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Bond-age: The spy who spanked me

Cruel, woman-hating and in thrall to dangerous, sado-masochistic sex. Ian Fleming may have created one of the greatest fictional characters of the 20th Century in suave superspy James Bond, but it seems that in doing so he drew from the darker corners of his own psyche.

A major new television drama, about to go into production in the UK, aims to shine a light into those shadows, revealing a side of Ian Fleming known only to his close friends and the many women he loved and left.

And the former secret intelligence officer turned best-selling author portrayed in the planned BBC America/Sky Atlantic four-parter Fleming may dismay the millions of 007 fans around the world.

Alpha-male super-spy James Bond has always posed a problem for those who have detected a streak of cruel misogyny in Fleming's most famous creation.

When the sixth Bond novel, Dr No, was published in 1958, journalist Paul Johnson wrote a famous review for the British current affairs magazine New Statesman entitled 'Sex, Snobbery and Sadism'.

Johnson said the key ingredients of a Bond story were: "The sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude snob-cravings of a suburban adult."

The review created quite a stir and Johnson found himself in trouble soon afterwards when he was seated next to Ann Fleming, the author's wife, at a dinner party.

Years later, he recalled how Mrs Fleming gave him a "severe ticking off".

Even eminent fans of the Bond stories admit the attitudes of the author on many issues are totally out of step with what is acceptable today.

Bond expert and media and film historian Prof James Chapman has said: "Ideologically, none of us should like the Bond films; they are sexist, heterosexist, xenophobic, everything that is not politically correct."

However, while the political incorrectness of Bond has been talked about for years, the new Sky Atlantic drama series, starring actor Dominic Cooper, will go further and examine the personal flaws of Fleming.

Set mostly around his wartime experiences, it will expose him as a cruel womaniser, a snob and – possibly worst of all for James Bond fans – a coward who could not cut it in the type of real-war, dangerous service that his fictional character thrived in.

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Fleming is shown as a sexual adventurer (even the wives of close friends were not off-limits) who was expelled from Sandhurst Royal Military Academy as a young officer cadet for contracting gonorrhea.

Made without the approval of the Fleming Estate, it looks at his serial conquests and the trail of women he is claimed to have used, abused and left behind (Fleming was said to have asked women to leave his London flat almost immediately after sex).

The four-part series will show how Fleming saw very little active service and spent most of the war frustrated and stuck behind a desk.

"He desperately wanted to be somebody he could never quite become and that person, of course, was James Bond," says Douglas Rae, executive producer of the series.

In one key scene, Fleming fails miserably when he finally gets a chance to join an elite unit, losing his nerve during a fraught training exercise.

We will also see Fleming's tempestuous and abusive relationship with his lover, and later wife, Ann Charteris.

"They enjoyed spanking each other and there were instances when they hurt each other," says series producer Douglas Rae.

"This isn't going to be nice, safe period drama. We are making a truthful drama about a man who was deeply flawed."

The publicity surrounding the series has already drawn flak from Bond fans and members of the Fleming family. His step-daughter Fionn Morgan recently wrote to a British newspaper to set the record straight on her "loving and caring stepfather" and his relationship with her mother, Ann.

"I will at once admit something: it took time for me to accept that there was an element of 'sado-masochism' in Ian Fleming's relationship with my mother, Ann Charteris," she wrote.

"The evidence is there in their letters. But I still wouldn't give it a label; and 'abusive' it was not.

"My redoubtable mother would not have allowed herself to be abused by anyone."

Redoubtable or not, it seems that Ann was just one of many women who saw the darker side of the creator of James Bond.

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