Bond at Bletchley
This summer Bletchley Park is hosting an exhibition of artwork inspired by Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and Anthony Horowitz’s two 007 novels. Bond at Bletchley is a breath taking display of different artists’ interpretations of momentous scenes from the pages of the Bond novels. Alongside the art, visitors can enjoy a carefully curated exhibition of Ian Fleming’s real-life links to Bletchley Park, during his time in Naval Intelligence throughout the Second World War.
The artwork is on display ahead of a charity auction later this year, where the pieces will be sold to the highest bidder for the benefit of three children’s charities, Beanstalk, The Reading Agency and Kidscape. Each artist was inspired by the James Bond novels and the historical exhibition explores how Fleming’s connections to Bletchley may have influenced some of his literary ideas.
‘The stars winked down their cryptic morse and he had no key to their cipher.’
Live and Let Die
Bletchley Park is the home of British codebreaking and a birthplace of modern information technology. It played a major role in the Second World War, decrypting secret intelligence which had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the conflict. A short train journey from London, tucked away in the safety of the British countryside, Bletchley was the perfect location to establish a top secret base from which to crack enemy codes. The site is now an accredited museum dedicated to telling the story of Bletchley Park’s achievements and the people who worked there during the War.
One of those people was Ian Fleming, who visited Bletchley Park on several occasions during the War, in his role as Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. This was a position that gave him access to the very depths of British Intelligence, during a time of critical national security. Fleming had clearance to read Ultra reports, the highest British security classification, and some influence over Bletchley staff appointments. He was responsible for intelligence coordination and planning, contriving ways to intercept signals material.
Alongside original wartime correspondence between Fleming and the NID codes and ciphers team, the exhibition displays facsimile documents from the National Archives, including correspondence between Fleming and the Bletchley Codebreakers. One of the documents outlines Fleming’s specifications for Operation Ruthless, a mission designed to ‘pinch’ German Naval Enigma codebooks. Fleming’s memo to the Director of Naval Intelligence reads:
‘I suggest we obtain the loot by the following means:
- Obtain from Air Ministry an air-worthy German bomber.
- Pick a tough crew of five, including a pilot, W/T operator and word-perfect German speaker. Dress them in German Air Force uniform, add blood and bandages to suit.
- Crash plane in the Channel after making S.O.S. to rescue service in P/L.
- Once aboard rescue boat, shoot German crew, dump overboard, bring rescue boat back to English port.’
Fleming put himself forward as one of the crew but he was deemed to know too much and the risk of losing him to German hands was too great. In the end, Operation Ruthless never saw the light of day, much to the dismay of the Bletchley Park Codebreakers, as recorded by Frank Birch in a letter from 1940, ‘Turing and Twinn came to me like undertakers cheated of a nice corpse two days ago, all in a stew about the cancellation of Operation Ruthless. The burden of their song was the importance of a pinch.’
‘‘God,’ said Bond softly, his mind boggling at the immensity of the prize. The Spektor! The machine that would allow them to decipher the Top Secret traffic of all. To have that, even if its loss was immediately discovered and the settings changed, or the machine taken out of service in Russian embassies and spy centres all over the world, would be a priceless victory.’
From Russia, With Love
Ian Fleming’s wartime experiences undoubtedly influenced his writing career. His understanding of the secret service and his ability to conceive and develop missions set him in good stead when imagining the world of James Bond and the dangers he faced. The exhibition provides a glimpse of Fleming’s War and his legacy is celebrated through the artwork and books on display. Bond at Bletchley was opened on 22nd May by James Bond author Anthony Horowitz, ahead of the publication of his second 007 novel, Forever and a Day. For more information about Bond at Bletchley listen to the Bletchley Park podcast, including interviews with Anthony Horowitz, the exhibition’s research historian Dr David Kenyon, and Ian Fleming’s niece Lucy Fleming. We urge you to catch this never-before-seen exhibition before it closes on 14th October.