Searching the globe for the real James Bond

New York Magazine’s The Vulture has a piece today about Ian Fleming’s post-war life in Jamaica. Fleming built a house called Goldeneye and it is believed that Fleming’s Jamaican life is the source of the James Bond character. At his Jamaican home Fleming wrote all of the Bond novels and rubbed elbows with artists who began to seek refuge on the island, including Noel Coward, Graham Greene and Truman Capote. But the James Bond character began to germinate before Fleming’s time in Jamaica, while he was serving as a British Naval Intelligence Officer for MI5 and was sent to stay at a luxurious hotel in Portugal.

A few years ago, I went on a summer holiday to Portugal. This was while Portugal was in serious economic crisis, so my husband and I had access to Quizno’s style accommodations on a Subway budget. We chose our hotel on Expedia and I remember fighting about whether or not it was acceptable, my husband stomping his feet that it wasn’t located directly on the beach. The hotel was the Hotel Palacio Estoril and we were in for quite a surprise. On the first day, when we realized the Palacio was the type of place where one dressed up for breakfast, we Googled the hotel to get some more information about where we had ended up. We learned that the Palacio had hosted royalty and movie stars over the years but most famously it had hosted Ian Fleming.

You see, during the Second World War, Portugal remained neutral so royalty, military leadership, and civilians flooded into the country for refuge. Estoril is a resort town a short commute from Lisbon, so its seaside hotels became home to the most important people in Europe as well as those who were assigned to spy on them. The hotel sits next to the Casino Estoril, upon which Casino Royale is based. Sadly the casino has undergone a 1980s renovation; I doubt Fleming pictured his Bond at a blackjack table surrounded by reflective black surfaces and neon lights. I can imagine that espionage would be much more difficult if one was fighting vertigo.

My favourite part of the hotel’s history comes from an article in the Welland Tribune (of all places). The hotel’s concierge says that both German and British officers used to sit in the hotel’s bar and drink; the Germans would drink beer and the English cheap house wine. But occasionally one side would order Moet and the whole bar would know that a ship had just been sunk or a city had been captured. They called it the Champagne News Service.

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