Author Ben Macintyre, the James Bond expert, historian, and columnist for The Times, has published an article on 007 creator Ian Fleming, where he explores the extent to which Fleming drew on his own career to shape his fictional creation 007.
Writing in The Times (January 31), and clearly with the new four-part Sky Atlantic TV series Fleming in mind, Macintyre opened his article by setting out an ‘eduring problem’ faced by all Bondologists: knowing ‘where Ian Fleming ends and where James Bond begins: how much of 007 is based on the life of his creator and how much is made up?’
Macintyre pointed out that this was ‘something of a challenge for Fleming too. In his later life, when Bond was becoming a global mega-phenomemon, Fleming liked to hint, particularly to attractive women at cocktail parties, that he had done daring things during the war, comparable to the exploits of his fictional hero’.
Fleming, noted Macintyre, also liked to be photographed with gun in hand, and often claimed: ‘Everything I write has a precedent in truth’, giving (in Macintye’s words) ‘a massive literary wink’ at the same time. Fleming never claimed to be James Bond but, noted Macintyre, he never denied the comparison. If the world wanted to imagine he was 007, Fleming was fine with that.
The reality, according to Macintyre, was more prosaic. Fleming had been an important figure in the British Naval Intelligence Department (NID) during the Second World War, and had been privy to some very important secrets. He helped launch important intelligence operations, liased with other intelligence branches and also travelled to the USA to arrange new intelligence links. But, in Macintyre’s view, ‘Fleming’s war, in truth, was spent behind a desk (and in various comfortable clubs and bars). His waspish wife mocked him for being a “chocolate soldier”, keen on the uniform, but likely to melt away at the first sign of fighting’. The nearest Fleming came to the front line was observing the 1942 Dieppe Raid from a destroyer 800 yards offshore, ‘and even this was too close for comfort’.
Macintyre noted that one of Fleming’s colleagues in Naval Intelligence, nettled by the mythology that built up around Fleming, insisted: ‘He was a pen-pusher, like all of us… If he was secretly longing for action I never saw any sign of it’. However, at the same time, Macintyre also observed that anyone who loves James Bond (i.e. about 90% of the world population) ‘wants to believe that he is, at least in part, Fleming. That is the point, problem, and pleasure of Fleming, the new four-part drama series from Sky starring Dominic Cooper’.
In Macintyre’s estimation: ‘The makers of Fleming have solved the difficulty of the gulf between fiction and reality by taking the bare bones of Fleming’s life and dressing them up in the full, gorgeous, fantastic panoply of James Bond’. Macintyre also noted later in his article: ‘This drama blithely blends truth and fiction, a real man and an invented one. Purists will carp, but no one would have been more delighted to be turned into heroic fiction than Fleming himself’.
The new TV series from Ecosse Films, BBC America and Sky Atlantic stars Dominic Cooper as Ian Fleming, Lara Pulver as his future wife Ann, and Samuel West as Admiral Sir John Godfrey (Fleming’s real-life boss in NID).