William Stephenson, Roald Dahl, and Ian Flemming: The Birth of James Bond 007


With the upcoming release of the twenty-third movie in the James Bond 007 series I thought it was time to finish the true life story of Winnipeg’s own William Stephenson the inspiration for the character of James Bond.

For the back story on Stephenson before World War 2 please read the my earlier posts – William Stephenson the quiet man that would inspire 007 and James Bond, Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler – The Canadian Connection.

The morning of May 18, 1940 as recorded by Randolph Churchill: “I went up to my father’s bedroom. He was standing in front of his basin and was shaving with his old fashioned Valet razor. He had a tough beard, and was as usual hacking away.

‘Sit down, dear boy, and read the papers while I finish shaving .’ I did as told.  After two or three minutes of hacking away, he half-turned and said: ‘I think I see my way through.’ He resumed shaving.

I was astounded , and said: ‘Do you mean we can avoid defeat (which seemed credible), or beat the bastards (which seemed incredible)?’

He flung his razor into the basin, swung around, and said: ‘Of course I mean we can beat them.’

Me: ‘Well I’m all for that, but I don’t see how you can do it.’

By this time he had dried and sponged his face and turning around to me, said with great intensity: ‘I shall drag the United States in.’

The TRUE Intrepid. By Bill Macdonald. Page 69

We pick up the trail on Stephenson at the outbreak of World War 2, Stephenson is installed in New York City by Winston Churchill (newly appointed British Prime Minister) in a covert role to gather information, spread anti-Nazi propaganda, and by any and all means drag the United States into the war with Germany.  He is to report to Churchill and his staff directly, circumventing any official channels as the British government and aristocracy are full of Nazi sympathizers.  Intrepid is his newly minted code name his code number becomes 48,000.  48 for the number of States at that time, 0 marking him as the head of organization, and 00 being code for highly classified.

Stephenson, by this time a millionaire business tycoon with a rapidly obfuscated past, and funds to expedite the enterprise himself is perfect for the job.  He will avoid leaving a paper trail that leads back to Churchill.

Working under the guise of British Passport Control officer in the United States Stephenson sets up shop on the 36th floor of Rockefeller Center.  He begins to assemble his closest allies predominantly fellow Canadians that he knows are loyal to the Crown.  Tommy Drew-Brook, Ben de Forest (Pat) Bayly and Australian Charles (Dick) Ellis are among the first to come on board with Stephenson.

Communications expert Pat Bayly was tasked to develop a secure means of transmitting data without relying on British or American channels; as both were thought to be compromised at the time.  The result was twofold the cypher machine known as the Rockex machine.  Named slyly after the Rockettes dancers who practiced on the roof of Radio City Music hall next door to Rockefeller Center.  The other development was the establishment of a breakthrough in global communications known as Hydra at Camp X, more on that later.

The Rockex Cypher Machine.

The Rockex, was a discovery in cypher technology at the time, it was the only cypher encoding machine that did not create peaks and valleys that traditionally signal the five most used letters in the English language E,T,I,O,N.  Taking what he had learned in early 1941 Bayly designed a machine that used all 26 letters of the alphabet an equal amount of the time; thus giving no hint to letter frequency.

Canadian newspapers run ads for clerical help needed in New York City.  The respondents almost exclusively young unmarried Canadian women reply to the ads and are screened relentlessly by RCMP agents.  Once in New York the women are billeted together and told very little of what they are to do.

The small groups of women are told not to associate out of their groups and are paid cash for their work.  RCMP agents in New York also follow their every move.  Only the most trusted ever learn the truth of what they are doing in New York and who is employing them.  It was also around this time that a young British Naval intelligence officer was tasked by Churchill to become a link to British High Command and BSC.  His name was Ian Flemming.

A wartime photograph of a young Ian Flemming.

With a basic infrastructure in place Stephenson begins to bring in like minded Americans to Britain’s cause.  His first contact was General William (Wild Bill) Donovan, a friend believed to be met in World War 1.  It was through his direct contacts with Prime Minster Churchill and General Donovan that Stephenson gained access to President Roosevelt.

Roosevelt  although pro-British in the fight against Nazi Germany has no choice but chose to stay publicly neutral early in the war effort.  Although behind the scenes Stephenson, Donovan and Roosevelt begin to negotiate the “Destroyers for Bases” swap between the United States and Brittan that would see “surplus” destroyers traded for land on English soil around the globe in which to give the U.S. a foothold should it get dragged into the war.

One of Stephenson’s  early adversaries in the U.S. was J. Edgar Hoover the head of the American FBI.  Hoover had no great love of Stephenson and being one to uphold the letter of the law refused to allow a “foreign” intelligence agency to run in the United States without direct presidential approval.  This approval was negotiated with the warning that any communication between British Security Control (BSC) and the FBI was to be between Stephenson and Hoover exclusively.

With a small cadre of agents in place Stephenson set about gathering intelligence and planting misinformation.  No embassy or person was off-limits to BSC, worldwide safe-crackers and break in specialists were recruited.  Often forged and documents were left in place of the ones taken as to further confuse the an undisciplined enemy or to get a potential ally on the side of Stephenson and the British war effort.

Anti-Nazi propaganda included targeting pro-Nazi groups in the united states and isolationists. Members of these groups were targeted and harassed relentlessly.  In September 1941 isolationist Senator Gerald Nye while speaking in Boston thousands of handbills were handed out attacking him as a Nazi lover and appeaser.

BSC forged map of “Nazi South America” Nothing deceives like a document.

Most famously on October 27, 1941 only months before America enters the war President Roosevelt gives a speech claiming to have in his possession a Nazi map of South America carved up into 5 vassal fascist states. It has come to light that this map was a forged document courtesy of Stephenson and BSC forgers.  If Roosevelt knew of its origins or just played ball with BSC is unclear however it began to galvanize the American people and prepare them for war with Germany.

Authors Note:  I had hoped to have this done in one easy to read section, but due the complexity of Sir Stephenson’s life and our evacuation last night think it is better that I chop the last piece in two.

I am working on the evolution of Camp X and the rather surprising involvement of Roald Dahl.  So please stay calm the best is yet to come.

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4 responses to “William Stephenson, Roald Dahl, and Ian Flemming: The Birth of James Bond 007

  1. Great history lesson as usual.

  2. Thanks Rincewind I figured with this being the 50th anniversary of 007 that I would share his Winnipeg origins with the world. Glad you liked it, one more post to come on the subject.

  3. Pingback: William Stephenson the quiet man that would inspire 007. | Exploring Winnipeg and Beyond.

  4. Pingback: James Bond, Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler – The Canadian Connection | Exploring Winnipeg and Beyond.