Title:                      The Life of Ian Fleming

Author:                 John Pearson

Pearson, John (1966). The Life of Ian Fleming. New York, McGraw-Hill

LCCN:    66028297

PR6056.L4 Z82 1966b

Date Updated:  October 9, 2015


The creator of James Bond cut an extraordinarily dashing figure for most of his adult life, until he was bagged in marriage at forty-four and mended some of his more ruthless ways with women. With the added figure of .007 stalking these pages, or sitting a little to the rear of Fleming, this becomes a completely absorbing biography and one that works up a great deal of admiration and affection for Fleming in the reader. Pearson quotes Fleming as regarding his novels as disguised installments in his autobiography and Pearson spends much time naming and identifying the real people and places. There is very little critical analysis, happily, a job already vaguely well done by Kingsley Amis in The James Bond Dossier[1]. Perhaps the wildest note in the book is struck when Pearson suggests that Bond’s superior, M, is possibly a stand-in for Fleming’s mother.

Long before his late fame Fleming not only mixed with very posh society, but was the intimate of celebrities such as Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Cyril Connolly, et al, all of whom contribute some waspishly good dialogue to these pages. His personal adventures were drawn mainly from work as a globetrotting reporter and as the personal assistant to the Chief of Naval Intelligence in London during WWII. Fleming’s last years were indeed pathetic, for his health was terribly crippled at the very moment the Bond series struck gold. Bond finally became Fleming’s Frankenstein and, Pearson states, killed him.

Some more about Fleming from Roy Berkeley[2]

In an odd building at 22A Ebury Street, London, described by Ian Fleming’s biographer John Pearson as ‘a setting rather than a home’, the young Fleming spent his first years in London.

The place wasn’t a home at all for most of its existence, having started out as a Baptist chapel (in 1830), then becoming successively a school for boys, a nightclub, and a furniture store before being turned into flats during WWII. But it was said to be haunted and the fun-loving Fleming found it irresistible. He redid the central portion with the help of ‘a lady interior decorator from Berlin.’ His bathroom was in an alcove that once held the altar. His bedroom and dining area were in the gallery. Workmen painted the windowless chapel grey, installed indirect lighting, and filled the skylight with dark-blue glass. Into the centre of this room Fleming moved a large black sofa, and in this gloomy space he kept a fire burning year-round. ‘It must have been a lonely and oppressive house,’ notes Pearson[3]. But .here Fleming pursued the obsessions so clearly manifest in his novels: womanizing, gourmandizing, and gambling. He didn’t pursue them long here. When the Blitz damaged the adjacent building (No. 20), Fleming moved to the Dorchester Hotel; it was relatively bombproof and very social besides.

Fleming was then a junior partner in a stock-brokerage firm but said he didn’t like finance, didn’t understand it, and wasn’t good at it. The idea of wealth fascinated him (many of his villains have immense wealth) and one detects a hostility mixed with envy, in Fleming/Bond, for such persons. But he had neither the skill nor the desire to acquire great wealth himself—that is, to earn money with money—and when his books brought him undreamt-of riches he was probably as surprised as anyone.

A previous occupant here had been Sir Oswald Mosley of the BUF (see Site 8). And after Fleming left, still early in the war, the building became something of an annexe to the Ebury Court Hotel (see Site 18); Yvonne Rudellat and several other women who worked there sIept here. I don’t know whether they changed the decor.

Further comments by Roy Berkeley:[4]

In Chelsea, along the Thames is Chelsea Walk. The grand Victorian building just past Cheyne Row is Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk. Newly married, Ian Fleming moved into a river-view flat on the third floor (above T. S. Eliot) in 1952.

Newly married, Ian Fleming moved into a river-view flat on the third floor (above T. S. Eliot) in 1952. Fleming had known his wife for a dozen years, through many of his other love affairs. She was Lady Rothermere when she had a child by Fleming; the baby died at birth. She was pregnant again by Fleming when Lord Rothermere divorced her. This child, Caspar Fleming, also died young—of a drug overdose in his teens.

Fleming joked that he began writing novels to take his mind off e shock of marrying at the age of 44. To call the Bond books a diversion is, I think, a classic piece of disinformation, part of the Old Etonian image that Fleming affected of immediate and effortless success at anything he touched. John Pearson observes in The Life of Ian Fleming that Fleming carefully built a network of literary people who would support his novelistic efforts when he was ready. Undoubtedly, too, the soon-to-be Anne Fleming exerted formidable pressure on the man she was marrying, to the end that he should make his mark in the field of letters and not the field of finance. (Fleming had been in journalism but primarily in the business end of it.)

In January, 1952, he and Anne were at his Jamaican retreat, her divorce imminent. Full of foreboding about the marriage, Fleming began writing Casino Royale[5]. He finished a draft in seven weeks. In his bedroom here at Carlyle Mansions he revised the manuscript, with characteristic panache using a gold-plated typewriter ordered from America. The book went into its first printing, a cautious 7,000 copies, in April, 1953. By then Fleming had returned to Jamaica for his annual retreat and had finished Live and Let Die[6]—in 12 fewer days than the first book. The characters were established by then. “M”was modelled after Admiral John Godfrey, Fleming’s wartime boss. Pearson reveals that Fleming often called his mother “M;” and that she gave young Ian the same “grudging praise” and “terrifying blame” dished out to Bond by the fictional “M.” Miss Moneypenny was based on Miss Pettigrew, secretary to Menzies. And Bond owes his name to the author of a bird book on Fleming’s breakfast table in Jamaica. Fleming had wanted a superlatively colourless name for 007 and happily appropriated this one. “The name later became so associated with adventure and excitement,” Henry A. Zieger writes in his biography of Fleming, that the ornithologist’s wife wrote to Fleming, “thanking him for using it.”

The fictional Bond is not the real Fleming, despite Fleming’s statement that with Goldfinger [7]he was writing “the next volume of my autobiography.” To John Pearson, the Bond character is “Fleming’s dream of a self that might have been—a tougher, stronger, more effective, duller, far less admirable character than the real Fleming.” Today Fleming might be described as an intelligence “wannabe.” He carried a commando knife and a teargas pen during WWII while working safely behind a desk in London, and he subsequently encouraged people to think he”d been involved wartime matters of great danger and drama. The plot of Casino, Royale, for example, came from a gambling experience that Fleming said he”d had himself—Fleming pitted against a group of Nazis. The real evening was nothing of the sort; the “Nazis” were Portuguese, the stakes were low, and Fleming played on in the almost-empty casino until he was completely cleaned out.

[1] Amis, Kingsley (1965). The James Bond Dossier. New York: New American Library. [LCCN: 65015687]

[2] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, Pp. 40-41

[3] Pearson, John (1966). The Life of Ian Fleming. New York, McGraw-Hill

[4] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 71-74

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

[6] Fleming, Ian (1954). Live and Let Die. London: J. Cape

[7] Fleming, Ian (1981). Goldfinger. Geneva: Edito-Service



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