Forbes - - Contents - RICH KARL­GAARD

The birth of Bond.

Ian Flem­ing, who wrote the James Bond nov­els, was a wealthy but melan­cholic man, whom a friend called “a death-wish Char­lie.” Flem­ing smoked 70 cus­tom-rolled Mor­land cig­a­rettes a day and drank mar­ti­nis—three mea­sures of Gor­don’s gin, one mea­sure of vodka (shaken, not stirred)—in glasses the size of a soup bowl. He sufered his frst heart at­tack at 52 and a fa­tal one at 56. He was un­hap­pily mar­ried to a once wid­owed, once di­vorced news­pa­per heiress, who be­lit­tled the Bond nov­els as “pornog­ra­phy” to her smart Lon­don friends.

The oa­sis in Flem­ing’s life was his beach house on Ja­maica’s north­ern coast. For the frst two months of ev­ery year Flem­ing en­joyed a happy and amaz­ingly pro­duc­tive get­away from his gloom. The Ja­maican respite is the key to un­der­stand­ing how Flem­ing de­vel­oped the Bond char­ac­ter. Au­thor Matthew Parker has recre­ated this part of Flem­ing’s life in a won­der­ful bi­og­ra­phy, Gold­eneye—where Bond Was Born: Ian Flem­ing’s Ja­maica (Pe­ga­sus Books, $27.95). If you like Bond, you’ll en­joy this book.

Flem­ing was born in 1908 into a rich fam­ily in Lon­don’s May­fair dis­trict. The fam­ily wealth orig­i­nated with Flem­ing’s Scot­tish grand­fa­ther, Robert Flem­ing, a mer­chant banker. Flem­ing’s fa­ther, Valen­tine, was a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, and young Ian’s con­nected fu­ture seemed guar­an­teed. But a self- de­struc­tive streak showed up early. Fol­low­ing his Eton ed­u­ca­tion, Flem­ing con­tracted gon­or­rhea, which led to his early de­par­ture from the Royal Mil­i­tary Academy at Sand­hurst.

Flem­ing then went into the fam­ily busi­ness, bank­ing, at which he failed. The out­break of World War II gave him the ex­cuse to leave bank­ing. He used fam­ily con­nec­tions and landed a job as the per­sonal as­sis­tant to Ad­mi­ral John God­frey, the di­rec­tor of naval in­tel­li­gence in the Royal Navy. Sur­pris­ingly, Flem­ing ex­celled at the ad­min­is­tra­tive work and later, dur­ing the war, as an oper­a­tions strate­gist. He helped plan the Bri­tish navy’s role in Op­er­a­tion Over­lord, the D-day in­va­sion that turned the war to the Al­lies’ ad­van­tage.

Af­ter World War II Flem­ing joined the Kem­s­ley news­pa­per group, which owned the Sun­day Times of Lon­don. He took his win­ter va­ca­tions in Ja­maica and grew so fond of the is­land that he bought land along its north coast. In 1946 Flem­ing be­gan to build a house he called Gold­eneye, one of his WWII naval oper­a­tions code names. The en­su­ing fve years of hol­i­days at Gold­eneye were the hap­pi­est of his life. Fa­mous flm and stage ac­tors, such as Katharine Hep­burn, were fock­ing to Ja­maica. Life be­came an end­less party.

But in March 1952 Flem­ing mar­ried a woman he would soon come to re­sent and later that year fa­thered a boy who would grow to have his own trou­bles. A month be­fore his mar­riage Flem­ing be­gan to cre­ate the world of James Bond. His soon-to-be wife, Ann, wrote in her di­ary: “This morn­ing Ian started to type a book. Very good thing.” How­ever, Flem­ing didn’t adapt well to do­mes­tic re­spon­si­bil­ity. Melan­choly set in, which would plague him for the rest of his life.

mis­ery begets ge­nius

At Gold­eneye Flem­ing found a rou­tine and fo­cus that eluded him the rest of the year in Eng­land. Each morn­ing he’d awaken around sunrise and de­scend the small clif to his pri­vate beach, where he’d swim and snorkel. When he re­turned to the house, he’d con­sume a Bon­dian break­fast of eggs cooked to or­der, lo­cal fruit and Blue Moun­tain cofee. Then he’d re­pair to his writ­ing room, open his big roll­top desk, bring out his Im­pe­rial por­ta­ble type­writer, draw the cur­tains, shut out the world and write for hours with­out in­ter­rup­tion. Flem­ing could regularly bang out 2,000 words a day and wrote the draft of his frst novel, Casino Royale, in four weeks.

From Casino Royale in 1952 to The Man With the Golden Gun in 1964 (the year he died), Flem­ing wrote a Bond novel ev­ery year at his beach house in Ja­maica. He also wrote a chil­dren’s novel in Eng­land, while re­cov­er­ing from his frst heart at­tack. It was ti­tled Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and was made into a movie in 1968. Af­ter Flem­ing’s death nov­el­ist Kings­ley Amis was asked to re­write parts of The Man With the Golden Gun, but those rewrites were never used.

The thing that will tip some peo­ple into be­com­ing out­ra­geously pro­duc­tive isn’t pre­dictable. In Flem­ing’s case it was a deep­en­ing de­pres­sion that was re­lieved only by an imag­i­na­tive fan­tasy life and his mag­i­cal is­land home.

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