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The Real Reason Ian Fleming Wrote 'Casino Royale'

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Ian Fleming's mind was a jumble of conflicting thoughts and emotions when he sat down to his first draft of Casino Royale in Jamaica in February 1952.

He liked to joke that he finally got round to writing his first James Bond novel because he needed something to take his mind off his impending marriage to Ann, the striking dark-haired aristocratic woman with whom he had an on-off affair for over a decade, and who had recently divorced her second husband, Lord Rothermere, owner of the powerful Daily Mail newspaper.

But this was a typical Fleming flim-flam. He had been talking for several years about his desire to write the 'spy novel to end all spy novels'. But his attention had simply drifted in other directions.

After hostilities ended, he had been recruited as Foreign Manager of another London-based newspaper, the Sunday Times, a job that required him to build up a network of foreign correspondents, not so different from the agents with whom he liaised when he was the influential war-time Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey.

In that earlier job, he had been Godfrey's gate-keeper in Room 39 of the Admiralty. He dealt directly with MI6 and the other secret services on behalf of his boss. He saw agents going to and returning from the field. He played a major role in liaising on intelligence matters with President Roosevelt's special enjoy, Colonel "Wild" Bill Donovan, whom he visited in Washington in the summer of 1941 and helped draw up guidelines for the combined US intelligence agency which would later become the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and then the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). One of his memos detailing the ideal American agent seems in retrospect to anticipate the qualities of James Bond. Donovan later presented him with a .38 Colt Police Positive revolver inscribed "For Special Services."

Fleming was essentially a bureaucrat during the war. But, being an imaginative man (he had written poetry in his youth), he could not help thinking about a more active role as a secret agent.

Before James Bond could make his first appearance at Royale Les Eaux in Casino Royale, however, Fleming had to get his own life in order.

With his considerable chutzpah, he negotiated a fantastic deal with his new employer, Kemsley Newspapers (which owned the Sunday Times), which meant he was paid £5000 a year and able to take off three months of the year.

This was just what he wanted because the other main post-war ambition was to build himself a house in Jamaica. This came about after he had fallen in love with the Caribbean island during an Anglo-American naval conference there in 1942. He vowed he would come back there to live. So one of his first initiatives in late 1945 was to buy himself some land on the north coast of Jamaica, near Oracabessa.

There, he built a basic bungalow which he called Goldeneye, after a secret war-time intelligence operation he had run (involving contingency plans if Hitler had moved into the Iberian peninsula). One of his first guests was the entertainer Noel Coward who was scornful of the facilities and referred to his stay at "Golden eye, nose and throat" (clinic was implied).

But Fleming loved snorkelling and exploring the sea round his house. And he entertained many friends, eager to flee the British winter and post-war austerity.

Among his visitors was Ann, Lady Rothermere, who had told her husband that she was visiting her friend Noel Coward who had his own house, Blue Harbour, three miles from Goldeneye. She bore Fleming a still-born daughter, and then when she became pregnant by him again, she obtained a divorce and came out to Jamaica to marry her lover.

This was not exactly on Fleming's commitment-averse agenda. It also brought other factors into play. While in London, Ann had surrounded herself with writers and artists at her then marital home, Warwick House. She was a friend of Evelyn Waugh, Cyril Connolly, Patrick Leigh Fermor and others. Fleming felt that a book might be a useful entrée into this circle.

At the same time, his own elder brother Peter had forged a successful career as a writer, and, only the previous summer, he had published his own spoof espionage novel, The Sixth Column.

Driven by a desire to impress his wife and by fraternal competitiveness, Ian settled down in Goldeneye to write "Casino Royale." The fictional venue in Northern France and the gambling ambience reflected his pre-war days as a playboy bachelor. The escapist story line and the suggestion of a better life gave hope to Britons just beginning to experience modern consumerism. The plot drew on his close liaison with the intelligence services. The theme of betrayal, epitomized by Vesper Lynd's treatment of Bond, tallied with emerging information (to which Fleming was privy) about the disappearance of British diplomats, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who were suspected of being Soviet spies. And the hero of the novel was James Bond, Fleming's alter ego, the action man he would have so loved to have been.

Andrew Lycett's "Ian Fleming" is published by St Martin's Press [$29.99]. You can follow him at Twitter: @alycett1.