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A number of real-life inspirations have been suggested for James Bond, the fictional character created in 1953 by British author, journalist and Naval Intelligence Officer Ian Fleming; Bond appeared in twelve novels and nine short stories by Fleming, as well as a number of continuation novels and twenty-five films, with seven actors playing the role of Bond.
Although the stories and characters were fictional, a number of elements had a real life background, taken from real people or events that Fleming knew or about which he had read. These included the name James Bond, which Fleming took from the American ornithologist James Bond, Bond's code number—007—which came both from English spy and polymath John Dee, the breaking of a World War I German diplomatic code, Bond's character and tastes, as well as Fleming himself.
On the morning of 17 February 1952 Ian Fleming started writing what would become his first book, Casino Royale, at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica. He typed out 2,000 words in the morning, directly from his own experiences and imagination and finished work on the manuscript in just over a month, completing it on 18 March 1952. Fleming took the name for his character from that of the American ornithologist James Bond, a Caribbean bird expert and author of the definitive field guide Birds of the West Indies; Fleming, a keen birdwatcher himself, had a copy of Bond's guide and he later explained to the ornithologist's wife that "It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born".
On another occasion Fleming said: "I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, 'James Bond' was much better than something more interesting, like 'Peregrine Carruthers'. Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure—an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department." After Fleming met the ornithologist and his wife, he described them as "a charming couple who are amused by the whole joke". The ornithologist was obliquely referred to in the film Die Another Day with Pierce Brosnan's Bond picking up a copy of Birds of the West Indies and posing as an ornithologist.
During the Second World War Fleming was the personal assistant to the Director of the Naval Intelligence Division, Admiral John Godfrey. He reached the rank of commander—a rank he subsequently gave to his fictional creation—and was the planner for special operations unit 30th Assault Unit. Many of Bond's tastes and traits were Fleming's own, including sharing the same golf handicap, the taste for scrambled eggs and using the same brand of toiletries. Bond's tastes are also often taken from Fleming's, as was his behaviour, with Bond's love of golf and gambling mirroring his creator's. Fleming used the experiences of his espionage career and other aspects of his life as inspiration when writing, including using names of school friends, acquaintances, relatives and lovers throughout his books.
Bond's cigarettes were also the same as Fleming's, who had been buying his custom-made by Morland since the 1930s; Fleming added the three gold bands on the filter during the war to mirror his naval Commander's rank. On average, Bond smokes sixty cigarettes a day, although he cut back to around twenty five a day after his visit to a health farm in Thunderball. Fleming himself smoked up to eighty cigarettes a day. Apart from imbuing Bond with his own tastes, Fleming based his fictional creation on a number of individuals he came across during his time in Intelligence, admitting that Bond "was a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war".
|Sidney Cotton||17 June 1894 – 13 February 1969||Cotton was born in Australia and moved to England to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service. He was a close friend of Fleming during the Second World War. After having served as a pilot in the First World War, Cotton worked for MI6 photographing German factories, military installations and airfields from a camera hidden in a plane's fuselage. He would also openly take photographs of installations using people as cover for doing so—including Hitler's deputy, Hermann Göring. Cotton also flew the last civilian plane out of Berlin at the outbreak of the Second World War, taking pictures of the German navy as he did so.|
|Patrick Dalzel-Job||1 June 1913 – 14 October 2003||Naval Intelligence Officer and Commando of the Second World War, Dalzel-Job was also an accomplished linguist, author, mariner, navigator, parachutist, diver and skier and knew Fleming through his service with 30AU. Like Bond, he had a rebellious streak when he disagreed with orders on points of principle. A modest man, when once asked about the connection with Bond he replied: "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."|
|Wilfred (Biffy) Dunderdale||24 December 1899 – 13 November 1990||The MI6 head of station in Paris, Dunderdale would regularly dine at Maxim's; he drove an armour-plated Rolls-Royce and dress in handmade suits and Cartier cufflinks. Dunderdale was a bon viveur who enjoyed attractive women and fast cars and was a friend of Fleming's during the Second World War. He also played a key role in the cracking of the Enigma code.|
