Ian Fleming: early life

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Ian Fleming, a name that is implicitly tied to James Bond. However, as the books were eclipsed long ago by the films, it seems while many are familiar with Fleming’s name, far fewer actually know much about his life or his extraordinary intelligence career during the Second World War. With the centenary date fast approaching, now seems like the moment to attempt to rectify this imbalance, with the first part of a concise biography of Ian Fleming.

Born in London’s Mayfair on May 28th 1908, Ian Lancaster Fleming was the second of four brothers born to Conservative MP Valentine Fleming and his wife Eve. Valentine was the son of Robert Fleming, founder of the merchant bank that bore his name, ensuring Ian was born into the most privileged of circumstances. However, Valentine was killed in France during the First World War, shortly before Ian’s ninth birthday, an event that was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Valentine counted among his friends Winston Churchill, who wrote his obituary in The Times; later Ian was to display a copy signed by Churchill in each of his houses.

Ian joined elder brother Peter at Eton in 1921. While he excelled at sports, he showed little academic aptitude and in 1925 and 26 became the first Victor Ludorum – Champion Athlete – for two consecutive years. During this time Eve had sold the family home and moved to Chelsea, and promptly embarked on an affair with Augustus John, a leading painter of the time.

Ian had been railroaded into following his father’s footsteps by Eve and was being lined up for officer training at Sandhurst. However, when it became apparent that he was doing his utmost be uncooperative, Ian was removed from Eton by his mother – not expelled as some claim, like 007 – and sent to a crammer to study for the Sandhurst entrance exams.

Having gained entrance to Sandhurst – his mother’s high society connections certainly helped here – Ian found the discipline difficult, or at least seemed determined to ignore the rules as best he could. He finally managed to put an early end to his fledgling army career when he contracted gonorrhoea from a prostitute, his mother deciding that the army was not for him after all and forcing him to resign.

For more comprehensive information on the life of Ian Fleming see Andrew Lycett’s excellent biography, available at Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com.

Read more about Ian Fleming

David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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