Do you know the real James Bond?

James Bond has been traveling our planet for almost 70 years. Since the publication of Ian Fleming’s first novel Casino Royale (1953) until To die can wait released today in 3D version, the most recognizable secret agent in the world is the subject of debates with fans, disputes over interpretations and conflicts of definitions among bondologists with each release. Agent provocateur, he has been in the headlines since 1958, starting with the famous article by Paul Johnson in the New statesman : “Sex, snobbery and sadism”, which accuses Fleming of depraving the youth and participating in the decline of the Empire.

At the same time, he propels James Bond into an exponential popular orbit, making him more than a major icon of popular culture, but a new phenomenon of mass culture. In 1965, when Thunder clap (Operation Thunder) held the crowds around the world, Oreste Del Bueno and Umberto Eco publish “Il Caso Bond” with Bompiani, in which they study this phenomenon from a sociological, political, sexological, psychoanalytic, technological, and literary point of view.

Eco’s article will be a landmark: the author accuses Ian Fleming of collage and literary DIY, combining Victorian novels and science fiction. The young Doctor Eco wins a critical battle against Mister Fleming, even signing the death warrant for literary James Bond in Italy and France, in the binary structure of the fascist narrative. Fleming’s novels will remain bestsellers in English-speaking countries and are still to this day “classics” of British literature, consecrated by prestigious versions of the Pleiade type.

But if the literary James Bond has definitely left the radar of the French intelligentsia, its cinematographic avatar has become a privileged object of study of Cultural Studies. With the release of Leap and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero of Bennett and Woollacott in 1987, James Bond has become a textbook case for studying the evolution of representations of identity, ethnicity, race, class, gender, etc. remained curiously unexplored while it constitutes the very subject of the saga, namely the world of espionage itself. Blind spot or eye of the storm?

An author linked to the world of espionage

Like President Kennedy, the first director of the CIA, Allan Dulles (1953 to 1961) was also a big fan of Fleming and he wrote an article “The Spy boss who loves James Bond” in which he pays homage to his friend Fleming and his novels which he believes are an invaluable source of inspiration to the CIA. JF Kennedy also cited From Russia with love in his list of bedside books and Fleming sent each new novel dedicated to the Kennedy brothers.

At the same time, Fleming also knew that among his most perceptive readers were the KGB agents, to whom he addressed messages, as in From Russia with love where each member of the office is described in detail according to information from an indicated Fleming. Fleming thus uses his novels to test his sources and information, wreak havoc within the KGB, communicate messages and inventions, scenarios and a vision of the world, circulate fake news, which readers and fans will hasten. to verify and “fact check” by initiating correspondence with Fleming, to point out the incorrect address of the KGB or the misfit of Berreta 418 for 007. Major Boothroyd, author of one of these letters, thus entered the novels and in the caption under the name of Q. Thus, Ian Fleming is not only the director of foreign correspondents at Sunday opening hours, he is at the head of an ad hoc international intelligence agency, which communicates through these novels.

Designated by the term “intelligence” by the Anglo-Saxons, the field of espionage and intelligence deserved to be explored through James Bond, since Ian Fleming himself used his novels and films. (EON Production is pronounced Ian Production, as his first name) as a cover for his activities in the field of intelligence, communication and “intelligence”, the exploration of which leads us to question the links between Ian Fleming and James Bind, this ornithologist from whom Fleming “stole” the name, on the pretext that it is both commonplace and manly.

The attached photo, Award at Goldeneye in Jamaica by Mary Bond, shows us James Bond on the left and Ian Fleming on the right, smiling all, in 1964. Mary Bond, James Bond’s wife and novelist, hints in the biography of her husband, To James Bond with love, that there was a hell of a connivance between these two thieves, and that if they had never met outside of this photo shoot, they were many things, starting with their British education, their sense of humor and their love for Jamaica and the birds. Or more exactly “birds”, a term simultaneously covering birds, women … and missiles in English. The occasion for countless bird watchers’ jokes, allusions and messages for Fleming readers?

