Welcome to MI6 Headquarters

This is the world's most visited unofficial James Bond 007 website with daily updates, news & analysis of all things 007 and an extensive encyclopaedia. Tap into Ian Fleming's spy from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig with our expert online coverage and a rich, colour print magazine dedicated to spies.

Learn More About MI6 & James Bond →

How James Bond was based on a real life MI6 special agent, white tuxedo and all

22-Sep-2010 • Bond News

One of James Bond’s most famous scenes was inspired by the wartime exploits of an MI6 spy, according to a new history of the Secret Intelligence Service, reports the Daily Mail.

The moment when the fictional spy emerges from the water in a wetsuit and plants explosives before unzipping the suit to reveal a spotless dinner suit really took place during the Second World War.

The incident from the opening sequence of the 1964 film Goldfinger was inspired by the real life exploits of Dutch agent Pieter Tazelaar, according to ‘MI6’ by Keith Jeffery, the first official history of SIS.

Tazelaar was sent in by sea in 1940 to make contact with agents in Holland.

The book recounts that he ‘put ashore at 4.35am on 23 November at Scheveningen near the seafront casino in full evening dress and smelling of alcohol, wearing a specially designed rubber oversuit to keep him dry while landing.

‘Rather than leaving him somewhere on the dunes, the aim was for him to be able to mingle with the crowd on the front.

‘Having landed on the beach his colleague Erik Hazelhof sprinkled a few drops of Hennessy XO brandy on him, to strengthen his party-goer’s image’.

Professor Keith Jeffery, of Queen’s University, Belfast, was given unrestricted access to the surviving historic files of the Secret Intelligence Service. But his work only covers the period up to 1949 and he was banned from revealing the identities of spies that are not already in the public domain.

The book also reveals that fact is just as strange as the James Bond fiction by documenting the exploits of the fabled ‘Q Branch’ of SIS, the section in charge of devising gadgets, made famous but the fictional exploits of Q – played by Desmond Llewellyn and John Cleese.

In real life the Q Branch technicians worked on plans to devise exploding filing cabinets to destroy papers likely to be captured by the enemy.
After experimenting with burning and acid, initial trials were not encouraging. ‘We hope the paper will disappear in the short time it takes a man to run up a flight of stairs’ but ‘the way things are going it will have to be a short, fat man with gout and broken wind,’ one MI6 report reveals.

Eventually a self-combusting safe that could destroy nine pounds of paper in under two minutes – which was then sent to MI6 stations in embassies around the world.

Forty spectators watched the trial in which, ‘as combustion got under way, the volume of smoke increased, soon to be replaced by long, roaring tongues of flame,’ as one eye-witness put it.

Q Branch also worked on drugged cigarettes to distract the enemy but discovered cocaine was the only drug that ‘would produce the desired effect’, but it was ‘impossible to obtain a sufficient quantity of cocaine in this country’.

The book also confirms that one of the templates for James Bond was another spy with the unpromising name of Wilfred ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale.

‘When head of the SIS Paris station in the 1930s, he had a penchant for pretty women and fast cars and has been proposed as one of the possible models for Bond,’ the book reports.

‘He was a great friend of Ian Fleming and claimed that he found parts of his own stories in the James Bond novels.’

Mr Jeffrey writes: ‘A man of great charm and savoir-faire, in old age he became an incorrigible raconteur. He liked to tell the story of how, while still in his teens, as interpreter for a White Russian general, he found himself translating outside a railway sleeping compartment where the general and his British mistress were seducing each other.’

Another model for Bond’s exploits might have been Air Commodore Lionel ‘Lousy’ Payne.

He was described in an SIS report as ‘often well informed, probably due to the fact that information is more readily obtained in bed’.

On one point Prof Jeffery insist MI6 did not behave like Bond. He lays to rest the myth that MI6 had a ‘licence to kill’, although ‘fatalities’ did occur in the course of its work, particularly during wartime.

‘I looked very hard for “bad stuff”,’ he said. ‘In the end, I found less evidence than perhaps we might have expected, certainly less evidence than I might have expected as the amateur espionage fiction buff that I was.’

Sir John Scarlett, the former SIS chief who commissioned the book to mark its centenary last year, said it was a “radical step” for an agency whose watchword is secrecy.

He said: ‘For MI6, this is an exceptional event. There has been nothing like this before and there are no plans for anything similar in the future.’

Discuss this news here...


Open in a new window/tab