A guy named John Griswold passed away at the end of May this year at the age of 65. He may not be a household name, but he is viewed with a great deal of reverence by fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.
Although a huge fan of the 007 film series, to me the “true” James Bond is the literary one, the one who spies, seduces, and kills in the pages of Fleming’s series of Cold War thrillers published between 1953 and 1966. The one who is a much more complicated and multi-faceted character than he is often given credit for.
A non-stop activity among literary Bond-philes is trying to tie 007’s book adventures to a real-world chronology. When was he born? When did he become a naval commander? When did he become a Double-0? What year(s) did he save the world from SPECTRE? There have been several (now mostly defunct) websites dedicated to it, and in 2006, John Griswold published an entire book on the topic.
Griswold’s work was and remains invaluable, but there are a few theories and interpretations I disagree with, and a few things that Griswold doesn’t cover (mostly minor asides in the novels making brief mention of something that happened earlier.) Plus, the recent publication of a new series of officially-sanctioned “Young Bond” books — that Griswold, becoming lost in the cruel fog that is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, never got a chance to read — sheds lots of light on the character’s formative years, and throws off Griswold’s findings by a couple of years. So I couldn’t resist taking a stab at it myself.
Or rather, returning to it.
The last time I read all of Fleming’s novels, one after the other, was eighteen years ago. Those were the last few weeks before my son was born, and it is also at that time I began taking notes on the chronology. I clearly remember at the time thinking it was the final opportunity to do something that stupidly self-indulgent, before the responsibilities of parenthood curtailed my ability to sit and read an entire book series in one go. Now that the kid is going off to college, it’s a good time to dig out my old chronology notes and finish the project off properly.
Fleming died in 1964, and his final two 007 books were published posthumously. With the blessing of the official gatekeeper of Bond’s literary existence, Gildrose Publications (later Ian Fleming Publications), other authors have continued Fleming’s work. Kingsley Amis, John Pearson, Sebastian Faulks, William Boyd, and Anthony Horowitz all have contributed Bond tales set firmly in, and just after, Fleming’s timeline.
The Bond novel series of John Gardner (1981-96) and Raymond Benson (1997-2002), and a one-off by Jeffrey Deaver (2011), are quasi-reboots and place Bond in a modern timeline, so they won’t be part of this chronology.
Here are the works I used to compile the chronology, in order of publication, along with the abbreviations used:
Casino Royale (CR)
Live And Let Die (LALD)
Diamonds Are Forever (DAF)
From Russia With Love (FRWL)
Doctor No (DN)
For Your Eyes Only (short story collection)
- “From A View To A Kill” (FVTK)
- “For Your Eyes Only” (FYEO)
- “Quantum of Solace” (QS)
- “Risico” (R)
- “The Hildebrandt Rarity” (HR)
The Spy Who Loved Me (TSWLM)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS)
You Only Live Twice (YOLT)
The Man With The Golden Gun (TMWGG)
Octopussy And The Living Daylights (short story collection)
- “Octopussy” (OP)
- “The Living Daylights” (TLD)
- “Property of a Lady” (later editions only) (POL)
- “007 in New York” (later editions only) (NY)
THE CONTINUATION AUTHORS:
Colonel Sun (CS) — Kingsley Amis (writing as “Robert Markham”)
James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007 (AB) — John Pearson (partly out of canon due to the Young Bond series)
Devil May Care (DMC) — Sebastian Faulks (writing as “Ian Fleming”)
Solo (S) — William Boyd
Trigger Mortis (TM) — Anthony Horowitz
Forever and a Day (FAAD) — Anthony Horowitz
THE YOUNG BOND SERIES
Silverfin (SF) — Charlie Higson
Blood Fever (BF) — Charlie Higson
Double Or Die (DOD) — Charlie Higson
Hurricane Gold (HG) — Charlie Higson
“A Hard Man To Kill” (AHMTK) (short story) — Charlie Higson
By Royal Command (BRC) — Charlie Higson
Shoot To Kill (STK) — Steve Cole
Heads You Die (HYD) — Steve Cole
Strike Lightning (SL) — Steve Cole
Red Nemesis (RN) — Steve Cole
I tried to use the text of the books listed above as my sole source, but I was greatly inspired and aided by Griswold’s Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories. (Seriously, get yourself a copy if you have an interest in this topic. It’s jam-packed with lots of stuff other than just the chronology — illustrations, maps, full glossaries and annotations for each novel, even the rules to bridge and baccarat.)
