Celebrate James Bond Day by revisiting one of the spies who inspired the icon
It’s October 5th, which means it’s Global James Bond Day. For someone so incredibly famous throughout the world, let alone here in England, many people aren’t aware of how the legend of 007 was created. Ian Fleming was known for using multiple muses as inspiration for his most famous character, but a Serbian double agent with a penchant for drinking and threesomes may just be the most interesting of them all.
Dušan Popov was born in 1912 in Yugoslavia (now Serbia) to a fabulously wealthy family. It was this level of affluence that unknowingly led to Popov learning the key espionage skills of the era: fluency in foreign languages — he could speak Italian, German and French before his 20th birthday — a posh education and a high tolerance for alcohol, which had been honed through the many expensive parties he and his brothers had thrown at their seaside villa.
Around the start of World War Two, he was approached by an old friend to work for the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence organisation. What the Abwehr didn’t know was that Popov privately despised the Nazis. He hated them so much that, upon joining, he immediately offered his services to the Allies, and began life as a double agent.
He moved to London in the early 1940s but frequently visited Portugal to report to his German commanders (Portugal had declared its neutrality but was apparently a great spot to meet up with Nazi spies). His bosses were impressed with the information Popov fed them — a strict diet of MI6-approved sheiße — and paid him well for his services. Just as well really, as he refused payment from Britain.
He very much admired the country, and it seemed the feeling was mutual. His official MI6 codename quickly became Tricycle, due to his love of ménage à trios. The Germans, on the other hand, showed their world-class sense of humour and nicknamed him Ivan.
His greatest moment as a British agent came just before the D-Day landings. Somehow, through a mixture of charm, wit and possibly an early form of beer pong, Popov managed to convince the Nazis that the landings would be happening in Calais instead of Normandy. He even later alleged to have warned the Americans of an impending attack on Pearl Harbour four months before it happened. Unfortunately, the warnings he provided to the FBI were either dismissed by Director J. Edgar Hoover or by Hoover’s superiors. It’s safe to say that Hoover wasn’t his biggest fan, refusing to fully trust him because he was a double agent and even reportedly threatening to have Popov arrested after discovering he’d brought a New Yorker down to Florida.
Popov wasn’t just an international super-spy though, he was also a sex-crazed, millionaire playboy.
There are dozens of extravagant and ridiculous stories about the Serbian, from flirting with beautiful film stars every other week to one tale that took place in a casino in Lisbon whilst Ian Fleming was shadowing him. A rich colleague of his was at the baccarat table, boasting about all the money he had, so Popov threw down the equivalent of half a million dollars in today’s money and proceeded to wipe the floor with him.
So on this fitting day, pour yourself a martini — make it a Vesper for good measure — and raise a glass to one of the finest and most colourful agents of the Second World War.
This post was originally published on Forgotten Finds.