‘The Real James Bond’ Review:
The Birder and the Spy
The ornithologist James Bond—like the secret agent who shares his name—was handy with ﬁrearms and able to work around ofﬁcialdom.
Photo: Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department
The ornithologist James Bond.
By Dominic Green
April 3, 2020 James Bond found the man who stole his identity at his island lair. On February 5, 1964, he went in for the kill. “I don’t read your books,” Bond told Ian Fleming. “My wife reads them all, but I never do.” Fleming had been expecting Mr. Bond—for 12 years, since the day when, searching for a blunt and masculine name for his newly invented fictional secret agent, the author had plucked Bond’s name from the spine of a volume called “Birds of the West Indies.”
As in the Bond novels, the villain (“short-sleeved black guayabera shirt, matching slacks, and open-toed sandals”) was confronted by Bond (in “a loud patterned shirt that shouted ‘tourist’ ”). Fleming showed Bond around his secluded lair, Goldeneye, then confessed everything. After a swim, Bond, accompanied on this mission by his wife, Mary, sat down to lunch with Fleming and his wife, Ann. Before the Bonds left, Fleming inscribed a copy of his new novel, “You Only Live Twice”: “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”
“They couldn’t have been nicer about my theft of the family name,” Fleming reported. “They said it helped them get through customs.” It is not known whether Fleming said “Goodbye, Mr. Bond,” but he never saw Bond again. Six months later, Fleming died from a heart attack. His last words in the ambulance: “I am sorry to trouble you chaps.”
In the slim and elegant biography “The Real James Bond,” Jim Wright spills the secrets of Jim Bond (1900-89), the ornithologist from Philadelphia who had more than a name in common with his fictional double. Both Bonds were sons of privilege whose early lives were ruined by tragedy. Jim grew up on the Main Line, the child of stockbroker Francis Bond and his wife, Margaret Tyson, who was cousin to John Singer Sargent and granddaughter of John A. Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. James Bond lost his parents in a mountain-climbing accident; Jim Bond’s sister died in childhood, his mother died young and his father turned to drink. James was expelled from Eton; Jim, like Winston Churchill, was sent to Eton’s rival, Harrow, in 1913. At Trinity College, Cambridge, Jim “honed his marksmanship” in the Pitt Club, an “exclusive dining club and hunting group” whose future members would include the spies Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess.