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January 19, 2024

The Spy who Banked Me: how the City shaped James Bond

Ian Fleming's career in wealth management was pivotal to the creation of James Bond, writes Nicholas Shakespeare in a new biography

By Spear's

He may have been described as ‘the worst stockbroker in the world’, but Ian Fleming’s seven-year career in wealth management in the 1930s was pivotal for the creation of a certain James Bond.

That’s according to Nicholas Shakespeare, author of the new biography Ian Fleming: The Complete Man, who concludes that, but for Fleming’s knowledge of the City and his Square Mile connections, there may have been no Bond at all.

‘One of the reasons he’s employed in Naval Intelligence – and that changed his life, gave us Bond and everything – is his financial connections to New York and the City,’ explains Shakespeare. ‘Intelligence requires you to move large amounts of money to finance operations around the world.’

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The author notes that among those who recommended Fleming to Admiral Godfrey – the head of Naval Intelligence – was no less an individual than Montagu Norman, the governor of the Bank of England. (It also couldn’t have hurt that Fleming was a grandson of banking tycoon Robert Fleming.)

The banking pursuits that Ian Fleming enjoyed in his banking days filtered into his James Bond tales / Image: Getty Images

As well as helping to put Fleming at the epicentre of British intelligence during the Second World War, his work in the City also brought him into contact with various figures that clearly inspired later 007 endeavours. These included the immeasurably wealthy oil man Calouste Gulbenkian (nicknamed ‘Mr Five Per Cent’), who, incidentally, had a penchant for white angora cats. Another client, a naturalised Armenian financier named Garabed Bishirgian, became known as the ‘Pepper King’ after trying to buy up the world’s supply of white pepper. He ended up in Wandsworth prison.

Much of Ian Fleming’s time at Cull & Co and then at Rowe and Pitman was spent enjoying himself in bachelor pursuits, such as drinking champagne with a group of friends, gambling and playing golf – all aspects of Bond’s life, too.

‘Without his experience in the City, Ian Fleming wouldn’t have any of the stylish know-how that makes his character so compelling,’ adds Shakespeare. ‘He’s an insider and the City gave him that confidence.’

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This feature first appeared in The Hedgehog column of Spear’s Magazine Issue 90, edited by Alec Marsh. Click here to subscribe.

Illustration: Cat Sims

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