We all have our favourite James Bond from the many actors who have played him over the years.

But who was behind Ian Fleming’s famous literary creation?

Fleming said he first imagined Bond to be dull and uninteresting, a ‘blunt instrument’, and he thought ‘James Bond’ was the dullest name he had ever heard.

The actual James Bond was to a Caribbean bird watcher, whom Fleming came to know of while staying at his Jamaican bungalow, Goldeneye. 

James Bond, the birdwatcher. Source: Jerry Freilich

“It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed.”

As for Bond’s exploits, they were based on first-hand experience; Fleming was a high ranking intelligence officer during the Second World War. 

In ‘Casino Royale’, for example, the assassination attempt on Bond’s life outside the Hotel Splendide was based on a Russian attempt to assassinate German ambassador Franz von Papen in Ankara, Turkey during World War 2.

The ‘007’ symbol dates back four hundred years and has cachet in the intelligence community; it was the codename used by Elizabeth I’s spymaster, John Dee. 

Bond’s peccadilloes were Fleming’s own; he liked scrambled eggs, Ronson lighters and had his cigarettes custom made by Morland’s. He and Bond even shared the same golf handicap.

Hungarian-born British architect, Erno Goldfinger, whose concrete tower blocks so disfigured post-war London, gave his name to one of Bond’s arch-enemies. Fleming utterly despised him for his Brutalist architecture.

Rosa Klebb of Smersh, “a dreadful chunk of a woman” was based on Major Tamara Ivanova, a real life K.G.B. operative. Ernst Blofeld was a schoolmate of Fleming’s at Eton – but clearly not a close friend.

And the inspiration for Bond himself?

There are several possibilities; one is Commander Wilfred Dunderdale – known as “Biffy” because of his prowess as a boxer in the Royal Navy. Dunderdale was head of SIS Paris Station in the thirties and had a penchant for women and fast cars.

In typical 007 style, he dined at Maxim’s, drove an armour-plated  Rolls Royce, and dressed in handmade suits with Cartier cufflinks. He played a key role in the cracking of the Enigma code.

Or was it an extraordinary individual called Conrad Fulke Thomond O’Brien-ffrench? Aside from a distinguished career in British Intelligence, he was an accomplished artist, linguist, mountaineer, skier and author. He also served in the Canadian Mounties. 

There’s also Pieter Tazelaar, a Dutch agent who actually did emerge from the ocean near a seafront casino in the middle of the night, dressed in a specially designed rubber oversuit which he stripped off to reveal full evening dress. It happened at Scheveningen in Holland in 1940.

Yet another possibility is Dušan “Duško” Popov, OBE, a Serbian double agent with a Playboy lifestyle who claimed to have informed Edgar Hoover about the attack on Pearl Harbor four months before it happened.

Fleming knew Popov from the Estoriil Casino in Lisbon, where Popov once placed a bet of $40,000 (that’s $700,000 in today’s money) on the baccarat table in order to clean out his rival. Sound familiar?

But the front runner remains the incomparable Patrick Dalzel-Job, a naval intelligence officer and World War Two commando who was also an accomplished linguist, author, mariner, navigator, parachutist, diver, ski-jumper and safe-blower.

Dalzel-Job once admitted that Fleming had told him he was the inspiration for Bond, but added, “I have never read a Bond book or seen a Bond movie. They are not my style…. I only ever loved one woman, and I’m not a drinking man.”

Shaken but not stirred by all the attention, then.

Fleming himself said that Bond was “a compound of all the secret agents and commandos I met during the war.”

Could it have been: “My name is French. Conrad Fulke Thomond O’Brien-ffrench. With two small f’s.”

Perhaps that doesn’t quite have the right ring to it.

Better get that bird-watcher back in here. What was his name again?

Bond. James Bond. 

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  1. I understood the REAL James Bond was my old history teacher, Merlin Minshall. He always maintained James Bind was based on him, was certainly friends with Ian Fleming and led an extraordinary life

    1. He was your old history teacher! Wow. Merlin had an amazing life, and was certainly one of the many men Fleming used as his inspiration. I didn’t have space to name them all. I believe Merlin wrote an autobiography about his exploits and Len Deighton even wrote the Foreword.

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