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Facts as thrilling as the fiction

Ian Lancaster Fleming was not only a brilliant and witty novelist (if unconvinced, try Casino Royale), he was also a journalist of merit and a playboy of legend. Additionally, of course, he was James Bond.

Academics foolishly spent decades trying to discover the secret agent on whom Fleming had based his 007, when any alert reader could have told them it was the author himself. You can tell from the prose.

The facts leaked out only slowly, first in friend John Pearson's fine biography (1966), then more revealingly in Donald McCormick's 17F: The Life of Ian Fleming. It concentrates on Fleming's time in wartime naval intelligence, serving under Rear-Admiral John Godfrey (the inspiration for M) after Winston Churchill had intervened to save Fleming from a life of dissolution.

Ben McIntyre later added more key details in his brisk account of Fleming's greatest intelligence triumph, Operation Mincemeat, where a corpse was floated off the coast of Spain with fake Allied invasion plans in his briefcase. It was cheating, of course, but Fleming always had a perverse and dangerous side.

For those who wish to learn more about Fleming and the creation of Bond, a trivialising but sometimes fun shortcut is this four-part mini-series. It holds firm to the view of Fleming as Bond, but plays loose with the facts, even getting the last sentence of Casino Royale wrong when we see Fleming (Dominic Cooper) type it.

This occurs while Fleming is on honeymoon with Ann O'Neill (Lara Pulver), nee Charteris, at Goldeneye in Jamaica. The marriage was rarely happy, but Fleming had never wanted anyone so much. Their sex life led to many rumours and this program adopts a tabloid-like prurience. The story then flashes back 13 years to observe Fleming's transformation from incompetent stockbroker (ludicrously overplayed) to successful naval commander and on the road to a profitable literary future.


Along the way, he sleeps with many a pretty thing and troubles the rigid mindsets of the time. Fortunately, an array of guardian angels, including the astute Godfrey (Samuel West), sees potential.

Despite a confident swagger, Cooper is an odd casting choice, looking nothing like Fleming and failing to convince us he is anywhere near as bright.

Far more appropriate is Annabelle Wallis as a girlfriend, Muriel.

Fleming was intelligent, ruthless, charming, sensuous and cold - precisely the qualities you want in a secret agent … and the creator of Bond.

Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond will air later this year.