It’s well-known that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, drew inspiration from his real-life experiences as an intelligence officer during World War II. However, a fascinating and lesser-known aspect of this story revolves around Captain Peter Fleming, Ian’s older brother, who played a significant but often overlooked role in the clandestine world of espionage. As we approach the 76th Anniversary of the ‘Battle of Britain,’ let’s delve into the latest research shedding light on Peter Fleming’s wartime activities and his potential influence on Ian’s iconic writing career.
A Man of Many Talents
Captain Peter Fleming (1907-1971) was not just a sibling to the famous author; he was a distinguished travel writer, novelist, and explorer in his own right. He even married the renowned film star Celia Johnson, known for her role in ‘Brief Encounter.’ Peter’s adventures took him on expeditions to remote areas of Central Brazil in 1932, which he vividly chronicled in his best-selling book ‘Brazilian Adventure’ (1933). His travels around the world during the 1930s yielded further popular travel books and articles. However, when World War II erupted in 1939, he was called into action, leveraging his diverse skills in the service of Military Intelligence.
The Clandestine Contributions of the Fleming Brothers
As war unfolded, both Peter and Ian found themselves in key intelligence roles. Ian Fleming served as an officer in the Naval Intelligence Division, while Peter joined the research wing of Military Intelligence. Peter’s involvement began with active service in Norway and quickly expanded to a more covert domain. In May 1940, he was tasked with devising plans for secret resistance networks in the UK, in anticipation of a potential Nazi invasion.
Meanwhile, Ian conceived his own unit of ‘special’ commandos, known as ‘No. 30 Assault Unit,’ with the mission of capturing enemy hi-tech and scientific materials under perilous conditions. While much is known about Ian’s unit, Peter’s wartime contributions remained shrouded in secrecy until recent years.
The Emergence of Peter Fleming’s Secret Guerrilla Army
Recent research has uncovered details about the top-secret ‘stay behind’ resistance movement groups established by Winston Churchill’s government. These clandestine units were prepared for espionage, sabotage, and assassination had Britain fallen to Nazi occupation. Peter Fleming played a crucial role in organizing covert saboteur groups in Kent, a region closely tied to the Fleming family. His work laid the foundation for the Kent XII Corps Observation Unit, which later expanded to cover the entire country under the command of Colonel Colin Gubbins.
These units consisted of carefully selected civilians with intimate local knowledge, living dual lives as ordinary citizens while secretly training for their clandestine roles. The secrecy surrounding these operations was so intense that no explicit mention of them appeared in official government documents. Only in recent years have surviving members felt free to share their experiences and reveal Peter Fleming’s involvement.
Parallel Paths of the Fleming Brothers
Peter and Ian Fleming’s wartime careers ran in parallel, with both brothers gaining valuable insights into the world of spies and secret agents. Peter saw action in Norway, conducting daring sabotage operations as British forces withdrew. This campaign marked the early use of ‘special forces’ by Britain during the war, closely observed by Ian, who advocated for the Royal Navy’s adoption of such tactics.
Peter’s clandestine work took him to South-East Asia and India, where he engaged in top-secret psychological warfare and military deception against the Japanese. His imaginative deception schemes, including the creation of elaborate fake documents, played a pivotal role in the war effort.
The Bond of Brothers: Influence on Ian Fleming’s Writing
On a personal level, Ian and Peter Fleming shared a close bond, supporting each other throughout their lives. Ian’s decision to become a novelist post-war might have been influenced by Peter’s writing career. Some scholars speculate that Peter’s satirical espionage novel, ‘The Sixth Column’ (1952), dedicated to Ian, may have spurred Ian to create his iconic James Bond series, aiming for a grittier and more realistic portrayal of the spy world with a touch of glamour.
Peter’s role extended beyond inspiration; he helped Ian by convincing Jonathan Cape, one of his publishers, to publish the first James Bond book, ‘Casino Royale,’ when there were initial reservations. Peter even contributed to refining Ian’s manuscripts, earning him the nickname ‘Dr. Nitpick.’
After Ian’s untimely death in 1964, Peter actively protected his brother’s literary legacy, serving on the board of Glidrose, the company that held the rights to Ian’s works. He was involved in commissioning the first James Bond ‘continuation’ novel, ‘Colonel Sun’ (1968), despite some reservations from Ian’s widow, Ann.
A Curious Tale
In a bizarre twist, Peter Fleming received a mysterious letter in 1970 claiming that a retired bank officer’s late wife had communicated with the beyond, delivering a new James Bond story titled ‘Take Over.’ Although this story contained Bond characters, Peter recognized that the writing style was unlike Ian’s. He sold the tale to the Sunday Times, shedding light on this peculiar episode.
The legacy of the Fleming brothers endures, with Peter’s daughters, Kate and Lucy, continuing to protect and preserve Ian’s work and contributions to the world of espionage fiction. In the world of spies and secret agents, the Flemings’ story remains a captivating chapter, filled with intrigue, adventure, and brotherly bonds that transcended the pages of their novels.