JAMES BOND – THE ORNITHOLOGIST WHO LENT HIS NAME TO A FICTION LEGEND
Jamaica, 1952. The night was hot, too hot. Fleming cursed as he made his way up the steps to his neighbour’s verandah. He heard the clink of ice from within the house, and guessed that the rum punch was being mixed just the way he liked it. Stirred, not shaken. As he passed a low table on the verandah his eyes were drawn to a small book lying on it. Fleming paused, taking in the information, his senses suddenly alive. Bond. James Bond. A bird book about the avian species of the West Indies. Suddenly, it all made sense. Fleming knew now the direction he had to take, and with a thin smile he flicked back the insolent comma of dark hair that had fallen across his face and strode into the house towards the sound of the ice…
James Bond, ornithologist (1900 – 1989) was an expert on the birdlife of the Caribbean and wrote the seminal Birds of the West Indies, first published in 1936 and republished in varying formats ever since.
Ian Fleming lived in Jamaica and was a keen birdwatcher. The story goes that one evening, visiting friends, he saw ornithologist James Bond’s Birds of the West Indies on a table, and borrowed that short, punchy name for his fictional hero 007 for Casino Royale, published in 1953. He later said he wanted a name that sounded ‘as ordinary as possible’. In an interview, Fleming said “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, and ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers.’ Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.” Fleming wrote to the real James Bond’s wife “It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born.” He also contacted the real James Bond about using his name in the books and Bond replied that he was “fine with it.” At some point during one of Fleming’s visits to Jamaica he met the real Bond and his wife. The meeting was recorded for a documentary.
FACT, FICTION & IN-JOKES
In Dr No Fleming referenced Bond’s work by basing a large Ornithological Sanctuary on Dr No’s island in the Bahamas. In 1964, Fleming gave Bond a first edition copy of You Only Live Twice signed “To the real James Bond, from the thief of his identity”. In the 2002 Bond film Die Another Day the fictional Bond can be seen examining Birds of the West Indies in an early scene that takes place in Havana. However the author’s name (James Bond) on the front cover is obscured. In the same film, when Bond first meets Jinx, he introduces himself as an ornithologist.
Ian Fleming Lived Here in Jamaica **
I had been planning to research the history of the various editions of Birds of the West Indies, the locus classicus for Caribbean species. Then I started to look into it and found that someone – Jack Holloway – had already done it so thoroughly that I would be wasting my time. So I contacted Jack for use permission, and I am very grateful to him for granting it by return. This next part is all thanks to him. I recommend a visit to his very good online bird resource website at AVIAN3
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
THE HISTORY OF BIRDS OF THE WEST INDIES BY JAMES BOND
1936 (The Original)
This is the alpha of the “Birds of the West Indies” books by James Bond. Its longer subtitle is “An Account with full descriptions of all the birds known to occur or to have occurred on the West Indian Islands“. Published just shy of two years after Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies, this book was the first field guide to cover all the birds of the West Indies (outside of Cory’s annotated book of 1889).
Somewhat in contrast to what is stated in the later 1961 version as the “First American Edition”, this 1936 book was published by The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (at which Bond worked) and was printed by Waverly Press, Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland.
This book is certainly quite scarce and typically commands a price ranging from $500 – $1,500 depending on its condition and the presence of a dustjacket.
Ultimately, one may ask, “What’s the difference between this first book and the subsequent versions?” Here is the answer in the form of a table (see below)
1947 (The Next Version)
This 1947 version is often advertised or assumed to be the first edition. This may be due in part to the rarity of the original 1936 edition and/or to the presence of “First Printing” printed on the backside of the Title Page in the 1947 book (see image below). This “first printing” refers only to the second book. For the true, original book, you must go back another 11 years to 1936.
Despite the notation of “First American Edition” in the 1961 version, this 1947 book was published by the MacMillan Company of New York and was printed in the United States. The 1936 edition was also US published and printed.
As an obscure note, the title of the book printed on the dustjacket does not match the title printed on the book itself. The cover reads, “Field Guide of Birds…” while the book reads, “Field Guide to Birds…”. Also, it is likely this is the version owned by Ian Fleming which inspired the naming of his charismatic spy (see below)
Depending on the condition of this book and the presence of a dustjacket, this 1947 version ranges in price between $30 and $100.
STOP PRESS As a guideline, I’ve now bought a copy of this edition on eBay for $80, in very good condition with good dust jacket. On a first edition, I beat the seller down from $2250 to $1600, but it was in poor condition and I left it at that…
1961 (“1st American Edition“)
Just as a note of interest — or irony — this 1961 version is labeled as the “First America Edition”. Keep in mind the 1936 and 1947 books were both published and printed in the US. Additionally, just beneath the statement of “First American Edition”, you will see “Printed in Great Britain”. Completing the picture, this book was published by the Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston; thus, the American connection (I guess).
1971 1971 1974
1980 1980 1985 1986 (?)
1990s (the adoption by the Peterson series)
1993 1995 1999
Needless to say, the name James Bond has a familiarity beyond just the birding world. Several myths and slight distortions have grown related to how this name has been transmogrified from ornithologist to international spy.
In 1966, Mrs. James (Mary Wickham) Bond wrote a 62-page book How 007 Got His Name that outlined the circumstances which led to the use of Mr. Bond’s name in the series of books written by Ian Fleming.
As noted on pp. 16-17, Dr. Bond first became aware of his new recognition in 1961. This was after seven spy thrillers had already been published and were just becoming popular in the US.
Mrs. Bond wrote a light-hearted letter to Mr. Fleming on February 01, 1961 to make note that he had “…brazenly taken the name of a real human being for your rascal!” (p.18). A return letter by Mr. Fleming was most gracious and apologetic.
In this reply, (contained in full in Mrs., Bond’s book), Mr. Fleming wrote, “I will confess at once that your husband has every reason to sue me in every possible position and for practically every kind of libel in the book, for I will now confess the damnable truth.” (p.21).
He then provided an explanation of how he selected his character’s name for the first book in 1953: “…I was determined that my secret agent should be as anonymous a personality as possible…At this 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, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born…”
Mimicking Mrs. Bond’s light-hearted approach, Mr. Fleming continued his reply with this unique offer: “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit. Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” (p.22).
Mr. Fleming also offered the Bonds an open invitation to visit his residence in Jamaica and to visit the birthplace of the second James Bond.
Iam Fleming and the real James Bond met only once, which was February 5th, 1964. This was in Jamaica, six months before the death of Mr. Fleming.
This short book by Mrs. Bond is a nice, quick read. I appreciate it for the first-hand accounts of the historical beginnings of Bond vs. Bond as opposed to the hearsay and myths created over time. The book also offers entertaining stories of how James Bond dealt with his new popularity and the avid “fans” upon their discovery of his name.
Comparison Table of the Books’ Contents over the Years
** “THE FLEMING VILLA” (SHOWN ABOVE) – THE FACTS
- Once rented by Noel Coward
- Sting wrote “Every Breath you Take” here
- Princess Margaret, while a guest, broke a toe on one of the beds (rum punch alert!)
- Ian Fleming himself designed the house, and wrote all the Bond books here
- It has 5 bedrooms, and was built by a former donkey track bought by Fleming in 1946
- You can rent it (and its full-time staff) for £3500 (including breakfast). Per night…
- It is part of the ‘Goldeneye’ Estate (and no, there isn’t a ‘Thunderball’ Estate)
- Other guests: Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn, Lucian Freud, Truman Capote & Evelyn Waugh
(Source credit: The Quarterly)