Fleming and the other Bond authors rarely use specific dates, but when they do, it is possible to work forward and backwards through the novels to piece together a somewhat logical timeline. I did a lot of the heavy lifting in that area in my original notes eighteen years ago.
In the interim, I acquired Griswold’s book. His published timeline and my own amateur one matched up pretty well, I was pleased to note. I adjusted mine where his logic trumped my own, and I kept mine in place in the few instances where I felt the opposite was the case.
Conflicting information is unavoidable. Fleming was interested in telling a gripping story, not maintaining a consistent internal chronology across all of his novels. He contradicted himself frequently. Sometimes these contradictions are possible to reconcile, or at least imagine how they could have occurred in the universe in which Bond exists. In some cases, it just can’t be done, so we have to shrug and move on.
Fleming also frequently included references to real-world events that added verisimilitude to Bond’s world, but do not line up with the timeline painstakingly established by over-motivated readers like myself. I’ll quote Griswold here: “The relationship of the adventures to one another ultimately define their chronology, not some misplaced events that occasionally appear in the stories.”
I enjoyed plunging into the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson and, later, Steve Cole, set in the 1930s, and detailing Bond’s
adventures as a teenager. For whatever eye-rolling that concept might inspire among hardcore Flemingists, they’re actually very well-written with great period detail. (Cole does occasionally struggle with anachronisms. There were no Corvettes, and certainly no San Diego Freeway, in 1934!) They are ostensibly for younger readers, but there are many moments that are quite adult in their sophistication and frankness. The series’ “Y.A.” roots are only apparent when there’s a slightly ham-fisted “message” about fair play or equality squeezed in. Bond’s rather ugly misogyny and casual racism in the original Fleming novels (a product of their time, but still uncomfortable to read) is offset by a series of strong female counterparts and multi-ethnic friendships here. Although he does harden and grow cynical — slowly but noticeably — through the series, the teenage Bond is generally a noble and overtly moral figure. The series can also get repetitive. How many wealthy, eccentric villains with evil plots can one adolescent encounter? How many lairs/laboratories can be blown up? Anyway, the Young Bond books are now canon, so I couldn’t leave them out.
The Young Bond series has supplanted the first few chapters of the 1973 John Pearson oddity James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007, which tells a different version of his childhood.
(NOTE: Unlike my Best & Worst series, I will be updating this series as new works are published. Although the Young Bond series has officially wrapped, there are plans for a pre-Casino Royale comic book series. I used the Young Bond series up to the end of its run, then switched to Pearson’s work to cover the intervening years before the Fleming stories. As noted, Bond’s childhood has been completely re-written from how it appeared in Authorized Biography.)
CHRONOLOGY OF THE LIFE OF JAMES BOND
James Bond is born in Zurich, Switzerland to Andrew Bond of Glencoe, Scotland, and Monique Delacroix Bond of Canton de Vaud, Switzerland. (SF; supported by YOLT)
1920 – 1931
Andrew Bond, a former British naval captain with service in World War I, is a foreign representative of the Vickers armament firm and travels frequently through Bond’s early years. (SF; supported by YOLT)
James Bond divides his early childhood time mostly between a country home in Basel, Switzerland and a city flat in the Chelsea district of London. There are also long stretches in Italy and France. Bond is schooled mostly in Switzerland. By the age of ten, he speaks fluent German and French. (SF; supported by YOLT and FRWL)
Andrew and Monique Bond are killed in a mountain climbing accident in the Aiguilles Rouges, above Chamonix, on the French-Swiss border.
