FLEMING, Ian (1908-1964)
Plaque erected in 1996 by English Heritage at 22 Ebury Street, Belgravia, London, SW1W 8LW, City of Westminster
IAN FLEMING 1908-1964 Creator of James Bond lived here
The creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, sold 30 million books in his lifetime and spawned a lucrative and long-running film franchise. His blue plaque marks the appropriately louche bachelor pad in Ebury Street where he lived in the late 1930s.
A late bloomer
Fleming was well into his 40s when Casino Royale was published in 1953. This was the first of 12 novels (plus seven short stories) to feature the suave British secret agent James Bond, ‘007’. The first film adaptation was Dr No (1962) – the novel in which Bond asks for ‘A medium Vodka dry Martini – with a slice of lemon peel. Shaken and not stirred.’
This, among other phrases, has entered the lexicon, and the Bond books and films have proved enduringly popular, with the most recent addition to the film roster being No Time to Die (2020).
Not everyone is a fan, however. The writer Harold Nicolson, another resident of Ebury Street, disliked the ‘violence, luxury and lust’ of Goldfinger (1959) and thought it ‘liable to corrupt’. Perhaps he would have preferred Fleming’s 1964 novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, on which the later film is based.
Despite a wealthy and well-connected family background – his father, Valentine, was a banker and a Conservative MP – Ian Fleming’s path to success was not smooth.
At Eton he excelled at games but not in the classroom. Chafing under military discipline, he left Sandhurst after a year, and later failed his Foreign Office entrance exam. A spell learning languages on the continent was more successful, and he enjoyed his time as a Reuters correspondent, which was partly spent in Moscow.
At Ebury Street
Fleming then went into the City where a former colleague rated him ‘among the world’s worst’ as a stockbroker. It was at this time, in late 1936, that Fleming moved into 22B Ebury Street – a flat in what had originally been a nonconformist school, built in Greek Revival style. Here he entertained his many girlfriends and his gang of young men about town, who were known as ‘Le Cercle Gastronomique’.
The living room was in the upper part of the building’s chapel-like interior; Fleming had it painted grey, with stylish concealed lighting. A rooflight was moodily tinted dark blue. In wartime, this did not conform with blackout restrictions, which led him to move out in 1941. ‘So the orchid has left the orchid house’, smirked the writer Peter Quennell.
Fleming was then working in naval intelligence, in which capacity – despite a lack of qualifications – he was very effective, taking charge of the Navy’s input into anti-German propaganda.
The real James Bond?
Several candidates have been suggested as the model for James Bond. One is the Second World War SOE agent Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas. Another is Fleming’s older brother Peter, a writer, who was also involved in special operations (and was married to the actress Celia Johnson).
Another possibility is Ian Fleming himself, who certainly shared Bond’s casual attitude to sex, as well as his fondness for cigarettes and alcohol – habits that almost certainly contributed to his death at the early age of 56.
The blue plaque was originally suggested by Peter Fleming, and was unveiled by the actor Desmond Llewellyn, who played ‘Q’ in many Bond films. Fleming’s home after his writing career took off, shared with his wife Ann, was a short distance away from Ebury Street at 16 Victoria Square, though the Bond novels were largely penned in the Caribbean.