He is probably the world’s most famous secret service agent. Ian Fleming’s fictional British intelligence officer, whose film persona has varied from smoldering Sean Connery and suave Roger Moore to Daniel Craig’s brawny 007, was named after a Trinity student.
The real James Bond was American student at Trinity, 1919-1922, who studied History and Political Economy, and went on to become an ornithologist, and author of the definitive guide to the Birds of the West Indies.
A keen birdwatcher himself, Fleming had this field guide on his desk at Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica where he wrote all the Bond novels, starting in 1952 with Casino Royale.
Meanwhile, James Bond, the Curator of Birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, was continuing his birding expeditions.
As Mary Wickham Bond wrote in her book, How 007 Got his Name, until they received British newspaper reviews of her husband’s field guide – which jested with the idea of the spy-turned-ornithologist – the couple were unaware of 007 and his growing popularity.
Struck by the similarity between Fleming’s depictions of the West Indies in the Bond novels and her husband’s accounts from his earlier expeditions, Mrs Bond wrote to the author.
Fleming replied, confessing ‘the damnable truth’, and inviting the couple to visit Goldeneye if they returned to Jamaica. He wrote in his letter of June 1961:
At the time, one of my bibles was, and still is, Birds of the West Indies by James Bond, and it struck me that this name, brief and unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born …
Several years later when in Jamaica, the Bonds decided on a whim to drop by Goldeneye. Welcomed warmly by Fleming they stayed for lunch, the author apologizing for ‘all this bother I’ve made for you.’
The Bonds left with a copy of latest thriller, You Only Live Twice, inscribed by the author, as pictured below.
Fleming died four months after the Bonds’ chance visit to Goldeneye in 1964. James Bond died in 1989, having published nearly 150 scientific papers, with his field guide in its 11th edition.
Birds of the West Indies and references to ornithology pop up in the Bond films. And the Bonds’ meeting with Fleming is told in a new documentary, The Other Fellow, which chronicles the lives of several men named James Bond.
Members of the College community are invited to a special screening of The Other Fellow on 30 May, 6-8pm, in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre, followed by a Q&A with the director and composer of the film. Please email email@example.com to reserve your free place.
With thanks to Professor David Contosta, author of The Private Life of James Bond (Sutter House 1993).
Read more about James Bond at Trinity.