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9 Real-life James Bonds

Updated August 10, 2017

With twelve original novels, nine original short stories, countless spin-off books and 24 films since his creation in 1953, secret agent James Bond is one of the most famous fictional characters of the modern day, Britain's answer to Batman. Bond creator Ian Fleming famously drew on his own experiences in wartime naval intelligence to give Bond's adventures a sense of realism. But who were the inspirations for this iconic character? Some of the answers are surprising.

Fitzroy Maclean

When former SAS officer Sir Fitzroy Maclean died in 1996, newspaper articles described him as "the real James Bond." During the Second World War, Maclean, who enlisted as a private and retired as a Brigadier, carried out dangerous missions behind enemy lines in occupied Yugoslavia. Maclean was a Bond fan, as witnessed by his first edition Bond novels. However, both Maclean himself and Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett have denied that Maclean was the inspiration for James Bond.

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Wilfred "Biffy" Dunderdale

While working for Naval Intelligence in 1940, Ian Fleming visited beleaguered Paris. While there, he met with the head of the Paris section of SIS, the organisation now known as MI6. Wilfred "Biffy" Dunderdale, the son of a wealthy trading family, loved the finer things in life and was a noted womaniser and bon vivant who drove around Paris in an armour-plated Rolls-Royce. Lycett has cited Dunderdale as a more likely inspiration for Bond.

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Michael Mason

The Bond of Fleming's novels is a somewhat more brutal character than many of his screen incarnations; part of this image may have come from another wartime British agent, Michael Mason. While working as a British agent in Romania during the early years of the Second World War, Mason was pursued by two German agents who attempted to corner him in a moving train. Mason killed his two opponents with his bare hands and threw their bodies out of the train's window. This incident is said to have been the inspiration for a similar scene in "From Russia With Love."

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Sidney Reilly

Sidney Reilly was one of the most notorious British agents of the interwar period, most famous for his involvement in an attempt to overthrow the government of the Soviet Union. Stories of Reilly's adventures circulated widely, particularly as a result of the work of his colleague Robert Bruce Lockhart. Lockhart was a friend of Ian Fleming's and is believed to have shared his memories of Reilly with the author.

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Forest "Tommy" Yeo-Thomas

A recent biography of another Second World War agent, Forest "Tommy" Yeo-Thomas, code-named White Rabbit, claims that Yeo-Thomas was another inspiration for James Bond. White Rabbit's feats, which included parachuting into occupied France and escaping from a concentration camp after being captured and tortured, certainly have some of Bond's action-adventure touch to them.

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Dr John Dee

It may seem surprising that an Elizabethan scholar might have anything to do with a modern fictional secret agent, but John Dee, who died in 1608 or 1609, is alleged to have used the code "007" to indicate secret correspondence on letters written to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee, whose interests included astronomy, mathematics and sorcery, did serve as an unofficial English agent during his travels, although with his occult paraphernalia he might have made a better Bond villain.

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Hoagy Carmichael

American composer Hoagy Carmichael, known for hits such as "Stardust," is another unlikely real-world analogue for 007. The connection, however, is simple: Fleming modeled Bond's appearance on the composer, even describing him in his novels as resembling Carmichael. As with many aspects of the novels, this description, which portrays Bond as rather average-looking, did not survive into the world of film.

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James Bond

Fleming wrote his Bond novels from his home in Jamaica, Goldeneye. One of the books on his bookshelf was "Birds of the West Indies" by ornithologist James Bond. Fleming, an avid birdwatcher, recalled the name when creating his character. He later said that the dullness of the name was what appealed to him.

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Ian Fleming

The most obvious inspiration for Bond is author Ian Fleming himself. Although Fleming worked in an office in intelligence rather than in the field, Bond reflects many of his creator's tastes, in areas from clothing to cars to cigarettes. Fleming's love of gadgets shines through in both the novels and the films. The creator even described Bond as a wish-fulfillment version of himself.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.