It may come as a surprise to many of our viewers that I happen to be a massive James Bond fan. After all, while the movies have given us an incredible range of beautiful scenery, beautiful people, and Sean Connery in a powder blue terrycloth romper, it’s no exaggeration to call the entire Bond oeuvre a feminist nightmare. James Bond, both as he’s written in the Ian Fleming novels and as he appears on the big screen, is a boorish violent cad who treats women as objects. Despite all this, there’s just something about the stories that I can’t get enough of, which is why I was thrilled to find out that WGBH will air Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond on Thursday nights this month.
Biopics in general are enjoyable, but this series uses the subject as an excuse to revel in the lush cinematographic style created over the 26 official Bond films, and gives the audience a window into how Fleming’s life influenced his work. But let’s be real: a lot of what happens in this series seems more than a little far fetched. I looked into some of the more unbelievable aspects of the series to find out whether they’re real events, or just embellished.
1: Fleming Dated a Miss Wright (who didn’t turn out to be Miss Right): FACT
Anyone who’s seen a Bond film will know about Fleming’s penchant for giving his characters ridiculous and ironic names, which makes this fact even more surprising. Fleming did indeed date Muriel Wright, and she really did go by the somewhat unfortunate nickname of “Moo.” She was a lot like the woman portrayed in the miniseries (vivacious, beautiful, fun-loving) and sadly (spoiler) was killed during an air raid.
2: Fleming Made Friends with a Second Officer Monday: FAKE
Alas, this one is too good to be true: there’s no such person as Second Officer Monday. The character, who is clearly serving as a nod to Miss Moneypenny, does have many similarities to the real life women (yes, Miss Moneypenny was based on multiple people) who likely inspired Fleming to write the character.
3: Fleming Suggested Hiding Fake Documents on a Dead Body: FACT (probably)
Near the start of his naval career, Fleming wrote a memo with a series of suggestions for spycraft and deception which included what would become Operation Mincemeat (documents detailing an invasion of Sardinia and Greece were hidden on a dead body dressed as an English officer, the Nazis found the documents and defended Sardinia and Greece, and then the allied forces invaded Sicily instead). The memo is attributed to Fleming’s boss, Rear Admiral John Godfrey, but historians suspect Fleming was the actual author based on writing style. And speaking of Fleming’s boss…
4: Fleming Had a Boss Who Was Suspiciously Similar to “M”: FACT
James Bond fans will recognize Bond’s irascible superior officer instantly in John Godfrey, and yes, he was Fleming’s inspiration for M. Godfrey, despite being somewhat grumpy (and who wouldn’t be, dealing with Fleming’s shenanigans?), was a big fan of Fleming and kept first editions of all the Bond novels.
5: Fleming was a Badass Spy: FAKE
Sure, it’s fun to see Dominic Cooper swanning around with crazy gadgets and fighting off Nazis, but this part is definitely exaggerated to make the series more fun to watch. Fleming didn’t see any real action during the war. He came up with good ideas and apparently wrote very entertaining reports for his superiors, but James Bond he was not.
6: Fleming’s Relationship with Ann: FACT
Yes, Ian and Ann did indeed carry on a long affair before they finally married in 1952. Fleming started writing the first Bond book, Casino Royale, in the lead up to their wedding in Jamaica (the trip is shown in the miniseries as their honeymoon, though in fact they regularly traveled to Fleming’s home on the island).
The Real Story (Season 1, Episode 3: James Bond)
My Name is Fleming, Ian Fleming. André Schäfer, Ammo Content.
The Girl Who Loved Bond’s Creator. Sarah Hall, The Guardian.
Ian Fleming: The Fact Behind the Fiction of James Bond. Peter Kros, Warfare History Network.
Who Was the Real Miss Moneypenny? Kristin Wood, Books Tell You Why.