The great mystery surrounding James Bond is that despite being one of the most famous fictional characters of all time, very little is known about the person behind the character. There have been a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the James Bond character, but the truth is probably somewhere in between. We do know that Ian Fleming, who created the character and began the Bond series in the 1950s, was a real-life man who enjoyed a good drink and played an active part in bringing the Bond world to life. Much of the information about Fleming’s life comes from his own writings and those of his literary executor, Max Fleming. However, much of what is written about Bond is first- or second-hand information, and new details are often uncovered by fans who cherish the character and want to know more about his creator. Below, we will explore the life and career of Ian Fleming, the man who created one of the most iconic characters of all time.
A Life in Medicine and Writing
James Fleming was born in 1907 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and grew up there surrounded by literature and good English food. As a child, his parents made him read books by famous Scottish authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott, which undoubtedly had some influence on the young James. Despite his parents’ best efforts, James developed a love for theatre and began writing plays at the age of eight. He went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and upon graduation, held a number of jobs in both the U.S. and U.K. before settling down in London as a physician. While in medicine, Fleming also began writing short stories for publication, and in 1931 he graduated to the novel-length format with the publication of his first book, Diamonds are Forever, which was at first banned due to its controversial content. This was followed by the publication of another notable novel, The Man with the Golden Gun in 1934, and then another in 1936, Casablanca, which became a major motion picture in 1942. By this point, Fleming was well-known as a serious novelist and well-regarded as a medical practitioner, particularly for his research into heart disease. During this time, Fleming served as a soldier in the British Army, treating Italian soldiers as a medic in North Africa before the second world war. It was also during this time that he began work on his series of Bond novels. He worked quickly, writing five novels in five years, and the first of these, Casino Royale was first published in 1953 and subsequently went on to become one of the best-selling books of all time. It was followed by a string of other successful Bond novels including Live and Let Die in 1954, Moonraker in 1956, and The Man with the Golden Gun in 1958. Fleming also wrote a non-fiction book about beekeeping, Queen of the Sea, which was published in 1969. It was during the 1950s that James Bond was at the height of his popularity, and it was not just in fiction either; the actual physical embodiment of the spy became an instant hit when he was first portrayed by Sean Connery in Dr. No in 1962 and subsequently went on to become one of the most iconic images in popular culture.
An Estate and a House Party
After writing so many books and becoming so famous, it was only natural that Ian Fleming would want to put his name on a luxury estate and live the high life. In 1955, he began building a 9,000-square-foot Scottish Baronial mansion, Bay View, on the Isle of Man, but spent only four years of the construction process because he got bored with the design. Upon its completion in 1959, Fleming moved into the estate with his wife, Eve, and daughter, Valorie. The baron also had a butler, John Blazer, who was in charge of housekeeping and enjoyed preparing meals for the family as a way of life. At the same time, Valorie began studying medicine at Cambridge University, and in 1963, Fleming and Eve had twin boys, Anthony and Alexander. However, in 1968, the Baroness Eve Fleming died after a long illness, leaving Ian Fleming a broken man. Not only did his sons have to take over running the estate and house party, but Fleming also lost touch with his daughter, Valorie, as she had to return to America for her studies. This was extremely hard on Fleming because he adored his daughter, and in 1972, he remarried, his second wife, Diana Sue, having previously been married to a man named Eric Peters. In 1973, Valorie returned to England to live with her father, and the following year, Diana Fleming gave birth to a daughter, Amanda. The entire family then moved into the 24-room mansion, which came with extensive land holdings that stretched for miles. However, although living in such luxury, the baron was not happy; he had grown accustomed to life as a bachelor and felt incomplete without a female companion, even if she was just a figment of his imagination. It was at this point that he began to work on his autobiography, with the help of a writer named George MacDonald. The book was first published in 1975 as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and went on to become an instant best seller, partly due to its candid discussion of Fleming’s life and career but mostly because it was leaked to the press that Fleming was HIV-positive. This, of course, caused huge controversy at the time, and Fleming was forced to flee the country for a while. He returned home just long enough to see the second draft of the book and make some necessary revisions. Then, with his sons’ help, he flew back to England, where he spent the rest of his days. He died of liver cancer at the age of 74 on October 16th, 1983.
Although a great mystery has surrounded the details of James Bond’s life, we do know a lot about his work as a spy. It seems that Ian Fleming was a very smart man who used his medical training as well as his literary talent to great effect, ensuring that Bond remains one of the most interesting characters in fiction ever created by a human being. The character’s first appearance in Dr. No was in April 1962 and the latest novel, Spectre, was published posthumously in October, 1976. In between, there were 13 Bond books, written by Fleming and published between 1953 and 1964. They are credited with starting the “middle-ages of fiction” and established the template for the modern spy novel. The character has been portrayed by a number of great actor/stars over the years, including Sean Connery in six films, which included the first five Bond movies- Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice- and George Lazenby in the much-maligned Thunderball, which starred Sean Connery as James Bond and was released in January, 1965. In between Connery films, there were four films starring Roger Moore, from which three were live-action and one, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was an animated film. Moore’s first appearance as Bond was in The Man with the Golden Gun in 1958, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy Awards. Moore went on to play the spy character in four more films, including the final Bond film, Return of the Man with the Golden Gun, for which he also won a Best Supporting Actor nomination. The actor passed away in March 1993 at the age of 77. Another memorable depiction of Bond was by Desmond Llewelyn in the 1966 film From Russia With Love, which won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.