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Film

Why Ian Fleming wanted James Bond to be "extremely dull"

With both the literary character and the film series that follows the secret agent, there are always some exciting elements to a James Bond story that audiences have come to expect. The car chases, the evil schemes, the penchant for martinis, the guns, the gadgets – they all help elevate 007 stories into literary and cinematic thrill rides. But that’s not what author and creator Ian Fleming originally had in mind for the character.

“When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened,” Fleming explained to The New Yorker in 1962. “I wanted him to be a blunt instrument … when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, [James Bond] is the dullest name I ever heard.”

The actual name itself came from the ornithologist James Bond, a figure that Fleming, as an avid birdwatcher himself, was casually aware of. “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers’,” Fleming would later claim. “Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure—an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.”

In the November 1966 edition of Life magazine, Fleming detailed how the real James Bond and his wife made an unexpected appearance at Fleming’s Goldeneye property in Jamaica in 1964. Fleming told Mrs Bond that “I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming… Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.”

Even though Fleming’s original intention was for Bond to be a blunt instrument and nothing more, even he began to make the character more exciting in his literary works. Bond would become an expert marksman, a scuba expert, and a man with a refined culinary palate in Fleming’s work. Those traits would be expanded upon in the film series, where Bond could do everything from skiing to flying planes to interpreting tarot cards.

Still, the basic principles of 007 would remain the same: stoic, largely unemotional, and detached from extended relationships. That’s what Fleming likely had intended for his “blunt instrument”, but whether it was intentional or more likely not, James Bond became a fascinating entity onto himself, even when he was playing the part of a dull straight man.