Bond is adopted by his paternal aunt, Charmaine Bond, of the village of Pett Bottom, near Canterbury, Kent. Charmaine, known for her unconventionality and sophistication, is a world-traveling anthropologist, and personally completes Bond’s primary education and prepares him for his Eton College entrance exams. (SF; supported by YOLT, where he is described as “eleven years old” when his parents were killed.)
Bond enters the highly exclusive Eton College (his placement had been reserved at birth by his father). He started a term behind (at the start of the “Lent Half”), likely due to the family upheavals the previous two years. He does not like the uniform (top hat, waistcoat, etc.) (SF; supported by YOLT — entered Eton “at the age of twelve or thereabout.” According to SF “two years had passed” between the death of Bond’s parents and his entry to Eton.)
Late March – Early April 1933
Bond spends his Easter break from Eton visiting his dying uncle Max Bond in Keithly, Scotland. While there, he stumbles upon Randolph Hellbore, an American-born Scottish laird conducting unethical genetic experiments. Bond assists in destroying Hellbore’s operations, but not before receiving a distinctive scar on his right cheek following an altercation with Lord Hellbore, who opened a deep gash with his riding crop.
As an inheritance from his Uncle Max, Bond receives his first car, a Bamford & Martin 1.5L Sidevalve Short-Chassis Tourer. Over his spring holidays, he receives a thorough grounding in how automobiles operate, including taking apart and reassembling the engine, sparking a lifelong interest in cars and motorsports. (SF)
Bond and a handful of fellow Etonian thrill-seekers form the “Danger Society” — most of the danger comes from finding elaborate ways of sneaking out after-hours out to attend their illicit meetings (and smoke forbidden cigarettes). (BF)
While visiting his cousin, Victor Delacroix, on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia during his summer vacation, Bond uncovers a ring of art & antiquities thieves, operating under the guise of an ancient Mithran cult attempting to revive the glory of the Roman Empire. Bond is instrumental in the crime ring’s demise, and rescues the sister of a schoolmate from their clutches. (BF)
Bond and a fellow member of the Danger Society, Perry Mandeville, stop a rogue Cambridge professor from selling the world’s first computer (“analytic engine”) to the Russians. Bond’s Bamford & Martin automobile (always carefully hidden from the masters at Eton) is a casualty of this endeavour, crashing and burning at the end of Bond’s first car chase. (DOD)
Over the course of this adventure, he briefly encounters Alan Turing, and helps American gangster Dutch Schultz turn his luck around at the underground East End casino known as the Paradice Club. True to his word, Schultz later sends Bond a cut of the winnings, which he uses to purchase a supercharged 1930 4.5-liter Bentley convertible coupe, badly in need of restoration. (The older Bond will tell multiple versions of how he acquired the car, perhaps ashamed of taking the gangster’s money.) (DOD; supported by CR)
January – April 1934
To recover from the events of December, Bond is granted a leave of absence from Eton (skipping the 1934 Lent Half.) The original intention is a lengthy stay with an acquaintance of his Aunt Charmain near Vera Cruz, Mexico. After a series of events precipitated by a massive hurricane, Bond finds himself being pursued through the Mexican jungle by a group of criminals. He ends up a prisoner on the Caribbean island of Lagrimas Negras, a haven for “retired” criminals controlled by a man called El Hurican. (The length of his captivity is unspecified, but it must be a couple of months at minimum.) After surviving a series of physical trials, El Hurican lets Bond go. (HG).
During this time, other members of the Danger Society work to restore Bond’s Bentley to drivable condition, funded by the wealthy Perry Mandeville (BRC).
