This Day In Writing History - November 11 - James Bond
Updated: Jan 23
November 11 is cited as the birthday of James Bond, Ian Fleming's signature character who has gone on to front a hugely popular film franchise that has spanned 50+ years. Given Bond's considerable cinematic repute, it's often easy to forget he first came to life in the arena of literature. Featuring in 12 novels published during the 1950s and 1960s, all of which were at some point adapted to film, it's safe to say that the author's attempt at creating an updated version of the intrepid heroes whose exploits he grew up reading about has been a smashing success.
Ironically, given how 'James Bond' is today synonymous with action and intrigue, Ian Fleming chose the name for his character due to finding it more rote and bland than any other possibility. Borrowing the name from an ornithologist whose books Fleming often used as guides for his own bird-watching pursuits, Bond was conceived as an unremarkable man to whom remarkable things occurred. Using his experiences as an intelligence officer during World War II for inspiration, Fleming wrote the first James Bond novel, "Casino Royale", at his estate in Jamaica in early 1952.
That first story was published a year later, and enjoyed immediate success in the UK where three initial prints all sold out. Fleming's publisher offered him a lucrative three-novel deal. "Casino Royale" was soon exported to the United States, where sales were more tepid, and underwent adaptation into a one-hour episode of a CBS weekly anthology series that stands as the first screen appearance of James Bond (though portrayed as an American agent in this instance). The novel's success is attributed to both a timely narrative that alluded to recent scandals in British intelligence and Fleming's thorough characterization of Bond, wherein many of his now-familiar traits were quickly established.
Working as a manager in the newspaper industry, Fleming was able to come to an arrangement with his employer that allowed for three months of vacation time per year in Jamaica, allowing him to pursue writing full-time during that span. It was during these periods that virtually all of his James Bond material was produced, along with a couple of non-fiction works and the children's novel "Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang". The release of a Bond novel swiftly became an annual occurrence, and Fleming was commissioned to write outlines for a potential television series at CBS, who remembered the success of the earlier anthology entry. Though the idea was later dropped, Fleming refashioned the outlines into short stories that also received publication.
Despite the television setback, a film adaptation was pursued by Eon Productions and the effort was supported by Fleming. This support waned, however, when Eon revealed their choice to play the James Bond character, a little-known Scottish actor named Sean Connery. Having envisioned a smooth and dapper presence in the style of Cary Grant, Fleming was displeased by Connery's lack of refinement and experience as a leading man. The producers stood by Connery, and Fleming came to be impressed by the results, even threading in elements of Connery's portrayal into his later novels.
Though Fleming died in 1964, his final novel, "The Man With The Golden Gun", was published posthumously as well as a second short story collection. Along with the blockbuster film series, the James Bond character has continued to live on in print, with authors including John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, and Jeffrey Deaver contributing continuation novels, the most recent of which was published in 2018. Though sometimes derided as a relic of a bygone era, the mystique of James Bond continues to entrance, and he certainly begs mention when one considers the most popular literary characters of all time.