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Ajay Chowdhury reviews Ian Fleming written by Nicholas Shakespeare

By: Ajay Chowdhury
Ian Fleming, Nicholas Shakespeare, biography, revi
FSWL contributor Ajay Chowdhury, our man in London, reviews the new biography of Ian Fleming (1908-1964) written by acclaimed British biographer Nicholas Shakespeare. The book was suitably published by Harvill Secker on James Bond Day, 5th October 2023.

Ian Fleming’s grandfather, Robert Fleming, effectively financed the infrastructure that built modern-day America. In today’s money, Ian was the grandson of a trillionaire. Ian Fleming father, Valentine, died a war hero in World War I, eulogised by his friend, Winston Churchill. Ian Fleming himself was one of 30 people with access to the most secret intelligence materials which helped shorten World War II. Fleming helped form 30 Assault Unit, a commando outfit whose exploits had been kept secret until the last 30 years. Less of a man of action, Commander Fleming was more of a Bill Tanner-like figure. He wrote the founding charter for what went on to become the CIA and was a personal friend of future President John F. Kennedy. As the head of the Mercury network of foreign correspondents, his outfit operated as a quasi-intelligence operation.

Whilst Fleming had the attitudes typical to a man of his class and time, he surrounded himself with formidable women. His mother, Eve, disinherited from the Fleming banking fortune, brought up Ian and his brothers, Peter, Richard and Michael single-handedly and was a domineering force. His society wife, Ann née Charteris, mother of their two children Mary and Caspar, connected him with the political and intellectual elite of the day and more than a match for her wayward husband. Fleming’s early love, Socialite and diarist, Maud Russell, a number of years older than him, was a formative influence on the young writer. His Jamaican lover, food heiress Blanche Blackwell, also shaped his more tender and naturalist side being the custodian of GoldenEye whilst he was away.

Sexually, Fleming was explorative and non-judgemental with many notable gay friends in a time when homosexuality was illegal. He had a journalistic curiosity for places and people, seeking to get under the skin of both. He enjoyed the fayre of his cook, Violet Cummings and trips down the Rio Grande with boatman, Red Grant. In Turkey, he was enthused by the company of Nazim Kavalkan. In Japan, he became the student of Tarao “Tiger” Saito, who became his sensei for all things Japanese.

For a post-colonial Englishman of Scots descent, with an Austrian Tyrol education, fluency in French and German, Fleming was attitudinally atypical of his peers. Fleming was a non-parochial patriot with an internationalist view of the world. As such he was ahead of his time and it is the reason why his life story is still relevant and capable of robust and rewarding re-examination.

The life of Ian Fleming informed his adventures of James Bond and Nicholas Shakespeare paints a picaresque picture both of a person and a period in history. His work endures culturally and commercially as the world is only just catching up with this unconventional mind. This new work benefits hugely from vast amounts of new biographical information in the public domain, declassified material and access to unpublished papers and correspondence. Shakespeare spent four years garnering recollections from multiple-generations including the Fleming heirs – there is a helpful family tree at the start – children of Fleming’s friends and associates, even Barbara Broccoli and Jason Connery. From Sweden With Love founder Anders Frejdh as well as FSWL contributors John Cork and Steven Jay Rubin assisted in the book’s preparation with help from previous biographers John Pearson and Andrew Lycett, Fleming bibliographer Jon Gilbert, Ian Fleming Foundation president Michael van Blaricum and Fleming scholar and Bond author Raymond Benson.

This 700 plus page tome manages to move the Fleming story forward. Nicholas Shakespeare, an acclaimed novelist, writes evocative prose which humanizes this complex literary legend. For many years the 007 movie tail has wagged the dog of his creator: Nicholas Shakespeare’s accessible, insightful biography will help redress the balance. Everything James Bond related, Shakepeare makes clear, is merely the tip of the iceberg beneath which lies the edu-taining undertow of Ian Lancaster Fleming.

Ian Fleming, Nicholas Shakespeare, biography, review
Nicholas Shakespeare's book on Ian Fleming outside Fleming's old home at 22 Ebury Street in London. Photo by Lluis Abbou Planisi. All rights reserved.

Written by Ajay Chowdhury. Copyright © 2023 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.

Editor's Note:
Available editions of Ian Fleming by Nicholas Shakespeare:

>Hardback edition (Amazon UK)
>Paperback edition (Amazon UK)
>Audiobook edition (Amazon UK)
>Hardback edition (
>Kindle edition (



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