|Peter Fleming||31 May 1907 – 18 August 1971||Ian Fleming's elder brother, and wartime expert of military intelligence and irregular warfare. He spent time behind enemy lines in Norway and Greece during the war. He also spent time in Delhi, organising deception plans to fool the Imperial Japanese Army.|
|Sandy Glen||18 April 1912 – 6 March 2004||Glen was a former Arctic explorer who worked with Fleming in Naval Intelligence. Like Bond, Glen went to Fettes College and had Scottish antecedents. Glen distanced himself from the connection, saying "I don't think it's true for a moment; I'm far too gentle, too law-abiding."|
|Duane Hudson||11 August 1910 – 1 November 1995||Hudson spent much of the Second World War behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, initially with the British Secret Service and subsequently with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Hudson survived assassination attempts and recruited a network of agents to blow up Axis shipping—blowing up an Italian ship single-handedly.|
|Fitzroy Maclean||11 March 1911 – 15 June 1996||During World War II Maclean was a British agent in Yugoslavia and friend (and biographer) of Josip Broz Tito, as well as a member of the Special Air Service, active in North Africa and Yugoslavia. Although a number of media sources at the time of his death suggested that he was a model for Bond, he denied the rumour, a view shared by Fleming's biographer, Andrew Lycett.|
|Michael Mason||—||Mason ran away from his wealthy family at an early age to go to Canada where he worked as a trapper and professional boxer. At the outbreak of war he worked in then-neutral Bucharest where he killed two German agents who were trying to assassinate him.|
|Merlin Minshall||21 December 1906 – 3 September 1987||Minshall was a fellow member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was known to Fleming through his work in naval intelligence. In 1940 he joined the SOE and waged guerrilla warfare against the Nazis in France and Yugoslavia. |
|Conrad O'Brien-ffrench||19 November 1893 – 23 October 1986||O'Brien-ffrench was a distinguished British Secret Intelligence Officer, decorated army officer, skier, mountaineer, linguist, traveller and artist. He met Fleming in Austria in the 1930s while working for Claude Dansey's "Z" network gathering information on German troop movements. In 1918, Stewart Menzies recruited Conrad into MI6 who then undertook clandestine missions abroad.|
|Dušan Popov||10 July 1912 – 10 August 1981||Popov was a Serbian double agent of both MI5 (code named "Tricycle") and the Abwehr. Fleming knew Popov and followed him in Portugal, witnessing an event in the Estoril Casino where Popov placed a bet of $40,000 ($641,357 in 2014 dollars) in order to cause a rival to withdraw from a baccarat table: Fleming used this episode as the basis for Casino Royale.|
|Sidney Reilly||24 March 1873 – 5 November 1925||Reilly was an agent for Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the British Secret Service Bureau. In 1918, Reilly was employed by Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming as an operative for MI1(c), an early designation for the MI6. Reilly's friend Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart knew Fleming for many years and told him of Reilly's espionage adventures; Fleming subsequently mentioned to a colleague at The Sunday Times that he had created Bond after hearing about Reilly.|
|Peter Smithers||9 December 1913 – 8 June 2006||Sir Peter Smithers, who was known to Fleming, organised passage for British refugees from France as the Nazis advanced through France. Later, as a naval attaché, he worked in Washington on spreading disinformation about the Nazis. He spent part of the war working in Naval Intelligence; Fleming later named a character in Goldfinger after him.|
|William Stephenson||23 January 1897 – 31 January 1989||William Stephenson was a Canadian spymaster, best known by his code name, Intrepid; Stephenson was the head of the British Security Coordination, an MI6 organisation based in New York. Regarding him, Fleming wrote in The Sunday Times of 21 October 1962, that Bond was: "a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing, the man who became one of the great agents of the [Second World War] is William Stephenson."|
The 007 number assigned to James Bond may have been influenced by any number of sources. In the films and novels, the 00 prefix indicates Bond's discretionary 'licence to kill', in executing his duties. Bond's number—007—was assigned by Fleming in reference to one of British naval intelligence's key achievements of World War I: the breaking of the German diplomatic code. One of the German documents cracked and read by the British was the Zimmermann Telegram, which was coded 0075, and which was one of the factors that led to the US entering the war. Subsequently if material was graded 00 it meant it was highly classified and, as journalist Ben Macintyre has pointed out, "to anyone versed in intelligence history, 007 signified the highest achievement of British military intelligence."