Childhood and youth (1908 – 1939)

Ian Lancaster Fleming, born on 28th May 1908, was the second of four brothers, Peter, Ian, Richard and Michael, born to Valentine and Eve Fleming. Valentine was the oldest child of Robert Fleming, a successful Scottish investment banker who came from a modest background in Dundee. Eve’s grandfather had been Prime Minister Disraeli’s solicitor, and had founded the law firm of Norton Rose.

Valentine Fleming became a Conservative and Unionist Member of Parliament for Henley-on-Thames, before going off to fight with the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars in France in the First World War. He was killed at Ypres in May 1917 a week before Ian’s 9th birthday. An obituary was written by his friend and fellow officer, Winston Churchill.

Ian and his brothers were educated at Eton College, the preeminent English public school. While his older brother, Peter, shone academically, Ian excelled at athletics, winning many cups, and was twice victor ludorum (champion).

childhood_and_youth_resizeAfter leaving Eton, Ian did not try for university but went to study in Kitzbuhel in Austria, and then in Munich and Geneva. He became a good linguist and he came to love the Alps where he learnt to ski and to climb – all his passions emerging in due course in James Bond’s adventures.

An attempt at a career in the army – the officer training course at Sandhurst – and another attempt to pass an exam to get into the Foreign Office for a diplomatic career were not successful. Instead, he joined Reuters news agency. Here he learnt the basics of journalism, and relished in particular covering a notorious espionage trial in Russia. However, feeling that he was never going to make his fortune in Reuters, he turned down an offer of a posting to Shanghai from Sir Roderick Jones, then head of the news agency, and entered the City of London, first working for a small bank and then for the stockbrokers, Rowe and Pitman.

He himself admitted that he was the world’s worst stockbroker, but amused himself with the hedonistic life of a young bachelor. Women found him attractive and he had many girlfriends. He sped off with his friends at weekend to play golf at Sandwich in Kent or to gamble at Le Touquet and other places. He liked nothing better than a game of bridge with companions at one of the established London men’s clubs.

The job for which he was first discreetly sounded out in May 1939 was therefore most unexpected. This was for the post of personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. This was to transform his life, and ultimately, it could be argued, have a considerable effect on British culture.