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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006, 08:57 GMT
Fleming's 007 to make a comeback?
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Daniel Craig is the latest actor to play lady-killing spy James Bond. But how much do we know about Ian Fleming's iconic creation?

Hoagy Carmichael
In Casino Royale Bond is said to resemble musician Hoagy Carmichael
Grey-blue eyes. A thin vertical scar down his right cheek. And a short, unruly lock of black hair that forms a thick comma above his right eyebrow.

Not much to base a character on, let alone one that has captivated readers, gamers and film-goers for more than half a century.

Of course, the less we know about Bond, James Bond, the easier it is to imagine ourselves in his shoes.

But what remains to be seen is whether Daniel Craig will get any closer to the 007 of Ian Fleming's imagining than his big-screen predecessors.

Climbing accident

Few fictional characters have been as hotly debated as Bond, with everything from his date of birth onwards open to conjecture.

Most experts agree that he was born in Germany in the early 1920s to Andrew Bond of Glencoe and his Swiss wife, Monique Delacroix.

Young James Bond
The young Bond, as imagined by illustrator Kev Walker
After his parents were killed in a mountain climbing accident when he was 11, the young James went to live with his aunt, Miss Charmian Bond.

He began his schooling at Eton, only to be expelled for repeated curfew violations and unspecified "trouble" with one of the maids.

Author Charlie Higson is currently exploring this period in his Young Bond series of novels.

James continued his education at Fettes College in Edinburgh - his father's old school, as well as Tony Blair's alma mater - before entering the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1941.

Bond's wartime experiences, like Fleming's own, are shrouded in mystery. What is known is that he rose to the rank of Commander and that he probably served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Smoking habit

After the war he remained with the Secret Service, having earned his 00 number by killing enemy agents in New York and Stockholm.

These inaugural assignments are mentioned in Casino Royale, the first Bond book and the inspiration for the latest film.

Casino Royale newspaper strip compilation (courtesy of Titan Books)
Illustrator John McClusky envisioned a more rugged, macho 007
In its pages we learn other things about Fleming's hero - his prodigious skill at gambling, his 70-a-day smoking habit and his appetite for alcohol, women and fine food.

From Bond's first conquest Vesper Lynd, we also learn he bears a superficial resemblance to noted American bandleader and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael.

When the book was adapted for a Daily Express cartoon strip, illustrator John McClusky envisioned a more rugged, macho character.

For the most part, the author made 007 a romanticised version of himself that allowed him to live out his fantasies by proxy.

'Blunt instrument'

As John Pearson writes in his 1966 biography, Bond was "Fleming's dream of a self that might have been - tougher, stronger, more effective."

"My books are straight pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety," Fleming wrote in a letter to the American author Raymond Chandler.

Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming wrote the first James Bond novel in 1952
But as the character developed, he progressed from being the "blunt instrument" that Fleming had first envisioned into a considerably more complex creation.

In the later books Bond becomes prone to self-doubt, lethargy and boredom, even having something close to a breakdown following his bride's wedding-day murder in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

One can read into this Fleming's own mounting disaffection with his protagonist, who became more a burden than a boon in his twilight years, and the source of legal worries that proved detrimental to his health.

Still, part of Bond's enduring appeal must surely lie in the way he embodied the author's lust for the high life and his sensual appreciation of the best it could offer.

And it is this same sense of vicarious wish-fulfilment that Casino Royale director Martin Campbell will hope to appeal to when his film opens in cinemas later this month.

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