The racy aristocratic sisters who inspired 007 creator Ian Fleming

Bond star Roger Moore and the Bond Girls from 'View to a Kill'

Bond star Roger Moore and the Bond Girls from ‘View to a Kill’ (Image: Getty)

As confident in the bedroom as they are in a gunfight, irresistibly attractive and often deadly, Ian Fleming’s Bond Girls are some of the greatest female characters in fiction and the big screen. But how did these sultry, seductive and stunning femme fatales come to be?

A new book reveals the two real-life women who, more than any other, inspired the leads of 007: socialite sisters Ann and Laura Charteris.

The party-loving duo left a trail of emotional chaos in the upper echelons of British society.

Courted by wealthy and powerful men who gave them titles, country manors and sumptuous London houses, they led a life of shameless hedonism, racking up seven marriages between them.

In fact, one of Ann’s conquests was Fleming himself.

The couple began an affair while she was still married to her second husband, Tory politician and press baron 2nd Viscount Rothermere, enjoying wild and adulterous sex, before finally marrying in 1952 after their final divorce.

“Fleming seemed destined to be a perpetual bachelor, but he and Ann had a passionate, exhausting and absorbing relationship that led to his first marriage and her third,” says former BBC World Service journalist Christopher Reindorp, author of Never Shaken, Never Stirred. .

Ian Fleming and his wife Ann, née Charteris

Ian Fleming and his wife Ann, née Charteris (Image: Getty)

“The Charteris girls captured his imagination, and Ann became the most important figure in his life until his untimely death.

“I am convinced that he based his Bond girls on the character of his mistress and later wife, but he was also fascinated by Ann’s sister, Laura.”

Casino Royale, the first of what would become his successful Bond series, was published the following year, in 1953.

Reindorp has investigated the letters written by the two sisters, the author of Bond and his friends, to reconstruct the alchemy behind their relationships.

The socially competitive sisters bagged a total of seven husbands between them, but nothing in their early years suggested that they would become such influential figures in society.

Ann was born in London on June 13, 1913, the eldest daughter of Captain Guy Charteris and his wife Frances Tennant. Her grandfather was Hugh Charteris, the eleventh Earl of Wemyss.

His sister Laura was born two years later and they had a brother, Hugo, who became a novelist. A third sister, Mary Rose, arrived in 1919.

As was the style in the last days of the Edwardian era, the girls were educated by governesses, but Ann was more studious and spent some time at Cheltenham Ladies College.

Introduced to society as a debutante, Ann married financier Shane O’Neill, 3rd Baron O’Neill, and they had two children, but she could not resist the advances of press baron Esmond Harmsworth, eventually marrying him. after her first husband was murdered. killed in action in World War II.

Around the same time, he fell for Fleming’s wit and charm and embarked on a secret affair.

The Bond creator was anxious for their illicit relationship to be discovered, writing in a letter: “I know how you let things go like a rook and I hope every day that it is the end.

“I wish you would take the trouble not to leave my letters between your bras and your pants. Please try. I know perfectly well that you are going to come one day with a tragic face and say that everything is exposed.”

During this period, Fleming was a senior journalist with The Sunday Times, a rival to Harmsworth’s own newspaper empire.

In another letter, there was a definite hint that lovemaking involved a bit of sadomasochism: “You have bruised my arms and shoulders. All this damage will have to be paid for some time.”

Ann then became pregnant by Fleming while still married, but sadly their daughter, Mary, died shortly after her birth in 1951.

He formally separated from Harmsworth later that year and tentatively began to make a new life with Fleming, who was spending increasing amounts of time at Goldeneye, the Jamaican beachside home he had built in 1946.

They married in a quiet ceremony at the registry office on the Caribbean island in March 1952, while she was pregnant with their second child. Bidding farewell to his single life, Fleming was delighted with his new status as a husband and father-to-be, but realized he would need a lot more money to give his girlfriend the kind of life she had grown accustomed to, even if her second divorce involved a £100,000 settlement.

“Ann never had to think about money during her years with Esmond and Ian only had his income as a journalist,” Reindorp explains. “He had to earn extra income because he was really worried about supporting Ann. She goaded him into starting to write a book by saying, “I don’t think you’re more than a journalist.”

