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Inspirations for James Bond

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A number of real-life inspirations have been suggested for James Bond, the fictional character created in 1953 by British author, journalist and Naval Intelligence officer Ian Fleming; Bond appeared in twelve novels and nine short stories by Fleming, as well as a number of continuation novels and twenty-six films, with seven actors playing the role of Bond.

Although the stories and characters were fictional, a number of elements had a real-life background, taken from people whom Fleming knew or events he was aware of. These included the spy's name, which Fleming took from the American ornithologist James Bond, and the code number—007—which referred to the breaking of a World War I German diplomatic code. Some aspects of Bond's character and tastes replicate those of Fleming himself.

Apparently, inspiration for the James Bond spy novels may have come from the writings of William Le Queux;[1] inspiration for the James Bond films may have come from the early silent films of German director Fritz Lang, including the Dr. Mabuse films,[2] and the 1928 film Spione.[3]

Origins of the name[edit]

James Bond, ornithologist; provider of Bond's name

On the morning of 17 February 1952, Ian Fleming started writing what would become his first book, Casino Royale, at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica. He typed out 2,000 words in the morning, directly from his own experiences and imagination[4] and finished work on the manuscript in just over a month,[5] completing it on 18 March 1952.[6] Fleming took the name for his character from that of the American ornithologist James Bond, a Caribbean bird expert and author of the definitive field guide Birds of the West Indies; Fleming, a keen birdwatcher himself, had a copy of Bond's guide and he later explained to the ornithologist's wife that "It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born".[7]

When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument ... when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, [James Bond] is the dullest name I ever heard.

Ian Fleming, The New Yorker, 21 April 1962[8]

On another occasion Fleming said: "I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, 'James Bond' was much better than something more interesting, like 'Peregrine Carruthers'. Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure—an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department."[9] After Fleming met the ornithologist and his wife, he described them as "a charming couple who are amused by the whole joke".[10] The ornithologist was obliquely referred to in the film Die Another Day with Pierce Brosnan's Bond picking up a copy of Birds of the West Indies and posing as an ornithologist.[11]

Character inspirations[edit]

James Albert Bond: Her Majesty's real-life secret agent

During the Second World War Fleming was the personal assistant to the director of the Naval Intelligence Division, Admiral John Godfrey.[12] He reached the rank of commander—a rank he subsequently gave to his fictional creation—and was the planner for special operations unit 30th Assault Unit.[13] Many of Bond's tastes and traits were Fleming's own, including sharing the same golf handicap, the taste for scrambled eggs and using the same brand of toiletries.[14] Bond's tastes are also often taken from Fleming's, as was his behaviour,[15] with Bond's love of golf and gambling mirroring his creator's. Fleming used the experiences of his espionage career and other aspects of his life as inspiration when writing, including using names of school friends, acquaintances, relatives and lovers throughout his books.[16]

Bond's cigarettes were also the same as Fleming's, who had been buying his custom-made by Morland since the 1930s; Fleming added the three gold bands on the filter during the war to mirror his naval Commander's rank.[17] On average, Bond smokes sixty cigarettes a day, although he cut back to around twenty-five a day after his visit to a health farm in Thunderball.[18] Fleming himself smoked up to eighty cigarettes a day.[19] Apart from imbuing Bond with his own tastes, Fleming based his fictional creation on a number of individuals he came across during his time in intelligence, admitting that Bond "was a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war".[16]

The Institute of National Remembrance revealed in 2020 that James Albert Bond (1928 – 2005), a British diplomat born in Bideford, Devon, had worked at the British Embassy in Warsaw with arrival of Warsaw on 18 February 1964 and left the territory of the Polish People's Republic on 21 January 1965. Released documents confirm that he conducted espionage activities. It is unclear whether Ian Fleming was aware of the existence of an actual spy named James Albert Bond.[20][21] James Albert Bond had a son with his wife Janette Tacchi who is also called James, born in 1955.[22]

