Scotland, Fleming's other secret agent
The Field|January 2022
Much like an extra character, Scotland has had a starring role in many Bond films – but was 007 a Scot?
DANIEL PEMBREY

When Ian Fleming sat down at his Jamaican retreat in early 1963 to finish You Only Live Twice, he was 54 and entering the final 18 months of his life. The novel’s title comes from the notion that we die upon looking death in the face. Hauntingly, this 12th instalment of the Bond book series contained an obituary, written by M after Bond is believed killed. Two passages of the obituary are especially telling. One is that Bond is ‘of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, and a Swiss mother, Monique Delacroix, from the Canton de Vaud’ (both of whom died in a climbing accident during Bond’s youth). The other concerns ‘his transfer [from Eton] to Fettes, his father’s old school’.

Many real-world figures have been claimed as the inspiration for Bond but by far the most persuasive is Fleming himself or, rather, an idealised version of him: the adventurous life that an older Fleming might have imagined for his younger self. That younger self was shaped by Scotland.

“Never forget you’re a Scot,” his mother, Evelyn Beatrice Sainte Croix Fleming, would tell him growing up. Born in 1908 in Mayfair, Fleming was thoroughly anglicised but his family hailed from Dundee, with the original patriarch, Robert, making his fortune in investment trusts during the late 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, the family was spending summers at Scottish estates, notably Black Mount, near Glencoe, a glorious 90,000-acre deer forest. Robert rented the estate in 1924, later acquiring it outright, and a central strand of the Bond story began spinning.

Fleming didn’t take to Augusts and Septembers spent at Black Mount, supposedly remarking to an uncle, “If I have to make a choice, I suppose I would rather catch no salmon than shoot no grouse.” He complained about the treatment of hinds and stags and about “all those dripping evergreens”, preferring to listen to records or read. And yet he did shoot deer. According to Andrew Lycett’s authoritative biography, the 16-year-old Ian shot his first stag on 9 September 1924. He shot more on the 11th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 22nd. There can be little doubt that he was familiar with the customs and terrains of the stalk and the kill, and the trope of the hunt to the death – endlessly versatile – would prove central and irresistible in the Bond stories.

One adventure author who Fleming read growing up was John Buchan, another Scot. The two men were to share many experiences. They would marry well (Fleming to Ann Charteris, who was formerly Viscountess Rothermere; Buchan to Susan Grosvenor). Both men had important wartime roles (Fleming in Naval Intelligence during World War II; Buchan as Director of Information in World War I). Buchan was made 1st Baron Tweedsmuir and later Governor General of Canada and, while Fleming would prefer his Jamaican beach house to any such high office, both would mostly be remembered for their fictional offspring, in spite of everything.

Buchan is best known today for his Richard Hannay stories and in particular The Thirty-Nine Steps, first published in 1915. In this short novel, a shadowy German organisation called the Black Stone seeks to steal British naval secrets. There are fast cars, enemy boats, truncated train journeys and novel flying machines. As Ursula Buchan, his granddaughter and biographer, adds, “There is pursuit and escape, with the hero not knowing who to trust, and prey to omnipresent danger. The core elements of the modern spy-thriller are all there.”

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