They waste that money on bad haircuts and pop stars, making them ripe for Communist picking

Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Scott Bradfield of The New Republic reviews Oliver Buckton’s new Fleming biography, The World Is Not Enough:

After he lost his father, his overbearing mother dominated his life and prevented him from marrying the first woman with whom he formed an engagement. And his brothers (especially the elder, Peter) achieved greater successes in their studies and occupations than Ian ever did. Like many middle children who feel lost, Ian retreated into a love of writers who transported him into extreme landscapes of love and adventure — such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, and those early spy novelists who depicted tough-talking, well-bred men willing to fight for God and country, John Buchan and Sapper (the pseudonym of H.C. McNeile).

It’s surprising how little Fleming’s view of international politics differs from that of Sapper, even though they lived and wrote nearly half a century apart. Like Bulldog Drummond, who frets about those international forces who want to “Bolshevize” England by empowering “members of the Do-no-work-and-have-all-the-money Brigade,” the characters in Bond are filled with suspicion of working-class agitators and foreigners. As General G. brags in From Russia With Love, the Russian state is “quietly advancing” on the West through “strikes in England” and the “great political gains” of liberal governments in Europe. And as Bond reflects early in Thunderball, this postwar liberalizing of Britain is leading to a generation of soft-shelled young people who don’t understand how hard their parents worked before the war. (From Fleming’s spotty employment record, he probably wouldn’t have understood this, either.) On a taxi ride, Bond notices his taxi driver playing with a comb and takes it as a mark of disrespect. “It was typical of the cheap self-assertiveness of young labor since the war,” he thinks to himself. For the young man “born into the buyer’s market of the Welfare State,” he fulminates, “life is easy and meaningless.”

In Bond’s view, the problem with postwar British youth is that they expect good pay for their not-hard work; and they waste that money on bad haircuts and pop stars, making them ripe for Communist picking. At the same time, there are isolated, patriotic types like Bond himself, capable of rising above the world’s naturalistic soup by knowing what to wear, what to eat, and how to best serve the desires of a woman. Beneath the high-gloss glamor of his novels, Fleming’s disdain for the working class veiled his frequent bouts of incompetence, just as it masked his concerns about the country that was changing around him, turning into a place that was no longer entirely his.


What most distinguishes Fleming is how adroitly he adapted these adolescent power fantasies to his job in British Naval intelligence, where he was recruited after failing a Foreign Office civil service exam and after lackluster stints at Reuters and in the City. (His business partner famously called him “the world’s worst stockbroker.”) In the Navy, Fleming was best known for creating Assault Unit 30, also dubbed “Ian Fleming’s Commandos” or “Fleming’s Red Indians.” And while Fleming’s unit (which he directed from afar, since his superiors considered Fleming too knowledgeable to be captured) achieved several successes, many of Fleming’s wild imaginings never survived their earliest brushes with reality.

For example, there was Operation Ruthless, a plan to repair a captured German plane, fill it with British soldiers dressed in German uniforms, crash land in the Channel, capture a German U-boat, and bring home the Enigma machine. Or another one code-named Operation Goldeneye, which involved digging an underground bunker in Gibraltar, filling it with British intelligence agents and their equipment, and fighting off a predicted occupation by Germans (which never materialized). After the war, Goldeneye provided the name of Fleming’s beloved home in Jamaica, where he often went to write the first drafts of his novels (and to escape his quickly failing marriage); and the idea of an underground spy network was used in his short story, “From a View to a Kill.”

Fleming preferred fiction to reality; and whenever he could put fiction to use in real life operations, he did. Inspired by a detective novel, Basil Thomson’s The Milliner’s Hat Mystery, Fleming is credited with proposing Operation Mincemeat, in which Naval Intelligence attached an identikit of fake documents to a dead body and released it from a submarine into Spanish waters; the Spanish, as expected, passed on the false information to the Germans, causing them to leave Sicily unprotected against Allied invasion.


  1. Bruce Purcell says:

    In the early books Bond is a tolerated gangster, not upper class. He can afford one good car, just barely. He doesn’t belong to high-class gambling clubs; his boss does. He has a vague WWII record of violence, but in 1950′s England this was pretty common. He travels around using WWII surplus stuff against other people using WWII surplus stuff. In later books he levels up, and the movies were always over the top, so dependent on soundtracks they were almost musicals.

  2. Altitude Zero says:

    I don’t know about the book, but the review sounds like left-wing garbage. Fleming’s opinion of strike-happy unions and “youth” don’t sound any different than my father’s, who was working class himself, and of course the USSR actually had infiltrated the British labor movement, to the point that some British unions actually appealed to the USSR for financial aid during their confrontation with Margaret Thatcher in the 1980′s.

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