Dates Name Notes
17 June 1894 – 13 February 1969 Sidney Cotton Cotton was an Australian who served the British Royal Naval Air Service. He was a close friend of Fleming during the Second World War. After having served as a pilot in the First World War, Cotton worked for MI6 photographing German factories, military installations and airfields from a camera hidden in a plane's fuselage. He would also openly take photographs of installations using people as cover for doing so—including Hitler's deputy, Hermann Göring. Cotton also flew the last civilian plane out of Berlin at the outbreak of the Second World War, taking pictures of the German navy as he did so.[23]
1 June 1913 – 14 October 2003 Patrick Dalzel-Job Naval intelligence officer and commando of the Second World War, Dalzel-Job was also an accomplished linguist, author, mariner, navigator, parachutist, diver and skier and knew Fleming through his service with 30AU.[24] Like Bond, he had a rebellious streak when he disagreed with orders on points of principle. A modest man, when once asked about the connection with Bond he replied: "I have never read a Bond book or seen a Bond movie. They are not my style ... And I only loved one woman and I'm not a drinking man."[25]
24 December 1899 – 13 November 1990 Wilfred (Biffy) Dunderdale The MI6 head of station in Paris, Dunderdale would regularly dine at Maxim's; he drove an armour-plated Rolls-Royce and dressed in handmade suits and Cartier cufflinks.[26] Dunderdale was a bon viveur who enjoyed attractive women and fast cars and was a friend of Fleming's during the Second World War.[27] He also played a key role in the cracking of the Enigma code.[26]
31 May 1907 – 18 August 1971 Peter Fleming Ian Fleming's elder brother, and wartime expert of military intelligence and irregular warfare. He spent time behind enemy lines in Norway and Greece during the war.[28] He also spent time in Delhi, organising deception plans to fool the Imperial Japanese Army.[29]
18 April 1912 – 6 March 2004 Sandy Glen Glen was a former Arctic explorer who worked with Fleming in Naval Intelligence.[30] Like Bond, Glen went to Fettes College and had Scottish antecedents.[31] Glen distanced himself from the connection, saying "I don't think it's true for a moment; I'm far too gentle, too law-abiding."[30]
11 August 1910 – 1 November 1995 Duane Hudson Hudson spent much of the Second World War behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, initially with the British Secret Service and subsequently with the Special Operations Executive (SOE).[32] Hudson survived assassination attempts and recruited a network of agents to blow up Axis shipping—blowing up an Italian ship single-handedly.[33]
11 March 1911 – 15 June 1996 Fitzroy Maclean During World War II Maclean was a British agent in Yugoslavia and friend (and biographer) of Josip Broz Tito, as well as a member of the Special Air Service, active in North Africa and Yugoslavia. Although a number of media sources at the time of his death suggested that he was a model for Bond, he denied the rumour, a view shared by Fleming's biographer, Andrew Lycett.[30][34]
Michael Mason Mason ran away from his wealthy family at an early age to go to Canada where he worked as a trapper and professional boxer. At the outbreak of war he worked in then-neutral Bucharest where he killed two German agents who were trying to assassinate him.[30]
21 December 1906 – 3 September 1987 Merlin Minshall Minshall was a fellow member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was known to Fleming through his work in naval intelligence. In 1940 he joined the SOE and waged guerrilla warfare against the Nazis in France and Yugoslavia.[35][36]
19 November 1893 – 23 October 1986 Conrad O'Brien-ffrench O'Brien-ffrench was a distinguished British secret intelligence officer, decorated army officer, skier, mountaineer, linguist, traveller and artist. He met Fleming in Austria in the 1930s while working for Claude Dansey's "Z" network gathering information on German troop movements.[16][37] In 1918, Stewart Menzies recruited Conrad into MI6 who then undertook clandestine missions abroad.[38]
10 July 1912 – 10 August 1981 Duško Popov Popov was a Serbian triple agent of VOA (code named "Duško"), MI6 (code named "Tricycle") and the Abwehr (code named "Ivan").[39] Fleming knew Popov and followed him in Lisbon, Portugal as an escort appointed by the MI6, witnessing an event in the Estoril Casino where Popov bluffed by placing a bet of $40,000 ($700,000 in 2020 dollars[40]) in order to cause a rival to withdraw from a baccarat table: Fleming used this episode as the basis for Casino Royale.[41]
24 March 1873 – 5 November 1925 Sidney Reilly Reilly was an agent for Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the British Secret Service Bureau. In 1918, Reilly was employed by Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming as an operative for MI1(c), an early designation for the MI6.[42] Reilly's friend Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart knew Fleming for many years and told him of Reilly's espionage adventures;[43] Fleming subsequently mentioned to a colleague at The Sunday Times that he had created Bond after hearing about Reilly.[44]
9 December 1913 – 8 June 2006 Peter Smithers Sir Peter Smithers, who was known to Fleming, organised passage for British refugees from France as the Nazis advanced through France. Later, as a naval attaché, he worked in Washington on spreading disinformation about the Nazis.[45] He spent part of the war working in Naval Intelligence; Fleming later named a character in Goldfinger after him.[46]
23 January 1897 – 31 January 1989 William Stephenson William Stephenson was an international spymaster, best known by his code name, Intrepid. A Canadian WWI soldier, ace fighter pilot, entrepreneur, inventor and international millionaire businessman, Stephenson, a Knight Bachelor, would by 1940 become the head of the British Security Coordination, an MI6 organisation based in New York, and an advisor to Churchill and Roosevelt.[47]His WWI Military Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross citations note his daring and initiative in causing casualties and chaos behind enemy lines, and proficiency in providing military intelligence. Shot down late in 1918, he would become a prisoner of war but was able to escape internment. Among many later initiatives after establishing himself across many lines of international commerce in the 1920 and 30s, he provided firsthand information on German treaty violations and war preparations to Winston Churchill in the 1930s, and established and ran the Allies' Camp X spy training facility during WWII. He was instrumental in the development of important spycraft and tools.

