Jamaica – Ian Fleming’s Lasting Love Affair

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Matthew Parker’s biography “GOLDENEYE – Where Bond Was Born; Ian Fleming’s Jamaica” is as much about the noted author as it is about Jamaica’s history between the end of colonialism and the start of Independence. Parker’s book is a refresher course of all the interesting and important events that took place during this important period of our national history and he reports well on Jamaican people, places and events of the time in a vivid description of the island’s mix of wealthy English residents, snobbish Jamaican Whites holding on to the tatters of Empire, and the Black patriots and political leaders whose actions led to Jamaica today.

Most of all, the book shows the great love Ian Fleming had for Jamaica. It was not just the place where he wrote his books. Jamaica, and his simple home Goldeneye were the true and deepest loves of Fleming’s life. The small beach below his house, the sea in which he was as much at home as on land and where his daily adventures were catching fish for lunch and challenging barracudas, moray eels and sharks, indeed the entire country itself were the only places where Fleming felt truly at home.

MEMORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE             Falling in love with Jamaica after his first visit as a British Intelligence officer in 1942, in 1946 Fleming bought land and a small strip of beach at Oracabessa and on it built a simple house where he lived as often as he could escape his life in England, hosting occasional visitors including playwright Noel Coward who became neighbour and a close friend, British aristocracy including his wife Ann (former Countess Rothemere) and eventually British PM Sir Antony Eden recovering from the disaster of Britain’s failed attack on the Suez Canal. Economic needs made him turn his travels and writing experience into a series of books that served not only to pay his bills, but which came to be the dramatic fantasies that kept alive the last embers of the fading British Empire through a hero who embodied the noble and heroic qualities that had built England into a world force.

DrNoBondJamaica is always depicted as the place where Bond would find a welcome and rest from his adventures and, in the stories with Jamaican locations — “Doctor No” and “The Man With the Golden Gun” — the place that refreshes his life.  “As ever,” Parker writes, “Bond is soothed and reinvigorated by Jamaica … while listening to cicadas singing from the lignum vitae tree.  For Fleming, Jamaica evokes fond memories of his many assignments and adventures on the island … for him Jamaica was the oldest and most romantic of former British possessions.”

Fleming kept the house simple to escape the social circle of the times that included the English colonial governors, relics of an era now fortunately long gone. Also pictured are the wealthy White Jamaicans and British millionaires with palatial homes for winter visits, maintaining a thin crust of upper-class pretentiousness and racial superiority, while ignoring the very real Jamaica that was developing around them.

RECORD OF JAMAICA’S TRANSITION             Parker’s carefully researched book is full of excerpts from Fleming’s personal letters, as well as those of his wife and friends. Through these we get a clear picture of a man who, despite his love of women, clearly preferred his own company, writing each morning as a ritual, then satisfying his love of the sea with snorkel, flipper and spear gun,  with which he regularly used to catch meals of fish and lobster. His wife Ann liked neither the sea nor the house, quite the opposite of Blanche Blackwell – his Jamaican lover in whom he found the perfect person to share Goldeneye with, whether Ann was there or not.

For me, the strength of Parker’s book is its value as a record of Jamaica’s transition from colonialism to Independence. He traces the development of Jamaica’s tourist industry that was highly influenced by the attraction to Fleming’s Goldeneye and Coward’s Blue Harbour home of a long list of famous Hollywood and British film and stage stars, citing this activity as a major factor in the building of North Coast hotels such as Tower Isle near Oracabessa, Sans Souci in Ocho Rios and Round Hill in Montego Bay. Parker quotes Fleming’s disgust at the development of “… the rash of millionaire hotels” that Bond, with mixed feelings notices as he flies in over Jamaica’s North Coast in ‘Doctor No‘ and quotes Jamaican critics who observe that “… tourism had turned Jamaican youths into touts, beggars and parasites”, stating that “…while the economic benefits of tourism were meant to mitigate the problems of Jamaica’s colonial past … the industry actually shored up many core features … and trapped the island in the grip of neocolonialism.  For some it was a trade off between dignity and much-needed dollars.”

PrincessMargaret19620810SHAKING UP SOCIAL LAYERS             Parker observes with some pleasure that Jamaica’s social layers were about to be shaken up, as things that had been accepted up till then were now being seen as wrong and in need of correction.  As Jamaica moved from Britain’s attempt to unite its Caribbean colonies into a manageable, but ultimately failed, political Federation, Parker writes of the lifting of what Norman Manley called ‘the dead hand of colonialism’, noting that the 1955 visit of Princess Margaret to celebrate Jamaica’s 300 years of British rule was observed without any reference to what had taken place in those 300 years.

But Fleming shows that he recognizes that the days of White elitism are over, when Bond in ‘Doctor No’ says of the Queens Club (a perfect copy of Kingston’s then-racially exclusive Liguanea Club) that “Such stubborn retreats will not long survive in modern Jamaica. One day it will have its windows smashed and perhaps be burned to the ground.”  As we learn in Parker’s book, “Fleming’s proudest boast was that he had ‘learned about living amongst, and appreciating, coloured people – two very different lessons I would never have absorbed if my life had continued in its pre-Jamaican metropolitan rut.’”

For Fleming, Jamaica provided a place of recovery as it did for his hero Bond. “Jamaica … made Fleming ‘a different person from how he was in Britain. The island smoothed Fleming’s rough edges and in the six years between building Goldeneye and writing his first book, he explored Jamaica as thoroughly as he explored the sea and coral reefs outside the house.”  Writes Parker, “… each year Jamaica had soaked into him, with its creative spirit and cocktail of luxury, melancholy, imperialism,, fantasy, sensuality, danger and violence.”  Fleming not only uses Jamaica as a location for his stories; he adds Jamaican characters and names of Jamaican friends in his stories.  In ‘Casino Royale‘ Bond signs his name as ‘James Bond, Port Maria, Jamaica’, the town where Fleming’s marriage to Ann Rothemere took place. In ‘Live and Let Die’ Fleming takes Bond to Negril in the days before tourism arrived and which, for Bond, “… is the most beautiful beach he had ever seen, five miles of white sand sloping easily into the breakers and, behind, the palm trees marching in graceful disarray to the horizon.”

ian_fleming14LASTING LOVE FOR JAMAICA.        England was Fleming’s home and the patriotic affection he had for his country can be seen in every Bond novel.  The symbolism of Queen Elizabeth 11 declaring the 2012 Olympics open with a spoof Bond moment, is an indication of how much Bond represents to England and its reputation as a world leader.  But Parker’s book shows that the love Ian Fleming had for Jamaica overshadowed Fleming’s life and loves, and was amply displayed in each Bond book.

Indeed, Jamaica as seen through the eyes of Ian Fleming is a most beautiful, wonderful, magical place, as much a celebrity in its own right as the many titled and famous people who visit him at Goldeneye. Parker’s book made me even more happy to be a Jamaican, and made me know and love Ian Fleming even more than I already do. A thoroughly satisfying read that will both inform and delight Jamaicans, as well as fans of that dashing, perennial hero James Bond.

© Barbara Blake Hannah

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