Ian Fleming: the pre-war years

The third article about the life of Ian Fleming picks up the story at the point when he had become a journalist in 1931 and outline his relatively carefree years before the Second World War, when his biggest concerns seemed to be golf and women.

That Christmas the Flemings were joined by Monique, but Eve did her best to make her stay uncomfortable. However, Ian continued the romance and saw her whenever he could. In late July and August of 1932, Ian was assigned to follow the Alpine Motor Trials as co-driver to Dennis Healy. The event was a treacherous 1,580 mile course through Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France and of course Ian managed to spend time with Monique; and he also managed a skiing holiday with her in March 1933, when posted to Munich to cover the rise of Hitler.

Later in March a friend of Ian told him about the case of six senior engineers from Vickers who were working on a project in Russia had been arrested for espionage. When Ian’s story was published it caused outrage across Great Britain and a major international incident. With few British correspondents remaining in Moscow, Ian found himself posted there cover the trial in April. However, on his return from Moscow, Ian was delivered an ultimatum by his mother – break his engagement to Monique lose the family’s financial backing; he took the easy option.

The following October Ian tendered his resignation from Reuters to take up a position as a stockbroker. Although he was quick to realize how unsuited he was for the role, he did enjoy the salary, social cachet and frequent golf. During this time he was part of a moneyed crowd that made frequent cross channel trips to Le Touquet and Deauville for the golf and casinos.

22B Ebury StreetFleming became involved with several anti-Nazi causes through his friends, including Percy Muir, which makes it rather ironic that when he finally found a flat of his own, it was leased from Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. Here, at 22B Ebury Street, he played out a well-worn seduction routine.

Among his frequent female consorts was Muriel Wright. However, friends had noticed that since Monique, Ian had become ruthless with his girlfriends and had gained the reputation of something of a cad; despite her adoration him, Ian didn’t treat her well. It was also during this time that he met Ann O’Neill, and they began their long affair.

By March 1939 war looked more than likely, with Hitler threatening the Polish border. Ian’s brother, Peter, was working in intelligence and managed to get Ian a temporary position with The Times to cover a trade mission in Moscow. This was almost certainly Ian’s introduction to the intelligence world.

Following his reports from Moscow, he was interviewed by Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence and offered a temporary position starting in June. By July he was working full time in Naval Intelligence as the Assistance to the Director of Naval Intelligence and while there was nothing in his previous life to suggest he would do well in this position, it ultimately proved to be the making of the man – a position that he was finally able to throw himself into and in which he excelled.

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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