As 007 fans know, Ian Fleming had a lively imagination, something that had served him particularly well when he was a Naval Intelligence Officer during World War Two and, later on, when he became a spy novelist. He also had a journalist’s fascination with detail and with exciting real-life stories. Added to this, Fleming was deeply interested in modern technology and gadgets.
All these strands in his character were again on display when he caught the treasure-hunting bug in the early 1950s. Fleming’s interest in the world of treasure-hunting became apparent shortly after the publication of his first Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’. According to Edward Biddulph, writing in the current issue of ‘British Archaeology’, during this period the Bond author used his position as both special representative and foreign manager of the ‘Sunday Times’ to seek suggestions from readers for ‘well-substantiated’ stories of buried treasure. Interestingly, Fleming had already written the first draft of his second Bond novel ‘Live and Let Die’ by this time, the plot of which involved a hoard of 17th century gold coins.
Mr. Biddulph, who is a senior project officer at Oxford Archaeology in England, reveals in his article that the 007 author’s interest in hidden treasure at this time also received a boost when he met the famous French diver and explorer Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997). The two men became close friends and Cousteau invited Fleming down to the Mediterranean to observe his innovative exploratory work, do some diving himself, and explore various underwater archaeological sites, using Cousteau’s hi-tech ship the Calypso as a base for operations.
The whole experience left a deep impression on Ian Fleming, and some of this possibly influenced background elements in his novel ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, written some nine years later. Marc-Ange Draco’s ‘Union Corse’ HQ, for example, was placed by Fleming in Marseille’s old harbour, where the Calypso had regularly berthed after it’s daily excavations.
Moreover, Fleming’s fascination with treasure-hunting and new gadgets also led him to select Creake Abbey in Norfolk as a site to try out some early metal-detecting technology in England. Fleming had discovered that the British Army was training some of its Royal Engineers to use sophisticated detecting apparatus to identify different types of buried metal. Through the ‘Sunday Times’, Fleming was able to persuade the Army to allow him to select the Royal Engineers to help explore the grounds of the old Abbey. Nothing significant was found but, as Biddulph writes, ‘without realising it, Fleming was a pioneer of archaeological metal detecting’.
The new article by Edward Biddulph is in the latest issue of ‘British Archaeology’ (September/October, 2012), currently on sale at UK newsagents, priced £4.50.