Ian Fleming: European education

This second article of the series continues to look at the life of Ian Fleming following his resignation from officer training at Sandhurst and his education and career before the Second World War.

Following Ian’s humiliating departure from the army, his mother was at a loss with what to do with him next. In the end she decided to send him to Kitzbuhel in Austria with the aim of preparing him for the rigorous Foreign Office exam.

The school was located at the Villa Tennerhof and run by Ernan Forbes Dennis and his wife. Although Ian had spent a previous summer there, it was his older brother Peter’s progress in German during the summer of 1927 that decided things; although his French and German were already good, excellent language skills were essential for the Foreign Office.

His initial interview with the Foreign Office took place in May 1928, which pronounced him a suitable candidate for the entrance exam and following the advice of Forbes Dennis, Ian enrolled in Munch University in the autumn of that year to continue his German language studies, and the following year in Geneva for French.

It was after a family holiday in Corsica in 1929, before setting off for Geneva, that Ian met two figures who were to remain lifelong friends; while in London he first met William Plomer, who was later to become his proof reader, and Percy Muir, who was instrumental in helping start Ian’s book collection. The collection includes original editions of works about the great discoveries, inventions and theories of the 19th century and can be found today in the Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington.

While at Geneva, Ian became enthusiastic about golf and frequently climbed at Chamonix. To further his studies he also took up Russian on the advice of Forbes Dennis and sought to further his understanding of international diplomacy by frequently mixing with diplomats. It was also during this time that he met and fell in love with Monique Panchaud de Bottomes, with whom he spent much of the summer before his Foreign Office exam in September 1931.

When Ian failed to land one of just three Foreign Office positions available, his mother immediately blamed Monique for her son’s failure. However, Eve Fleming used her considerable influence to land Ian a position with Reuters, where he began to learn the ropes as a journalist.


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

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