4 May 2015

Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:09 pm on 4 May 2015
Book cover

Goldeneye - Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica by Matthew Parker Photo: Supplied

Ian Fleming used to sit sipping cocktails with the jet set by a deep-blue bay with Caribbean breezes blowing sounds like a scene straight out of one if his James Bond novels.

Post-World War II, Fleming spent two months every year on Jamaica. All of his 12 books about 007 were written there.

Author and historian Matthew Parker said Fleming was an awkward and prickly character but “he found something in Jamaica that really smoothed off the rough edges. Friends of his said in Jamaica he could be as much of himself there as he could anywhere”.

Parker writes about the influence of the island on the author in his new book Goldeneye - Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica.

Fleming first visited Jamaica in 1943 as assistant to the director of naval intelligence, investigating rumors about a secret Nazi submarine base near Nassau. He vowed to return.

“He declared in 1943 that he would live there and write the best spy novels ever” Parker said.

When the war ended, Fleming bought a piece of land on the North Coast in 1946 and built a house he called Goldeneye.

“It was originally called something like Rotten Egg Bay which is totally not Bond and not Ian Fleming” Parker said.

"During the War he was involved in a project to secure Gibraltar should Spain join the German side and this was called Operation Goldeneye. And he rather liked this - I think he coined the phrase himself”.

Parker said Jamaica in 1946 was a very old fashioned place, and that appealed to Fleming just as much as the scenery and the climate.

“It was really somewhere Fleming felt he could have been 100 years before in the heyday of the British Empire.

“Jamaica was a colonial backwater. The Imperial values of automatic respect for the English as a race still thrived in the 1940s”.

This, Parker maintains, was the DNA of the Bond character.

“In the figure of Bond, Britain still bestrides the world and projects power wherever it likes and even saves the United States. For British people in the 1950s this was a consoling fantasy where all of these terrible collapses happening in the Empire could be ignored in favour of this escapist and imperial hero.”

This outpost of Empire mixed with what Winston Churchill described as a combination of “soft breezes and hard liquor” inspired Fleming, Parker said.

“There was at the same time this exotic sensual and dangerous aspect of it and that combination was the secret of the success of the Bond novels. Ian Fleming was asked late in his career what’s the secret of your success, what’s your style, he said ‘disciplined exoticism’. All this leads back to Jamaica where the books were created.”

More Bond fodder arrived on the island when actor Errol Flynn sailed into Jamaica after a storm in 1944.

“In his wake the cream of Hollywood all piled in: Bette Davis, Grace Kelly, Ginger Rogers” said Parker.

Most of the jet set would have spent time on the French Riviera before the war, but started coming to Jamaica, Parker said.

“Whether you were royalty or whether you were in theatre or literature, really you weren’t a proper star until you were photographed in Jamaica. Marilyn Monroe had her honeymoon there. JFK spent a lot of time there. It became this bubble of the super rich jet set and Fleming was part of it.”

During the 1940s Fleming was a playboy on par with the character he created.

“Goldeneye became a bachelor pad. He had all the most beautiful women of Europe come to stay. After awhile he tired of it. He wrote that it was the same people and the same conversation and the same cocktails” said Parker.

After 6 years of the playboy life in Jamaica, in 1953, Parker says Fleming “turned inward and sat down and wrote Casino Royale”.

The year before Fleming wrote his first Bond book, he married Ann Charteris who never liked the spy novels.

Parker said she called them “pornography”.

She stayed away from Jamaica and Fleming had an affair with a white Jamaican woman Blanche Blackwell.

She was the mother of Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records who discovered Bob Marley.

She is still alive, and Parker spoke to her for the book.

“She was totally unpretentious - just supportive of him and nurtured him. She told me he was a man with bad depression. She was part of the attraction of Jamaica for him. It was much less complicated, much more sensual, simple and kind than his life back in London."

Fleming died in 1964 at the age of 56 after years of heavy drinking and smoking.