Double Agent Popov: The Original James Bond (2006)

There have been many theories over the years about who Ian Fleming used as the template for his character James Bond. It is universally acknowledged that Bond is an amalgam of several different ‘real people’ (including Fleming, himself). Among the names bandied around are William Mason, Wilfred ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale and Dusko Popov. This documentary focuses entirely on Dusko Popov, who Fleming had encountered in a casino in Lisbourne, where he taught an arrogent Albanian spy a lesson in a high-stakes card game. Many believe this incident was the inspiration for Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale.

This 2006 documentary was initially released around the same time as Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale was released at the cinemas, so the intro and the end titles try to evoke the Bond spirit to entice viewers to watch the show. The film-makers need not have bothered, because Popov’s life was certainly action packed and interesting enough not to warrant such marketing gimicks. As they say, sometime truth is stranger than fiction.

The show traces Popov’s life from birth in Serbia, to his schooling in Germany. It is here that as the Nazi’s rose to power, and after a particularly nasty incident with the Gestapo, that Popov became a staunch anti-Nazi. Later, when a good German friend, Johan Jebsen asked Popov to work as a German spy, Popov readily agreed. Straight after, he marched into M.I.6 headquarters and offered himself as a double agent, quite willing to diseminate false and misleading information to the Nazis.

Later in his career as a superspy, he went to the United States and presented J. Edgar Hoover with a detailed report that documented that the Japanese were planning to bomb Pearl Harbour. Hoover and Popov did not get along, and it has been speculated that Hoover supressed the report out of arrogant pride.

In the early to mid 1970’s, Popov actually wrote his autobiography which outlined his numerous exploits. The book was called Spy / Counter Spy. I do not have a copy, but after watching this documentary, I believe that it is essential reading for any Bond, or spy enthusiast.

I found this documentary to be a fascinating insight into a real life spy. It’s funny that I may not have watched this, if the show didn’t attach ‘James Bond’s’ name to the title, which would have been a shame, because Popov, whose actions saved a countless number of lives, is in reality a far more important character than the fictional James Bond. It is a shame that a show about a man of this cailbre has to attach itself to the coat-tails of James Bond to get viewed. This is well worth checking out.

If you wish to watch the documentary, you can see it on the SBS Television Website. The link is in the column on the right hand side. I don’t know how long they’ll keep the link up, but it was screened on Friday December 5, 2008 at 8.30pm. If you’re interested, I’d get across there pretty quick.

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