Regarding him, Fleming wrote in The Sunday Times of 21 October 1962, that Bond was: "a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing, the man who became one of the great agents of the [Second World War] is William Stephenson."[48] Elsewhere Fleming wrote of Stephenson that he "used to make the most powerful martinis in America and serve them in quart glasses."[49]

17 June 1902 – 26 February 1964 Forest Yeo-Thomas Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas was a British field agent code named "White Rabbit" for the SOE. His missions for the SOE involved him parachuting multiple times in enemy occupied France. In his memoirs, Fleming wrote of his fascination with the missions Thomas conducted behind enemy lines, such as having dinner with Nazis, the use of disguises, being captured and interrogated by the Gestapo before escaping, shooting an enemy agent, as well as having relationships with different women.

Literary Inspirations[edit]

Besides real life individuals, James Bond was also inspired by one of Dennis Wheatley's characters; the secret agent Gregory Sallust,[50] based on Wheatley's late friend Gordon Eric Gordon-Tombe.[51] It is also said that the character of James Bond took inspiration from a collection of short stories about a gentlemanly and sophisticated spy by Somerset Maugham, using his own spying experience as a basis.[52] Another inspiration for the James Bond spy novels may have come from the writings of William Le Queux.[1]

As well, inspiration of James Bond films may have come from the early silent films of German director Fritz Lang, including the Dr. Mabuse films,[2] and the 1928 film Spione.[3]

Inspiration for "007"[edit]

The 007 number assigned to James Bond may have been influenced by any number of sources. In the films and novels, the 00 prefix indicates Bond's discretionary "licence to kill", in executing his duties. Bond's number—007—was assigned by Fleming in reference to one of British naval intelligence's key achievements of World War I: the breaking of the German diplomatic code.[53]

One of the German documents cracked and read by the British was the Zimmermann Telegram, which was coded 0075,[54] and which was one of the factors that led to the US entering the war. Subsequently, if material was graded 00 it meant it was highly classified and, as journalist Ben Macintyre has pointed out, "to anyone versed in intelligence history, 007 signified the highest achievement of British military intelligence."[53]

