James Bond’s age: a tricky subject

William Boyd’s explanation of his decision to give Bond’s age as 45 in 1969 has prompted me to write up some thoughts on the tricky subject of Bond’s age. Boyd offers his contention that as You Only Live Twice was the last Bond novel published in his lifetime, Fleming’s statement, via M’s premature obituary, that Bond was 17 in 1941, must be the definitive description of Bond’s age, invalidating anything that went before. This is nonsense.

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All of us who are aware of Fleming’s keenness to exploit James Bond’s money making potential realise that he re-cast Bond’s age, in order to extend his literary life for as long as possible (not forgetting that Bond would be forcibly taken off the active list at the age of 45). And don’t forget that in his original draft of You Only Live Twice, Fleming said that Bond was 17 in 1939 – and changed to 1941 in the final version. How’s that for opportunism.

No, to establish Bond’s true age we should go back to the beginning. Casino Royale, published in 1953, was written in 1952. Therefore the events described must have taken place no later than the generally agreed date of 1951. According to the obituary and William Boyd, Bond would have been 26/27 at the time, but in my opinion the mature character described in Casino Royale in no way resembles a young man of 26 and indeed he is described, I think, as being in his early thirties.  It seems likely that Fleming who was 44 in 1952 intended Bond to be ten years younger than himself and to relive his wartime life in a highly-fictionalised way, ten years later.

Bond “bought” his first Bentley in 1933. What, when he was nine? Some people say that he actually inherited it from his father, when his parents died. But he was eleven when that happened – therefore 1935/36. No, any fudging, juggling or revision by Fleming at a later date is not to be trusted. Purely a commercial expediency.

In my opinion, the latest year for Bond to have been born would have been 1918, making him 32/33 in 1951. And this has a neat symmetry; a consensus has grown up (although never stated by Ian Fleming) that Bond’s birthday was Armistice Day – 11th. November. It would be nice to think that he was born as hostilities ceased in the war that killed Fleming’s father.

David Salter has been an enthusiast for the books of Ian Fleming since he stumbled into James Bond, via Moonraker, at a rural railway station bookstall in 1956. This lifelong interest has resulted in a substantial collection of books, magazines, newspaper cuttings and ephemera. From 1964 to 1969 he lived at 27 Green Street, off Park Lane in London, the house where Fleming was born.

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