Today marks the anniversary of the death of Ian Fleming and the birthday of his only son – Caspar. We pay tribute to them both.
1952 was a momentous year for Ian Fleming. He had begun Casino Royale in January and completed a rough draft six days before marrying Ann O’Neill on March 24. Last but never least, their son Caspar Robert Fleming was born on August 12.
Ian, who’d sobbed uncontrollably during his wife’s agonizing Caesarean, wrote to congratulate her: “You have been wonderfully brave and I am very proud of you.” In light of their son’s fate, there is a tragic poignancy in his final lines: “He is the most heavenly child and I know he will grow up to be something wonderful because you have paid for him with so much pain.”
Ann spent two weeks recovering in the hospital before resuming her role as a society hostess and inveterate letter writer. Her most frequent correspondent was Evelyn Waugh, who was not terribly fond of her son. In the tea room of the Grand Hotel, Folkestone, Waugh approached the three-year-old and made faces of “such unbelievable malignity that the child shrieked with terror and fell to the floor.” Ann gave Waugh, a hard slap, overturning a plate of eclairs, and had her revenge when she drove over a road bumpy enough to make him swallow half his cigar. Waugh remained unrepentant: “I do hope that old Caspar has nightmares about his visit to Folkestone. I shall, for many years.”
Caspar’s boyhood was further marred by the deterioration of his parents’ marriage. Ian wrote to Ann that he thought she was too laisez-faire, which allowed Caspar to act out. He felt that their parental roles were not fully delineated, leaving him unable to impose authority on the boy.
Ann in turn was enraged about Blanche Blackwell, Ian’s mistress in Jamaica, and also disturbed by the effect of agent OO7 on their lives, writing to Ian in 1962, “I fear that since the rise of James Bond you do not care for a personality that in any way can compete with yours, and no doubt there is more adulation to be had at [Blanche Blackwell’s], and you refuse to see that it is an impossible situation for me.”
Despite all this, Ian was a devoted if distant father to Caspar, who he called OO3-and-a-half. He told his boy bedtime stories about a flying car, which became Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Like his father, Caspar was a bright child who enjoyed causing a fuss. Lunching with his family in an Oxford restaurant, he loudly announced “that he would never marry because he was not so oversexed as James Bond.”
By August 1964 bad health and Bond has doomed Caspar’s father. “Ian’s life from now on hangs on a thread,” Ann wrote. “Poor Ian nags at me specially and then Caspar all the time.”By the evening of August 11, Ian “was in great despair.” He suffered a severe hemorrhage and was taken to Canterbury Hospital. “I was in despair that Caspar should see his father carried from the hotel,” wrote Ann. The next day was Caspar’s birthday and it was customary for father and son to dine together. Ian died at one in the morning.
Evelyn Waugh condoled Ann with a sad prophecy: “You will lose someone you love every year now for the rest of your life. It is a position you have to accept and prepare for.” Waugh died in 1966, followed by Ann’s father, her brother in 1970, several beloved friends, and finally, in 1975, Caspar. Before then, Ann did her best to encourage her son’s interests. In 1965 she took Caspar to Egypt to indulge his love of its history and archaeology. “Caspar is awfully happy,” she reported. “He spends his evening bargaining in the antique shops” and at dinner returned “triumphant with a bundle of fake scarabs and amulets.”
Life back home was less happy, especially when she accompanied her teenage son on family vacations: “Two months driving Caspar on Scottish visits have proved exhausting. Caspar hates me and talks of little but matricide. What shall I do? He is too old and strong to hit” she wrote, with exaggeration, to Evelyn Waugh in 1965. “It is very wrong of Caspar to plot your murder,” replied Waugh. “I will pay Caspar’s single fare (first class) if he will go to New York to assassinate the Pope.”
For a while, it looked like school would straighten out her son. Caspar “loves Eton and takes the Archeological Society to Sotheby sales,” wrote Ann in 1967, but he was eventually expelled. Ann found life with teenagers like Caspar, and his friends and cousins, beset with the “permanent stress of organizing meals, transport, and trying to offset their modish gloom. I worship Caspar but nothing he does adds to peace of mind.” He had worked hard enough to get into Oxford to study Egyptology, but, worn out by academic pressures, dropped out after his second year.
In 1972 mother and son enjoyed a final spell of happiness, journeying to Greece to visit Ann’s friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. Caspar was delighted by the ancient ruins: “I long to pinch all the bits of marble lying about,” he joked. “Just look at that lion’s head! Asking for it!” Leigh-Fermor observed that Caspar, who he compared to “an angry and vulnerable faun,” had a great passion for archaeology, which “had followed his previous Bond-like craze for weapons, swordsticks, daggers, pistols, guns and even steel crossbows.”
Caspar “had extraordinary adventures and scrapes chaffering over guns and artefacts, and heaven knows what else, with shady dealers in the attics and cellars of Soho.” He was rarely happier than when cleaning a Graeco-Roman funerary slab that Leigh-Fermor had unearthed, or competitively playing word games. Ann enjoyed watching him win, since “her anxiety about his pleasure dictated hers.” Leaving Leigh-Fermor’s house, he signed the guestbook in Egyptian hieroglyphics: “beautifully drawn cartouches filled with sphinxes, palm leaves, ibises and galleys.”
The next year Caspar came into his inheritance, which included Goldeneye, Ian’s Jamaican house. Making a visit for the first time since 1960, he encountered a side of his father’s life he had never fully known. It proved too much. After a week he took overdose swam out to sea. It was Blanche Blackwell, his father’s mistress, who called the helicopter that transported Caspar to a hospital in Kingston, saving his life.
“Caspar tried to come to terms with life, for my sake, and then suddenly could not try any more” wrote Ann. “I shall miss him forever, until a year ago he was a marvelous companion and more recently one’s heart was anguished for there was no help one could give.”
Caspar’s death exacerbated the drinking habit Ann had formed while looking after him. Her friends worried if she would recover, but eventually she found the strength to regain sobriety and recover some of her famed vivacity and sociability. By the end of her life, she had gained a measure of happiness. It was more than deserved for a woman who had suffered so much, and who had so deeply loved her husband and son.
Caspar had inherited his father’s tendency toward depression and melancholy. It could be said that Ian Fleming inadvertently wrote an elegy for his son in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which features a suicidal main character, Tracy di Vicenzo, Bond’s doomed wife. Her father Marc-Ange Draco tells Bond that “the worm of self-destruction had somehow got a hold inside her and, behind the wild, playgirl facade, was eating away what I can only describe as her soul.”
He looks directly at Bond and continues:
“You know that this can happen, my friend—to men and to women. They burn the heart out of themselves…They have had everything, eaten all the sweets of life at one great banquet, and there is nothing left.”
[Source quotes from ‘The Letters of Ann Fleming’, edited by Mark Amory]
Bonding through Kent and the WhitLit Festival
Drugs, guns and the torment of his only son: (Daily Mail)
4 thoughts on “Remembering Ian and Caspar Fleming on August 12”
It is so sad that Caspar had such an unhappy life. He clearly never found himself.
Being born into those social circles at that moment in history certainly wouldn’t be without its difficulties and especially back then, the English public school system was not without its victims.
Very well written and poignant piece, moved me to tears…
A lovely essay.
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