For Bond fans, it has been easy to identify the man who gave 007 his name, but damnably difficult to decide who, if anyone, Fleming based his character on
On the search for the real James Bond
James Bond is dead. Or let’s put it another way, the famous ornithologist called James Bond, whose seminal book Birds of the West Indies Ian Fleming was reading when he was desperately searching for a name for his fictional secret agent, is dead. He died in 1989, having given his name to the twentieth century’s most famous fictional character and received, in return, a signed copy of You only live twice from Fleming. Fleming liked the name immediately saying later ”I was determined my secret agent should be as anonymous as possible. This name brief unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed”. For Bond fans, it has been easy to identify the man who gave 007 his name, but damnably difficult to decide who, if anyone, Fleming based his character on. The contenders include Ian himself, his brother Peter, their father Valentine, an obscure British diplomat called James Boone, and a trio of spies (Tory MP Sir Fitzroy, Maclean, Patrick Dalzel-Job and even a Yugoslav double agent called Dusko Popov). The Boone rumour is easiest to dispose of. The source is Miles Copeland, the ex-CIA agent best known as the manager of 80-s rock group The Police. In his 1974 book Without Cloak Or Dagger, he says „British intelligence officers who knew Fleming entertain the theory that he built his Bond stories around one James Boone, a Foreign Office administrative inspector whose real job was to examine inventories of supplies at British diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa but who pretended to his girfriends it was only cover for more glamorous missions. Copeland alleges that Boone fought and killed a local in Tehran in a row over a girlfriend and the slain man turned out to be a major local villain (although Boone hadn’t realized this when he’d been defending his girlfriend’s honour). There is no mention of Boone in Andrew Lycett’s thorough bioghraphy of Ian Fleming written with the family’s help, and as only Copeland has even mentioned this scenario, it’s probably just cracking story.
How about the Flemings themselves? In truth you can see all of them in Bond. Valentine, who died in WWI. When Ian was 8, remained the dashing young hero in his son’s imagination. As a child, Ian was told to pray each day to be as good as his father-something he never managed. And when Ian was writing the first Bond novel Casino Royal, he was in the midst of personal crisis of his own, dissatisfied with marriage and middle age. He may even have envied his father his ultimely death. Writing spy novels was a distraction from his depression and he created a character as charismatic and as courageous as his father-but less scrupulous. Ian’s elder brother Peter was an excellent travel writer and historian who overshadowed Ian at Eton. He wrote a string of travel books (the best probably being the Brazilian Adventure) having as many globetrotting adventures as 007. His prose style almost reads as if it’s been written by a slightly more sophisticated (and morally more upright) Bond. Ian himself is an extremely obvious model of Bond. The list of things Fleming and Bond have in common is pretty long: losing parents as a child, having a Scottish father, a career in naval intelligence (including promotion to the rank of commander) a love for cars and the same predatory approach to the opposite sex. Where they differed-and this is why the search for the real Bond continues-is that most of Fleming’s work for British intelligence took place behind a desk. Hence the quest to find the agents with Bond’s hands on experience. The most favoured candidates are Maclean, Dalzel Job and Dusko Popov. Fleming did run Popov as an agent in WWII. The Yugoslav’s codename was Tricycle which allegedly referred to his sexual preferences. Popov warned the US of major Japanese attack days before Pearl Harbor, but is chiefly famous for spending 80,000 dollars in fourteen months (1 million at today’s prices) while on a counter-espionage operation in New York. Dalzel-Job was another of Fleming’s agents (he wrote an acclaimed account of his spy service called From Arctic Snow to Dust of Normandy) who like Bond worked in naval intelligence and had a gift for languages. Fitzroy Maclean was a friend of Fleming before the war, and their professional paths crossed during it. Some of Maclean’s stunts while in the SAS (such as parachuting into Yugoslavia to help Tito fight the Nazis) have the derring-do one would expect of 007, and Maclean’s autobiographical account of his adventures, Eastern Approaches has the panache of a Bond novel. A possible clue may lie in Fleming’s attitude to chasing of his hero for the movies. He initialy wasn’t keen on Sean Connery, feeling, a tad ironically given Fleming’s own roots, that he was too Scottish. He wanted someone more quintessentially English-his suggestion were David Niven, Cary Grant and the young Roger Moore. All, you could argue, incredibly idealized and glamorized versions of how Fleming saw himself after a few too many coctails.
About the Author
The rough guide to James Bond, was written by Paul Simpson. I have just bough his book which was published in 2002. He devoted his book to James Bond, the most famous fictional character of the 20th century. The secret agent whose identity is the world’s worst kept secret and who is still the movie hero. He put all the movie Bonds under the microscope; the books-all the novels, spin-off books, Bond’s rivals and Ian Fleming, the man behind 007; the lifestyle – the girls, Q’s finest inventions, the cars, the cocktails; the vintage champagnes, the locations; and the trivia.
Paul Simpson has edited various magazines, launched the adult football magazine Four Four Two, written books on football trivia, the European newspaper industry, and a biography of Paul Gascoigne and has worked for the FT, Q, and The Times. He is the editor of the Rough Guides to Shopping Online and Cult Movies and author of the forthcoming Rough Guides to Elvis and Cult TV.