Friday 9 December 2011

A real-life James Bond

He was an Old Etonian who spent his war years with the Secret Intelligence Service in Malta and Italy. After 1945 he was posted to Vienna where he was appointed SIS station head. In a long career, he served successively as station head at Berlin, Bonn and Beirut. Throughout his life he was a devoted skier. He learnt to ski in 1916 aged 2, and he captained the British skiing team in the 1936 Winter Olympics. During his retirement, he returned each year to Mürren in Switzerland.

War-hero, skier, spy. Peter Lunn, who died in November aged 97, could have been the model for James Bond. I don’t know whether Ian Fleming knew him, but I wonder whether Peter Lunn made his mark on the world of 007 in another way.

One of Peter Lunn’s achievements while working for SIS was to pioneer the excavation and use of tunnels to allow the intelligence service to eavesdrop on the KGB. In Vienna, he arranged for tunnels to be dug which would intercept communication cables between the Soviet embassy and the city’s airport. The operation lasted from 1948 to 1951. In Berlin in 1955, a tunnel was excavated deep into East Germany and enabled Soviet communications to be tapped. The ruse was exposed in 1956, but not before years’ worth of useful material had been gained.

Given the success of the tunnelling operations, what must SIS chiefs have thought when they turned to chapter 16 of From Russia, with Love (1957) and read a description of a tunnel extending from SIS Station T in Istanbul to the Soviet embassy? The details do not match entirely – Fleming’s tunnel allows Kerim Bey to physically spy on the Russians with the use of a periscope, rather than to tap their communication cables – but the general idea is the same.

At this time, Ian Fleming still had connections in the intelligence community, and it is possible that he heard of Peter Lunn’s tunnels and thought it worth adapting for his latest novel. If so, then, to paraphrase M in his obituary of James Bond in You Only Live Twice, if the degree of the description's veracity had been any higher, Fleming would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.


  1. Interesting connection. In Casino Royale 1953 James Bond's ally Fawcett in the Caymans, who was tasked with forwarding the cable to Bond in Royale les Eaux, served in WW II “as a Paymaster's clerk in a small naval intelligence organization in Malta”.

    Ian Fleming also alludes to Malta in his closure words of James Bond “The bitch is dead now.” which resounds the famous passage from the play The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe 1589.

    FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed—

    BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead.

    Could Peter Lunn or one of his colleagues have been Fawcett?

    1. Hi Stefan, thanks for your comment and for reminding me of the Malta connection. That's very interesting. You may well be right - perhaps Fleming's reference to Fawcett does allude to Peter Lunn or his colleagues in wartime Malta.

    2. Thank you for your kind answer bearing my poor English. I am reading Casino Royale (1953) and are intrigued by Ian Fleming’s subtle technique of misleading his readers as to the real identity of James Bond. As an archeologist by trade you do not jump in conclusion before having dug out what can be dug out and then cleansed out all disturbing facts that are not relevant.

      Fawcett in my perception is one key to James Bond identity which is hidden by allusions to real world War heroes from Fleming’s WW II service and a given but not true marketing character well depicted by Raymond Chandler on the cover to Casino Royale.

      " Bond is what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets." —Raymond Chandler, Sunday Times (London)

      A conglomerate character that carry anyone away with a secret desire of being a spy to fantasyland.

      The downside of such a cautious approach to the real identity of James Bond is that the result will turn up a likewise cautious but unlikely candidate. So to be daring after superficially scanning the Caribbean isles for wartime “secret agents” I have no better idea than Ernest Hemingway for Fawcett.


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