Ian Fleming: The Real-Life 007 Who Worked For Her Majesty's Secret Service


Lt. Commander Ian Fleming worked out of Room 39 in the British Admiralty where raw facts were assembled into top-secret orders given to ships at sea. Fleming was the WWII assistant to Rear Adm. John Godfrey - nicknamed ‘M’, apparently because he was as terrifying as Fleming’s Mother.

The codename given to 007’s creator was decidedly less debonaire - 17F. Fleming was recruited by the Royal Navy’s Director of Naval Intelligence in 1939 and appointed as a liaison officer with Bletchley Park’s codebreakers including Alan Turing

Ian Fleming Debrief on Writing
Listen to the Ian Fleming Debrief: Bond

Fleming had no obvious training for the role but he was an adept trouble-shooter and ‘impresario’ of imaginative naval operations, according to Donald McLachland's book Room 39

Fleming conjured up elaborate missions - including a plan to sink a lump of concrete off Dieppe that contained men trained to spy on coastal defenses. There was also Fleming’s D-Day deception plan Operation Mincemeat and Goldeneye, a cover name for a 1941 stay-behind operation in British-owned Gibraltar to defend it if the Nazis invaded Spain.

Ian Fleming with Sean Connery and Bond star Ursula Andress
Ian Fleming with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress who starred in Dr. No

Fleming's work with Godfrey led to his first James Bond book, Casino Royale, in 1953. The gambling scenes were inspired by Fleming’s stop-off in Lisbon, Portugal en route to the US. Fleming was playing chemin de fer, a version of blackjack, at the casino at Estoril frequented by German spies. He only had about $60 in expense money which Fleming planned to use to bankrupt his German opponents.

Instead, writes former codebreaker Mavis Batey in From Bletchley with Love, Fleming went bust: "Godfrey had to bail him out. Fleming gets his own back in Casino Royale when Bond bankrupts Le Chiffre at chemin de fer."

The 007 legend was born. Fleming wrote all 14 of his Bond books in the 1950s and 60s at his house in Oracabessa Bay on the northern coastline of Jamaica, nestled in a beach house he named Goldeneye. Another novel, From Russia with Love 1957, was inspired by Operation Ruthless, perhaps Fleming's most ambitious plan, involving the theft of enemy encoding machines. 


Ian Fleming’s writing secrets

In rare interviews, Fleming revealed his thoughts on the creation of the James Bond character, his inspirations, and the ingredients to a good thriller.

“My leading character, James Bond, I never intended to be a hero. I intended him to be a blunt instrument wielded by a government department who would get into bizarre and fantastic situations and more or less shoot his way out of them, get out of them one way or another.”

“This so-called hero of mine, he has a good time. He beats the villain in the end and he gets the girl and he serves his government well. But in the process of that he’s got to suffer something in return for all this success.”

“He is sort of a mix of fictional and mixture of commanders and secret service agents that I met during the war, but of course entirely fictionalized.
“Espionage is not regarded by the majority of the public as a dirty trade. They regard it as a very romantic affair.”

“I wonder what the basic ingredients of a good thriller really are… of course you’ve got to have pace. It should start on the first page and carry right through and I think you’ve got to have violence. I think you’ve got to have a certain amount of sex, you’ve got to have a basic plot. People are going to want to know what’s going to happen by the end of it.”

Ian Fleming: The Real-Life 007 Who Worked For Her Majesty's Secret Service

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Lt. Commander Ian Fleming worked out of Room 39 in the British Admiralty where raw facts were assembled into top-secret orders given to ships at sea. Fleming was the WWII assistant to Rear Adm. John Godfrey - nicknamed ‘M’, apparently because he was as terrifying as Fleming’s Mother.

The codename given to 007’s creator was decidedly less debonaire - 17F. Fleming was recruited by the Royal Navy’s Director of Naval Intelligence in 1939 and appointed as a liaison officer with Bletchley Park’s codebreakers including Alan Turing

Ian Fleming Debrief on Writing
Listen to the Ian Fleming Debrief: Bond

Fleming had no obvious training for the role but he was an adept trouble-shooter and ‘impresario’ of imaginative naval operations, according to Donald McLachland's book Room 39

Fleming conjured up elaborate missions - including a plan to sink a lump of concrete off Dieppe that contained men trained to spy on coastal defenses. There was also Fleming’s D-Day deception plan Operation Mincemeat and Goldeneye, a cover name for a 1941 stay-behind operation in British-owned Gibraltar to defend it if the Nazis invaded Spain.

Ian Fleming with Sean Connery and Bond star Ursula Andress
Ian Fleming with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress who starred in Dr. No

Fleming's work with Godfrey led to his first James Bond book, Casino Royale, in 1953. The gambling scenes were inspired by Fleming’s stop-off in Lisbon, Portugal en route to the US. Fleming was playing chemin de fer, a version of blackjack, at the casino at Estoril frequented by German spies. He only had about $60 in expense money which Fleming planned to use to bankrupt his German opponents.

Instead, writes former codebreaker Mavis Batey in From Bletchley with Love, Fleming went bust: "Godfrey had to bail him out. Fleming gets his own back in Casino Royale when Bond bankrupts Le Chiffre at chemin de fer."

