In 1939 and for at least the next fifteen years, Peter Fleming was much more successful and famous than his younger brother Ian. He was known as an explorer and adventurer, wrote bestselling books and was an engaging columnist for The Times and The Spectator. He was married to Celia Johnson, a star of both stage and screen, now remembered best for her role in Brief Encounter, a classic of British cinema. Ian had no public reputation and wouldn’t have one until, in the 1950s, he created James Bond. Now, of course, everyone has heard of Ian and comparatively few have heard of Peter, so this account of the latter’s work in British intelligence during the Second World War, mostly in the Far East, is very welcome. In fact, both brothers were engaged in intelligence work during the war, Peter in the field, Ian in an office in London.
The Flemings were what the old landed aristocracy called nouveaux riches. The boys’ grandfather Robert left school in Dundee at the age of fourteen to work in the accounts department at a jute mill. He had a keen intelligence and a talent for finance – those were the days