Was this man the real James Bond? #Beekhaybee

Of the 15 real secret agents that allegedly provided the
basis for Ian Fleming’s super suave spy – few know about
Sir William Samuel Stephenson.

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It is estimated between a quarter and half of the world’s
population has seen a James Bond film. That number will
likely rise even higher when Spectre – the 24th film in the
franchise – is released globally on 6 November.
But of the 15 real secret agents that allegedly provided the
basis for Ian Fleming’s super suave spy – few know about
Sir William Samuel Stephenson, whose hand-to-hand
combat skills, save-the-world heroics, magnetic
personality and predilection for martinis remarkably mirror
those of 007. In fact, Stephenson isn’t even recognised in
his hometown: Winnipeg, Canada.
Of the 15 secret agents that provided the basis for
James Bond – few know about Sir William Samuel
Stephenson
“In all my years in this job you’re only the second person
who asked about Stephenson,” said Don Finkbeiner, owner
of Heartland Tours . “His story even catches most
Winnipeggers off guard even though many of them drive
past his statue every day.”
To become an ultimate spymaster, marry an American
heiress?
A WWI fighter pilot and lightweight boxing champion in the
forces, Stephenson relocated to the UK after the war ended
in 1918. There, he married an American tobacco heiress
and used her connections to reinvent himself as the
ultimate spymaster during WWII, becoming a close
confidant to both Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt
and playing a key role in the establishment of the CIA – as
well as the BBC. He also founded Camp X, a commando-
training base near Toronto where Fleming and hundreds of
other Allied operatives learned their craft during the war.
His story is incredible. It’s almost too good to be
true.
“I myself only learned about Stephenson 10 years ago and
now I incorporate a visit to his statue on all my tours,”
Finkbeiner said, walking me past the large bronze statue
of the pilot that stands in front of the Manitoba Legislative
Building. (An identical statue is at CIA headquarters in
Langley, Virginia.) “I tell people: you’re about to meet the
most important Winnipegger of all time and probably the
most important Canadian period. His story is incredible.
It’s almost too good to be true.”
Stephenson was raised in the neighbourhood of Point
Douglas in a humble two-story wooden house. He lived
there and attended the Argyle Alternative High School until
he enlisted in the army at the age of 16. A mural on the
school’s wall incorporates the spy’s likeness – but other
than that, there’s little evidence that Stephenson grew up
there. Either the neighbourhood forgot, or like any good
spy, Stephenson wanted to be forgotten.
Either the neighbourhood forgot, or like any good
spy, Stephenson wanted to be forgotten.
A more descriptive mural in Winnipeg’s West End paints a
better picture of Stephenson’s achievements. Most
notably, it includes an image of the Wehrmacht Enigma,
the seemingly unbreakable Nazi code machine that
Stephenson helped break.
“Stephenson was a tech guru and wildly successful in
business,” Finkbeiner said. “He patented a way of sending
photographs through wireless telegraph. He also got into
the steel industry, the automobile industry, aviation – he
helped develop the Spitfire – and was one of the first
directors [of public relations] for the BBC.”
Stephenson is also credited with providing intel for the
1943 sabotage of the Vemork Hydroelectric Plant in Nazi-
occupied Norway. Known as Operation Gunnerside, the
mission prevented Nazi scientists from getting their hands
on the heavy water needed to produce a hydrogen bomb
that otherwise may have altered the outcome of WWII. The
operation is recognised as the Allies’ most successful act
of sabotage during the war.
“As an individual, Stephenson ranks next to Churchill and
Roosevelt in his persistent efforts to defeat the Germans,”
said Gary Solar, secretary of The Intrepid Society, a group
dedicated to maintaining the memory and raising the
profile of Winnipeg’s most intrepid son. “There are so
many things he did to reduce the length of the war and
loss of human life.”
To help memorialize Stephenson’s good work, Solar and
society president Kristin Stefansson worked to rename
Winnipeg’s Water Avenue as William Stephenson Way in
2009. Solar and Stefansson are also both descendants of
the man whose code name was Intrepid – yet neither of
them, Solar joked, were mentioned in his will.
Where Bond is fictional, Stephenson is a real, true spy
Stefansson and Solar drove me to the McGregor Armory
where Stephenson joined the 101st Battalion of the
Winnipeg Light Infantry in 1914. His regimental number?
700758. No evidence exists to show Fleming made the
connection when he concocted Bond’s iconic 007
designation, yet the similarity is intriguing. The same can
be said of the plot of Goldfinger, Fleming’s seventh Bond
novel, published in 1959. The evil mastermind’s fictional
raid of Fort Knox is analogous to Stephenson’s unrealised
plot to steal nearly $3 billion of Vichy gold reserves from
the French colony of Martinique.
Next we headed to the Billy Bishop Building at Winnipeg’s
17 Wing air base to see a permanent exhibition of more
than 300 Stephenson artefacts curated by The Intrepid
Society. It includes letters from J Edgar Hoover and Ronald
Reagan, an oil painting of the man called Intrepid, and
medals Stephenson was awarded by the US, the British,
French and Canadian Governments. The guards refused my
entry into the base after I identified myself as a journalist,
but civilians are granted access anytime between 9am and
5pm on weekdays.
James Bond is a highly romanticised version of a
true spy, Fleming wrote. The real thing … is William
Stephenson.
The Sir William Stephenson Library in North Winnipeg has
a smaller number of Intrepid artefacts enclosed in a glass
cabinet. Alongside a model of a Sopwith Camel biplane,
which Stephenson used to down 12 WWI enemy aircraft
(including that of Lothar von Richthofen, the younger
brother of the Red Baron), there are half a dozen
biographies on Stephenson.
Solar removed one of the books, Room 3603 by H
Montgomery Hyde and pointed to the preface, written by
Fleming himself. In it, are two very telling statements.
The first: Fleming describes how Stephenson “used to
make the most powerful martinis in America and serve
them in quart glasses”, providing insight into how the
author came up with the idea for Bond’s iconic tipple.
The second, at the end of the preface, is the clincher –
proof that Stephenson, who died in Bermuda in 1989, was
integral to the creation of the fictional secret agent at the
centre of the most enduring movie franchise in history.
“James Bond is a highly romanticised version of a true
spy,” Fleming wrote. “The real thing … is William
Stephenson.”

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