On May 28, 1908, Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in London, and in his 56 brief years on this Earth, he would help defeat the Nazis, launch the most successful movie franchise in history, and dream up one of the world’s most loveable sentient automobiles. And that’s not the half of it.

Fleming is perhaps best known as the creator of fictional British super-spy James Bond, who first appeared in Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale. The Bond character has gone on to star in more than 20 major motion pictures, which collectively grossed over $3 billion — a figure that dwarfs even the twin Star Wars trilogies in earnings. Bond’s book series wasn’t quite so popular in America when it began — until John F. Kennedy admitted he was a fan, spiking sales. Fleming’s Bond arguably launched the 1960s spy-fiction craze, combining suave super-heroics with gritty Cold War quasi-realism.

Bond was hardly the most fantastic literary creation to spring from Fleming’s mind. In 1964, Fleming wrote a children’s book for his son Caspar called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang about a sentient car that could transform into other impossible vehicles. Chitty was a bona fide hit, and was adapted into a 1968 film starring Dick Van Dyke, and later into a Tony-nominated stage musical. (Plus, Chitty was way cooler than the flying AMC Matador in The Man with the Golden Gun.)

Yet, perhaps the most amazing character in Fleming’s life was Fleming himself. During World War II, Fleming was assigned to be the personal assistant to Britain’s Director of Naval Intelligence. From this post, he learned the spy game and planned an untold number of outlandish and effective missions, including Operation Goldeneye, which prepared to defend Gibraltar from Spain should the latter have joined the Axis powers, and an unnamed scheme that involved using occultist Aleister Crowley to manipulate Rudolf Hess. (Seriously.)

Thus, many of the trappings made famous by James Bond were test driven in Fleming’s own life, including Bond’s famous codename, 007. Fleming had one of those too.

WHAT WAS IAN FLEMING’S CODENAME WHEN HE WORKED FOR BRITISH INTELLIGENCE?

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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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