On the Fleming side, Ian Lancaster Fleming’s family came from Scotland. His ancestors were crofters in Perthshire who moved to Dundee to look for work. Dundee in the late 19th century was the centre of the flourishing jute industry, and Ian Fleming’s grandfather, Robert Fleming, started work for one of the big jute firms. He invested money for the owners, the Baxter family, chiefly in American railroads. He became a pioneer of investment trusts and made a fortune.
The family moved south to London, and Robert Fleming started his own investment bank, Robert Fleming and Co. They bought land in Oxfordshire and lived in a house in Grosvenor Square in London, on the present site of the American embassy. It was the quintessential rags to riches story.
Ian Fleming’s father, Valentine, was a barrister and a Member of Parliament. He married Evelyn Rose, the beautiful daughter of a London solicitor, and they had four sons, of which Ian was the second. The boys were therefore born into a family of considerable wealth, and had a privileged start to life. However, Valentine was killed on the western front at Ypres in 1917, when his sons were aged 10, 9, 6 and 4. This had a profound effect on the family. He had been serving with the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. Winston Churchill, a friend and fellow officer, wrote his obituary. He concluded with these words: ‘As the war lengthens and intensifies and the extending lists appear, it seems as if one watched at night a well-loved city whose lights, which burn so bright, which burn so true, are extinguished in the darkness one by one’.
His four sons were subsequently educated at Eton College, where Peter excelled academically and Ian was a noted athlete.
Brothers and Sister
Peter Fleming was born in 1907. He became a well-known and respected writer, famous when young for his books about travel and exploration. The best-sellers in their day were Brazilian Adventure (1932) and News From Tartary(1936). He was a prolific journalist, writing chiefly for The Times and the Spectator. Later, he wrote historical accounts of incidents in the Far East: Bayonets to Lhasa, about the Younghusband expedition to Tibet, and Siege at Peking, about the Boxer rebellion, to name two. Peter Fleming married the actress, Celia Johnson, remembered now for her exquisite performance in David Lean’s film, Brief Encounter. He died in 1971 of a heart attack.
Richard Fleming, born in 1911, entered the family and bank of Robert Fleming and Co, and was chairman in the 1960s and 70s, steering the bank into new ventures and profitability. He died in 1977, also of a heart attack.
Michael Fleming, born in 1913, had barely begun his career as a stockbroker when World War II broke out. He joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (the Ox and Bucks), was captured at Normandy in 1940 and died of wounds later that year. He left a widow and four children.The boys’ mother, Eve, never remarried after her husband was killed, but at one stage had an affair with the painter Augustus John, by whom she had a daughter, Amaryllis. Amaryllis Fleming (1920 – 1999) became a distinguished cellist. For an account of her life see Fergus Fleming: Amaryllis Fleming.
Ian Fleming had many girlfriends as a young man. He had a reputation for being a womaniser, and women unquestionably found him very attractive. When he was in his twenties he met Anne O’Neill, the wife of an Irish peer, Shane O’Neill. She was attractive, amusing and intelligent, and they were drawn to each other. After her husband was killed in the war, she married the press baron, Lord Rothermere. But Ian was still part of her life. It was an enduring on-off romance – for both of them probably the true love of their lives. Eventually in 1952 they married in Jamaica; Ian was 43 and Anne 39. Ian always claimed that he began writing about James Bond to take his mind off the alarming prospect of marriage.
Sadly, after their long romance, the happiness did not last, and Ian’s final years were marred by ill health and a troubled life at home. They had one son, Caspar, who was talented and clever with a passion for collecting, especially Egyptian artefacts. It was on his twelfth birthday, August 12th 1964, that his father died. In his teenage years he frequently got into trouble, and then mental health problems began to manifest themselves. He committed suicide in 1975.
Perhaps writing is in the genes. Ian Fleming’s nephew, James Fleming, is a respected novelist, and another nephew, Fergus Fleming, has written many books about exploration as well as the biography of Amaryllis Fleming. Still keeping it in the family, his niece Kate Fleming wrote a memoir of her mother, Dame Celia Johnson.