Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Crime Beat Column: Inspiring Bond

A good number of distinguished people died in 2003. Foremost among them, I believe, was Bob Hope, a comedic giant that I truly loved.

Another man who died in 2003 was distinguished due to his incredible military exploits in World War II. According to his obituaries, he may have also inspired Ian Fleming to go on and create one of the most popular and enduring fictional characters in the world. I’m referring, of course, to Bond, James Bond.

Retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Patrick Dalzel-Job, who died at the age of 90 last October in Plockton, Scotland, was a genuine hero during World War II. He commanded one of the intelligence-assault teams devised by Ian Fleming, then a Royal Navy Commander and personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey.

Fleming organized and led a naval commando group called the 30 Assault Unit. The commandos went ashore on raids with orders to seize Nazi documents, equipment and other vital military intelligence. Fleming called the intelligence-gathering group his "Red Indians."

According to Dalzel-Job’s obit in the British newspaper The Guardian, "He could ski backwards, navigate a midget submarine, and undertake the riskiest parachute jumps. His Second World War exploits are the epitome of derring-do behind enemy lines."

"And like Bond," The Guardian added, "he sometimes defied authority,"

The Guardian told the story of how Dalzel-Job was sent to Norway. Ordered not to mix with civilians, he went on to save an entire town from a Nazi reprisal-bombing raid by evacuating them in fishing boats. He would have been court-marshaled had it not been for the King of Norway awarding him a Knights Cross of St Olaf First Class for his actions.

Dalzel-Job once said in an interview that Fleming told him he was a role model for Bond, but as another member of Fleming’s unit noted, Dalzel-Job didn’t make a fuss about it.

Dalzel-Job never read the novels or saw any of the films and he also claimed that unlike the womanizing Bond, he loved only one woman in his life.

Dalzel-Job published a memoir in 1991 called From Artic Snow To Dust of Normandy. I’ve not yet read it, but it’s on a list of desired books that I’ve given to Tom Jakubowski, a lieutenant colonel in army intelligence and a history buff. His hobby - his quest - is to hunt down old, arcane and out-of-print books for a small number of friends and coworkers. He goes after hard to find books with the same determination and intensity that Delta commandos employ in their hunt for bin Laden. I hope to soon have Dalzel-Job’s book in my hands (as I hope that Delta will soon have bin Laden.)

I won’t defend the comic book character that James Bond has become in the film series, but the more realistic Bond character in the novels was based on the many commandos Fleming met in WWII.

Dalzel-Job was the type of man Fleming admired, but in my view, he was not the sole influence.

Fleming also based his character on people like Sidney Reilly and Richard Sorge; two suave, womanizing and tough secret agents in espionage history.

As Fleming said in an interview before his death in 1964, Bond was a man of action, a cipher, and simply a blunt instrument in the hands of the government. But Fleming said he also infused Bond with his own "quirks and characteristics."

Dalzel-Job and men like him inspired Fleming to create a character that went on to inspire millions upon millions of readers and film goers. As readers of this column know, I was one of them.

I saw the movies and read the books as a teenager in the 1960s and they sparked my life-long interest in crime, espionage and terrorism.

The novels and movies also sparked my interest in travel. With a burning desire to see the world, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy when I was 17 years old. Over the years, I’ve met many others who have been similarly influenced by Fleming. 

More than 50 years ago Ian Fleming went to war and came across some extraordinary men, one of whom was Patrick Dalzel-Job. Fleming, having spent six years in naval intelligence during WWII, claimed that he would one day write the "spy story to end all spy stories."

Fleming's fictional character was an extraordinary man. According to Bond's SMERSH file in Fleming's novel From Russia With Love, Bond was an all-round athlete; expert pistol shot, boxer and knife-thrower.

To the Soviet general looking at his photographs, Bond appeared to be a handsome, dangerous-looking man who possessed the qualities of decision, authority and ruthlessness.

"He looks a nasty customer," General Grubozaboyschikov, the head of SMERSH, said before issuing Bond's death warrant.

In the novels Bond fought the good fight against Nazis, the Soviet Union's "Evil Empire," international criminal organizations and terrorists. He was a ruthless killer, but he killed not for greed, revenge or to satisfy a sickness. Agent 007 with the license to kill killed the enemies of the free world under specific orders from the British government.

As George Orwell reportedly said, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." Bond, like the WWII commandos Fleming knew, was a rough man. 

Today, rough men (and some women) are operating in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They are policing the mean streets and they are patrolling the skies, the oceans and the waterways of the world.

Ian Fleming's novels and the films they spawned have thrilled and inspired generation after generation of readers and film goers around the world. Fleming wrote unabashedly to entertain, but his novels were powerful and they formed a very strong bond with his readers.

You can learn more about Ian Fleming by reading The Life of Ian Fleming by John Pearson and Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond by Andrew Lycett.

If you have not read the Ian Fleming thrillers, I heartily recommend them. They are much better than the films. And if have not reread the novels in some years, I recommend you revisit the spy stories to end all spy stories.

Note: The above column originally appeared in the Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2004.

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