Matthew Parker, author of the Top 10 Sunday Times bestseller Goldeneye, reveals why Jamaica was a crucially important element of Bond creator Ian Fleming’s life and work.
It was the greatest love affair of Ian Fleming’s life. He adored Jamaica, never failing to spend at least two months there every year from the end of the Second World War until his death in 1964.
Fleming was an awkward character and could be distant, aloof and moody. But he found something in Jamaica that smoothed off the rough edges and let his creativity flow. A friend noted that only in Jamaica could Fleming ‘relax, be as much of himself as there was.’ Although Goldeneye had guard dogs and Fleming kept a gun in the house, he wrote warmly of Jamaicans as having ‘a strictness of behavior and manners which will surprise you and charm you’.
Ian Fleming on the beach at Goldeneye with Barrington Roper and a large barracuda
As with much of Fleming’s habits and personality, this love of Jamaica is passed on to James Bond, who is at his most relaxed when on the island. Like his creator, Bonds loves the ‘velvet heat’ and the ‘soft-green flanks’ of the mountains of what he calls Britain’s ‘most romantic colony’. There is also a sensuality about the place. On his last visit in The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond has a morning swim and then lets ‘the scented air, a compound of sea and trees, breathe over his body, naked save for the underpants.’
Goldeneye – looking out to sea
The Goldeneye house is simple, with clean lines and two enormous windows looking out to sea. In Fleming’s time, it was very simply equipped, even Spartan. A sunken garden leads from the house to the cliff-top, where stones steps descend to a small, enclosed white-sanded beach. A short distance offshore lies a reef, where Fleming spent hours floating or hunting for lobsters or seeing off the odd barracuda. His adventures underwater at Goldeneye would inspire some of the very best Bond scenes.
Colonial then post-colonial Jamaica contributes a vivid setting for three of these novels and a number of the short stories, as well as cropping up referenced in almost all of Fleming’s other books. More than that, the spirit of the island – its combination of conservatism and danger, its exotic beauty, its love of exaggeration and grotesques – infuses the stories. A contemporary critic, no doubt with the freakish Bond villains in mind, called Fleming’s work ‘air-conditioned gothic grotesque’.
In fact, many of the ‘ingredients’ that Fleming threw together in the warm bedroom of Goldeneye to create Bond – the high-end jet-set tourism world in which his hero moves, the relentless attention to race, the aching concern with the end of the Empire and national decline, the awkward new relationship with the United States – all these roads lead back to Jamaica.
Bond history for sale
Matthew Parker’s Goldeneye is out now.
Acclaim for Goldeneye:
‘Supremely enjoyable… Matthew Parker has created a completely new picture of Ian, Bond and the role of Jamaica in the making of the legend’ John Pearson, author of The Life of Ian Fleming
‘The book that James Bond obsessives have been waiting for – a beautiful, brilliant history of Ian Fleming at home at Goldeneye, all of sun-drenched, gin-soaked, bed-hopping colonial Jamaica outside the window and 007 at the moment of his creation. This is the big bang of Bond books’ Tony Parsons
‘A superb account of Fleming’s Jamaica… well-researched, excellently written… Without Jamaica, it is safe to say, there would have been no Agent 007‘ Financial Times
Ian Fleming standing in the sunken garden at Goldeneye, showing off his latest catch