It was the life or death decision taken by Ian Fleming’s Dundee grandfather which might have changed the course of movie history.
Robert and his Fleming dynasty was almost killed off long before secret agent James Bond first picked up his Walther PPK to defend Queen and country.
007’s creator had strong Dundee connections.
Grandfather Robert was born in 1845 and began his life in Lochee.
Five of Robert’s brothers and sisters died in childhood from diphtheria.
The family moved to Ramsay Street in 1846 and then in 1853 to a Brown Street tenement which was shared with 11 other families.
Robert was given a basic education at Brown Street School under Finlay McDiarmid before studying maths at the High School of Dundee aged 11.
He left school at the age of 13 to work as an office boy on a starting salary of £5 per year and quickly attained a position of influence in Dundee’s textile industry.
Aged 21 he was bookkeeper and clerk to Edward Baxter and gained a close knowledge of US investments and built up a range of contacts.
Robert’s brainchild, the Scottish American Investment Trust, launched in 1873, was the result, which invested in bonds attached to the US railroads.
Shaken and stirred
On March 12 1873, Robert spent a few days in London, before heading north to Liverpool, ready to make his first transatlantic crossing to New York.
He was given the choice between the SS Atlantic or taking a Cunard ship.
Robert took the second.
The 28-year-old was left shaken and stirred when he learned the fate of the SS Atlantic after arriving in New York following his Transatlantic close call.
The first foundered with the loss of 535 lives.
The SS Atlantic of the White Star Line was making her 19th voyage from Liverpool and was running short of coal after being slowed down by a storm.
Captain James Agnew Williams feared she might not make it to New York, so he diverted to Halifax in Nova Scotia to refuel.
Over 550 people lost their lives when the ship struck rocks.
It was the worst maritime disaster of the 19th century, just as the Titanic was the worst of the 20th.
“The question was whether I should sail in a White Star boat or in a Cunarder,” said Robert.
“My friends advised the Cunarder which sailed on a Saturday; the Atlantic, the White Star boat, sailing on the previous Thursday.
“I took the Cunarder and when I arrived in New York I found bills posted, announcing the loss of the Atlantic, with 600 lives.
“Had I sailed in the White Star it is unlikely that I would have crossed the Atlantic 128 times as I have done since then.”
The Scottish American Investment Trust was an immediate and enormous success and Robert went on to become one of Dundee’s most remarkable success stories.
He went on to become an international financier in London, establishing the investment bank that bore his name for more than a century and out of which the Fleming Collection of Scottish art and the Fleming Collection gallery was born.
But the firm always revelled in its Scottish roots.
The receptionist at the company’s London headquarters greeted visitors every Tuesday and Thursday with traditional Scottish bagpipe music.
Robert made many generous bequests to the city and the new University College.
The Fleming Gardens Estate in Dundee was erected as a result of a gift of £155,000 Robert made to improve housing for workers.
The Duchess of York laid the foundation stone in September 1919 and Lord Provost Sir William High said that “we are especially proud of the fact that such a noble and high spirit of generosity should be shown by a son of Dundee”.
“What will this mean to our city?” said Sir William.
“It will mean that over 1,500 of our citizens, who, meantime are living in houses that have been condemned as not fit for human habitation, will be removed from their unhealthy hovels to this beautiful site, and that they will be rehoused here in modern houses, where they will have ample means of cleanliness and decency secured to them.”
Robert was a spectator at the building site and later received the freedom of the city in the Caird Hall at the age of 85 in 1929.
The popularity of the honour bestowed was reflected in the large crowds which thronged the vicinity of the Caird Hall some considerable time before his arrival.
He was greeted with a storm of applause when he finally arrived and Sir William said Robert’s career was a “standing example of what can be accomplished by native grit, perseverance and enterprise”.
Robert said: “I do not know how to express my thanks for the great honour conferred upon me today.
“This day will be a red-letter day in my life’s calendar and one which will remain in my recollection while life and memory holds its post.
“I accord to you my most grateful thanks.”
Robert had two sons – Valentine, father of 007 author Ian, who was killed in the first world war, and Philip – both of whom he sent to Eton and Oxford.
Philip was born in Newport in 1889.
The Man with the Golden Oar rowed Oxford to victory in the 1910 Boat Race and won gold for Great Britain at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.
Valentine’s son Ian was born in 1908 and, though brought up south of the border, Ian was left in no doubt of the family’s background.
“Never forget you’re a Scot,” his mother would drum into him.
Robert didn’t live to admire his grandson’s success and died in 1933 which was 20 years before Ian’s first James Bond novel Casino Royale was published.
The Bond books inspired the 25 film adaptations of the series which began in 1962 with Dr No and Sean Connery in the lead role as 007.
Iain Flett from the Friends of Dundee City Archives said: “The Flemings are a fascinating family.
“From their name origin as coming to Scotland in the middle ages from the Low Countries (now split between Northern France, Belgium and Southern Netherlands) we know that they brought us European knowledge about textiles.
“For the Victorian Dundonian Robert Fleming to rise from being a 13-year-old school leaver as a humble clerk to develop an investment bank as well as the concept of investment trusts was truly remarkable.
“The heritage that he left, such as his son Valentine to be a personal friend of Winston Churchill, that his Robert Fleming Holdings would be sold in 2000 to Chase Manhattan for $7.7 billion, and that his grandsons would be novelist Ian Fleming and writer Peter Fleming, is rich and astounding.”
Dundee’s links to 007 also saw a special day organised in the city in 2013 to celebrate Sir Roger Moore’s James Bond legacy.
Dundee Contemporary Arts was packed for a special showing of Moonraker and Sir Roger returned to the city’s big screen in 2016.
The 1974 Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun was shown at Dundee Museum of Transport as part of the Blue Skies festival which was led by DCA.
Ahead of the event, Sir Roger told The Courier: “I’d like to send my best wishes for the screening.
“The people of Dundee obviously have great taste!”
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