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Ian Fleming Could Do It All

From James Bond’s violent assassinations to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Black and white watercolour portrait of famous British writer Ian Fleming. The author of James Bond.
Ian Fleming

This work is a derivative of "12th August 1964 - Death of Ian Fleming" by Bradford Timeline is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Though perhaps his name is not as instantly recognisable as other successful authors, Ian Fleming’s work is some of the most successful of all time. He is the writer of the James Bond books which have since been developed into a high-grossing film series and also Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a children’s book which has also been adapted for the big screen.

Ian Fleming himself was born in 1908 into a wealthy family which lived in Mayfair. He was not particularly academic at school, and was moved around by his family who wanted to get the best out of him. Once an adult, the similarities between Fleming, and his world-renowned character, James Bond, become clear. Upon the start of the Second World War, Fleming was recruited to become the personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, a role which resulted in him being commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander during his time there. In 1942 he formed a unit of commandos, composed of specialist intelligence troops, who worked to seize enemy intelligence. His unit eventually grew to having around 150 troops. Fleming’s time in the military was clearly a formative period in his life, as both James Bond, and Caractacus Pott (the father in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) were both formerly Royal Naval Commanders.

During his time working in the military, it was noted that Fleming expressed a desire to write a spy novel. Post-war Fleming became the foreign manager in the newspaper group which owned The Sunday Times. This gave him the opportunity to take three months’ holiday every year, which he took in Jamaica. Much of this was spent on the Goldeneye Estate, a place which a later James Bond film took its name from.

The first novel Fleming wrote was Casino Royale. Despite initial difficulty in persuading the publishers Jonathan Cape to print it, once it was okayed in 1953, three print runs were actually needed to cope with demand! The main character of the novel, Bond, was inspired by a variety of sources. Fleming decided that he should resemble good looking celebrities such as the singer Hoagy Carmichael, as well as himself. There were further elements of Fleming’s own personality which filtered through to Bond’s: his taste for scrambled eggs, and the use of the same brand of toiletries, for example. More profound inspiration for Bond’s character was found in all the secret service personnel Fleming encountered during his time in the Navy. The knowledge on espionage that he gained during this time was also clearly also useful in writing such a convincing spy novel.

Following the success of the first, Fleming wrote a further eleven Bond novels, and two short story collections. Even after Fleming’s untimely death in 1964 (aged just 56), the strength of the character he’d created meant that eight other authors have subsequently written authorised Bond novels. Most recently, this has been Anthony Horowitz; the next of his Bond novels, With a Mind to Kill, is set to be released later this year.

Fleming’s brilliance is further emphasised through the overwhelming success of James Bond films which are now the fifth-highest-grossing film series of all time. Many of the actors who play Bond, such as Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, are now best known for their portrayals of Fleming’s famous character. There have now been 25 Bond films produced, with the most recent coming out last year. Although the storyline has had to be extended from what Fleming could write in his lifetime, his inspiration is still seen. For example, in his book Thunderball, Bond fights against the terrorist organisation, ‘Spectre’. This is echoed in the 2015 film named Spectre. On top of this, Ian Fleming’s work has been adapted for television, radio, comics, and even video games!

Fleming’s style of writing in these novels has been praised. It was said by Raymond Benson (who later wrote some of the authorised Bond novels) that by Thunderball – published in 1961 – he was ‘a master storyteller’. It is recognised that Fleming’s journalistic beginnings helped him to progress the narrative quickly, without dragging it out. This, along with the hooks at the end of every chapter, help to engage readers. It’s clear that Fleming’s most renowned novels are still a success today, particularly through the continuing adaptations they have encouraged.

Fleming’s other notable work is the children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In a similar way to the Bond series, he is sometimes forgotten as the creator, again due to the success of the film adaptation.

The book centres around a car, named ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (called that due to the noise it makes). Throughout the book, the car slowly gains the ability to take independent actions, often rescuing the family in times of need and helping them to do good in defeating the gangsters.

Ian Fleming’s children’s book was published in 1961, at the height of the success of his James Bond series. Just as in the Bond series, Fleming took inspiration from his own life. The car in this book was somewhat based on his own Standard Tourer, which he drove in the 1920s. Similarly, one of the children in the novel was called Jemima, named after a previous boss’ daughter.

It was clearly a brave step for the already-successful author to take. It was somewhat of a turn away from his more adult spy novels, though they share the element of adventure. Nonetheless, the review upon release was overwhelmingly positive. One reviewer in The Times actually commented that this was a perfect novel for ‘junior Bonds-men’. The strength of the story is again reflected by the fact it was later turned into a film, starring Dick van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes.

It's undeniable that Fleming had the ability to write a great story. Though the fame has slightly been stolen from him by the production of films, it’s important to acknowledge him as the mastermind behind these well-loved tales.

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