So there I was, ambling speculatively round Bletchley Park – the wartime Enigma code cracking mecca in the heart of England – when I stepped into this hut much like all the others.
It was an unassuming scout hut-alike, grey and low and prefab, and as I had already taken many arty farty peeling-paint pictures of the site – some of which is much as it was when they walked out of it after the war – I did not pick up my camera and ooooh and aaah.
Which is rather a shame.
Because the moment I stepped inside I realised that this was a very important hut indeed.
Mainly because only around 70 years ago, in the very spot where I was standing, just by the green baize door to the cabin, stood the desk of Ian Fleming.
So much of what he heard and saw at Bletchley – the iconic Government Code and Cypher School during the second world war -must have permeated the books about the dashing spy we all want, or want to be: but he died in 1964, ten years before he could talk about the truth that was surely stranger than fiction.
It was Rear Admiral John Godfey, director of Naval Intelligence for the Royal Navy, who recruited Fleming to work as his PA. And before long, the job began to entail liaison with Bletchley,just outside Milton Keynes, close to the machines and minds which could decrypt those baffling codes which floated across the airwaves carrying vital clues to enemy plans.
Early on in 1940, when naval shipping was being decimated as it made its way across the Atlantic, and no-one could crack the Enigma codes, the Poles handed the British an enigma machine.
Whereupon Fleming was despatched down to meet Alan Turing and his colleagues. What did they need to crack the code, the director wanted to know?
And they told him; it was the key settings. Whereupon Fleming began to plan a daring and bloodthirsty scheme to get them.
Yes, you read right. Crash a captured German bomber into the sea and lure a German team to rescue it; shoot the team, and get hold of their code apparatus and books in a bid to get something new on the key settings.
He even, it is reputed, pencilled himself in to take part, although Bletchley staff were expressly ruled out from operations like this in case they were caught, captures and information extracted from them.
This is just the tip of an iceberg of Fleming’s wartime activity. It is chronicled in the little hut which sits unassuming, a short walk from the old house which formed the centre of so much crucial manoevring during the second world war.
Apart from that, the hut is bare; you have to imagine Mr Fleming scheming by the green baize door.
It does show, doesn’t it: you can never judge a book by its cover.
34 thoughts on “The Spy Hut: where James Bond began”
It has always struck me as such a shame that Fleming didn’t live long enough to realize the enormity of Bond’s endurance and amazing box office success. I’d love to see the little hut Kate. I’m quite fascinated with the man. I was secretly reading Fleming’s books when I was really too young to even grasp the plot, I would imagine, but my parents wouldn’t let me see the early Bond movies and I liked being “in the know.” My reading material wasn’t carefully monitored. As it turns out, I developed quite a respect for the author that might have been missed if I’d only seen the movies. I love your “quirks of history” additions.
Thanks Debra. They are my favourites. Fleming’s style was great, compulsive reading, I always think. Reminds me of the fact that when I went to journalism college all those years ago, it was the writing style of the raciest tabloid, The Sun, which was held as the best writing style. And I agree.
I remember reading Casino Royale with a torch, under the sheets, at school. The prospect of being caught added a Bondlike frisson to experience.
😀 I can just see you, Roger. All those memories wrapped up in a set of books. I wonder if any of the priests read Fleming?
No wonder he wrote convincingly – although that real-life bit of plotting might seem a bit far-fetched in fiction!
It did seem rather a long shot to me, Col, I’d admit.
I agree with colonialist. Such convincing power in writing actually had backing of truth.
Hi Jas! Yes, he whole life was research for his books. How cool is that?
Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve been an admirer of Ian Fleming for several decades. So long ago that I can’t recall which came first in my interests: his books or the movies based on his books. He did write convincingly. Now I know why. Thanks, Kate.
Pleasure, Judy. Strange to stand in the hut where it all happened.
Jut read CasinoRoyale – well worth a couple of hours
It’s pure, concentrated entertainment, Jim.
They say write what you know………sounds like Fleming did, to a degree. A shame he did not live to see how popular and enduring his creation became.
It is. I often feel sad for these authors who never see their full recognition before they leave us.
Fleming was a genius. I also wish he could have known just how much the world would love his stories. That hut doesn’t look like a very inspiring place to write such exciting novels.
No: the war is full of unassuming backdrops to real-life dramas, isn’t it? Not as grim as the hollowed out command centre in the chalk cliffs of Dover!
I had to run and grab another coffee when I saw your post. I was so excited! If there was one person dead or alive who I would like to go on a stroll with it would be Ian Flemming.
😀 really pleased you’re such a Fleming fan, Belle!
What a cunning plan!
Perhaps Mr. Fleming envisioned himself stepping into the role of Agent 007 as he sat at his post plotting plots and dreaming of his next martini: “Shaken, not stirred.”
He has already tried to pencil himself into the real-life verson, Nancy. What an action man.
Really interesting as I was a huge Fleming fan at one time. Thanks for posting.
Pleasure, Jamie. Strange to stand there where he lived his adventures for real.
A bit off-topic — I have in the past year or two rented a few British movies and since I love the 40s and 50s I had to settle for going into the ‘B’ selections. Well, among the rafter of actors and actresses were no names of any fame. Except one: Ian Fleming. I studied the features of each gent and couldn’t decide who would be the world renowned author of incomparable richness of plot and intrigue and excitement and could only come up with there’s gotta be two Ian Flemings and our author did not act on the side. Thank you Kate for taking us along on your ventures.
I think you must be right, Elizabeth, how fascinating!
you had us at the word Bletchley.
😀 It is a very emotive name for so many of us. A photographer’s mecca, too. Amazing place. Spent some time worshipping at the shrines of Colossus and Enigma.
saw a mainframe in 1979 (as a small child) and was instantly drawn in……the rest is history.
He is so fascinating but I keep falling asleep in Bond movies!
It’s the Roger Moore ones that do for me, Tandy. I keep wanting to take a swipe at the television.
This was fascinating – LOVE this article. I never knew such a hut existed. And oh, I’d love to step inside.
I would love to see the hut and imagine the espionage and the war efforts.
Isn’t it amazing how many years the crew of Bletchley kept their secrets?
I’ve always wanted to visit Bletchley Park. I didn’t know that about Ian Fleming, though. But I suppose it doesn’t surprise me that he had a lot of clever and nefarious schemes.