Ian Fleming and Ann Charteris stand as one of history’s most dysfunctional couples. Charteris was a wealthy aristocrat whose troubled upbringing left a permanent scar on her behaviour, while Fleming, famous as the creator of James Bond, was a philanderer whose relationship with his wife was played out through extreme sadomasochism.
"Like Bond, they were both spurred on by danger and violence"
Their relationship is brought to life onscreen in Sky Atlantic’s new 4-part biopic, Fleming. While the broacaster admits to artistic license at points in order to dramatise Fleming’s career, when it came to his romantic conduct, there was no need for exaggeration. Charteris and Fleming lived a wild and debauched life, set against a dark background of alcoholism and womanising. Like Bond, they were both spurred on by danger and violence and the couple soon became known for their abusive, masochistic liaison. Both extremely attractive but egotistical, their relationship was fraught and fiery, a couple bound by their mutual demons and adoration for the dark side. Perhaps Fleming sought relief from the hard stamp left by his service in the Second World War, while Charteris took pleasure in breaking free of the expectations borne by her lineage.
The couple met by a pool in France in 1936, when Charteris was already married. They soon embarked on a wild affair but when Charteris' first husband was killed during the war, Fleming refused to marry her so she married the fabulously wealthy Viscount Rothermere instead. But the pair retained their irresistible attraction, continuing their affair after the wedding and exchanging passionate love letters, before eventually marrying in 1951.
Fleming epitomised the dapper style of the 1930s, a rigorous sartorial aesthetic he passed onto Bond. He wore classic, sharp suits with cotton shirts and bowties – never straying too far from his naval uniform, nor from his handmade Morland & Co cigarettes. Favoured tailors included Benson, Perry & Whitely while he went to James Lock & Co for hats. Charteris complimented her beau in a similarly tasteful, upper-class style: long fur coats with matching hats, pearls and silk gloves.
It is clear that this was a pair destined for drama. Their relationship was punctuated by beatings and frequent affairs on both parts; surely a melting pot of violence and passion that contributed to the creation of one of literature's most iconic and murderous figures. It is clear that in writing Bond, Fleming wrote himself, or how he wanted to be.
Text by Mhairi Graham