INNOVATION RULES // 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.