Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

by Andrew Lycett


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We all know who James Bond is, but how many of us know much about his creator, Ian Fleming, a master of espionage and thrillers? In this full-length biography, author Andrew Lycett tells the story of Ian Fleming's life proving that it was just as dramatic as that of his fictional creation. Educated at Eaton and Sandhurst, he joined Naval Intelligence in 1939 participating in both Operation Mincemeat and Operation Golden Eye. After the war, he became a journalist and, in 1953, wrote Casino Royale thereby introducing the world to an English spy named James Bond.

Set in London, Switzerland and Fleming's Jamaican estate Goldeneye, his life was peopled with luminaries like Noel Coward, Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Bond film producer "Cubby" Broccoli and others. With direct access to Fleming's family and friends, Lycett goes behind the complicated façade of this enigmatic and remarkable man. Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett is biography at its best—a glittering portrait of the brilliant and enigmatic man who created Agent 007.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250037985
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 814,755
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

ANDREW LYCETT is an English biographer and journalist. He is the author of Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas: A New Life and Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009. He lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

Ian Fleming

By Andrew Lycett

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1995 Andrew Lycett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-03798-5


Etonian rebel


His father was a Fleming, his mother a Rose – enough said, according to the sociobiologists who interpret Ian Fleming's tantalizingly short and ambivalent life as a continuous battle for supremacy between two radically different sets of genes: the dour Scots respectability of his paternal line and the raffish capriciousness of the maternal.

Ian's grandfather, Robert, was one of the pioneers of popular capitalism, a resourceful Dundee clerk who developed the concept of investment trusts (forerunners of unit trusts) so that small investors could participate in companies' growth. Like many successful financiers, he sprang from a modest, even underprivileged, background. The Flemings like to trace their antecedents to fourteenth-century immigrants from Flanders, who were attracted to England and later to Scotland by opportunities in the textile trade. By the early nineteenth century one branch had made its way up to the Highlands and was living off the land as farmers, just south of Braemar. With ambitions to better himself, Robert's father, John, pioneered a lint mill on the banks of the River Isla. But the venture failed, and he was forced to move to Dundee and find work in a jute factory. Robert was brought up in the Liff Road, one of the city's poorest slums. Conditions were so harsh that five of his brothers and sisters died in childhood of diphtheria: only he and his brother John (later knighted as Lord Provost of Aberdeen) survived.

Robert determined to succeed where his father had failed. Forced to leave the local high school at the age of just thirteen, he worked his way up to the post of bookkeeper in the dank offices of an eminent Dundee jute merchant. His employer, Edward Baxter, proved smart enough to recognize his young recruit's financial acumen, and, at the age of twenty-five, Robert was despatched to North America to look after the jute king's dollar securities. He returned convinced of the economic potential of the United States following the end of the Civil War. Equally important, he saw an opening for himself to make money. With Dundee's fifty-year-long dominance of the world jute trade under threat from competition from mills in Bengal, the local "jutocracy" and their dependants needed new outlets for their savings. The 1862 Companies Act, which introduced the concept of limited liability, provided the catalyst. Robert realized that he could use this legislation to establish an investors' club, or trust, which, when floated as a company, would enable shareholders to participate in a variety of ventures at little risk to themselves.

After securing the services of four well-known Dundee businessmen to act as trustees, he issued a prospectus for the First Issue of the Scottish American Investment Trust in 1873. The aim was to raise £150,000 in £100 certificates, giving investors a guaranteed return of 6 per cent per annum. But the launch proved so popular that his original prospectus had to be withdrawn and replaced with a new one raising £300,000. That too was oversubscribed, and was followed by two larger issues.

Following these successes, the industrious Robert found himself in demand to advise other companies on their northern American holdings. Inevitably he was drawn to London where he set up the Investment Trust Corporation in 1888 and, two decades later, Robert Fleming and Company, the merchant bank which still bears his name and operates out of its original premises in Crosby Square in the City of London.

