The following is a guest post.
Born into a wealthy Scottish banking family, Ian Fleming had a typical 1930s silver spoon upbringing with stints at posh boy clubs Eton and Sandhurst. He grew up in the shadows of his father (who passed when he was just 9) and brother; where they excelled he did not. Perhaps it was their legacies that plagued him and drove him to create his own.
It wasn’t until WW2 that Ian Fleming had a taste of the work that would inspire the longest running and most successful movie franchise of all time. Stuck in Room 39 of Naval Intelligence, Fleming didn’t see any action. He was a desk sailor but that didn’t mean he was without success. He put together 30 Assault Unit, his own team of specially trained spies, who unsuccessfully tried to capture an Enigma machine. Despite this failure, Fleming and 30 AU went on to be an integral part of the UK forces during the war.
After the war, Fleming found himself stuck behind another desk, this time at the Kemsley Newspaper group overseeing their vast network of worldwide correspondents. Yet again, living vicariously through his team. Bored, he would stare longingly at a picture of Jamaica’s Montego Bay, where he would eventually build a holiday home, which he named Goldeneye.
Once built, Fleming would take a 3-month holiday each summer, leaving grey London to holiday at Golden Eye. In this paradise, Fleming came alive, immersing himself in the party expat lifestyle of Jamaica with neighbours like Noel Coward, enjoying martinis and packets of cigarettes in the hot sun. But it was short-lived, he was always restless, suffering from bouts of self-doubt and depression.
The start of the Cold War spurred Fleming to write a spy novel, sat behind his Royal Deluxe typewriter in a corner of Goldeneye, he would hammer out 2000 words a day. In his spy book, he finally found his escape; “People like to read about heroes, espionage is regarded by the majority of the public as a romantic affair. It’s one man against the entire police force or army.” Fleming told CBS in a 1953 interview.
Despite denying it in numerous interviews, James Bond was clearly his alter ego. He had endowed Bond with many of his own traits from the same golf handicap, and his taste for scrambled eggs, to his love of gambling. Bond even used the same brand of toiletries!
The first James Bond book, Casino Royale, was completed in just seven weeks, and on 13 April 1953, it was released in the UK. It sold out in less than a month and was such a success, that three print runs were needed to cope with the demand. After the publication of Casino Royale, Fleming continued to use his annual holiday in Jamaica to write the next Bond novel.
The books continued to be a success but Fleming knew they should be movies, and yet, somehow it could never quite get off the ground. In desperation he sold the rights to Casino Royale for next to nothing (about $8,000 in today’s money), which was turned into a hammy American adaptation for a CBS series called Climax, with the hero renamed as Jimmy Bond. Fleming was bitterly disappointed with what they had done to his hero and declined any more film deals to protect his hero.
Meanwhile, a New Yorker called Albert Broccoli or ‘Cubby’ to his friends was making big escapist, swashbuckling movies in Britain because the government was providing subsidies to film productions made in the UK with British casts and crews to help the film industry recover from WW2. This suited Cubby just fine – he loved Britain, the humour, and the lifestyle.
Broccoli was captivated by Fleming’s spy novels and desperately wanted to gain the rights to turn them into movies. He managed to successfully set up a meeting with the now movie-shy Fleming but at the same time, received the terrible news of his wife’s terminal cancer. Broccoli sent his partner, Irving Allen, who didn’t quite share his passion for Bond. Allen told the already touchy Fleming that he thought at best the books could be TV shows. Unsurprisingly Broccoli didn’t secure the rights to the books and was left devastated professionally and personally.
By now Fleming had written seven Bond books and was finding it increasingly harder and harder to continue the franchise. He had wanted to kill off Bond in From Russia With Love but was talked out of it by his publisher and the successful sales figures. Torn, Fleming was smoking 70 cigarettes a day and drinking bottomless martinis as his frustration with the series deepened.
Then came along Harry Saltzman, a French Canadian stage and movie producer with a perchance for grand ideas and banana yellow outfits, who had just read Goldfinger. He too, also wanted to make Bond movies. Possibly it was his own stint in the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, or maybe it was just his charm, but he successfully talked Fleming into a 6 month option to make Dr. No. There was only one problem, he’d used everything he had to secure the rights but didn’t actually have the money to make the movie. And time was running out.
A mutual friend introduced Saltzman to Broccoli. Broccoli wanted to buy the rights but Saltzman refused. So instead they agreed to make the movies together forming Eon (Everything Or Nothing) Productions, who continue to produce Bond movies today.
Finding funding for the first Bond was not that simple though, Saltzman and Broccoli took Bond to Colombia Pictures who passed (which has to be up there with passing on The Beatles and the Harry Potter books). Other Hollywood studios also passed on the films, claiming they were “too British” or “too blatantly sexual” until United Artists agreed to fund the first seven Eon Productions James Bond movies with a million dollars for the first one – Dr. No.
Fleming was thrilled that his creation would finally be getting the big screen debut he deserved. He thought Cary Grant would make a perfect James Bond and courted the idea of the legendary Alfred Hitchcock directing, even sending him a telegraph enquiring. Grant, a close friend of Broccoli’s, who had been best man at his wedding, thought he was too old to play Bond but agreed to play him for one film. Hitchcock on the other hand declined, although he did reconsider briefly later for Thunderball. Broccoli and Saltzman hoped to produce a series of Bond films from Fleming’s books, so Grant was out.
They next turned to Patrick McGoohan (best known for The Prisoner) but he also turned down the role saying Bond was “too promiscuous”, so they opted to hire the then fairly unknown Sean Connery to portray Bond, who Broccoli had seen in Disney’s Darby O’Gill And The Little People.
Fleming wasn’t thrilled about the casting of the unknown Connery who he thought was ‘a working class trucker’ playing his beloved upper middle class hero. United Artists weren’t thrilled either wanting an American star in the lead role. It was Cubby’s wife Dana that convinced her husband that Connery’s sex appeal and masculinity would be a sure hit at the box office, something Fleming’s own girlfriend echoed. When screen tests of Connery as Bond were shown, it was clear the audience agreed – Connery oozed onscreen sex appeal and charisma and the studio and Fleming finally agreed to Sean Connery being cast as Bond.
Fleming may have conjured up the character but without the determination, spirit, creativity, and desire to succeed by Saltzman and Broccoli, Bond would have never made it to the cinema. But it all started with one man’s need.
Sixty years later, that need is still within us as we crave to live vicariously though this super agent. No matter who plays Bond, who the girl he kisses is, the gadgets he uses or the cars he drives – the one, main objective since Fleming picked up a cigarette, sipped his shaken not stirred martini and started tip tapping out his stories on his golden Royal deluxe typewriter, was for us all to live through his adventures.
BOND TRIVIA: Fleming smoked custom made cigarettes from Morland of Grosvenor Street. Three gold bands on the filter were added during the war to mirror his naval Commander’s rank. In the books, Bond smoked the same brand.
Clare A. is a British expat living in California who has been licensed to thrill as Smitten by Britain’s resident James Bond blogger. Besides blogging and making martinis (shaken, not stirred), Clare spends her free time writing travel guides for the L.A. area. Read more of Clare’s posts here.