Fleming’s friend Malcolm Muggeridge would occasionally be included in Anne’s gatherings and, finding them as distasteful as Fleming did, would retreat with him to what Muggeridge calls ‘a sort of private apartment at the top of the house’ where Fleming kept his ‘masculine bric-a-brac.’ Here the two would exchange Fleet Street gossip and sip highballs, writes Muggeridge, ‘like climbers taking a breather above a mountain torrent whose roar could still faintly be heard in the ravine below.’

Fleming’s was a flawed personality. Reviewers have noted the strong connection, in his books, between sex and cruelty. His attitude may have been formed at Eton; the British public school atmosphere is said to consist equally of sadism, snobbery and sodomy. For all that, Fleming seems to have grown up enthusiastically heterosexual—not always the case among fellow alumni. (He attended Sandhurst too, graduating from neither institution, although encouraging people to believe otherwise.)

Very ambitious, he was fortunately very skilled at self-promotion. He made a special effort to get into President Kennedy’s good graces and the Bond books only sold well in America after Kennedy included one in a list of books he had enjoyed. Kennedy would obviously have relished these books. Like his father he was a great admirer of arrogant phallicism. Unlike his father he was a great Anglophile.

Fleming was an extraordinary story-teller, his talent more than compensating for his ignorance on many subjects. Whenever he discussed a subject I knew anything about, he was either partially or totally wrong. Like most British writers he was abysmally ignorant about firearms (undoubtedly a consequence of Britain’s restrictive laws on firearms). He was also wildly ignorant about American speech. And I’ve been told by people close to British intelligence operations that he was no more accurate in that area. One can only admire the self-confidence that enabled Fleming to write so blithely those compellingly well-written stories that are no less compelling for being chock-full of howlers. My favourite of his short stories is ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (which has nothing to do with the film of the same name), probably because it is set in Vermont and because Bond uses a Savage 99, for years my primary deer-hunting rifle. Fleming acquired his knowledge of Vermont by visiting the Vermont home pf his friend Ivar Bryce a few miles from my own home. But Fleming knew nothing about Vermont in the late autumn, just before deer season, and seems never to have fired ( or even loaded) a Savage 99.

Fleming was driven by complicated love-hate feelings towards America. Undeniably, he felt uneasy about America’s wealth and power. In From Russia with Love[3], he has the Russians say that America’s bloated intelligence effort is ineffectual while Britain’s low-profile service is as successful as it is small—surely a distorted picture of both services. (In 1992 a former head of KGB intelligence listed the top Western intelligence services and didn’t even mention MI6. Customary disinformation? Or rare candour?)

[1] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 37-39

[2] Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

[3] Fleming, Ian (1957, 1981). From Russia with Love. Geneva : Edito-Service


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