James Bond runs a cool eye over the man he owes most to
[By Robert Harling] (Daily Express, March 15, 1961)
James Bond? A man of fiction, of course. But a credible man none the less—partly modelled, in fact, on the writer of this article, who is a close friend of author Ian Fleming. Here Fleming is given a secret agent’s appraisal on the eve of the Daily Express serialisation of his latest thriller, “Thunderball” (starring Bond). Start reading “Thunderball” tomorrow.
Ian Fleming is about six feet tall, with dark hair now touched heroically by grey. A ruddy, craggy, sardonic, probably handsome face, which contrives, somewhat paradoxically, I’ll admit, to seem amused and spleenish at one and the same time.
He has pale blue eyes—as if you hadn’t guessed.
In London he wears dark grey or dark blue suits and no waistcoats. Quite often he wears, with pale blue shirts, a bow tie. He is one of the very few men who give distinction to that dicey piece of neckwear.
He never actually wears a hat, but usually carries a battered black felt that looks as if it had been savaged by a wolf-hound.
He hates all unnecessary (and most necessary) chores, and thus wears casual black shoes which require no lacing.
For the countryside and golf he sports a pleasantly extrovert line in hound’s-tooth checks and hirsute pullovers.
He has been accused by some of his more emotional critics of sadism in his books and, of what is an even greater crime in present-day Britain, snobbery.
Few of his friends would recognise these qualities in him.
He’s not over-fond of pets. He hates, with sadistic fervour, theatre-goers who take coffee in the interval.
He has about six well-hated acquaintances.
He does have his cigarettes made for him, but he now buys ready-made shirts and shoes.
In London he lives in a small and pretty stucco house in Pimlico with circular rooms, overlooking one of London’s smaller, car-choked squares.
His wife Anne, who has as spiky and wicked a wit as any woman since Mrs. Pat Campbell, has considerably skill as an interior decorator, and the house is gay and comfortable in the still-fashionable Regency-Victorian manner.
It is also a very real home—in the sitting-room that is.
But Mrs. Fleming also has a passion for hostessing and [has] gathered round her dining table some of the most splendid egoists of our time.
As she also has a tip-top cook and the arty intelligentsia of London is always hungry and ill-fed, her dinner parties are apt to be marathon sessions, memorable to both gastronomic gluttons and gluttons for intellectual punishment.
Fleming invariably goes out, returning at 11 or midnight to find his wife’s guests still at table, still settling the fate of the world.
As he needs a lot of sleep, he usually continues upstairs to bed.
Yet, despite his affection for his London home, Fleming is probably happiest in the Caribbean, where he writes his books.
At Goldeneye, his well-loved Jamaican house, hidden among a plantation of giant palms, he dresses in a fiercely-patterned cotton shirt, shorts and sandals, and works hard. Very hard.
Something of his Puritanical Scottish background must impel him to these efforts—as well as the spurs of fame and fortune—for he is, by nature, a hedonist and would rather be out beyond the reefs with goggles, snorkel and spear than slogging at the typewriter.
He designed the house himself, although he cannot draw a line. So take heart all would-be amateur architects, for Goldeneye is the most successfully planned of all the tropical houses I have ever stayed in.
A vast dining-living room and three bedrooms overlook the sea and the small private cove below the cliffs.
One friend, steely eye fixed on Fleming, knowing his man, contended that the name of the house might well have been Rum Cove.
Another friend, Noel Coward, who has cosier ideas about tropical interior decoration than Fleming, countered by saying that the house should have been called Golden Eye, Nose and Throat.
Still the house is cool and quiet, and comfortable. And always at the foot of the cliff steps is the beach or a boat or a swim.
Among friends, he talks well in simple, unvarnished English, quickened from time to time by vivid phrases, which he delights in himself and appreciates in others.
Unlike many good talkers he is no monologue-roller, but a warm and willing listener.
So long as the material is worth listening to, that is. If not, he is quickly bored—and shows it.
This characteristic, of course, makes him particularly susceptible to new experiences, new thrills, new anything—except, possibly, new friends.
The promise of a trip on the footplate of a railway engine puffing through the Rockies has him as excited as a schoolboy. The chance of trying out a new underwater gadget is a heady prospect.
But he doesn’t demand that all the experiences should be hair-raising.
He is just as ready to be entertained by the prospect of a visit to a little known church with John Betjeman, or to inspect some of the bookish treasures of the Holkham Library under the genial guidance of Dr. Hassall of the Bodleian.
This interest in the bases of our lives as well as its more esoteric extremes was well shown when he was editing a gossip column in a weekly paper.
One of his reporters came to him one day to say that a convention of the world’s greatest chefs was being held in London and that the chefs were preparing for themselves one of the greatest slap-up feasts of history. Shouldn’t she try to get hold of the menu?
“No,” said Fleming. “Ask each of these great chefs his recipe for scrambled eggs.”
He is shrewd, practical, to the point—qualities which were well illustrated by his answer to a question I once asked him—What would he do post-war?
“Write the spy story to end all spy stories,” he said with simple grandiloquence.
And so James Bond was born. You can read about him again tomorrow.