John Dee, who was accused of spying for the crown, signed his letters to Elizabeth I, Queen of England between 1558 and 1603, with a "007" symbol, marking them thereby as personal – destined for her majesty's eyes only.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Calavita, Marco (28 July 2012). "A Nod to the Xenophobic, Lying Inventor of Spy Fiction - Secret ciphers. Fast cars. A suave agent fond of cocktails and fancy cigarettes barely escaping death in exotic locales. Spy yarns' familiar trappings follow a blueprint laid out more than a century ago by this controversial writer". Wired. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  2. ^ a b Hoberman, J. (6 May 2020). "An Evil Doctor Who Casts a Spell on Subjects and Viewers Alike - Don't think the silent 4½-hour "Dr. Mabuse the Gambler" is for you? It's shockingly contemporary, and can be binge-watched or seen in chapters. You have time. Give it a try". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  3. ^ a b Bank, Douglas (27 October 2018). "Spies (aka, Spione) (Fritz Lang, 1928)". Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  4. ^ Chancellor 2005, p. 4.
  5. ^ "Ian Fleming". About Ian Fleming. Ian Fleming Publications. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  6. ^ Black 2005, p. 4.
  7. ^ Caplen 2010, p. 21.
  8. ^ Hellman, Geoffrey T. (21 April 1962). "Bond's Creator (subscription needed)". Talk of the Town. The New Yorker. p. 32. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  9. ^ Fleming, Ian (5 April 1958). ""The Exclusive Bond" Mr. Fleming on his hero". The Manchester Guardian. p. 4.
  10. ^ Chancellor 2005, p. 230.
  11. ^ Steyn, Mark (30 November 2002). "Forever Bond". The Spectator. London. 131: 68.
  12. ^ Lycett 1996, p. 103.
  13. ^ Rankin 2011, p. 136.
  14. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 50.
  15. ^ Cook, William (28 June 2004). "Novel man". New Statesman. p. 40.
  16. ^ a b c Macintyre, Ben (5 April 2008). "Bond – the real Bond". The Times. p. 36.
  17. ^ Chancellor 2005, p. 70.
  18. ^ Benson 1988, p. 70.
  19. ^ Burns, John F (19 May 2008). "Remembering Fleming, Ian Fleming". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  20. ^ 007's file found in the IPN's Archive
  21. ^ "Britain sent the real James Bond to spy on Cold War Poland". The Sunday Times. 24 Sep 2020. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  22. ^ "James Bond, a man interested in 'women' and 'infiltrating bases', really did spy for Britain in the 1960s". The Telegraph. 23 Sep 2020. Archived from the original on 2020-10-02.
  23. ^ Morris, David (15 July 2001). "The real Bond – Revealed: 007 was actually a Queenslander". The Sunday Mail. p. 18.
  24. ^ McGrory, Daniel; Evans, Michael; English, Shirley. "War hero hailed as the real 007 dies". The Times. London. p. 3.
  25. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 70.
  26. ^ a b Macintyre 2008, p. 72.
  27. ^ Gardham, Duncan (22 September 2010). "Fast cars, women ... was he the model for Bond?". The Daily Telegraph. London. p. 15.
  28. ^ "Obituary: Colonel Peter Fleming, Author and explorer". The Times. London. 20 August 1971. p. 14.
  29. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 67-68.
  30. ^ a b c d Cathcart, Brian (23 June 1996). "The name's Dunderdale, Biffy Dunderdale". The Independent. London. p. 10.
  31. ^ Lycett 1996, p. 112.
  32. ^ Foot, Michael (14 November 1995). "Obituary: Colonel D. T. Hudson". The Independent. London. p. 18.
  33. ^ "Agent who met Tito". Herald Sun. Melbourne. 24 November 1995.
  34. ^ West 2010, p. 134.
  35. ^ "Wartime Agent Believed To Have Been Model For James Bond Dies". Associated Press. 23 September 1987.
  36. ^ "Obituary of Mr Merlin Minshall". The Times. London. 23 September 1987.
  37. ^ Jackson & Scott 2004, p. 125.
  38. ^ McKay 1993, p. 115.
  39. ^ "The name's Tricycle, Agent Tricycle". BBC News. 9 May 2002. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  40. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  41. ^ West 2010, p. xxii–xxiii.
  42. ^ Spence 2002, p. 93.
  43. ^ Cook 2004, p. 12.
  44. ^ Cook 2004, p. 10.
  45. ^ Cameron, Sue (15 June 2006). "Model for 007 was more greenfinger than Goldfinger Obituary: Sir Peter Smithers". Financial Times. London. p. 4.
  46. ^ "Obituary: Sir Peter Smithers". The Times. London. 15 June 2006. p. 62.
  47. ^ West 2010, p. 15-16.
  48. ^ Hamilton 2011, p. 147.
  49. ^ Room 3603 (PDF). pp. xi.
  50. ^ Rosenberg, Tina (8 August 2012). "The Novelist Who Spied: How Dennis Wheatley Helped Defeat the Nazis". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  51. ^ "The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - Instant success as an author". Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  52. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 206.
  53. ^ a b Macintyre 2008, p. 65.
  54. ^ Chancellor 2005, p. 190.
  55. ^ Cooper, D.W.; Gerald, Lawrence. "Francis Bacon & John Dee". Retrieved 13 December 2020.


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