Is the character of James Bond 007 based on anybody?

Many people have been put forward as models. We can be fairly certain what Ian Fleming felt he looked like because he tells us. In Casino Royale his doomed girlfriend, Vesper Lynd, says to Rene Mathis of the French Deuxieme Bureau that Bond is good looking and reminds her of Hoagy Carmichael. While in Moonraker, Gala Brand also observes he was: ‘Rather like Hoagy Carmichael…’

   Hoagy Carmichael was an American singer, songwriter and actor, hugely popular over three decades from the 1930s to the 50s. His music was influenced by jazz and he came out of the Tin Pan Alley area of New York. He wrote Georgia on my Mind and in 1951 won the Academy Award for Best Original song with In the Cool, Cool, of the Evening. He appeared in fourteen films and wrote two autobiographies.

   As far as Bond is concerned, he would seem a little old, being 54 in 1953. Whereas Bond, considering his Times obituary in You Only Live Twice, would have been barely 30. Of course, Fleming was likely to have had a younger image of Carmichael in mind, although there is something in his 1947 photograph that hints at hardness.

   You do not have to look very far to find another character with a passing physical resemblance to Hoagy Carmichael who, given his life makes a better Bond model altogether. This is Lieutenant Commander Lionel Kenneth Crabb, known as ‘Buster’ although he hated the nickname, one of the most famous Royal Navy frogmen of World War II and beyond. He too has the shock of dark hair, although his hair was actually red, and the high forehead, but there is more humour around the eyes.

   Bond’s testing of the hull of the Disco Volante, with a Geiger counter for nuclear bombs in Thunderball was influenced by Commander Crabb’s ill-fated mission to examine the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze. The warship and escorting destroyers had brought the Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin on a goodwill visit to Britain. The cruiser had docked in Portsmouth. On 19 April 1956 Crabb dived into the harbour on a mission to examine the cruisers hull but was never seen again.  

   It was a momentous year for Britain in 1956, what with the Suez crisis as well. Another odd twist in the story that the Prime Minister Anthony Eden, close to a nervous breakdown, in November took a complete rest on the advice of his doctors at, of all places, Ian Fleming’s bungalow Goldeneye on Jamaica. Ian was delighted to have such paying guests as it brought him huge publicity.

   There are many other characters that claim they influenced Ian Fleming in his creation of James Bond but the main input was the author himself. As John le Carre wrote: ‘All fictional characters are amalgams. All spring from much deeper wells than their apparent counterparts in real life. All in the end, like the poor suspects in my files, are remoulded in the writer’s imagination until they are probably closer to his own nature than to anyone elses.’

   Do you think Fleming based Bond on a particular person from real life, if so I would like to hear who?