By Marcus Honesta
I must freely confess that I am a Bond tragic. I clearly remember my first Bond experience ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ the1969 film starring the Australian George Lazenby. I have been long waiting for the 26th film instalment of what could only be described as the world’s most famous spy: “ My Name is Bond, James Bond.”
“No Time to Die” is a forthcoming spy film in the film franchise produced by Eon Productions. It features Daniel Craig in his fifth and final outing as the super MI6 agent James Bond.
From the trailer and by all accounts, this will be the best of the best. Sadly production issues caused the films ultimate release to be delayed. Then along came the Coronavirus Pandemic which has set back its release even further.
The film’s release date is now November, becoming the first Hollywood tentpole to shift its global rollout because of the coronavirus outbreak. The spy franchise will commence its run from Nov. 12 in the U.K. and Nov. 25 in the U.S.
In its new date, No Time to Die has the advantage of being released for the lucrative Thanksgiving Holiday in North America (many previous Bond movies also opened in November).
The delay and publicity around it prompted me to start thinking about where it all began – who was the real James Bond?
The character, as he was originally imagined by author Ian Fleming, was much more grounded in reality. In fact, though Bond is not an actual historical figure, the agent does happen to have some real-world inspirations. Even his 007 designation has some historical significance.
It all goes back to Fleming. Before creating Bond in 1953, Fleming served as a commander in the British Naval Intelligence during WWII. The author was a personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of the UK Naval Intelligence Division. Many of the characters in Fleming’s stories are said to be based on his colleagues during the war – including Godfrey, who is widely speculated to have been the inspiration for the MI6 Director in the series, code named M (and apparently Godfrey wasn’t too happy about that, according to “A Brief Guide to James Bond” by Nigel Cawthorne).
The author drew influence from a prominent Ornithologist (yes, bird expert) and of course, legendary spies from across the world. A prominent English Newspaper reported that Auric Goldfinger, for instance, was inspired by the well-known Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger, who Fleming apparently disliked. When the real Goldfinger found out he was the bad guy in Fleming’s novel, the architect tried to sue the book’s publisher. They settled out of court, but Fleming was so furious he considered changing the name to “Goldprick” in response.
Today, the Bond canon extends far beyond the writing of Ian Fleming. However the characters he created, including Bond himself, still bear some striking resemblances to the super spies and government sleuths that Fleming met in his time with British Naval Intelligence back in the mid 1900s.
Ian Fleming at Goldeneye.
The real-life James Bond wasn’t a super spy. He wasn’t even a government employee. James Bond, or “Bond, James,” as you’d find him in your local library, was an American Ornithologist. A published authority on birds. He wrote the book Birds of the West Indies. Fleming, an avid bird watcher himself, loved the book as a child. But that’s not why he chose the name. Fleming once 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.” He liked the name because it was so boring.
There’s also some geographical significance to the real James Bond’s bird book. Birds of the West Indies first published in 1936.
Fleming was smitten by Jamaica, the island country of the West Indies where he would take up residence in his famous “Goldeneye” estate. The author wrote many of his most beloved Bond stories in Jamaica.
There is no definitive answer as to who the real James Bond was. Nor who provided chief inspiration for Fleming, other than the ornithologist whom he found so tragically boring. However there was a Serbian international spy named Dusko Popov, whose gambling legends may have inspired the big bets in Casino Royale; the very first Bond book. It is widely accepted that Popov was a ruthless, seductive spy who played a master game of Baccarat. Fleming apparently took notice of Popov’s command of the Baccarat table. However, Popov wasn’t just a fearless gambler. His wild life-story includes legends of him working for MI5, MI6, and the German Abwehr. He advised the FBI, having gained knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor, however he was ignored by J. Edgar Hoover (who was reported to dislike him intensely) refusing to believe the intelligence that he provided on the attack was credible. It is also reported that he even deceived the Nazis about the D-Day invasion plans. At least this is what is claimed in his biography, Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov. The link below from the BBC covers his life in some detail.
Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward “Tommy” Yeo-Thomas GC, MC &Bar
Another strong contender for the real James Bond comes in the character of Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward “Tommy” Yeo-Thomas GC, MC &Bar (17 June 1902 – 26 February 1964) was a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent during the WWII. Codenamed “SEAHORSE” and “SHELLEY” in the SOE, Yeo-Thomas was known by the Gestapo as “The White Rabbit”. His particular sphere of operations was Occupied and Vichy France. He was one of the most highly decorated spy agents in the Second World War.
Sophie Jackson’s, Churchill’s White Rabbit: the true story of a real-life James Bond published in 2012 claimed that Yoe-Thomas most likely was the inspiration for Flemings James Bond character. In May 1945 Fleming received a copy of Yoe-Thomas’s poignant farewell letter written in Buchenwald, which had just been discovered in Germany (it had been smuggled out of the camp but was never transmitted to London). In August some of Fleming’s colleagues at the Admiralty was so moved by it that they asked the Director of Naval Intelligence to encourage the SEO to publicise the story. Unfortunately his intelligence work was so sensitive that it was not considered appropriate for general release. It only became public some five months later when the award of the George Cross was announced.
WHERE DID THE 0-0-7-0 COME FROM.
Bond’s 007 spy designation isn’t just a random number either. The legendary string of digits may actually have some huge historical significance for British Intelligence. Fleming was a student of spy craft and history while serving in WWII. Whilst looking through historical records he discovered a German diplomatic code that British codebreakers intercepted during the First World War: 0-0-7-0. Today it’s known as a triumph in military intelligence.
James Bond was not Ian Fleming himself, but was, the author confessed, “a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war. It was all the things that I heard and learned about secret operations that finally led me to write about them in a disguised way and with James Bond as the central character.”
In May 2008, the journalist Phillip Knightley named six foreign correspondents working for Fleming in the 1950s who were also linked to MI6 or had been using press credentials as cover for espionage activities. “All of this could have been considered just a bit of James Bondish fun,” wrote Knightley indignantly, “but for the fact, that it entitles every foreign security service to believe that all British journalists working abroad must be spies.”
In the books, James Bond smokes and drinks too much, as did his melancholy creator, who died of heart failure in August 1964, aged 56. His wife and her coterie liked to despise the books that paid for their lifestyle, and by then a new breed of more realist spy writer, including Len Deighton and John Le Carré, was challenging his oeuvre and values. But Ian Fleming had the satisfaction of seeing 007 elevated to the big screen, where James Bond could fuel the imagination of the whole world.