Robert specialized in American railroad securities, which had an insatiable demand for capital wherever it came from and paid handsome returns, particularly given the going rate for the dollar. He was a regular visitor to North America, sailing the transatlantic liners like a present-day businessman might fly Concorde – seven crossings in 1894, during a period of economic depression when roughly a quarter of American track was in receivership. But Fleming's tenacity (that was the word most often used about his business skills) and his undoubted mastery with figures ensured that investors in his trusts were not affected. The Pennsylvania, Union Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe were among dozens of railroads which owed their existence to his financial backing. He helped raise funds for railroad projects in Cuba, Mexico and Guatemala. At one stage he was a director of the Matador Land and Cattle Company which owned one and a half million acres in Texas and forty thousand head of cattle roaming on them. Closer to home, he was involved with the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now British Petroleum). In the process he became a respected international financier, rubbing shoulders, doing business, and, most important, establishing close personal relationships with leading bankers in the United States, including J. Pierpont Morgan, Jacob Schiff at Kuhn Loeb, and the New York Warburgs.

By the age of thirty-five, Robert felt rich enough to take a wife. When not poring over accounts, he had a reputation for being monosyllabic. Nevertheless he found the words to propose to Kate Hindmarsh, the strong-willed daughter of an Inland Revenue officer. A handsome girl who liked open-air pursuits, she was twelve years his junior when they met in the Lindsey Street Congregational Church in Dundee. After their marriage in February 1881, she produced four children for him at two-yearly intervals, starting with Ian's father, Valentine, in 1883, and then his aunts Dorothy in 1885 and Kathleen in 1887 and, finally, his uncle Philip in 1889.

By that time Robert, Kate and their young family had joined the steady trail of self-made Scots millionaires to England. That meant a radical change of lifestyle for the austere Flemings. The prevailing City ethos required Robert to behave like a moneyed English gentleman. Spurred by his socially ambitious wife, he bought a large house in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair (it was later demolished to make way for the present-day American Embassy). And then in 1903, when that was not enough, he acquired a run-down estate at Nettlebed in Oxfordshire. Later the same year he bought a nearby house, Joyce Grove, to go with his two thousand acres of beechwoods and farmland. But he and Kate were not content with this perfectly respectable, modestly sized William and Mary mansion, which supposedly took its name from the regicide Cornet Joyce, one of Oliver Cromwell's right-hand men during the Civil War. Despite their Scottish parsimony, they wanted a more obvious statement of their international plutocrat status. So the existing structure was pulled down to make way for a massive, red brick palazzo with vaguely Gothic pretensions. It came complete with forty-four bedrooms, a dozen bathrooms, and a plaque on the front wall affirming the family motto, "Let the deed shaw". The world in general declared the new Joyce Grove a monstrosity, though the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner was later prepared to hedge his bets.

To ease their passage into the Edwardian establishment, Robert and Kate committed their two sons to a conventional upper-middle-class English education. Since only the best would do, Val and Phil were sent to Eton and Oxford. Val emerged from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1905 with a degree in history and the manners and bearing of a perfect English gentleman. As Ian was to learn, often to his cost, Val did everything in his school and university career right. At school, he was a member of the oligarchic Eton Society, or "Pop", and rowed in the eight. At Oxford, he continued to row, but still found time to act as field master of the New College and Magdalen beagles for two seasons, and also as president of the Undergraduates' Common Room. He subsequently read for the Bar, but never practised. There was never any doubt that his scholastic and sporting achievements were simply well-defined milestones on his effortless path towards joining the family firm.

There was the wilful air of a young professional in a hurry in the way Val got married less than a year after leaving Oxford. A man needs a wife with his line of business in prospect. But, to give Val his due, there was nothing dynastic about his choice. He might have opted for the quietly supportive, rank-enhancing daughter of one of the peers whom Robert frequently invited down to Joyce Grove to shoot. Instead he plumped for the lively, attractive daughter of a local solicitor who lived a dozen miles from Joyce Grove in the Thames-side village of Sonning.

