The link between Sunningdale School and a couple of Bond villains
PUBLISHED: 12:15 02 May 2017 | UPDATED: 12:15 02 May 2017
‘What do you know about a man called Scaramanga, 007?’ M asks James Bond. We know perhaps a little more, courtesy of Sunningdale School
We all peer at our old school photos from time to time, wondering whatever happened to the girl who looked just like Twiggy or whether the grinning imp who revelled in the title of ‘The Naughtiest Boy’ ended up as a vicar or in prison.
But at Sunningdale School the names along the bottom of some football team photographs provide a fascinating link with literary and film history, taking us into the world of James Bond. For there in a 1951 grainy line-up of stony-faced boys with their arms folded is Nichol Fleming, nephew of author Ian, a brother of Nichol’s father, Peter. And among the older boys attending the prep school at that time, also recorded in photos, were Peter Scaramanga and John Blofeld, whose surnames would later be used by the author for now infamous Bond villains.
Tom Dawson, Sunningdale’s headmaster, says: “The story is that Ian Fleming used the names in the books because Scaramanga and Blofeld were not very kind to his nephew, Nichol.”
It’s a theory supported by John Blofield’s son, Tom, who thinks the somewhat shy Nichol spent school holidays with his uncle Ian and probably told him that two Sunningdale prefects were making his life a misery. Tom Blofield also attended Sunningdale School and has recalled finding his father’s face in leaving photos on the wall, and then spotting Scaramanga.
Fleming had a habit of given his villains names of people with whom he’d had run-ins. Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the evil SPECTRE, made it into three Bond novels, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. He also gets a brief mention in The Man with the Golden Gun, in which Francisco ‘Pistols’ Scaramanga takes centre stage as a freelance assassin. Interestingly, there was also a Sunningdale pupil named Bond.
Nichol, born in 1939, was the son of actress Celia Johnson (Brief Encounter) and adventurer and travel writer Peter Fleming, squire of Nettlebed, just over the border in Oxfordshire. His grandfather was Valentine Fleming, a friend of Winston Churchill and MP for Henley from 1910 until his death in 1917 while serving as a Major with the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars in Picardy, France.
Nichol went on to become a noted journalist and author. His books include August 1939: The Last Days of Peace. In 1975 Nichol deposited his father’s papers for public access at the University of Reading. He died in 1995, having lived much of his life at Nettlebed.
But what of the others in this tale? Both Peter and Ian Fleming attended Eton College, where Ian excelled at athletics and edited a school magazine. The head of the time considered him something of a playboy – he ended up spending less than a year at Sandhurst’s Royal Military College, leaving without a commission.
He then failed exams to get into the Foreign Office but strings pulled by his mother led to work with Reuters News Agency, spending time in Russia, before more family pressure took him into banking, again not very successfully. A ‘lady’s man’, he was involved in various scrapes and during the Second World War worked for the Naval Intelligence Division, under Rear Admiral John Godfrey.
This appears to have much more appealed to Ian, with its involvement in sabotage operations and espionage, and many code-names and themes would later turn up in his novels.
A 1942 intelligence summit in Jamaica led to him later building what was to become his home there, a house called Goldeneye, perhaps where young Nichol told him about Scaramanga and Blofeld.
After the war he worked for the newspaper group which owned The Sunday Times for several years and then began writing the novels which would take his name round the world. A man who loved a drink and too many cigarettes, he died aged 56 following a heart attack.
John Blofeld, an accomplished cricketer and brother of esteemed cricket commentator Henry Calthorpe Blofeld, OBE, who also attended Sunningdale, went on to become a High Court judge.
As for Peter Scaramanga, it’s believed that he managed to get expelled from Harrow and was a notorious gambler. It seems far more likely that he was the ‘chosen one’ for Ian Fleming’s villain than relative George Scaramanga, an Eton contemporary of the author who went on to be a gentleman farmer and Sussex vicar.
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