The Name Is Fleming ... Ian Fleming

Ian Lancaster Fleming, best-selling British author and creator of a fiction character known as secret agent James Bond, is seen in this 1962 photo. A new James Bond novel by a mystery writer will be published next year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Bond creator, the late author's family announced Friday, July 21, 2006. (AP Photo/File)
AP Photo/File
The latest 007 film debuts next week, a good time to remember the man who created him. Author Ian Fleming would have been 100 this year. Anthony Mason helps us celebrate the centenary of the man who gave birth to ... Bond. James Bond.

He's the world's most famous secret agent, the movies' most enduring character, the action hero who has sold more than 100 million books.

It all began in the imagination of Ian Fleming.

Fleming would have been 100 years old this year. The centenary of his birth is being celebrated in an exhibition at London's Imperial War Museum, and with the release next week of the 22nd Bond film, "Quantum of Solace."

The latest 007, Daniel Craig (the 7th movie actor to play the part), is often said to be most like the literary Bond:

"The Ian Fleming stories were great," Craig said. "I stole as much as possible, put it that way."

Craig says of his performance as Bond that "there's a soul searching that I think probably comes from Fleming."

The author and his secret agent had a lot in common: In many ways, Bond is a fantasy of what Fleming would like to have been:

"I mean, Ian liked danger. He liked cars. He liked guns, although he didn't like shooting," said his niece Lucy Fleming.

"And he liked girls, and he liked gambling. So, you know, it's all there. Those are Bond ingredients, aren't they?"

His father was a member of parliament and friend of Winston Churchill; his mother, a beautiful socialite. The young Fleming worked mostly as a journalist, reporting from Moscow for Reuters. Then World War II broke out.

Fleming became the personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, who was the director of naval intelligence, said James Taylor, curator of the Fleming exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

Commander Fleming was a desk man, not a field agent, but in his position he had access to a lot of significant intelligence, said Taylor.

"I mean, there would have been a lot of top secret information that came across his desk."

Plans and schemes that would inspire many of 007's adventures.

The gambling scene in "Casino Royale," for example, was drawn from Fleming's own experience in Lisbon, when he tried to win money off of German agents in a casino:

"So I sat down at the table and banco'd one of the Germans and lost," Fleming said in a CBC interview. "And I banco'd him again, lost again. Banco'd him a third time. I was cleaned out. Well, that wasn't a very successful exploit! But it was on the basis of this real life episode that I based the big gambling scene in 'Casino Royale.'"

During the war, Fleming bragged to a friend, "I'm going to write the spy story to end all spy stories." In 1952, at Goldeneye (his holiday home in Jamaica), he finally started work on his book.

But first he needed a name for his secret agent:

"I wanted to find a name which wouldn't have any sort of romantic overtones, like Peregrine Carruthers or whoever it might be," Fleming said. "I wanted a really flat, quiet name."

Fleming found it on his own bookshelf, on the cover of "Birds of the West Indies," by one James Bond.

"And I thought, well, 'James Bond,' now that's a pretty quiet name."

A scene in the Bond film "Die Another Day" playfully pays homage to the name's origins, when Bond, indicating his binoculars, says, "I'm just here for the birds."

The popularity of the Bond books spread slowly at first. But in 1961, after Life Magazine reported that "From Russia With Love" was one of President Kennedy's favorite reads, sales exploded. Fleming became a celebrity;

In the author's scrapbook, Lucy Fleming says her uncle kept a cartoon from The New Yorker magazine. At night, outside the White House, two police officers wonder what crisis has the president up so late. "Then again," one says, "it may merely be the new Ian Fleming."

"He'd have loved that sort of thing," Lucy Fleming said. "He would've really enjoyed it."

She indicated photographs of Fleming: "He was always getting asked to pose with guns like that. Can't think why!"

Another passion Fleming gave to his secret agent was automobiles. But while Bond may be most often be associated with the notorious ejector seat-equipped Aston Martin DB5 of the films, the literary 007 drove a 1930 four-and-a-half liter supercharged Bentley Blower.

Richard Charlesworth, Bentley's director of royal & VIP relations, brought one to London just so we could have a look.

In the books Fleming described that Bond spent all of his capital to buy the car. "Fleming wrote that Bond loved his Bentley more than all of his women rolled up together, if he could do that," Charlesworth said.

Charlesworth took us round Regent's Park and through a London police speed trap where it could be clocked at about 125 miles an hour.

It's easy to imagine why Fleming gave Bond this car:

"Bentley captured Le Mans five times between 1924 and 1930," said Charlesworth. "So this was very much the supercar of its era. So it fitted perfectly the character of the early books."

"Doesn't come with an ejector seat, though," Mason mused.

"No, I don't think he needed it; you just open the door and chuck him out," laughed Charlesworth.

In the dozen Bond novels, 007 goes through cars almost as quickly as he goes through women. But Fleming always defended the brutality and sex in his books:

"As for sex, well, I mean sex is a perfectly respectable subject as far as Shakespeare is concerned," Fleming said. "I mean, all history is love and violence."