As much as Ian Fleming clearly gave James Bond some of his own traits and habits, the truth (from Fleming’s point of view) is that when it came to what matters – the missions, the spying, the killing – his novels were nothing more than wish fulfilment.
Fleming served in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, and helped supervise the 1940 escape from France of refugees fleeing the advancing Nazis. Whether or not he progressed further than a desk in Whitehall is disputed.
If he didn’t, it wasn’t for want of trying. He constantly dreamed up ambitious (not to say hazardous) schemes for defeating the Germans, with the intention of taking part himself. One, which Fleming dubbed ‘Operation Goldeneye’, was a plan for the defence of Gibraltar.
Another, called ‘Operation Ruthless’, was designed to capture German naval Enigma machine codebooks. Fleming and his co-agents were to have dressed in German air force uniforms, complete with bandages soaked in fake blood, then to have crashed a captured enemy plane into the sea, near the ship carrying the Enigma documentation. When rescued, they were to have overpowered the Germans, taken control of the ship and sailed it back to Britain. Unsurprisingly, the scheme was never given the go-ahead. But it’s clear that a man who could come up with ideas like this was never going to end up writing books on gardening.
A successful venture in which Fleming did play a part was Operation Mincemeat, the plot to plant a dead body bearing false intelligence about Allied landings (later portrayed in the film The Man Who Never Was) and allow it to wash up in mainland Europe. He also helped set up America’s Office of Strategic Services, which ultimately became the CIA, and for which he was given a revolver engraved with the words: ‘For Special Services’.
Fleming oversaw a team of crack soldiers who were known as ‘30 AU’ (‘Assault Unit’), which he referred to as his ‘Red Indians’. Seconded from the regular army, these likely lads were given specialist training in Bond-ish activities such as safe-cracking and unarmed combat, then dispatched overseas on intelligence-gathering and sabotage missions.
It’s from this unit that you can draw the first of your possible ‘Bond prototypes’. The following are just some of the men who are commonly thought to have inspired Fleming as he was fleshing out his fictional character:
A member of the landed gentry, he turned his back on cucumber sandwiches and cocktails at The Ritz to become a successful boxer, then a trapper in Canada. He once sailed six cement barges up the River Danube in an attempt to block it and hinder the Nazis. He failed, but escaped the Germans’ clutches.
Commander Wilfred Dunderdale
The Secret Intelligence Service’s station chief in Paris. He funded his spying escapades from his own fortune, wore Cartier cufflinks and drove around in a bulletproof Rolls-Royce.
All of which are good reasons for mentioning him – but not as good as the best reason of all, which is that he was known as ‘Biffy’.
Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Dalzel-Job
A colleague of Fleming’s in Naval Intelligence. He could ski backwards and navigate a midget submarine (though not at the same time), and disobeyed orders by rescuing the women and children of Narvik, Norway, from the Germans during the Second World War. He was saved from a court martial only by the King of Norway’s intervention. Fleming confirmed that Dalzel-Job had been in his thoughts as he created Bond, but the man himself shunned the stories as ‘far too dramatic’. Which is itself Bond-like.
Sir William Stephenson
British intelligence chief in North America during the Second World War, code name ‘Intrepid’. He scores points for that, though not as many as for Fleming’s quote that ‘James Bond is a highly romanticised version of a true spy. The real thing is William Stephenson.’ But Fleming was (not for the first time) being a little playful; no one man was really the basis for 007, except possibly…
Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Gordon-Creed
A former Downside public schoolboy, he won the Military Cross for extraordinary valour in his first action, aged 21.
Gordon-Creed was an ex-tank commander recruited by the Special Operations Executive to disrupt German supply lines in wartime Greece. A serial seducer of equally heroic proportions, later adding Ava Gardner to his long list of lovers, and the daughter of the president of Firestone (then one of the world’s wealthiest companies) to his long list of wives, the highly decorated soldier’s guerilla activities in occupied Greece would have been well known to Fleming – not least when he added the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) to his medal haul.
Cruelly handsome, and never happier than when dispatching an enemy with a knife or pouncing on any female within his sight, the man who has since been described as a ‘lethal weapon’ was a drinking companion of Fleming’s in Jamaica in the early 1950s. His biographer, Falklands veteran Roger Field, has no doubts that Gordon-Creed was the true inspiration for Bond. The other stuffed shirts simply didn’t place enough emphasis on the importance of sex.
For more information about Bond, James Bond…read The Bluffer’s Guide to Bond.