James Bond 007 is perhaps the most well-known fictional espionage agent in history. The grand-daddy of Jimmy-come-lately characters like Jason Bourne, it's been estimated that over half of the world's population has seen a film starring the suave super spy. Though not as many people have read the books penned by creator Ian Fleming (who was sort of an insane badass in his own right), the books have survived and even thrived for decades now. For all that time there has been one, burning question in the minds of many franchise fans; who is the real James Bond?
The Inspiration For The Name
Was Meant to be Bland and Boring
One of the only facts that's known for certain is the origin of Bond's name. When he was penning his first works, Fleming wanted the blandest, most common name he could find. So he took down a dusty old volume entitled Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies. The book was by James Bond, and the name was so common at the time that Fleming took it without a moment's pause.
Write What You Know
As with many writers, Fleming seemed to have a compulsive need to put parts of himself into Bond. For instance, Bond's love of cigarettes, gambling and golf were all vices thoroughly enjoyed by his creator. This is even true of Bond's card game of choice, his brand of smokes and his golf handicap. Bond was also a Commander in the British Navy, which was the same rank that Fleming himself held. Bond was also part of Naval Intelligence, instead of any other service, because that was the area that Fleming had experience with. So, at least half of the characters personal habits, vices and even preferences were the vicarious habits of his creator.
Great Men in The Great War
As mentioned above, Ian Fleming was intimately involved in British Intelligence during the Second World War. For those confused on what intimately involved means, he was the under-secretary to the Admiral in charge of the bloody mess that was British Intelligence. Before he rose to the rank of Commander though, Fleming was also involved in clandestine missions to America, France and various other parts of Europe. Also, because of his job, he became very good friends with a number of other men whose deeds of daring-do made Bond's most unrealistic exploits seem downright plausible. In fact, some of the biggest stretches of the audience's suspension of disbelief seen in the books and films are based off of real men and real events.
One such man was Pieter Tazelaar. Those who have seen the opening scene of Goldfinger (or the homage in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film True Lies) already know how the story goes. Tazelaar was tasked with making contact with friendly agents at a sea front casino whose front was being watched by Nazis in Holland during World War II. He was put ashore in the early hours of the morning, and when he reached land peeled off his wetsuit to reveal an immaculate white tuxedo. Lightly spritzed with alcohol, it took nothing more than balls and playacting to mingle with the crowd and make contact.
Another man who has laid claim to the title of James Bond inspiration was a Yugoslavian double agent by the name of Dusan Popov. Popov, code-named Tricycle, was first recruited by the Axis powers to act in intelligence. After that he made contact with the Allies and turned, trying to do his part to defeat the Nazis. Popov was at a casino in Portugal to make a money drop, where he became annoyed by a short, fat man constantly calling out Carte Blanche at one of the tables. In a bold move straight out of a Bond novel Popov took the money meant for his drop and threw it onto the table. Faced with such a massive sum of money the little man shut up, but Popov was assaulted by two men making a grab for the cash. He beat both of them and ran, though noticed a man in the corner writing in a small journal. That man was Ian Fleming, who was there observing Popov as an agent of the crown.
Beyond his antics in Portugal though, Popov was also an unrepentant ladies' man. However he also shared this trait with other agents Fleming knew such as Biffy Dunderdale, the section chief of MI6 in Paris during the war. Arguments have also been made that Wing Commander Forest "Tommy" Yeo-Thomas may have had some of his escapades with the fairer sex included in the makeup of Bond's DNA.
In addition to these men though, many of Fleming's own relatives were also agents during the war. His brother Peter Fleming is often cited as a possible source for many of Bond's quirks and adventures. Fleming's golf buddy and distant cousin Christopher Lee (the actor, who was more badass in real life than in most of his roles) also served in the newly formed British special forces the Special Air Service. Between work, friends and family, there was no shortage of testosterone, shoot outs, and crazy missions for Fleming to draw on.
So Who Was It?
While it would be great to be able to just point at someone and say "it was him!" the truth of the matter is that any assumption regarding where Fleming drew the most inspiration from is just conjecture at this point. Book detectives have hunted down who Fleming knew and collected a treasure trove of real-life events that wound up in James Bond books and movies, but unfortunately the only person that could tell readers and film lovers for certain who the ultimate spy was based off of is the author himself.
And Fleming never said.