April 17, 2008 / 12:59 AM / 10 years ago

Ian Fleming's war spying helped inspire James Bond

LONDON (Reuters) - He may not have cheated death, seduced women at will and killed countless baddies, but James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s experience of the shadowy world of wartime espionage helped inspire his bestselling novels.

A woman looks at a collection of original 007 novels by Ian Fleming, at the "For Your Eyes Only" exhibition of Ian Fleming and James Bond memorabilia at the Imperial War Museum in London April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

“For Your Eyes Only” is the first major exhibition devoted to the British author and coincides with the centenary of his birth. It opens at London’s Imperial War Museum on Thursday and runs until March 1, 2009.

On display is Fleming’s desk from his Jamaican home Goldeneye where he wrote his Bond books, a jacket he wore during a raid by British forces on a French port in 1942, several Bond manuscripts and props from the blockbuster film franchise.

The show seeks to explain how a man born into a world of privilege and with a playboy reputation was grounded by his work as a naval intelligence officer during World War Two.

“I think we make the point in the exhibition that the Second World War gave Fleming a sense of purpose in his life that had hitherto been lacking,” said curator Terry Charman.

“However much the (Bond) novels may be set in the Cold War ... they in fact are nearly all rooted in World War Two,” he told Reuters.

“In ‘Moonraker’, Hugo Drax’s rocket that’s going to be launched against London with a nuclear warhead is really a V-2 which Fleming heard land in London from September 1944 onwards.”


Fleming, whose father was killed during World War One when he was eight, attended Eton, joined the military before leaving under a cloud and went to Austria to learn languages.

In 1931, he became a journalist at Reuters, which his niece Kate Grimond said played an important role in his success later in life as a novelist.

“By chance (he) got a job at Reuters where he was very well suited and he learned to write very fast and very accurately and that was the basis of his very good writing style,” she said.

She added that in order to make more money he left the news agency for a job in finance, but was “no good at that.” According to exhibition organizers, he “preferred to spend his time and money on women, golf, gambling and drinking.”

During World War Two, as a naval intelligence officer, he came up with several plots to outwit the Germans which would not have looked out of place in a James Bond novel.

In 1940 he devised Operation “Ruthless,” a scheme to seize a German naval coding machine by landing a captured enemy bomber in the English Channel, lure in a rescue vessel, kill the crew and “dump them overboard.” The idea was quickly abandoned.

Fleming suggested the pilot be a “tough bachelor, able to swim” — an early prototype for 007.

Fleming wrote his first Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” in 1952, and the world of danger and glamour he created for his superspy was the perfect escape from drab post-war Britain.

He married the same year but the stormy relationship quickly deteriorated. Fleming’s heavy drinking and smoking took their toll, and he died of a heart attack in 1964 aged 56.

By then the Bond film franchise was underway, which made Fleming a celebrity and boosted sales of his books. In 1964 they were selling 112,000 copies each week.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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