Dominic Cooper as Ian Fleming, former British Secret Service agent and aspiring author
Goldeneye, Jamaica, March 1952
Series: Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond
Episode: Episode 1
Air Date: January 29, 2014
Director: Mat Whitecross
Costume Designer: Caroline Harris
This Monday, May 28, marks the 110th birthday of Ian Fleming, the author who created James Bond based on his own experiences in British naval intelligence during World War II. Fleming’s works have famously been adapted to the screen in one of the most successful film franchises to date, while the man’s own life has been adapted a few times as well.
Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, is the most recent visual retelling of Fleming’s life, focusing on the period of 1938 to 1952 that included Commander Fleming’s service in the British Naval Intelligence Division during World War II and much of the gambling, girls, and gin that would become a hallmark for both Fleming and his fictional creation.
After being a bachelor for 44 years, I was on the edge of marrying and the prospect was so horrifying that I was in urgent need of some activity to take my mind off it. So, as I say, my mental hands were empty and although I am as lazy as most Englishmen are, I have a Puritanical dislike of idleness and a natural love of action. So I decided to write a book.
– Ian Fleming, 1956
The first episode begins as Fleming puts his finishing touches on Casino Royale, both the first James Bond book as well as Fleming’s own first novel. Though he’d had experience writing as a journalist, Fleming had long told friends that he wanted to write a spy novel. His upcoming marriage to Ann O’Neill, née Charteris, provided the impetus for the nervous groom-to-be to channel his anxiety into his ambition.
“I know what you’re doing,” announces Ann (Lara Pulver) as she finds Fleming outside at the opening of the series. “Can’t bear the thought of being married, so you’re taking it out on that poor, bloody machine.” She voices her dislike for Bond, “a sadistic brute,” though she can’t help but note that her fiancé equipped said brute with his own golf handicap and drinking preferences.
“He’s not me,” insists Fleming.
“You as you’d like to be,” corrects Ann. “Your fantasy… is that who he is?”
“Not exactly,” Fleming responds.
Fleming began writing Casino Royale on the morning of February 17, 1952, completing his manuscript in less than a month, just in time to marry Ann on March 24. The rest is history.
What’d He Wear?
We all know Mr. Bond often wore Sea Island cotton shirts in Fleming’s novels, though the miniseries places Ian himself in what appears to be a navy linen shirt while penning Casino Royale in Jamaica.
Of course, linen is an ideal choice for a warm tropical climate like one may encounter in Jamaica, though some Bond style purists would have likely preferred to have seen the character’s creator in the Sea Island cotton that was so extolled in his books. After all, we do hear about “a sleeveless dark blue Sea Island cotton shirt” in chapter 11 of From Russia With Love as well as references to the same in Moonraker and Thunderball.
Cooper’s navy linen shirt as Fleming shares much in common with shirts worn by the real Ian Fleming, including the notched camp collar, baggy half-sleeves, and breast pocket. The back is pleated on the sides. The shirt closes with big black plastic sew-through buttons up the plain front, with the highest button undone at the chest.
As Fleming wears his shirt untucked and spends much of the scene behind a desk, we don’t see much of his shorts except to discern that they appear to be a slightly darker shade of navy than his shirt. They are likely also linen.
As Ann pulls Fleming onto the bed for something arguably more fun than being hunched over a typewriter, we get a look at his espadrilles. Fleming had specified “rope-soled shoes” for Bond to wear in Dr. No, set not far from the Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, so it’s reasonable to assume that the author himself sported this comfortable warm-weather footwear while penning his secret agent’s adventures. Check out what I wrote for Primer last summer about espadrilles here.
The canvas uppers of Fleming’s espadrilles appear to be black with two black eyelets for black laces. The outsoles are braided rope. If you’re looking for a similar pair for yourself, Ben Sherman’s “Prill Oxford Sneaker” on Amazon looks like a reasonable option for shoppers looking in the $50 to $70 range.
Who would Bond be without his watch of course? Throughout the series, Fleming wears a military-style wristwatch with a squared steel case and a round black dial with yellow Arabic numerals. The watch is fastened to his wrist on a well-worn brown leather strap.
Go Big or Go Home
…or, better still, go to Fleming’s home!
As James Bond became an international phenomenon, there emerged an obvious interest in sojourning to the place he was created.
“Would these books have been born if I had not been living in the gorgeous vacuum of a Jamaican holiday? I doubt it,” Fleming is quoted on the official site for The Fleming Villa in Orcabessa Bay, Jamaica.
Fleming had first visited Jamaica in 1942 for an Anglo-American intelligence summit, and he immediately fell in love with the lush island nation. After the war, his friend Ivar Bryce helped him find a plot of land in Saint Mary Parish in northeast Jamaica. Fleming sketched a design for a three-bedroom home with jalousie windows and a swimming pool, and the structure was built in 1946 overlooking a private cliff. Adjacent to Ruth Bryan Owen’s Golden Clouds estate, Fleming took a cue from one of his wartime operations and named the estate “Goldeneye”.
Fleming’s mistress Ann Charteris had married Conservative politician Lord Rothermere in June 1945, but she spent much of the seven years of her marriage visiting Fleming at his Goldeneye home until she finally divorced Lord Rothermere and married Fleming in 1952.
Of course, Ian Fleming made it very easy to copy his lifestyle by conspicuously passing along each detail to James Bond.
“He lit his first cigarette, a Balkan and Turkish mixture made for him by Morlands of Grosvenor Street,” wrote Fleming in the fourth chapter of Casino Royale. “…he filled a flat, light gunmetal box with fifty of the Morland cigarettes with the triple gold band,” included the description in chapter 8. Most of the subsequent books continue to add detail about Bond’s smoking habits, always naturally echoing the sixty-cigarette-per-day Fleming’s own preferences. (As an Easter egg for Bond fans, there are several instances in Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond where we see Fleming’s packet of cigarettes clearly identified from Morland & Co.)
Why three gold bands? This cosmetic addition is almost certainly a reference to Fleming’s – and, thus, Bond’s – rank in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, where a Commander’s rank is denoted by three gold ribbons on the end of his or her sleeve.
Five months after he completed the first manuscript of Casino Royale, Fleming rewarded himself with the purchase of a gold-plated Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter. A collection of his typewritten communications is now marketed in the aptly named and essential volume The Man with the Golden Typewriter.
How to Get the Look
Dominic Cooper channels a warm-weather look often worn by the real-life Ian Fleming, the perfect warm-weather getup for sitting by the sea and penning the adventures of a sophisticated secret agent.
- Navy linen short-sleeve shirt with notched camp collar, plain front, breast pocket, and back side pleats
- Dark navy linen shorts
- Steel military-style watch with round black dial (with yellow Arabic numerals) on brown leather strap
- Black canvas two-eyelet rope-soled espadrilles
Though not quite an affordable alternative, 007-friendly brand Sunspel offers a nearly identical shirt, sans breast pocket, in Fleming’s preferred Sea Island cotton for $270. For obvious reasons, the shirt is marketed as part of Sunspel’s Ian Fleming™ Collection.