- - Friday, September 11, 2020

In 2006, the year of the Ian Fleming Centenary celebration, Corinne Turner of Ian Fleming Publications stated, “There will be a broad range of events and publications designed to celebrate the life of this literary legend and to examine his legacy. The program includes a major exhibition featuring never-before-seen material and events will reflect Fleming’s passions and experiences in the worlds of art, literature, journalism, sport, motoring and travel.”

Ms. Turner added that the Ian Fleming Centenary presented an exciting opportunity to celebrate an extraordinary life. That extraordinary life, as a World War II British naval intelligence officer, a world-traveling journalist and the author of the James Bond thrillers, led Edward Abel Smith to write “Ian Fleming’s Inspiration: The Truth Behind the Books” (Casemate).

The book interested me as I’ve been an Ian Fleming aficionado since my teenage years in the 1960s, when I saw the first James Bond film “Dr. No” and went on to read Fleming’s more complex and darker James Bond novels.

I reached out to Edward Abel Smith and asked him why he wrote the book. “After finishing my first book about a group of individuals who saved thousands of Jews before the outbreak of war, I wanted to find another topic to write about. I grew up loving the Bond films and then more recently the Bond books, so I was interested to learn about their creator,” Mr. Smith replied. “When I started to read more about Fleming, I instantly started to link in my head his life experiences to those in his books. From there, when I saw that no book existed which told his life in this way, I decided to pitch the idea to publishers.”

Mr. Smith said that Fleming would sit behind his desk in the Admiralty and think up the most fantastical and bizarre plans of how to help the war effort. He said the difference then was that he would make most of these plans a reality and his dreamed-up ideas would be carried out by commandos.



“A lot of his plans — for example Operation Ruthless and Operation Tracer — were so farfetched it is amazing that they ever got the go ahead from his bosses. Therefore, having dreamed up real plans which seemed fictional, it was natural for him to write these down in later life,” Mr. Smith said. “So James Bond could play out his dream of not only sending men on dangerous and daring missions, but actually taking part himself.”

Fleming worked as a reporter for Reuters prior to WWII and in 1933 he covered the Soviet espionage trial of six British Metropolitan-Vickers engineers. He also worked for the Sunday Times after the war, so I asked Mr. Smith if Fleming’s journalism experience also inspired him.

“I think this experience taught him to write fast and write accurately. He was famous for writing 2,000 words per day and would sit down to write for a solid month or so. The one thing that really inspired him was when he visited the USSR for Reuters. This experience shaped his view of what SMERSH and SPECTRE should be.” 

I spent a grand week with my wife at Ian Fleming’s Jamaican villa Goldeneye in the 1980s, when the villa and grounds were still as rustic as when he lived there and wrote the James Bond novels. How inspirational, I asked, was Goldeneye?   

“Jamaica was his oasis and a place where he was able to run away from his real life for a few months per year. When you read his letters, you see a real upbeat in his tone when he is there,” Mr. Smith said. “Given that Bond spends more time in Jamaica than anywhere else abroad in the books, I think Fleming would have struggled to bring to life other such exotic locations, as he would not have had the same intimate knowledge or love for them.”

The late novelist Kingsley Amis called Fleming’s fusion of a vivid imagination with an air of authority that swiftly carried the reader along “The Fleming Effect.”     

“The Fleming Effect is the use of extreme detail to make the reader feel they are present in what is going on. Fleming would not say ‘Bond had breakfast’, he would explain what he ordered, the type of coffee, why that coffee was so good,” Mr. Smith said. “During a time of post-war rationing and some of the worst winters in Britain, the detail of Fleming’s descriptions provided a huge sense of escapism for the reader.” In “Ian Fleming’s Inspiration” one discovers the fascinating backstories behind the creation of the world’s most popular fictional character, Bond, James Bond.

• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers.

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