With the 25th James Bond film “No Time To Die” doing well in theaters, fans of the hugely successful film series may be interested in reading about the genesis of the most popular fictional character in cinema.
Ian Fleming, the late, great thriller writer who created Bond, was a British naval intelligence officer in World War II, and much of what he experienced during the war found its way into his James Bond thrillers.
Mark Simmons, a former British Marine commando, journalist, and author, explores Commander Fleming’s wartime experiences and points out direct links between reality and the plots and characters in the Bond thrillers in his book, “Ian Fleming’s War: The Inspiration of 007.”
I reached out to Mark Simmons and asked him why he wrote the book.
“In 2018, I wrote `Ian Fleming and Operation Golden Eye: Keeping Spain out of World War II.’ In research for that book, I read the two main biographies of Fleming by Andrew Lycett and John Pearson, both of which only devoted a chapter or two to his wartime work. Yet there was a wealth of material on his time at naval intelligence, and I felt it deserved a book,” Mr. Simmons replied.
How would you describe Ian Fleming?
“He was a man embedded in his time the 1930s-1950s, and the highlight of his life was his wartime role in naval intelligence, even more so than becoming a bestselling author.”
How did Ian Fleming’s WWII experiences in naval intelligence inspire his James Bond novels?
“As I explain in the book, all the Bond stories are rooted in WWII, and 007 often refers to the war,” Mr. Simmons said.
What primary intelligence operations was Ian Fleming directly or indirectly involved in?
“The list would be rather large, to say the least. Operation Golden Eye, which involved keeping Spain neutral, was one of the main ones. Another was the creation of the OSS in the United States, the forerunner of the CIA, which he had a hand in.”
Ian Fleming assembled an intelligence-gathering commando group known as the 30 Assault Unit. What major successful operations did 30 AU accomplish?
“Two examples spring to mind among several, on Sicily they captured Italian Air Force Ciphers which led directly to safer missions for RAF bombers. And in northwest Europe, they captured German radar coding which led to a virtual blackout of German radar for several weeks,” Mr. Simmons said.
Ian Fleming’s biographers state that he was a desk man rather than a man of action like Bond. But as you note in your book, Mr. Fleming did serve in the field at various times and did, in fact, face a measure of danger.
“Fleming’s trips to Spain, Portugal and North Africa were probably the nearest he came to being a secret agent in the field,” Mr. Simmons said. “While certainly in France in 1940, he came under fire during the retreat to Bordeaux and the evacuation there.”
I noted that Commander Ian Fleming was aboard a British Navy destroyer off the coast of Dieppe, France, in August of 1942 during “Operation Jubilee,” the disastrous amphibious landing that involved his 30 AU commandos in their first raid.
What aspects of Ian Fleming’s war can you most directly link to his Bond novels?
“Probably “Casino Royale” is the most obvious, which directly came out of Fleming’s time in Portugal and gambling at the Estoril Casino. “Moonraker” was heavily influenced by operations with 30 AU against the V1 and V2 rocket sites they came across as Europe was liberated from the Nazis,” Mr. Simmons said.
Did one person inspire James Bond, or did Mr. Fleming create Bond with several commandos and intelligence officers in mind? Did he also infuse Bond with some of his own personality, tastes and views?
“007 shared many of Fleming’s traits. As far as the influence of other people is concerned, Fleming remained rather reticent on this point.”
Are the James Bond novels and films relevant today?
“Ian Fleming’s Bond books are very much of their time, but still remain very readable, a testament to his skill as a writer,” Mr. Simmons said. “As to the films, I am no expert, and after Sean Connery stopped playing 007, I confess to losing interest. Although I always felt George Lazenby did a pretty good job in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’”
Fans of the Bond films will enjoy this well-researched and fascinating look back at Ian Fleming. I also suggest they read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, which are darker and more complicated than the films.
• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers.
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Ian Fleming’s War: The Inspiration of 007
Rare Bird Books, $26, 304 pages.