The 007 legend was born. Fleming wrote all 14 of his Bond books in the 1950s and 60s at his house in Oracabessa Bay on the northern coastline of Jamaica, nestled in a beach house he named Goldeneye. Another novel, From Russia with Love 1957, was inspired by Operation Ruthless, perhaps Fleming's most ambitious plan, involving the theft of enemy encoding machines. 

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Ian Fleming and Sean Connery
Fleming with Sean Connery


007 creator Ian Fleming: a spy is born

Born in 1908 in London’s wealthy Mayfair neighborhood, Ian’s father was Valentine Fleming, a member of British parliament. 

The Flemings had a proud Scottish heritage through Ian’s Dundee-born grandfather, Robert, who moved to London to create the merchant bank Robert Fleming and Co. Ian was educated at the upper-class Fettes school in Edinburgh (Fleming was expelled from Eton after having an affair with a maid) and it is perhaps no surprise then that the first - and arguably most famous - Bond actor, Sean Connery was Scottish.

Ian Fleming Spy Letter, part of the SPYSCAPE collection
Fleming's letter to Antony Terry, part of the SPYSCAPE collection

Ian lost his father in the First World War when Valentine Fleming, a Major in the  Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars, was killed by German shelling on the Western Front in 1917; Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote his obituary in The Times.

Fleming was also destined for a life of service during the Second World War. His genius would soon reveal itself in behind-the-scenes intelligence operations.

Utilizing his job at Kemsley News Group as a cover, Fleming ran an intelligence network which used journalists to gather information in sensitive foreign zones including his German correspondent, Antony Terry, later exposed as a spy.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT with Colin Firth
Colin Firth stars in Operation Mincemeat


Operation Mincemeat

The movie Operation Mincemeat reveals the ruse conjured up by Fleming and used by the British and US forces to confuse the Nazis about the location of their D-Day landing. Fleming hatched an unlikely plan. British intelligence would use a corpse planted with fake troop orders and drop the body in a position to wash up on shore. 

The idea was to have a Spanish fisherman sympathetic to the Nazi cause find the body (and the orders) and relay them to the Nazi high command indicating the Allies would be invading Greece.

As improbable as it may seem, Europe’s future was at stake and the gamble worked. The troop orders landed on Hitler’s desk and the Germans were unprepared when the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943. Operation Mincemeat wasn’t Fleming’s only cunning plan.

Operation Ruthless was the budding novelist’s top-secret plan to steal Enigma code books. Bletchley Park codebreakers Alan Turing and Peter Twinn knew the Nazi documentation was their best chance of breaking the German Naval code and Fleming - liaison officer for the British Royal Navy's Operational Intelligence Centre - visited Bletchley twice a month.

Fleming designed an elaborate opeation that was approved but not put into effect. It involved dressing five Royal Navy officers in blood-stained Luftwaffe uniforms, flying them over the Channel, and having the pilot ditch into the sea hoping to entice a German U-boat to rescue the downed men. Fleming, burnishing his credentials as a creative force, described the would-be pilot as a "tough bachelor, able to swim".

Once aboard a Nazi sub, the British, still dressed in German uniforms, would shoot the German crew, dump their bodies overboard, and bring the Nazi submarine back to England along with the Enigma code books stored on board. Military brass considered Fleming's plan "ingenious" but the British weather wouldn’t cooperate. Ditching a plane into rough waters was considered a risk too far and the operation was abandoned.

Ian Fleming and his family
Fleming (right) with his only son (far left) and wife Ann

Fleming’s personal life and tragedies

Fleming led a glamorous life in London and at GoldenEye, his Jamaican retreat, where he hosted many parties - his womanizing exploits not unlike those of 007.

Ian Fleming was also a doting father to his son, Casper, born in 1952. Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car in 1962 as a story for Caspar. The boy’s mother was the beautiful socialite Ann Charteris who eventually married Fleming. 

The creator of 007 was besotted with Caspar, according to the boy’s half-sister Fionn: “I absolutely adored my stepfather. He was a devoted father to Caspar, who he would jokingly call 003-and-a-half.”

They spent little time together, however. Caspar was not allowed to visit GoldenEye and the two spent much of the year on different continents. Fleming, who smoked 60 cigarettes a day, was 56 when he died from a heart attack on August 12, 1964 - Caspar’s 12th birthday.

Caspar also died young, at age 23. It was a tragedy from which the Fleming family never fully recovered.


Ian Fleming’s writing secrets

In rare interviews, Fleming revealed his thoughts on the creation of the James Bond character, his inspirations, and the ingredients to a good thriller.

“My leading character, James Bond, I never intended to be a hero. I intended him to be a blunt instrument wielded by a government department who would get into bizarre and fantastic situations and more or less shoot his way out of them, get out of them one way or another.”

“This so-called hero of mine, he has a good time. He beats the villain in the end and he gets the girl and he serves his government well. But in the process of that he’s got to suffer something in return for all this success.”

“He is sort of a mix of fictional and mixture of commanders and secret service agents that I met during the war, but of course entirely fictionalized.
“Espionage is not regarded by the majority of the public as a dirty trade. They regard it as a very romantic affair.”

“I wonder what the basic ingredients of a good thriller really are… of course you’ve got to have pace. It should start on the first page and carry right through and I think you’ve got to have violence. I think you’ve got to have a certain amount of sex, you’ve got to have a basic plot. People are going to want to know what’s going to happen by the end of it.”

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