Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming—the man behind James Bond

Childhood & Upbringing

Ian Fleming Painting

A portrait of Ian Fleming
Constance Vlahoulis/ CC-BY-SA-2.0/Wikimedia Commons

1908: Ian Lancaster Fleming is born May 28 to Valentine and Evelyn St. Croix Rose Fleming. Ian is the second son, ten months younger than his life-long rival, Peter.

Valentine is described as temperate, cautious, honorable, kind and dutiful to society. Evelyn is extravagant, beautiful, passionate, strong willed, demanding, a law unto herself.

Peter, age 8, and Ian, age 7, are sent to Durnford, a boarding school famous for its Spartan methods and for bullying new students. Ian is scarred by this experience and remained cautious of anyone who attempts to get close to him for the rest of his life.

1917: Valentine Fleming is killed on May 20 on a WWI battlefield. Peter, Ian, Richard and brother Michael mature under the dominating control of their mother and the idealized memory of their war-hero father.


1921: Ian enrolls at Eton. His sentiments for Eton are captured fully in a gift Ian would present late in his life to the Old Etonian Golfing Society. The silver trophy called the James Bond Vase is in the shape of a large silver chamber pot.

Eton College

Eton College Herry Lawford/CC-BY-2.0/Wikimedia Commons

Ian will not graduate from Eton. He leaves under a dark cloud of pending expulsion involving a car and girls. Ian’s mother withdraws him and sends him to a highly disciplined Prussian-style military school.

1926: Ian is enrolled at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, England. It is hell for Cadet Fleming who spends most of his time on the square being knocked into shape by the drill masters. He responds poorly in his subjects and expends minimal effort.

Fleming does not graduate from Eton or Sandhurst. He has many girlfriends during these years. He is known for regaling them with adventurous tales. He loves rich foods, elegant automobiles and eccentric clothing. He is a dandy, a born actor. Ian falls in love with a young woman named Peggy. When Peggy honors an earlier commitment and goes to a dance with another man, Ian sleeps with another woman and contracts gonorrhea.

1927: Ian’s mother, exasperated by her son’s failures, sends him to a Scottish former diplomat and spy, tutor Ernan Forbes-Dennis and his Quaker wife, novelist Phyllis Bottome, who was Adler’s official biographer. Under their tutelage at Tennerhof in Switzerland, Ian becomes a reader of good literature as well as a student of Adlerian psychology. He makes his first real attempt at writing literature at age 19.

Later in life, Fleming would describe this period as “that time when the sun always shone.” Forbes-Dennis and Bottome nurture him. In addition to providing an emotionally safe and nurturing environment, they help him find direction and purpose for his life, directing his study for the Foreign Service exam. No longer under the direct influence of his mother and family, Fleming delves into the great books of Europe and the required books for a London University degree. He becomes fluent in German, French and usable Russian.

After Tennerhof, Ian resides in Geneva and becomes engaged to Monique Panchaud de Bottomes, a young, amusing French-Swiss Protestant. When their engagement crumbles, partly due to his mother’s objections, Fleming boasts that he plans to become “quite bloody-minded about women from now on.”

Adulthood & Career

1931: Fleming becomes Reuters’ correspondent in Moscow covering the trial of several British engineers accused of spying in Stalin’s Russia. Fleming’s accounts of the trial often surpass his fellow correspondents in speed and imagination. His fanciful articles make events appear more dramatic than they are in reality.

1939: In the spring, prior to entering Naval Intelligence officially, Ian returns to Moscow as part of a Trade Delegation. Actually, he is sent as a spy.

On July 26, Fleming is appointed a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and is recruited to be assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence. His boss, Rear Admiral John H. Godfrey, is believed by many to be Fleming’s model for M, James Bond’s boss in the 007 tales. Fleming’s skills are “running things” and drafting memoirs with precision and clarity. He was a “skilled fixer,” employing tact and charm with a little imagination added for spice. To say that he is a personal assistant does not capture the power and scope of his position. From the beginning, Godfrey places exceptional trust in Ian and arranges for him to be shown every detail of the operation.

Ian Fleming Goldeneye Estate

The Goldeneye Estate Banjoman1/CC-BY-SA-3.0/Wikimedia Commons

1944: In autumn, Fleming makes an official trip to Washington and on to Jamaica. He loves the island and decides to live the rest of his life there. Through his friend Ivar Bryce, Fleming buys 14 acres on the North Shore at Oracabessa. He calls it Goldeneye. It is here that all the James Bond tales are written.

1945: Fleming is discharged from the Navy and becomes foreign manager of Kemsley Newspapers where he is responsible for building one of the most substantial organizations in the news business, the Mercury Service. When the Mercury Service begins to founder, he was passed over for advancement and feels the pinch financially. A second son, he receives no inheritance. His life is stalled, so he decides to marry for the first time.

Later Life & James Bond Novels

1952: Fleming marries Ann Charteris at Goldeneye in Jamaica. Ann, now in her third marriage, has divorced her second husband, Esmond, the second Viscount Rothermer. The Fleming’s only child, Caspar Robert, is born August, 1952.

1953 – 1960: Casino Royale; Live and Let Die; Moonraker; Diamonds are Forever; From Russia, With Love; Dr. No; Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only are published.

1961: Thunderball is published and, that same year, LIFE magazine lists the 10 favorite books of President John Kennedy, including From Russia with Love. This spurs Fleming’s sales and, later that year, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli take options on all Bond novels for film production.

1962 – 1964: The Spy Who Loved Me; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are published.

Ian Fleming Grave

Ian Fleming’s grave Trish Steel/CC-BY-SA-2.0/Wikimedia Commons

Ian Lancaster Fleming dies August 12, 1964, of a heart attack suffered while attending a committee meeting at the Royal St. George Golf Club.

1965 – 1966: The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy are published, posthumously.

This chronology of the life of Ian Lancaster Fleming is a slightly summarized version of one available in Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass, a unique book that combines analysis of the major spiritual themes woven into Ian Fleming’s Bond novels and Bible study.

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