Late April 1934
Bond and his Aunt Charmaine travel back to Europe so he can join some of his Eton classmates already on holiday in the Austrian Alps. They first travel through the Caribbean on the pleasure yacht Amarylis (his first, but far from his last, trip through those particular islands), and then switch to the ocean liner Colombie. The liner is also being used by French authorities to transport master criminal Caiboche back to prison. Bond is caught up in Caiboche’s escape attempt, which he complicates but cannot prevent. (One of the gendarmes guarding Caiboche is a young Rene Mathis, whom Bond will encounter again a few years later.) (AHMTK)
Bond arrives in Kitzbuhel, Austria for the tail end of his Easter holidays, where he meets ski instructor Hannes Oberhauser and learns the basics of skiing. He also briefly wonders if he’s being followed by someone for some reason (BRC)
14-year-old Bond is targeted for assassination by the O.G.P.U. (Russian secret police) after foiling their attempt to acquire the analytic engine the previous December, and as part of a larger communist plot to assassinate King George V with a bomb when he visits Eton.
(After the events of the last year, he has grown accustomed to life-threatening danger, and has sewn several hidden pockets into his school uniform coat for items like matches and a lock pick, and hollowed out a shoe heel in order to store a small knife. He also finds it more and more difficult to cope with mundane “everyday” life.)
Over the course of putting a stop to these events, Bond has his first contact with the British Secret Intelligence Service (who clearly appear to be grooming him for a future role in their organization), and has his first truly adult romantic feelings towards a girl, the 18-year-old housemaid at his Eton dormitory. He abandons his life at Eton to aid her, despite her dubious trustworthiness. They flee all the way to Austria, where they are sheltered by the Oberhausers.
After the messy events of the previous weeks, the Secret Service arranges for Bond to transfer to Fettes College in Scotland, and erases half of Bond’s time at Eton. According to altered official records, Bond spent only two halves there. (BRC)
Before beginning at Fettes, Bond goes to board at the progressive and unorthodox Dartington Hall School. Bond and three other students travel to Los Angeles via airship to take part in an educational study. On the trip, he disrupts a corrupt film mogul’s plot to intimidate and blackmail competitors in an attempt to monopolize the industry. (STK)
Bond ends up briefly hospitalized (a situation he had already become familiar with.)
Bond travels from Los Angeles to Havana, Cuba with a Dartington Hall schoolmate to pay a visit to an old friend of his parents, Gerald Hardiman, a chemist and botanist who turns out to be trapped against his will in the employ of Audacto Solares — “The Scolopendra” — an unscrupulous drug manufacturer who is creating a new poison, and the cure for it, which he will control. Bond and his companions put a stop to Scoloprendra’s plans (HYD)
Bond continues his scholastic career at Fettes College, Edinburgh, Scotland, (his father’s alma mater), an intense and rigorous school focusing heavily on the classics (Greek & Roman literature) and athletics. Bond almost immediately throws himself into the study of the Japanese martial art of judo. His old Eton friend Perry Mandeville is also now at Fettes. (YOLT; supported by SL)
After a quiet first term at Fettes, Bond finds trouble again. He is falsely accused of accidentally causing a classmate’s death. In attempting to clear his name, he discovers that one of the newer Fettes professors is developing a secret weapon which he intends to sell to the Nazis. Or does he? Following a trail of evidence, Bond ends up in the Netherlands facing down an agent of Hitler’s SS. Thanks to his actions, the German re-militarization effort is set back several years, and all knowledge of the secret weapon is buried. (SL)
(The events of Red Nemesis will go here, as soon as I get hold of a copy and read it!)
During his time at Fettes, Bond boxes competitively as a lightweight, and the judo club he helped found becomes an entire instructional program — the first of its kind in an English public school. (YOLT)
During breaks from Fettes (and later, university), Bond learns to play golf at the Royal St. Marks golf course near Sandwich, Kent, just a few miles from his Aunt Charmaine’s home at Pett Bottom. During the warm months, he could be found there almost every day, playing two rounds. (Bond will remain a casual weekend golfer, but plays his last round at St. Mark’s sometime in 1937, and does not return for twenty years.) (GF)