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How Ian Fleming made Station X immortal

24-Aug-2008 • Literary

Staged plane crashes, a corpse laden with false documents and even a plot to blow up the Rock of Gibraltar: it may sound like the stuff of fiction, but these were just some of the real-life schemes cooked up by James Bond creator Ian Fleming while working for naval intelligence at Bletchley Park.

Now visitors to the historic site in Milton Keynes, which for many years was a top secret base known as Station X, can learn even more about the intriguing wartime links between Fleming and the shadowy complex, thanks to a new exhibition - reports Bucks Free Press.

Called From Bletchley, With Love, the detailed display inside Hut 12 reveals the extent to which Fleming was involved with top-secret operations - something he could never reveal himself as he died in 1964, ten years before the ban on talking about Bletchley Park was lifted.

The exhibition, which has been put together by former codebreaker Mavis Batey, now 87, also shows how Fleming's experiences would later prove a huge inspiration for his famous Bond novels.

Espionage expert Michael Smith, who has been invited to speak at Bletchley Park on Monday, says the exhibition lifts the lid on just how much Fleming took from his real-life experiences.

Michael, author of bestseller Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park, says: "Many people read the Bond stories and think this is just fantasy, this is nonsense. But I've gone through all the books and actually Fleming used a lot of genuine stuff."

The Henley-on-Thames resident adds: "Yes, there's plenty that is fantastical and glamorous, but in terms of the basics, it's very, very accurate."

One of the most fascinating documents on display outlines Fleming's Operation Ruthless, a daring scheme to seize a German codebook, which may have inspired the plotline of From Russia With Love.

His idea was to borrow a captured Luftwaffe bomber, fake a crash and attract a German rescue boat. Once Fleming's men were aboard the ship, the "survivors" could then overpower the crew and make off with an Enigma machine and codebook.

The men to do the job, noted Fleming, should be "a tough crew of five". He adds: "Dress them in German Air Force uniform, add blood and bandages to suit."

Fleming then suggests the men, having been rescued, should simply, "shoot German crew, dump overboard and bring the rescue boat back to English port". Although regarded as a "very ingenious plot" by Bletchley Park officials, Operation Ruthless was deemed too risky.

Fleming's imaginative streak also came to the fore in Operation Goldeneye, a surveillance operation carried out to discover whether Spain was actually neutral in the war.

When Bletchley Park operatives intercepted messages suggesting that Spain would allow Germany to establish a surveillance site to monitor British ships, Fleming was furious.

He then boldly suggested a plot to blow up the Rock of Gibraltar with explosives. The crisis was eventually solved through a more diplomatic route.

Another more successful plot devised by Fleming at Bletchley Park was Operation Mincemeat, which later inspired the popular 1956 film The Man Who Never Was.

The aim was to make the Germans believe that they had, by accident, intercepted top secret Allied documents, which were actually entirely fictitious.

Fleming came up with the idea of attaching the plans to a corpse disguised as a naval officer, which would then be floated off the coast of Spain. Local German spies would then discover the body and the documents.

To make the plot even more convincing, Fleming added little touches, such as placing theatre tickets and love letters inside the jacket pockets of the dead man.

When it was discovered that the operation had been successful, operatives at Bletchley sent a message to Winston Churchill reading: "Mincemeat Swallowed Whole."

Michael Smith adds: "Fleming had this incredible ability to think out of the box and people like him were extremely important to the war effort. In fact, the head of naval intelligence, Vice-Admiral John Godfrey, was so enamoured with his talent that he once said Fleming should have been the director and he should have been his assistant!"

And as the exhibition shows, Fleming was himself equally impressed by Godfrey and actually based his Bond character, M, on his former boss.

Also on display is a selection of stories from the real-life agents, whose experiences no doubt went on to inspire the James Bond adventures.

Intriguingly, Fleming himself once said that "everything I wrote has a precedent in truth", but due to the secrecy surrounding his work at Bletchley Park he could never quite reveal what part of his Bond adventures were based on fact.

Now thanks to the efforts of Mavis Batey and Bletchley Park, Ian Fleming's real-life spy stories can finally be told.

From Bletchley, With Love is now open at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes. Details: www.bletchleypark.org.uk

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