Ian Fleming is fascinating. He was a man of his times, holding attitudes from the 1950s – towards women, race and empire – now widely discarded and discredited. Yet his creation and alter ego James Bond goes from strength to strength. A new film has opened, following on from Skyfall, the most successful yet, which earned over a billion dollars around the world. Fleming’s books have sold more than a hundred million copies just in English. And more than a modern commercial juggernaut, James Bond is also a cultural force to be reckoned with. He achieved his apotheosis, of course, when he stole the show at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, together with that other great British anachronism, the Queen. What does having Bond as a national icon say about us?