He also had massive insecurities, numerous love affairs and was overshadowed by his older brother, who was a published novelist.
All of this is found in “Fleming,” the new four-part series from BBC America starting Wednesday.
The line between biographical reality and fantasy feels thin in this series, with its dashing rescues, heavy smoking, sex and at least two rapes.
At the beginning of World War II in 1939, the young playboy, Fleming, portrayed by Dominic Cooper, was living in London on the family dime, chasing women and finally getting recruited by Naval Intelligence.
The most elusive was Ann O’Neill. They flirted, had affairs, then finally wed in a love story that was riddled with infidelity from the start.
She was married to a baron serving abroad on military duty, and conducting another intrigue with another man when she met Fleming.
O’Neill is played by Laura Pulver, known for her role as Irene Adler in “Sherlock” and on HBO’s “True Blood.” Pulver knew about Ian Fleming from her childhood in the U.K.
“Being a Brit, you obviously grow up every Christmas with a new Bond film on the telly,” she said.
“It’s kind of part of our history, our arts and culture history. I knew nothing really about this man.”
Pulver was given a lot of background by Mat Whitecross, the director, who provided her with copies of O’Neill’s diaries.
“I started to read about her early childhood. Her mother had passed away,” Pulver said. “She’d been raised by quite an abusive nanny, and passed around, like a bit of an aristocratic wife.
Pulver enjoyed making the miniseries in Budapest, standing in for wartime London, despite the January through March chill.
The costume director, Caroline Harris, bought actual dresses from the 1930s and 1940s but they were too fragile, so the costumes were remade in Hungary.
Ian Fleming died in 1964 from a heart attack and O’Neill in 1981.
The four-part miniseries “Fleming: The Man Who Would be Bond”begins at 10 p.m. Wednesday on BBC America. BBC is also showing Bond films all day.
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