The Real James Bond

The Real James Bond

The picture that was above the bar at the Park Distillery, Banff, Alberta, Canada.

While I was at lake Louise, our wedding party headed 40 miles east on the Trans Canada Highway and had a dinner at Banff. The Park Distillery is a bit different from the trend these days. Instead of yet another beer microbrewery/restaurant, they make gin. And they are pretty famous for it apparently.

The restaurant – on the same site – isn’t bad either.

After our group finished dinner and we were on the way out  ready to leave on our bus,  someone on the staff casually mentioned about the fellow in the picture overlooking the bar.

As you can see, he is greeting a bear.

And he told us that he was a friend of Ian Fleming and “the real James Bond” who inspired Fleming to create his fictional character.

He did not give a name of this character, and after 2 G & Ts I was wondering about the  veracity of the whole assertion. With that intriguing snippet, we were on the bus.

The fellow certainly didn’t look like a spy.

For that matter, a real spy in MI6 would not arrive with an Aston Martin (or Bentley), wearing a tuxedo.

But, the question was planted in my mind and a day later, while visiting the Whyte Museum of the Rockies, we spied a postcard with that very picture and……a name!

Conrad O’Brien-ffrench.

Yes, there are 2 “F”‘s.

And the picture was taken at the Banff National Park in 1950 after his retirement from MI6.

And on the card, absolutely nothing about Conrad’s background – was  just his name.

Which, given his background, was probably what he preferred.


We have the Internet now.

He  was a Mountie at 17, a soldier by 20, and prisoner of war by 21. Wounded and captured in the first day of battle at Mons in World War I. While in captivity he proceeded to gather strategic information from the newly arrived soldiers and airmen, and, using simple invisible ink, forwarded these reports to a fictitious aunt in London. The aunt was none other than Stewart Menzies – that is to say the “M” of the James Bond books. Menzies was then the newly appointed assistant to Mansfield Smith-Cummings or “C”, the head of MI6. After the war, Conrad was officially recruited into MI6 by Cummings. He was given the post of assistant military attaché to the British Legation in Stockholm. It was Conrad who welcomed the Soviet Trade Delegation headed by Leonid Krassin into the West to attend secret trade talks with Lloyd George. His most secret mission, though, began in the Thirties. He was head of a spy network in Austria monitoring Hitler’s preparations for War. He played the role of a wealthy aristocratic playboy and sportsman as cover for his activities as a British secret agent. He was friends with Peter Fleming and his younger brother, Ian. Peter lists him as number 23 on the Nazis’ most wanted list in his book Invasion 1940 written in 1957 – a book about the Nazis’ plans for Britain after their occupation and the resistance plans of the British prepared for that eventuality. The young Reuters’ reporter Ian Fleming was a frequent guest at Conrad’s numerous parties – “he came for the pretty girls that always attended”.  Conrad’s flamboyant persona and lavish lifestyle hiding his day-to-day battle of wits with the Nazis is said to be the seminal inspiration for his character James Bond.

Conrad himself wasn’t sure that he was the inspiration, and Ian Fleming is gone.

I’ll leave that question for you to decide.

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Filed under Heroes Among Us, History, Small Stuff

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