The potency of James Bond novel literature is so strong, that many people have blurred the lines in their imagination between fictional and real life spies. A former naval intelligence man himself, Ian Fleming was able to draw from a rich seam of fellow members of the intelligence community.
Here is a roll call of some of the real-life spies who might have influenced Fleming’s James Bond novels.
Kim Philby enjoyed a long friendship with the MI6 spy Nicholas Elliott, who was a school friend of Ian Fleming at Durnford School in Dorset. There are many Philby-Elliot mysteries and MI5 cruelly sent Kim Philby’s best friend, Nicholas, to try to extract an all-important confession about his betrayals in Beirut before his flight to Moscow in 1963.
His MI6 career was also notable for his involvement with the Commander Lionel Crabb affair in the 1950.
Former MI5 chief Guy Liddell and the disappearance of Cambridge Spies Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess is a well-known historical story. The diary of Guy Liddell gave the world insight into the Security Service during some of the darkest days of British Intelligence. It was a hugely personal betrayal for the MI5 man who was close friends with some of the key protagonists and who struggled to believe what they had done.
The betrayal of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Secret Service and Britain run through Fleming’s novels such as Casino Royale and Moonraker.
Sir Dick White
This spymaster was always immaculately dressed and served nine prime ministers as the head of both MI5 and MI6. His position within the MI6 was to try and limit the damage to the reputation of that service by the Lionel Crabb Affair. The Crabb Affair involved Commander Lionel Crabb who allegedly went on an MI6 diving mission to spy on a Soviet cruiser. His headless corpse was then discovered in Portsmouth marina.
Dick White and his involvement in the Lionel Crabb affair is said to have been the inspiration for Thunderball limpet mine scene.
Maxwell Knight was the effective spymaster in charge of infiltrating the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1920s. He also infiltrated the British Union of Fascists and is said to have developed a fascination with the occult. His suspicions of some of his spy colleagues including Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby left him out in the cold and he was seen as paranoid. When Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to the Soviet Union, he was proven right of course, however, his reputation never recovered and he left the MI5 a few years later to forge a career as a devoted naturalist.
Although Fleming and Maxwell Knight reportedly never met, he lays claim as one of the inspirations for Fleming’s character of ‘M’.
Ralph Izzard was a spy that would pose as an undercover journalist and was very successful in the sense that his cover was never blown. During the Second World War, his duties included espionage and the interrogation of captured German agents following a plan called Operation Ruthless.
This is very reminiscent of SPECTRE’s plan in Thunderball to hijack and crash land the Villiers Vindicator bomber off the coast of the Bahamas, to acquire two nuclear bombs as a ransom.
A chief inspiration for Fleming’s Bond while serving with Naval Intelligence is Popov. Fleming shadowed Popov from the Palacio to Casino Estoril and watched. Popov—about whom Fleming would have heard from Admiral Godfrey—made an outrageous baccarat bet—with MI6 money—against a wealthy but boorish opponent named Bloch (who had fled the Nazis from Liechtenstein).
If the scene sounds familiar, it should; the scenario would be repeated in Casino Royale, Fleming’s first novel.
Minshall is often claimed to have been one of the inspirations behind James Bond, who worked for Fleming during the Second World War, as a member of the Royal Navy’s Naval Intelligence Division.
He was the first man to cross the Sahara on a motorcycle and while travelling through the Congo, he accidentally discovered a secret German army. But Romania set the scene for the height of espionage activity – when he single handedly pirated a ship from under Nazi eyes and blew up a vital link in German tanker communications.
He even at one point consorted to commit murder on the Orient Express, which suggests a possible an inspiration for From Russia, With Love.
Many of these spies can be traced to locations all over London. To experience some of this hop on a London bus tour.
Also check out Footprint’s of London’s Spies of Mayfair tour. – For Bond fans we will explore Ian Fleming’s Mayfair: where he was born, where he gambled and drank and how he got the inspiration for his greatest creation. True Spy Stories – A two hour walk about espionage and counter intelligence that tells the true stories that inspired spy fiction.
Interview with Henry Hemming, author of M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster
Burgess and Bond: The Missing Diplomat Scandal’s Effect on the Early Bond Novels
Following the Money: Ian Fleming and the Origin of Casino Royale