The destination for history

The beginnings of Bond


The idea of writing a spy novel had apparently been in Fleming’s mind for a decade before he finally decided to commit the book to paper. Little did he know the phenomenon he was about to create when he sat down behind his typewriter on the morning of 15 January 1952 to start the first chapter of Casino Royale.

Working alone at ‘Goldeneye’ there would be no distractions. He knew the plot and the characters; he had been thinking about them for years, deliberately noting aspects of people he had met, especially during the war. He would type 2,000 words five days a week for six to eight weeks. He would work in the mornings and under no circumstances stop to look anything up. In the evening he’d make corrections. On the shelf in his study was the book that had gifted him the name of his hero, Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies, by the ornithologist James Bond.

Fleming told Leonard Mosley, a contemporary at The Sunday Times, that he had created James Bond as the result of reading about the exploits of the British secret agent Sidney Reilly in the archives of the British Intelligence Service during the War. He had apparently learnt a great deal about the operational history of NID from the departmental archive, including its role in the greatest intelligence coup of World War One – the cracking of the German diplomatic code 0070, which possibly gave him the inspiration for Bond’s own code number 007. His interest in and knowledge of NID case files from World War One enabled him to draw on rich seam of characters, experiences and situations that would prove invaluable in creating the fictional world of James Bond.

One of Fleming’s wartime contacts, for example, had been Charles Fraser-Smith, a seemingly obscure official at the Ministry of Supply. In reality, Fraser-Smith provided the intelligence services with a range of fascinating and ingenious gadgets such as compasses hidden inside golf balls and shoelaces that concealed saw blades. He was the inspiration for Fleming’s Major Boothroyd, better known as ‘Q’ in the Bond novels and films.

Having a fascination for gadgets, deception and intrigue, Fleming had always been particularly attracted to the ‘black propaganda’ work undertaken by the Political Warfare Executive, headed by former diplomat and journalist Robert Bruce Lockhart, with whom he also struck up an acquaintance. In 1918 Lockhart had worked with Sidney Reilly in Russia, where they became embroiled in a plot to overthrow Lenin’s fledgling government. Within five years of his disappearance in Soviet Russia in 1925, the press had turned Reilly into a household name, dubbing him a ‘Master Spy’ and crediting him with a string of fantastic espionage exploits.

Fleming had therefore long been aware of Reilly’s mythical reputation and no doubt listened in awe to the recollections of a man who had not only known Reilly personally but was actually with him during the turmoil and aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Lockhart had himself played a key role in creating the Reilly myth in 1931 by helping Reilly’s wife Pepita publish a book purporting to recount her husband’s adventures. As a Beaverbrook journalist at the time, Lockhart also had a hand in the deal that led to the serialisation of Reilly’s ‘Master Spy’ adventures in the London Evening Standard.

He stuck to the plan. The first draft must be written fast. As he wrote in Jamaica he absolutely must not allow himself to be sidelined into research or concerned by detail.

He stuck to a formula. He had read dozens of books of the kind he wanted to write. He instinctively knew the general structure of a thriller, the need for a dramatic dilemma, big action scenes, reversals of fortune and suspense before a triumphant outcome. He knew the essential characters. As a schoolboy he’d read John Buchan and ‘Sapper’ and William le Queux, and knew he needed a patriotic protagonist who was a braver, better-looking, more accomplished version of the reader, and a lethal antagonist about whom everything was alien. But all that Boy’s Own stuff was from the 1920s. He’d got to add plenty of sex to make it work for the fifties – like Harold Robbins with Never Love a Stranger. There must be women, impossibly seductive and if possible bound and gagged as on the lurid covers of True Detective. And – because the British audience were living in a grey world – a strong dose of material aspiration. The British were riveted by enormous wealth. Daily Express readers were fixated on Lord and Lady Docker because of Bernard Docker’s enormous yacht and astonishing Daimler with hydraulically operated hood, and his wife’s mink and diamonds, former husbands and seamy past as a showgirl. The same people read the William Hickey column because it was about aristocrats who turned up at race meetings and parties. Cars, hotels, beaches, women: James Bond must consume them all, conspicuously.

He wrote Casino Royale ‘to take my mind off other matters’. He completed the 62,000 word manuscript in a little over two months, and when he thought it was readable, he took it back to London and married Anne, who that summer received a £100,000 settlement from her ex-husband.

Extracted from The Ian Fleming Miscellany by Andrew Cook

Sign up for our newsletter

show more books