With her big dark eyes, high cheek-bones and trim figure, Evelyn Beatrice Ste Croix Rose was the very antithesis of Fleming thrift and heartiness. She played the violin and was a good water- colourist for a start: none of the Flemings had any pretensions to music or art. She was frivolous, snobbish and vain. Money, as far as she was concerned, was for spending rather than saving. One of her extravagances was her wardrobe: she dressed with a theatrical originality which later often caused Ian and his brothers acute embarrassment. Gold, purple and green were her colours; exotic materials and outsize hats her style.

Eve, as she was known, came from a distinguished enough family. Her grandfathers on both sides had risen to the summits of their professions and been knighted for their services. Her father's father, Sir Philip Rose, had been legal adviser to the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. (A caricature by Spy in Vanity Fair depicted him as Lord Beaconsfield's Friend.) Her mother's father, Sir Richard Quain, went one better. As a leading London surgeon and editor of the renowned Dictionary of Medicine, he was frequently called upon to pronounce on the health of Queen Victoria. Sir Richard's stock in trade was a genial Irish manner and a quick way with intuitive diagnoses. He ended his life a hugely popular man though, like Robert Fleming, he had started it very humbly – in his case, in County Cork, where his first job was as a tanner's apprentice.

Somehow the mingling of Rose and Quain genes never quite worked. Although Eve's parents were contentedly married, her two brothers, Ivor and Harcourt, turned out to be notorious rakes. For all their Eton and (in Harcourt's case) Oxford educations, they both managed to be declared bankrupt and, by the end of their lives, they had both been married three times. On the Oxfordshire–Berkshire borders, around Henley, they were known as the "wild Roses", a dissolute couple whom Eve later forbad her children to see. Her sister, Kathleen, fared little better: a would-be actress, she married and separated young, tried unsuccessfully to write plays, and hung around for ever after, a forlorn figure on the fringes of Eve's society.

According to family legend, Val and Eve met at a ball, possibly an Oxford Commemoration ball, and fell for each other instantly. Brother Harcourt may have been the intermediary, since he knew Val at both Eton and Oxford. Eve's father, George Rose, was an enthusiastic rower who, for two decades, presided over the Sonning regatta. One can imagine that Eve first saw her future husband rowing in her father's regatta and was attracted by his physique and sporting prowess.

Despite reservations about his son's choice of wife, Robert settled a sizeable sum, a quarter of a million pounds, on Val when the couple married in February 1906. Val used some of this legacy to buy his own mock Gothic pile, Braziers Park, well-endowed with woodland and hedgerows for shooting, at Ipsden in Oxfordshire, just four miles down the road from his parents at Nettlebed. Shortly afterwards he and Eve took a short lease on a property in Mayfair, again just round the corner from the Robert Flemings. And it was here, at 27 Green Street, off Park Lane, that their first son, Peter, was born on 31 May 1907, to be followed, with almost indecent haste, by Ian on 28 May 1908.

Weighing in at just under nine pounds, Ian Lancaster Fleming, in contrast to his elder brother Peter, was a big, bouncing baby. He was given his second name because, in keeping with the petty snobbery which used to annoy her in-laws, Eve liked to claim descent from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of Edward III. (Later, she would insist that her own family, the "wild Roses", were true Highlanders, unlike the parvenu Lowland Flemings, and would dress Ian and his brothers in Rose tartan kilts.)

Like her mother-in-law before her, Eve was philoprogenitive: Ian was followed in fairly quick succession by two more sons, Richard in 1911 and Michael in 1913. In many respects, the young Flemings could not have been born in happier circumstances. It was the Edwardian era, the Indian summer of genteel country-house living. The family commuted between two substantial homes. Braziers Park was a child's paradise with its dedicated nurseries and playrooms, its maze of passages and cupboards, its stables and kennels (for Val's pack of bassets), its hidden pathways and its rolling acres of woodland. And in London there was a smart new residence, a Georgian mansion on the edge of Hampstead Heath, which was renamed Pitt House, after the statesman, William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham, who had lived there nearly a century and a half earlier.

