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Ian Fleming by James Rymer - July 2010

1964 - You Only Die Twice’ Ian Fleming appeared to live life in the fast lane: working as a journalist, clubbing in London (albeit his Gentlemen clubs were not the type visited by Ashley Cole) and writing daring adventure tales whilst spending his winters in the Caribbean. Yet by 1963, distressed perhaps by the pressures of court cases regarding the script for ‘Thunderball’ or his failing health due to smoking, drinking and his sedentary lifestyle, he decided to knock off his most famous invention – James Bond. Indeed, in the last of his books to be published in his lifetime ‘You Only Live Twice’ he writes the Obituary of James Bond, CMG, Commander RNVR in ‘The Times’ as he is presumed dead (see chapter 21), although later discovered to survive. Of interest is that after the book title page it is noted to come from a quote ‘after Basho’ – meaning that it is Fleming’s words but the style comes from this famous Japanese poet, as follows: “You only live twice… Once when you are born, And once when you look death in the face.” The strange thing about this quote is that if you read ‘Double Lives’ by William Plomer, who was Fleming’s editor at Cape as well as a distinguished author and poet, he too mentions Basho, but also that to live successfully as a foreigner in Japan (which he did for several years in 1920’s) that you had to disguise your former life and live as a local – hence living a ‘Double Life’.

This concept of integrating with the locals & living in a Japanese pearl fishing village, is exactly what Fleming has incorporated for James Bond in his attempt to fight with Blofeld in ‘You Only Live Twice’. I have followed up further on events in 1964 and Ian Fleming, both out of curiosity and also since I was born on 11th August 1964, the day prior to Fleming’s death due to heart attack, aged 56. But rather than any coincidences between myself and Fleming, I find it interesting to look at the traits found in the character of Fleming and his alter ego, James Bond as outlined in his Obituary in ‘You Only Live Twice’. First is the childhood of the two characters, and while they bear a strong resemblance, it is the differences that are striking. Ian’s father, Valentine, died during Service in WWI when Ian was a young man and this obviously had a profound effect on his upbringing. Yet in a bid for further sympathy perhaps, both James Bond’s parents died while mountain climbing in Switzerland, leaving him to be brought up by his ‘Aunt’ in Kent.

Indeed, one of Fleming’s longtime friends – Robert Harling – who wrote the Obituary for the real Ian Fleming in the Sunday Times, was actually brought up by his ‘Aunt’ although in Brighton and not Kent as written for James Bond. Also, whereas Ian Fleming learnt French and German by diligent study after leaving school and going to Germany, his alter ego picked it up from his cosmopolitan parents. I find this fascinating as well, for in general James Bond became good at golf (see ‘Goldfinger’) and rifle shooting by hard practice and reading study books rather than extraordinary natural ability. Indeed, Fleming was renowned for attention to getting all his details right, from perfume brands, to family history in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ or in research for all the strange storylines (such as ‘Moonraker’ where experimental rockets are being launched from the South coast of England) almost all of them are based on hard-researched facts.

This has often been lost since in the Bond films, the story lines are often very far from reality! Another interesting point in Bond’s timeline is that he entered service in WWII as a teenager and was rapidly promoted. Ian Fleming joined the War effort in London in 1939, but aged 31… so rather than resorting to plastic surgery, Fleming was able to remove a good decade in his age as he lived out his fantasies through Bond! In fact, during WWII Fleming did rapidly become a Commander in RNVR, so this was totally correct; however, whereas Bond became a CMG (Order of St Michael and St George, a prestigious Royal award), since Fleming never saw active service, he did not receive any official recognition. When you consider that the Beatles were to receive MBE’s a few years later for singing pop songs, it is curious that by 1964 the Bond phenomenon had only really just started, so he just missed out on recognition as an Author.

Finally, the epitaph quoted at the end of Bond’s obituary is “I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” But, while this is a form of ‘Carpe Diem’ that both Fleming & Bond did follow, I much prefer the final words that were given by his close friend and editor at Cape, William Plomer, at Ian Fleming’s Memorial service, namely: “Let us remember him as he was on top of the world, with his foot on the accelerator, laughing at absurdities, enjoying discoveries, absorbed in his many interests and plans, fascinated and amused by places and people and facts and fantasies, an entertainer of millions, and for us a friend not to be forgotten.” So, in 1964 both Fleming and Bond had their obituaries published and in that sense they did die.

But to this day there remains a lasting legacy of Fleming in the form of his books, his films and most importantly, in the imagination of many young men (and quite a few older ones) trying to emulate the feats of Bond. By real coincidence, in the Centenary of Fleming’s Birth in 2008, his great friend Robert Harling died, and as a result the personally inscribed copy of ‘You Only Live Twice’ came onto the book market. I acquired this book with the help of James Pickard (the co-author of Ian Fleming's Bibliography: Firsts Magazine November 1998), and thereby hope to pass on the same spirit and ethos contained in the book, and based much around both these men, to another generation of readers

James M Pickard