Celebrating James Bond Creator Ian Fleming’s Centenary

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This year marks the centennial birth of James Bond creator Ian Fleming and to celebrate, the Imperial War Museum in London devoted an entire exhibit to the man who made the world’s most famous secret agent come alive.

While we were in England a few weeks ago on our Quantum of Solace adventure, Columbia Pictures took us to the “For Your Eyes Only” exhibit to get a more detailed look at the author’s life.

In addition to showing where the creator of 007 got his creative inspirations from, the museum gives people a better understanding about all different aspects of his life. So while there is a lot of James Bond memorabilia–like a blood-splattered shirt Daniel Craig wore in Casino Royale and prototypes of Rosa Klebb’s knife shoes in From Russia in Love–there are also a lot of personal items that offer a more intimate look at who Fleming really was.

As we walked into the exhibit, an old Fleming radio interview played and the first thing we saw in the dimly lit room was a black tuxedo on a Mannequin holding a cigarette, a blue jacket hanging on the back of the wall in the glass case and an old typewriter. A quote from Fleming was posted underneath the display. “He always wore dark blues and black and white colours that betray an underlying melancholy.”

In the same room, a portrait of Fleming’s grandfather Robert Fleming hung on the wall with a family photo album underneath. The light brown desk and chair, where the author wrote all of the Bond novels from his Jamaican home, was also there and on the desk was a picture of his wife and a check list of “Birds of the West Indies,” a book by James Bond.

Other rare materials on display included: a map of the Mercury News Network established by Fleming in the 1950s (showing where the Sunday Times foreign correspondents were based), annotated Bond scripts, and a jacket worn by the writer on the Dieppe Raid of 1942.

In the next room, quotes from Fleming were painted on the walls.

“I was in the process of getting marriedÂ… so to take my mind off the whole business, I sat down and wrote a novel.”

“I’m going to write the spy story to end all spy stories.”

“My job got me right to the heart of things.”

There was also a roulette-shaped table and inside the enclosed glass cover was a black and white photo of James Bond commissioned by Fleming in 1957. There were letters from his secretary to Playboy magazine describing Bond’s appearance and a copy of “Russia with Love” inscribed to William ‘Bill’ Stephenson, the British intelligence chief in North America during WWII.

At the end of the table we found a computerized roulette wheel, which spun upon touching it. It called out a number and then gave you a Bond trivia question to answer such as, “Was he the inspiration for James Bond?” referring to a picture of Peter Fleming, Ian’s brother, who popped up on the screen.

“For Your Eyes Only” shows how Fleming drew from his wartime experiences, which not only created many of the Bond plots, but inspired several of the infamous heroes and villains such as M and Goldfinger.

A few other cool things that we saw included the bikini Halle Berry rocked in Die Another Day, Goldfinger’s golf shoes, Fleming’s 1st edition novels such as “Casino Royale,” “Dr. No,” “Thunderball” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” and From Russia with Love movie posters.

The “For Your Eyes Only” Ian Fleming and James Bond exhibit will run at the Imperial War Museum through March 1, 2009.

In addition to visiting the exhibit, we also got a chance to talk to Lucy Fleming, the author’s niece who has helped plan various events that are taking place throughout the year to celebrate his contributions and life, including his great accomplishments as a writer and his vital role as a Lieutenant Commander in Naval Intelligence. We met Lucy at Brown’s Hotel in London for tea and she talked to us about her famous uncle:

Q: You’ve said before the media has capitalized more on the sensational parts of your uncle’s life. What would you like the public to know about him that you feel journalists don’t report on?
Lucy Fleming: I would like them to know that he was a really funny man. He was great fun as an uncle. He was kind. He was quite a bit generous to his friends. He always helped them, but not in an obvious way. If they were in trouble he got them jobs after the war when they didn’t know what to do and things like that. He was a great leader of men. It’s so nice to be able to tell a bit more about him. Through his writings I think one can because he had a great sense of humor which comes out particularly in the letters and things I did a program about.

Q: What’s your favorite memory of him?
Fleming: I remember him arriving in his Thunderbird–black Thunderbird car. This was in the ’50s–way ahead of other people. He loved cars. He loved mechanical things – the way things worked. He really enjoyed cars. He used to drive up at home in these cars that made the most fantastic sort of noise and he was very proud of those. That’s my favorite memory.

Q: So that’s why cool cars and gadgets are always in the Bond movies.
Fleming: He loved gadgets. A lot of the gadgets in the books were some things that had actually been used in the war that he’d known about or heard about people using. He was in the middle of the spy network.

Q: What was one of his favorite gadgets from the war that made it into the books?
Fleming: You know in the film where Rosa Klebb wears the shoes with spikes coming out? That was real. That was used in the war. If you go to the Imperial War Museum you’ll see the actual shoes that we used. They were used to poison people. It all starts somewhere you see. He did have a fantastic imagination and he kind of fantasized. He always said Bond wasn’t a hero; he was an instrument of the government. He took an amalgam of people who were spies or who had done daring things and put them together to make Bond.

Q: Are you surprised that after all these years, Bond is still such a huge icon?
Fleming: I think the Broccolis hit upon a certain formula that just gets to people. It’s sort of “George and the Dragon” – slaying the dragon, getting the girl and saving England. You have to remember when he was writing books it was a very bleak time, the ’50s. He wrote books that put them in exotic places for the people could get taken out of themselves which is where the exotic places in the movies come from really. It all starts there.

Q: Did he really go to some of these locations?
Fleming: Yes, he wrote a series of articles which turned into a book called “Thrilling Cities” which was published when he worked for the Sunday Times when he finished with the war. He loved traveling. He had a house in Jamaica in the ’50s. Nowadays they all fly back and forth from Jamaica, but they didn’t in those days. I think he has very good descriptive writing and that shows in the books as well. He did enjoy traveling and reporting what he had seenÂ… He loved Asian people. He loved Japan. I think he just liked getting to see places and meeting the people. People always say he was a snob, but he actually wasn’t at all.

Q: Why would people think that?
Fleming: Because he went to England and when you go to England you’re automatically called a snob. He wasn’t. He loved people. He got along with everybody. I mean he was no angel.

Q: Did he tell you about his traveling adventures?
Fleming: No, it was more mundane things when we met up with him – day to day things. Of course now I’d love to ask him so many questions. When he came to the house it was always great fun. My father was his older brother. They had a great time together.

Q: How much of his own personality did he put into the character?
Fleming: His physical description of Bond is not dissimilar to him. They’re both tall, dark and blue eyes. They have the same likes – cigarettes, drinking, gambling, danger, skiing.

Q: What do you think about Daniel Craig as Bond?
Fleming: He’s great and he’s gone back to Ian’s idea of Bond which is somebody who hurts – somebody who feels pain. He gets affected by what he’s doing. He wasn’t a hero. He was a human being. He always said that Bond can’t do the impossible. He can’t do the kind of CGI stuff they had Pierce [Brosnan] do. They had him surfing in one of the films and that’s just not possible. I think he’s wonderful.

For more info on the upcoming Ian Fleming events you can check out IanFlemingCentenary.com. We’ve also added a third TV spot and two new clips from Quantum of Solace which you can watch via this link!