Edward Biddulph reports from the launch of Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography of Ian Fleming.
Publisher Harvill Secker celebrated the launch of perhaps the most important biography of recent years – Ian Fleming: The Complete Man by renowned novelist and biographer Nicholas Shakespeare – at The Tophams Hotel in London on 17th October. The most important? Well, what other subject could lay claim to not only creating one of the most widely recognised fictional characters since Sherlock Holmes, but also being at the very heart of intelligence operations during the Second World War, as well as mixing in circles that included prime ministers and presidents? A biography of Ian Fleming is a history of the early to mid-20th century.
The location for the launch was, of course, significant, the hotel being next door to 22 Ebury Street where Ian Fleming lived. (Incidentally, it is well known that, before Fleming, the house was home for British fascist leader Oswald Moseley, but it is less well known that the house featured in Eye for an Eye, a 1900 novel by one of Fleming’s favourite mystery writers, William Le Queux.) As invited guests filed into the hotel – to be greeted by a display of Nicholas Shakespeare’s book and a welcome glass of wine – some paused to read the blue plaque that marks Fleming’s connection to the house.
The invited guests were a who’s who of writers, Fleming experts, and others with Fleming connections. Kate Grimond, Lucy Fleming and James Fleming were among those representing the Fleming family. Historians Nicholas Rankin (Ian Fleming’s Commandos) and Henry Hemming (Our Man in New York) were in attendance, as was journalist and historian Max Hastings. I spotted spy novelist Charles Cumming and Bond author Charlie Higson, and everyone was honoured by the presence of the very celebrated author Antonia Fraser. And, of course, there was Nicholas Shakespeare himself.
After a period of mingling and book signing, Nicholas Shakespeare addressed the crowd. He spoke of the challenges of taking on the task of writing a new biography – did he want to write about a cad, and in any case, was there much more to say about his subject? – but any doubts were allayed the more he discovered about the man and as new information – gleaned from interviews, letters, family documents, freshly released wartime records – became available. Nicholas Shakespeare talked about Fleming’s crucial role in the Second World War, his connections to significant figures of the day, and of the women with whom Fleming had relationships. But above all, Nicholas Shakespeare described how well liked and loved Ian Fleming was, and how much he himself grew to like his subject in the course of writing his book.
With speeches over, it was back to the socialising. The hotel pulled the stops out with refreshments, making sure that martinis, as well as wine and soft drinks, were to hand, and providing some very tasty nibbles.
Gradually people began to disperse, each guest armed with a thick tome to begin reading on the way home. It was a very successful evening for what I am sure will be a very successful book.
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