How Ian Fleming’s Wartime Espionage Shaped James Bond

A look at the experiences that informed a spy novelist, including Operation Golden Eye

A black and white photo of author Ian Fleming on a beach. We take a look at how his wartime espionage work influenced writing his James Bond books.
British novelist Ian Fleming on the beach near Goldeneye, his Jamaica home, on February 23, 1964.
Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

In 1990, a movie debuted on TNT about the life of a globe-trotting British spy and starring an actor with the last name Connery. This wasn’t a previously unseen James Bond project, though. Instead, it was a film titled Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, a movie about the early years of Bond’s creator which starred Jason Connery, son of Sean. When it comes to Bond and Fleming, the boundaries between creator and creation can sometimes grow blurry.

A number of spy novelists have drawn on their own experience when writing fiction, and Fleming was no exception. The extent to which he did remains a subject of much fascination, and it’s one that author Mark Simmons explores in a new book, Ian Fleming’s War: The Inspiration for 007.

CrimeReads recently published an excerpt from the book, which details a mission Fleming took to Gibraltar in 1940, gathering intelligence hoping to influence Spain’s neutrality in the war. This was the setting for Operation Golden Eye, a name familiar to many Bond fans and Fleming enthusiasts. Fleming’s work also saw him cross paths with OSS head William J. Donovan (the Office of Strategic Services being the precursor to the CIA) who was also in the area to gather information.

This mission doesn’t feature any watch cameras or heavily modified automobiles, but it does feature scenic locales and secret tunnels situated within the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s a fascinating window into Fleming’s work during the war, the ways in which certain moments may have influenced his subsequent fiction and the difficult decisions that shaped his view of espionage going forward.

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