What was author Ian Fleming’s codename when he worked for British military intelligence, an inspiration for the 007 moniker that Fleming would assign to his own most famous fictional creation, James Bond?
Fleming was agent 17F during his days with British Intelligence. Originally a junior officer in Scotland’s storied Black Watch infantry battalion, Fleming was recruited by Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence for Britain during World War II. Under Godfrey’s command, Fleming created a special intelligence-gathering unit known as 30AU — the Red Indians — which specialized in cat burglar-like covert actions. For his works in the Royal Navy, Fleming would eventually achieve the rank of commander — coincidentally, the same rank held by James Bond.
Yet it wasn’t mere covert operational experience (and an alphanumeric codename) that Fleming shared with his signature creation. Like Bond, Fleming hobnobbed with society’s elite. As mentioned previously, JFK was a Fleming fan, made so on the strength of a mutual friend prodding the future President to read some Bond books in 1955, whilst Kennedy was recovering from an operation. Fleming and JFK finally met in 1960, when the latter was running for President.
Fleming’s list of influential friends hardly stops there. Actor Christopher Lee — for the older crowd, Dracula to Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing; for the younger readership, Saruman from Lord of the Rings and Count Dooku from Episodes II and III — is Fleming’s cousin. Fleming encouraged producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli to cast Lee as either Bond’s nemesis Dr. No or even Bond himself in the film version of Dr. No. The producers declined, though Lee eventually was cast as assassin Francisco Scaramanga, the titular Man with the Golden Gun.
Lee wasn’t the only famous friend Fleming tried to get into his movies. Neighbor Noel Coward (whose Jamaican estate bordered Fleming’s) was another of the writer’s choices for Dr. No. It didn’t quite work out, though Fleming’s preference for Roger Moore over Sean Connery would eventually be tested onscreen. (The Trivia Geek prefers Connery, by the way.) Sadly, neither Moore nor Lee’s casting occurred before Fleming’s death in 1964, so the author never saw those suggestions honored.
As is so often the case with great writers, Fleming’s creations outlived and outshined him, but only because the world never had the chance to get to know the man who was in many ways more James Bond than Bond himself. That’s not just artistic irony, it’s criminally classified Geek Trivia.
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