Indiana Jones isn’t the only fictional character with a basis in reality. British superspy James Bond also has some analogs in real life. The difference between the two is that, while George Lucas and Steven Spielberg deny any real-life basis for Dr. Henry “No Time for Love” Jones, Ian Fleming, creator of 007, was quite candid about the real-life inspiration for his character. Here are 10 men who inspired the greatest fictional spy of all time.
1. William Stephenson: Sir William Samuel Stephenson is best known by his codename “Intrepid” and one of the few people who can put “spymaster” on his resume. He was shot down in 1918, but managed to escape the POW camp. He received the Military Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross during World War I for his uncanny ability to cause total chaos behind enemy lines. Fleming himself called Stephenson “the real thing.” Perhaps the strangest part of this story is that Stephenson was a Canadian from the prairies of Manitoba.
2. F. E. Yeo-Thomas: Forest Frederick Edward "Tommy” Yeo-Thomas was known as “The White Rabbit,” which is one of the less menacing and mysterious code names going. He parachuted into occupied France behind enemy lines on many occasions in furtherance of his missions. While behind enemy lines, he’d often dine with Nazis, come up with clever disguises and, of course, seduce as many women as possible. He shot his way out of a Gestapo interrogation and made his way to the front in 1945.
3. Patrick Dalzel-Job: Patrick Dalzel-Job is an interesting entry on this list. He has several Bondesque qualities. He could speak basically every language under the sun. He was a master diver, skier, parachutist and mariner. He routinely refused orders when they conflicted with his principles. Fleming knew him personally, but Dalzel-Job once said: "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."
4. Sidney Cotton: Sidney Cotton was another close friend of Fleming’s from the war. An Australian by birth, he relocated to Britain to join the Royal Naval Air Service for World War I. He ran several spy missions during the Second World War, leveraging his status as a rich, playboy aviator to get high-quality pictures of Germany. He once offered Hermann Göring a lift to negotiate an end to the war so that he could snap shots of enemy territory. He was the last civilian out of Berlin when the war began, snapping pictures of the German Navy the whole way.
5. Peter Fleming: How’s this for close to home? Ian Fleming’s older brother Peter, also a writer, has a Bondesque pedigree himself. He came up with plans to hoodwink the Imperial Japanese Army while in India. He was known as a master of irregular warfare strategies, being recruited by the British War Office before the war even began. The Royal Geographic society presents an annual £9,000 award in his name.
6. Merlin Minshall: Another intimate contact of Fleming, Minshall reported to Fleming during World War II as a naval intelligence officer. His mother was a spy and he was the first man to cross the Sahara Desert on a motorcycle. After an evening with a sexy German spy who tried to poison him, he survived and returned with valuable intel. Thus began a storied career with British intelligence during the war. And, hey, his name was Merlin.
7. Duško Popov: James Bond was merely a single agent. Duško Popov wasn’t even content to be a double agent. He was a triple agent. His home was the Serbian spy agency VOA, but he also worked for MI6. The Germans thought he was one of them during World War II, but he just handed them disinformation. Among his crowning achievements is getting the Germans to station troops in Calais during D-Day. So if your grandfather stormed the beach at Normandy and lived, thank Duško Popov. An incident where he placed a $40,000 bet (over $600,000 today) to get a rival spy to leave a baccarat table was directly lifted for Casino Royale.
8. Wilfred Dunderdale: Wildred “Biffy” Dunderdale headed up Paris’ MI6 branch. He’s a top candidate for inspiring the playboy aspect of the Bond character. Art Nouveau masterpiece Maxim’s was his eatery of choice. He had a penchant for custom, handmade suits and luxury Cartier cufflinks. All while driving around in an armor-plated Rolls Royce. A fan of fast cars and faster women, he was a friend of Fleming’s who helped to crack the Enigma code.
9. Sandy Glen: Sir Alexander "Sandy" Richard Glen explored the arctic before he worked with Ian Fleming in Naval Intelligence. Glen didn’t think he was an inspiration for the character, stating that "I don't think it's true for a moment; I'm far too gentle, too law-abiding." He finished his days in the British travel industry as a pioneer in the world of package holidays. He even headed up the British Tourist Authority.
10. Peter Smithers: Sir Peter Henry Berry Otway Smithers helped to evacuate Brits out of Paris as the Nazis advanced. He worked for British intelligence during World War II and Fleming helped him to enter the diplomatic service after the war. Later in life, he was a Secretary General of the Council of Europe and a Conservative Member of Parliament. He died a Swiss national and possibly met his end through assisted suicide.