Real life James Bond’s in the Second World War: Dušan ‘Duško’ Popov



The previous posts on the real-life inspirations for James Bond have focused on men of action who were active in the Second World War. In this post I am going to focus on another other secret service agent, Dušan ‘Duško’ Popov, who in the war lived a playboy lifestyle which was not dissimilar to that of Bond. He was a Yugoslavian international businessman who was recruited to be an MI5 double agent in 1940. He was recruited as a German agent through Johnny Jebsen, a German intelligence officer, who he befriended while studying law at the University of Freiburg in the 1930s, while working in Belgrade. After being recruited Popov who held great aversion to Nazism, after he been arrested by the Gestapo while at the University of Freiburg as the German secret police believed he was a communist, immediately offered his services to the British as well and was recruited as a double agent. He moved to London to establish a new import-export business with connections to Portugal. The Germans felt this was ideal as it gave them an agent within Britain to gather intelligence. Through his business Popov was able to travel between London and Lisbon, Portugal where he meet with German intelligence officers However, instead of passing on accurate intelligence Popov provided the Germans with information supplied by the British which was either out date, false or of very limited importance while at the same time he provided the British with a wealth information of the German secret services and their intentions.[1]
Ben Macintyre stated that he is often ‘citied as a proto-Bond’ and he shared many similarities with Fleming’s fictional character such as a taste for ‘casinos, women, fast cars, expensive clothes and strong drink’. [2] Popov lived a promiscuous lifestyle and had two or three girlfriends and lovers in every city he visited. One woman that he slept with was the famous French actress Simone Simon. A summary on Popov by one of his MI5 case officers noted that ‘he knows what he wants and it will not be his fault if he does not get it…he is fond of the society of attractive women…his amorous exploits would provide good material for Maurice Dekobra [French erotic thriller writer]’. [3] Popov was aware of the fact that he could have inspired the fictional 007 and in his post war memoir, Spy counter-spy, he noted that he was aware that Fleming ‘based his character of James Bond to some degree on me and my experiences’. [4]


While Popov was a MI5 agent, he was well respected within the British intelligence community and he was known within MI6, SOE and other intelligence services including Naval intelligence Division in which Fleming served. It is also known that Fleming and Popov interacted with each other in Lisbon in May 1941 when Popov was in possession of $40,000 which he had gained from German intelligence. He was supposed to deliver this money to MI5 but as he was a frequent gambler and had a strong fondness for casinos he was kept under surveillance by British intelligence in Lisbon before his departure to London. At his time Fleming and his superior Sir John Godfrey, the head of British Naval Intelligence Division, were in Lisbon and Fleming was assigned to monitor Popov. One evening he followed Popov into the Casino Estoril in Lisbon and during a game of baccarat Fleming observed Popov placing an extravagant bid of $50,000, of which $40,000 was in fact MI5’s money to make a fellow gambler fold. [5] This interaction may have inspired the famous baccarat gambling scene in Casino Royale between Bond and the villain Le Chiffe during which Bond attempted to bankrupt Le Chiffe by placing an exorbitant bet. [6] Popov with his love of beautiful women, gambling, casinos, strong drink and adventure can be viewed as a major influence on the creation of Bond and also demonstrates that the individuals who inspired the creation of Bond were more than just men of action who had license to kill.


1 For more on Popov and his role as a double agent see: Popov, Spy/counterspy; Miller, Codename Tricycle; Loftis, Into the lion’s mouth: the true store of Duško Popov
2 Macintyre, For your eyes only, p. 57.
3 Skoot [Popov], 23 Feb. 1941 (KV 2/845, The National Archives).
4 Popov, Spy counter-spy, p. 150; Loftis, Into the lion’s mouth, pp 81‒7, 265, 280‒4.
5 Loftis, Into the lion’s mouth, pp 78‒85.
6 Fleming, Casino Royale, pp 81‒3.

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Jonathan Best

I historian of modern British history. In particular my research has focused on the activities of British secret services during the twentieth century, particularly during the two world wars and the early decades of the Cold War. In addition to this my current research has also examined the history of British spy fiction with a particular focus on the British spy novel between the late Victorian era and the 1960s. This interest is fueled by my personal passion for the secret world of espionage, intelligence, clandestine operations both fictional and factual.

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