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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Ian Fleming: The man behind Bond - and Chitty
James Bond creator Ian Fleming
James Bond creator Ian Fleming

As Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the musical based on Ian Fleming's children's story, opens in London, what is the continuing fascination with the creator of James Bond?
Back in March 1952, Her Majesty the Queen had been on the throne for less than a month. The Britain she ruled over was a drab sort of place, a country traumatised by conflict, still struggling to escape post-war austerity and rationing.

Sir Sean Connery as James Bond
For many Sean Connery embodied 007
Jamaica, 4,700 miles across the Atlantic, could not have been more different: sunny, warm, touched only tangentially by World War Two, a haven of good food and drink. In short, a bon viveur's paradise.

It was here at Goldeneye, his fabulous villa perched at the edge of the Caribbean, that Ian Fleming, late of Eton, Sandhurst and Naval Intelligence, sat down in front of a battered Imperial typewriter and finally bashed out the novel he had long wished to write.

"The scent and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning," he typed and, in doing so, gave birth not only to his finest creation, the suave yet deadly James Bond, but to a whole literary genre: the super spy novel.

Still packing 'em in

Fleming finished the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in a mere eight weeks. Thirteen more would follow. Their titles, totems of popular culture - Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Thunderball - selling an estimated 50 million copies. Today, 38 years after his death, Fleming still does good box office.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Cars 'n' girls 'n' baddies - Chitty's no real departure
The 20th Bond film, Die Another Day - not a Fleming work - is currently in production at locations around the world; the musical adaptation of his children's novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, has just opened in London's West End; and all 14 Bond novels have recently been re-published as Penguin Modern Classics, taking their place in the literary pantheon alongside Kafka and Joyce.

But what makes the snobbish and arrogant Fleming and his sexist, racist and violent hero still popular in today's politically correct world?

Wealth and privilege

Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in 1908. Born into wealth, his paternal grandfather, a banker, was an associate of JP Morgan.

The young Fleming flirted with careers in the army, diplomacy and journalism before finally settling on a life as a financier.

Fleming embraced the post-war world

Simon Winder, Penguin Press
World War II transformed him from "something in the City" to the personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. His boss, Admiral John H Godfrey, was certainly the inspiration behind Bond's often exasperated controller, M.

Fleming's wartime service was conducted mainly from behind his desk in Whitehall. But, on one famous occasion, he found himself in the casino at the swish Portuguese resort of Estoril.

In a scene straight out of a Bond novel - later re-created fictionally in Casino Royale - he decided to give a number of German secret agents, whom he had recognised, a trashing at the card table. Unlike his hero, though, Fleming left the casino broke.

The next Bond film will star Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry
Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry star in the latest Bond adventure
After the war he returned to journalism. But by the time he retired in 1959, James Bond - the "suitably dull and anonymous" name taken from the American ornithologist and author of the Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies - had intervened.

The Bond books, once described by Paul Johnson as "the crude snob-cravings of a suburban adult", still make for a fascinating read.

Packed with minute descriptions, they introduced the concept of branding to the popular novel: we are told, for instance, that Bond writes with a Mont Blanc pen, smokes Morland cigarettes and drives a 1933 4.5 litre Bentley.

Raffish hero

The stock-in-trade of today's novels, such product placement was radical stuff for the 1950s, a brief glimpse of a glamorous, raffish world for his many poor but genteel readers.

007 goes through girls like an alcoholic in an off-licence, is addicted to gadgets and disposes of his many colourful enemies, including Dr No, Rosa Klebb and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, with ruthless efficiency. It may not be PC but it's certainly fun.

The late Charles Grey as arch-villain Ernst Blofeld
Good v evil: The arch-villain Ernst Blofeld
Simon Winder, editorial director at Penguin Press and the man responsible for the re-publication of the Bond books, says Fleming deserves his status as a writer of classics.

"A classic has to be read by people," he says. "Fleming embraced the post-war world. His contemporaries Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell were traumatised by the war: this shows in their works. But Bond was fresh."

Bond - educated at Fettes College, alma mater of one Tony Blair - continues to thrill because of, not despite, his outlandish lifestyle. He fulfils a craving, present in most of us, for fantasy and adventure.

And no article about James Bond would be complete without mention of his most famous tipple, the dry martini. So here is the recipe, straight from the horse's mouth.

"In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice cold, then add a thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

We certainly have, James. We certainly have.

See also:

18 Apr 02 | Entertainment
02 May 01 | Entertainment
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