(May 28, 1908–August 12, 1964): British author, newspaper columnist, and former British naval intelligence officer who invented the character of James Bond, Secret Agent 007. Fleming’s novels and short stories were modern fairy tales for adults: fantastic globe-trotting adventure stories about a British Secret Service agent with a license to kill. Loaded with sexual references, sadomasochistic violence, and edge-of-your-seat suspense, they captured the imagination of thrill-seeking readers around the world.
President John F. Kennedy was a big Fleming fan, as was author Raymond Chandler, who encouraged Fleming to continue his writing career even though his first books were not big sellers. Fleming based many of his novels on his experiences as a naval intelligence officer during World War II. It wasn’t until 1975, though, that Fleming was identified as a close associate of British spymaster Sir William Stephenson, whose Ultra network had broken the German diplomatic code in 1939. Through Ultra, Fleming was involved in some of the greatest espionage capers in military history.
In 1944, during a wartime trip to Jamaica, Fleming decided that he would make the island his postwar retreat. Before returning to London, he asked his good friend American millionaire Ivar Bryce to secure some Jamaican beach property for him. Bryce purchased a beachfront parcel near the deserted donkey track at Oracabessa, a fruit-trading center on Jamaica’s beautiful north shore. So was born the Caribbean vacation home Fleming dubbed GoldenEye.
Two years later, Fleming was hired by newspaper magnate Lord Kemsley to manage the foreign news section of a large group of English papers. He took the job on the condition that his contract include a two-month vacation each year. He would spend it at his little beach house in Jamaica—a routine that was to continue for the rest of his life.
For nearly six years, he toyed with the idea of writing during his tropical vacations. He even completed a few local color articles for Horizon magazine, but it was not until a few weeks before his 1952 marriage to Lady Anne Rothermere that Ian Fleming decided to write a novel in Jamaica. He took the name of his main character from the author of a book that graced his coffee table there: Birds of the West Indies by American ornithologist James Bond. Within six weeks, Casino Royale was completed, and Fleming was off to find a suitable publisher.
He approached venerable old Jonathan Cape, who had published several of his brother Peter Fleming’s travel books. Cape accepted the manuscript on the recommendation of several people, including Fleming’s good friend William Plomer, and scheduled the book for publication in England in the spring of 1953.
Between 1952 and his death in 1964, Fleming wrote twelve James Bond novels and two collections of short stories. In order of their publication dates, they were: Casino Royale (1953); Live and Let Die (1954); Moonraker (1955); Diamonds Are Forever (1956); From Russia with Love (1957); Dr. No (1958); Goldfinger (1959); For Your Eyes Only (short stories, 1960); Thunderball (1961), based on a screen treatment by Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham; The Spy Who Loved Me (1962); On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963); You Only Live Twice (1964); The Man with the Golden Gun (1965); and Octopussy/The Living Daylights (short stories, 1966).
In 1961, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman acquired film rights to all of Fleming’s novels and short stories except two: Casino Royale, which had been previously sold to actor Gregory Ratoff in 1956 (Ratoff later sold the rights to agent turned producer Charles K. Feldman, who adapted it into a 007 spoof in 1967), and Thunderball, the rights of which were won by producer Kevin McClory in a copyright infringement suit (McClory joined forces with Broccoli and Saltzman to produce Thunderball in 1965). Fleming’s James Bond character continued in literature after his death, first in Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis (1968), and then in many subsequent books by authors such as John Gardner and Ray Benson.
Over the years Broccoli and Saltzman and their successors at Eon Productions adapted all available Fleming titles—including Casino Royale, having finally obtained the rights in 1999. (In 2013, Eon secured the rights to Thunderball as well.) Subsequently, the producers have chosen, with the permission of the Fleming estate, to invent their own stories rather than dramatize any of the non-Fleming Bond titles. With a bit of luck, we should see James Bond movies into the twenty-third century.