Author Larry Loftis has come out with a book, Into The Lion’s Mouth, about real-life World War II spy Dusko Popov, who was said to be an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
The blog had a chance to ask some questions of Loftis by e-mail. The exchange follows.
What interested you in the subject in the first place to do a book?
I was working on an espionage novel four years ago and I started researching “greatest spy ever.” Dusko Popov’s name kept … ahem … popping up. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. The man’s real life was more entertaining and thrilling than what I was making up. After reading my manuscript, my editor (Tom Colgan, famously Tom Clancy’s editor) remarked, “It’s a good thing this is nonfiction. This story is too incredible to be a novel.”
Over the years, different people have been argued to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. What makes you sure your guy is the one?
The short answer is … read my book! 🙂 To fully explain, I’d need to include all 400 pages here. What I can say is that most people confuse two entirely different questions, namely: 1) Who was the model (or who were the models) for James Bond?; and 2) Who was the inspiration for James Bond. Both questions can be answered with certitude. As to the model(s) from whom Fleming borrowed characteristics for Bond…there were numerous individuals. Fleming repeatedly stated this.
However, as to the man who inspired 007, there is only one name—Dusko Popov. He is the man we see in Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale. Everything about James Bond (MI6 agent, playboy, handsome, charming, intelligent, daring, crack shot, etc.) matches Popov … and Popov only. And the famous casino scene? That came from what Fleming saw in Casino Estoril (Lisbon) when he shadowed Popov (MI6 agent “TRICYCLE”) in August 1941. For a short explanation, see my website (LarryLoftis.com or RealJamesBond.com).
Fleming, of course, couldn’t reveal a word about this. To do so would have landed him in prison for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act.
Not a word was published about what MI5 or MI6 (working in tandem with Fleming’s Naval Intelligence department) had done during the war until MI5’s Double-Cross Committee chairman, J. C. Masterman, published his report in 1972, long after Fleming had died. Masterman only referred to agents by code names but MI5 nevertheless objected to the release (which was eventually published by Yale University Press).
Following Masterman’s book, others began to reveal tidbits of Popov’s activities through fictitious code names—BICYCLE, TALLYRAND, and IVAN (Popov’s German code name).
My book details exactly where, when, and how Popov and Fleming met, and what Fleming knew of him. Suffice it to say that people in Estoril (especially at the Palacio Hotel) know that Popov was Fleming’s inspiration and, as you’ll see in my book, so does the Fleming family.
Since I knew that people would ask this very question, I have included in my book a chart which gives the men most often suggested as either the model or inspiration for James Bond, and how they compare to the Bond we see in Casino Royale. Only one man matches all categories—Dusko Popov.
After you began researching, what was the biggest surprise you encountered?
Just the sheer amount of data to process. There are thousands of pages on Popov in the U.K. National Archives, and an equal amount in the U.S. FBI files. And if you want to be thorough, you have to read primary sources about everyone involved: Fleming’s files in the National Archives, Admiral Godfrey’s memoirs at the Churchill Archives, FDR’s files in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, memoirs of key Germans, memoirs of MI5, MI6, and Naval Intelligence officers, and biographies of Popov, Fleming, Menzies (“C”), Godfrey, Hoover, Stephenson (BSC), and Donovan (OSS and later, CIA).
Then we have the secret police files and embassy information from Lisbon, the WWII information about Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Brazil … and on it goes.
What differences are there between your subject and Fleming’s literary Bond?
Most importantly, women. As Fleming told a BBC reporter, Bond typically romances just one girl per book. Popov had two or three girls per city—London, Lisbon, Madrid, New York, Sun Valley. The MI5 archive files include numerous love letters written to him that were intercepted by British Intelligence. MI5 also asked the army if they had a female who could provide Popov “companionship” while keeping an eye on him.
He seduced enemy spies. He received letters from girls he couldn’t remember. In short, Popov’s irresistible charm, animal magnetism—whatever you want to call it—was well known throughout all British Intelligence (MI5, MI5, Naval Intelligence). Without question, Fleming was well-aware of the incorrigible playboy who was Britain’s best spy.
Second, as impressive as Bond is, Popov excelled him in every way. Bond speaks three languages in Casino Royale; Popov spoke five. Bond is highly intelligent; Popov had a doctorate in law; Bond is a crack shot; Popov won two snap shooting contests. Later, in Dr. No, we see that Bond’s cover is as an import/export businessman. Popov not only had that cover in WWII, he had to use it, and did. MI5 files reveal that Popov consummated a $14 million (in 1940s dollars!) shipping deal, for example, and numerous other transactions involving tons of turpentine, pewter, and other commodities. After the war he structured a $15 million bond deal between South Africa and Switzerland.
After your research, did your ideas about Ian Fleming change? If so, how?
Only slightly. As you’ll see in my book, Fleming himself couldn’t have been the model for Bond since he was never an agent and, as BSC’s William Stephenson said, Ian wasn’t a “man of action.” Fleming was actually tested by Stephenson for his potential as an operative and failed. But while Ian lacked operative skills and disposition, he had administrative and planning skills in spades. Fleming’s boss, Naval Intelligence Director Adm. John Godfrey, was so impressed with Ian’s work that the admiral said that he, Godfrey, should have been Ian’s assistant and not the other way around.
After your research, did your evaluation of Fleming’s original stories change? If so, how?
Since I was only concerned with the inspiration and creation of James Bond, I only studied Casino Royale. I don’t want to spoil the reading of my book or Casino Royale for those who haven’t yet read it, but let me say that if you know 1941 Estoril—the Palacio and Parque hotels, the Cascais cliffs, and the casino—you will see that Casino Royale is a thinly-veiled re-creation of Casino Estoril.
A recurring theme, in both fiction and real life, is whether human intelligence is still important. What are your feelings on the subject after doing this book?
Unquestionably, yes. Case in point … During WWII, the Allies had two star double agents—GARBO (Juan Pujol) and TRICYCLE (Popov). Both were highly valued by the Germans and both were instrumental in deceiving Nazi intelligence about D-Day. Popov was the more valuable of the two because he was the only agent who actually met with—and was grilled by—seasoned Abwehr, SD, and Gestapo interrogators. It’s one thing to receive radio reports, or to intercept an enemy’s message and decode it; both sides did that. It’s quite another to interrogate for seven or eight hours someone who claims to have eye witness details. That’s what Popov did, often when the Germans almost knew for certain that he was doubling.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Four things excited me about Popov’s story, and why I wrote the book: 1) the James Bond connection; 2) the fact that this man is probably the greatest spy ever; 3) the fact that the story is very much a thriller (suggested by reviewers to have a Vince Flynn pace); and 4) Popov warned the FBI on Aug. 18, 1941 that the Japanese would be attacking Pearl Harbor (Hoover told no one).
As an aside, Popov made appearances on television shows in 1970s promoting his own book, playing up how he was Bond’s inspiration. One such appearance took place in an installment of the syndicated version of To Tell The Truth.