If this seemed the epitome of civilized living, it was something of an illusion. The established social order had received an unprecedented buffeting as a result of the prolonged agricultural depression in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Confrontation loomed as the landed classes tried to keep the growing demand for social and political change at bay. The turning-point came when David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Liberal government, introduced his People's Budget in 1909, and called for increased land taxes, supertax and other duties to pay for his new concept of old-age pensions. The House of Lords, with its massive majority of Conservative peers, rejected the measure, whereupon the government resigned and called a general election in January 1910 on the twin issues of the budget and the power of the Lords. Although they were returned with only a reduced majority, political feelings were running so high that the Liberals determined to introduce a new Parliament Bill, curbing the powers of the Lords to vote on financial legislation. Since the Conservative majority in the House of Lords still obtained, and it was unlikely to accede to its own emasculation, a second general election was called for December. The issue this time was solely the Parliament Bill. The position of the parties remained much the same as a result of the voting, and the Bill was passed the following year, after the government threatened to create up to five hundred new Liberal peers.

All this might have been the hazy historical backdrop to Ian's life if his father had not been elected as Conservative MP for the Henley Division of South Oxfordshire in the first election of 1910. The previous year Val had joined his father as a partner in the latter's newly created bank, Robert Fleming and Company. (The other partner was a Scottish accountant called Walter Whigham.) Now, demonstrating their skill in drafting the upwardly mobile to their ranks, the landed classes sent the young banker, not yet thirty, to fight their corner in crucial parliamentary battles to come.

Val had done his political legwork. Although a newcomer to the area, he had already been commissioned into the local yeomanry regiment, the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars. He rode with the South Oxfordshire and South Berkshire hunts. These acts of geographical identification, together with his personal charm and level-headedness, inspired the countryfolk of the Henley Division to dump their incumbent Liberal MP, Philip Morrell, and vote for Fleming. An incident in the immediate aftermath of the polls suggested that Val had a useful electoral asset in his pretty young wife. For Lady Ottoline Morrell, the rich artistic patron who was married to his opponent, was so incensed by the result that she marched up to Eve and publicly shook her by the lapels.

The purchase and deliberate renaming of Pitt House signalled Val's ambitions to succeed in Conservative Party politics. Till then it had been known variously as Wildwood House and North End House or Place. But, in the century or so since his death, the elder Pitt had become a symbol of muscular Toryism. Lowe, Goldschmidt and Howland, the Hampstead estate agent which put his former ivy-clad mansion on the market in November 1908, advertised it as "the house in which Great Britain lost America" – a reference to the notion that, if Pitt had not hidden himself away there in the 1770s, the government would not have imposed its dreaded tea tax on North America and Britain would not have lost its most valuable colony. It did not matter that Pitt's stay in his now eponymous house had been devastatingly unhappy. The former Secretary of State was riddled with gout and refused to see anyone, not even his butler, who was forced to serve his master's meals through a hatchway with double doors. The outer door had to be closed before Pitt would open the inner to get his food. (Ironically, before the Flemings, Pitt House was owned by Harold Harmsworth, the first Lord Rothermere, and father of Esmond, the man whose wife Ian Fleming courted and later married.) Eve fell easily into the role of metropolitan hostess. Her striking looks proved as much of a draw as the general conversation for several of her husband's colleagues, including the young MP Winston Churchill, a fellow officer in the sociable Oxfordshire Hussars, who liked to call Val and his brother Phil the "flamingos".


Excerpted from Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett. Copyright © 1995 Andrew Lycett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations vi

Foreword vii

1 Etonian rebel 1

2 Foreign initiation 29

3 "The world's worst stockbroker" 64

4 Chocolate sailor 101

5 Ian's Red Indians 127

6 Newspaper romance 159

7 Succumbing to marriage 186

8 Bond promotion 220

9 Escaping the 'gab-fests' 251

10 Jamaican attraction 279

11 Emotional turmoil 310

12 Film options 343

13 Heart problems 376

14 Kent and Wiltshire 403

15 Name in lights 430

Acknowledgements 454

Bibliography 458

Index 462

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