James Bond: Hardly any franchise attracts as many movie-goers as the adventures of the British secret service agent with the number 007. Many people know the films, but fewer are familiar with the novels on which many of the agent films are based.
One name appears again and again in the opening credits of all James Bond films: Ian Fleming.
It was July 1943, in the middle of World War II, when it all started: Ian Fleming was an assistant British naval intelligence officer representing his superior at a British-American naval conference in Jamaica. It was Fleming’s first contact with Jamaica.
Why was Jamaica so important? It was at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica that the writer penned the James Bond novels.
The Crown Colony of Jamaica
It was no coincidence that the story about the British James Bond was born on the soil of a British crown colony. The island in the Caribbean has always played a decisive role in the history of the United Kingdom: in the 18th century, Jamaica was one of the most important, if not the most important British crown colony.
Through the cultivation of sugar cane, the island generated enormous wealth: wealth that was spent on the construction of many British seats of power, thus shaping the character of the British Empire that reverberates to this day. Later, in the days of Fleming, the island’s tourism was responsible for its economical power.
Balancing act between two worlds
British charm and reminiscences of the era of the British Empire – these are elements which no Bond novel or Bond film lacks.
“What I aim at is a certain disciplined exoticism”
Ian Fleming wrote this in his essay How To Write A Thriller. Disciplined exoticism: Fleming’s novel character James Bond performs a balancing act between an exuberant jet-set lifestyle and a conservative, British attitude to life. One moment Bond is involved in one of his numerous female conquests (his exotic side), the next moment he appears at a dinner with his superiors to discuss his next assignment (his disciplined side).
Ian Fleming’s hermitage in Jamaica was itself the best example of disciplined exoticism: On the one hand, there was a conservative environment – numerous military and political elites from the United Kingdom resided in Jamaica in the 1940s and 1950s. On the other side was the exoticism of Jamaica – for a European, the nature and culture of the island was fascinating, regardless of how conservative he was.
The Goldeneye estate: it was not a spacious villa, certainly not a mansion, as one might think at first. It was a house with only wooden shutters in front of the window openings, no glass at all, spartan furnishings, and no indoor bathroom. To the chagrin of his guests, the estate’s furnishings were sparse, but it was Fleming’s greatest fortune: Goldeneye gave Fleming exactly the seclusion he needed to invent his hero James Bond.
It was one day around February 17, 1952, when Ian Fleming began work on his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale: he bought 500 sheets of the best writing paper he could find, sat down in the main room of Goldeneye, and began to write a book.
Fleming’s motivations for starting to write a book were complex: He was newly married and his wife was expecting a child. His job now was to provide for a family – in order to maintain his previous lifestyle, he needed a higher income.
Furthermore, in the early 1950s, Fleming observed the decline of the British Empire, which formed a large part of Fleming’s identity: many colonies were paving their way to independence, and in Jamaica the increasing influence of the United States could be observed. Ian Fleming found a way to preserve that British culture into which he was born while meeting the demands of the modern, postcolonial world: Not every British writer at the time was able to do this.
British writer Noël Coward, who rented Goldeneye in 1948 and later settled in Jamaica himself, was of the same ilk as Ian Fleming. It is often said of Coward’s works that they are based on an “imperialistic pride”: this distinguishes him from Ian Fleming. Fleming understood what Coward did not: James Bond seems to be above the imperialistic pride of his home nation – fulfilling his mission, cooperating with U.S. intelligence in the process, and enjoying himself the rest of the time. Allusions to the history of which Britain and Fleming were so proud are almost always made with a touch of irony.
Is James Bond based upon true events?
In 1963, Ian Fleming wrote that most of his stories were based on truth. This does not mean that the events of the Bond novels had taken place exactly the same way in reality: rather, Fleming describes experiences from his time in the British Naval Intelligence Service in the Bond novels – thus his own biography gave him the inspiration for James Bond. Time and again, Ian Fleming emphasized that the events in James Bond were based in part on true events that Fleming experienced in his professional life.
Main sources: Parker, Matthew: „Goldeneye. Where Bond was Born“, 2018 Septime Publishing House (Vienna, German edition) and Ian Fleming’s essay How To Write A Thriller (unabridged)