“I wanted to show him that I could write a book. She was definitely present at the birth of the James Bond character. She gave him the impetus to write.”

Reindorp is convinced that Fleming modeled the idea of ​​the Bond girl on his wife and sister Laura because there are many similarities between the two women and the Bond girls from the original novels. “Ann and Laura were incredibly glamorous figures on the social scene, wonderful hostesses and very fashion conscious,” he adds.

Bond Girl Ursula Andress

Bond Girl Ursula Andress (Image: The door of the image / Getty)

“In the novels, Ian took a lot of time to describe what the women were wearing. Ian once said that the perfect woman was a lady who could make Béarnaise sauce as well as she could make love. That was a lot Ann.

“She was an accomplished hostess, excellent cook, and with a fairly prolific record of extramarital affairs, I think it’s safe to assume she was just as adept in the bedroom. In the society world, both Ann and Laura were known for their magnetic sexuality.

Reindorp says the sisters also had a certain toughness, much like Vesper Lynd, the double-agent character in his debut novel Casino Royale, played by Ursula Andress in the 1967 film parody and by French actress Eva Green in the film. Daniel Craig’s 2006 remake.

“Vesper was very icy, but very glamorous,” adds Reindorp.

“She was tough and so was Ann, as Ian later found out.”

When the Flemings’ son, Caspar, was born in 1952, the novelist’s life changed radically. In his mid-forties, he wasn’t used to domestic routines.

“The marriage was idyllic at first,” says Reindorp. “They moved into a flat in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Laura described it as the happiest home, but Ann’s niece told me that flamingos were much better at courtship than at marriage.

“They got into big fights. There were certainly times when the marriage was on the brink of breaking up.

“I felt exhausted just reading letters that showed the strains the marriage was under. There was intense love, but neither of them could resist having adventures.

“At first they both turned a blind eye to what was happening. This is how they did it in social circles.

“There were also tensions in the marriage because Ann was interested in buying and developing large properties, while Ian preferred smaller places.”

After less than a year in Cheyne Walk, Ann and Ian bought a town house near Buckingham Palace, which she spent months renovating as her husband complained about rising costs.

During the winters, Ian used to travel alone to Jamaica, where he found the peace he needed to write his books and also time to have an affair with a local woman, Blanche Blackwell.

Reindorp believes that Caspar was “badly damaged by the ups and downs in his parents’ marriage”. During his early years he spent a lot of time with his nanny.

Meanwhile, Ann became fascinated with the rising star of the Labor Party at the time, Hugh Gaitskell.

Although he was also married, they began an affair and she was very upset when he died in 1963.

Ann suffered further trauma the following year when Fleming, whom she still loved, died of a heart attack at age 56, on Caspar’s 12th birthday.

In search of solace, Ann turned to alcohol.

He was further concerned about the mental decline of his son who, aged 16, was expelled from Eton when a loaded revolver was found in his room.

During a visit to Goldeneye, Caspar swam out to sea in an apparent suicide attempt, and later died of a drug overdose at his mother’s London home in 1975. While Ann led the whirlwind of her life, Laura kept the columnists busy. of society with its own complex relationships.

She married Walter Long, 2nd Viscount Long, in 1933 and had their only daughter, Antoinette. Ten years later she married William Ward, 3rd Earl of Dudley, but she divorced in 1954.

In 1960, she married Michael Canfield, rumored to be the illegitimate son of Prince George, Duke of Kent.

Her fourth and last husband was John Spencer-Churchill, 10th Duke of Marlborough, but their marriage in 1972 lasted only six weeks before he died and she had to leave the magnificent manor house of Blenheim Palace.

Ann died in 1981, aged 68, at Sevenhampton Place, the Wiltshire country house she had insisted on buying back in the 1950s to give them a grand country mansion for weekend entertainment. Along with Ian and Caspar, she had spent many happy days here before darker times.

The three rest together at St James’s Church in Sevenhampton, at peace after tumultuous lives that could have walked straight from the pages of a spy thriller.

  • Never Shaken, Never Stirred: The Story of Ann Fleming and Laura, Duchess of Marlborough by Christopher Reindorp (The History Press, £22.99) is published on February 23. expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832

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