Between Bond and Fleming, a real bond

Born in the United States in 1900, James Bond attended the prestigious private school in Harrow during World War I, receiving the emphasis and training that distinguished the British elite at a time when British nationalism was at its height. Too young nonetheless to engage on the front lines, Bond distinguished himself at Harrow as one of the “most illustrious old boys”. Bond continued his graduate studies at Cambridge, at Trinity College, the alma mater of the famous spies known as Cambridge where he attended the very closed circle of Pitt Club members, not Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, two of Cambrige’s five part of police. If James Bond was never on any list of Cambrige spies, following the defection of Burgess and Maclean in Moscow in 1952, he found himself on the red list of old boys of Cambridge suspected by the CIA.

It is precisely there that Ian Fleming flies to his Jamaican residence, Goldeneye – which bears the name of a bird and the code name of an operation led by Ian Fleming during World War II. In three weeks, he wrote his first novel Casino Royale whose protagonist is a secret agent named Bond, James Bond. “Why, James Bond? Fleming asks again in an interview. “James Bond appeared to me in my library, on the cover of Birds of the West Indies, which is “my bible” in Jamaica.

Ten years and 12 novels and 9 short stories later, James Bond has become the most famous secret agent on the planet. Since then, the ornithologist James Bond has never been worried by the CIA again, only harassed in the middle of the night by fans of 007. Who would now dare to suspect James Bond of espionage without passing for a fanatic who could no longer distinguish between fiction and reality? The last to engage in this perilous exercise was Jim Wright in his book The Real James Bond: A True Story of Identity Theft, Avian Intrigue and Ian Fleming published at Schiffer in 2020. In this extremely well documented and illustrated biography of the real James Bond, Wright nevertheless dares to ask the question of whether James Bond was an American spy. Wright concludes not. But isn’t the question rather whether James Bond would be on Her Majesty’s Secret Service?

When opening Birds of the West Indies published in Britain by Riverside Press Cambridge, the unique work James Bond wrote with over a hundred Caribbean expeditions to his credit but without any new bird specimens discovered, one is entitled to ask what he was spending his time with with a pair of binoculars (007) and a permit to kill … birds?

Knowing that “bird” in English military jargon means missile, that James Bond knows every beach, cove and bay of pigs, wouldn’t it be possible to read the Field guide in the West Indies Full of maps and topographical descriptions as a guide or source of military intelligence, depending on intentions. This guide, published in Cambridge, was written for a British and American readership with this dedication: “To my many friends in the West Indies, in thanks for their hospitality and help”. “Friends” being a key word that reminds us of the famous article by EM Foster published in 1939, to which the Cambridge spies also often referred, and in which we can read: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I have the courage to betray my country. (If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying a friend, I would hope that I would have the courage to betray my country.)

James Bond, the ornithologist, at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, in 1974.
Wikimedia

From this perspective, James Bond’s homeland might not be the United States or even the United Kingdom, but a homeland of friends who have found their refuge in Jamaica. Ian Fleming lived his dream there, surrounded by a bunch of friends named Noël Coward, Cecil Beaton, William Plomer, Truman Capote… all gay, like the Cambridge spies, at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in Grande -Brittany.

Was James Bond part of this inner circle of close friends? Was he one of them? The biographies of Mary Bond and the photo of Fleming and Bond, as well as the dedication Ian Fleming leaves to James Bond in his book You only live twice : “To the real James Bond of the thief of his identity, Ian Fleming, February 5, 1964 (A great day!)” Suggest that yes. In Fleming’s novel Dr No and the film with Pierce Brosnan, Die another day, James Bond introduces himself as an ornithologist. In the last opus No time to die, Bond / Craig retires at Goldeneye, Fleming’s former landmark. The circle is complete.


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