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Botanicult Fiction: Will the Real James Bond Reveal Himself

October 8, 2020

By Alex Henderson, Curator of Living Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens.

All life on earth depends on Plants. For this reason, I think we can thereforetalk about birds, as their lives and livelihoods depend on plants! Birds provide us with the opportunity to reveal the real identity of British secret service agent, James Bond, 007 license to kill.

When author Ian Fleming began writing the Bond books in 1953, he based the looks and personality of James Bond on several characters he met during his wartime service in the UK’s Naval Intelligence Division. When choosing Bond’s name however, Fleming (who was a keen birdwatcher), was drawn to a book called Birds of the West Indies which he kept at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica where the 007 books were written. Birds of the West Indies, written in 1936, was the definitive field guide on the subject, written by Caribbean bird expert and respected American ornithologist, James Bond. Given Fleming’s wartime career in intelligence, he realised that his character would have to have a plain or even anonymous sounding name to prevent himself from standing out as spy. James Bond was duly chosen as a perfectly inconspicuous name.

Interestingly, James Bond, ornithologist, has been referenced several times in both books and films (including the large bird sanctuary on Doctor No’s island in the Bahamas in 1958).  In the 2002 Bond film, Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan can be seen examining Birds of the West Indies in an early scene that takes place in HavanaCuba. The  name James Bond on the front cover is, however, obscured. In the same film, when Bond first meets Jinx, he introduces himself as an ornithologist. In the 2015 Bond film Spectre, the same book was seen in a promotional on-set photo, in a scene taking place in Bond’s Chelsea apartment.

To add another dimension to this story, ornithologist James Bond was unaware for several years that his name had been appropriated for the world’s most famous spy, as Ian Fleming had failed to communicate this fact. It was not until the 007 books became popular in the U.S. in the 1960s that the real James Bond realized he had a famous namesake. The final (and Canadian) twist to this story is that Ian Fleming trained to become a spy at Special Training School No. 103, better known as Camp X, located between Whitby and Oshawa. Today the area is known as Intrepid Park.

The real James Bond was born in 1900 and worked as an ornithologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, where he was curator of ornithology. From the 1920s to the 1960s, he participated in dozens of birding explorations to the West Indies. Bond won the Institute of Jamaica‘s Musgrave Medal in 1952; the Brewster Medal of the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1954; and the Leidy Award of the Academy of Natural Sciences in 1975. He had an illustrious career during which he remained neither shaken nor stirred . He died in Philadelphia at age 89.

Picture features Birds of the West Indies, by the real James Bond. First published in 1936 and printed by Waverley Press Inc of Baltimore, Maryland. Published by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
Picture features Birds of the West Indies, by the real James Bond. First published in 1936 and printed by Waverley Press Inc of Baltimore, Maryland. Published by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation

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