Forty-three years ago today, British magazine Observer asked a very important question: "Is this the real James Bond?" The man on the cover was none other than Dusko Popov, agent TRICYCLE in MI5 and MI6 circles. Just one year before, in 1972, spymaster J. C. Masterman had released his 1945 MI5 report in book format, detailing activities of the double agents run by his Double-Cross Committee.
Only code names were given but Masterman was treading a thin line and the Official Secrets Act carried severe penalties, including prison. One agent in the report--TRICYCLE--was particularly productive.
Observer's May 13, 1973 disclosure was the first time TRICYCLE was publicly identified. Equallly important, it suggested that Popov might be the man who inspired Ian Fleming's James Bond.
It was a startling assertion--the Official Secrets Act had prevented Fleming from saying a word about who inspired 007--and mention of Popov publicly in 1973 was pushing the espionage envelope. With all evidence still protected by the Act, Observer's suggestion remained pure speculation.
One year later the question would again arise.
Larry Loftis is the author of INTO THE LION'S MOUTH: The True Story of Dusko Popov: World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond (Berkley, June 14, 2016).