“There’s no doubt ********* is the best Bond!”

You’ve got seven options to fill up that blank and sink into an ultimate debate with no winners.

There’s no debating though, that the seven wonders (Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig) brought to life the chivalry, wit and action Ian Fleming penned down in his 12 Novels and 9 short stories starring James Bond.

The 26 films with multiple remakes always fit their times whether it is the state-of-the-art technology, the fashion or the cars. The sleek hair, cleanly shaved jaws, perfect suit, polished shoes and the Austin-Martin is bound to send heart-beats off to race.

But Ian Fleming’s masterpiece isn’t just confined to the world of fiction. There seems to have existed a real-life character in whose proximity Fleming drew his inspirations for plots and lifestyle of James Bond.This real-life espionage mastermind was Dušan Duško Popov. He was instrumental in misleading German Intelligence which eventually led to the Allies winning the war.

Born in the year 1912, Popov grew up amongst the severe political changes in the Balkan states. His Serbian family moved from Titel in Austria-Hungary to their summer home in Dubrovnik in erstwhile Yugoslavia (known even earlier as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes).

Having completed his graduation from Belgrade, Popov enrolled himself at the University of Freiberg in Breisgau, South Germany in the fall of 1935. This is where he met his friend, confidante and mentor Johann Jebsen.

In 1940, Popov was recruited as a small-time informant by the German intelligence after completing his doctoral thesis in law. He was to gather what he could about the French movements. He was code-named “Ivan” by the Abwehr later on which also happened to be the name of Popov’s brother.

But Duško happened to be a hardcore anti-nazist. He wrote several articles for the Belgrade daily Politika ridiculing the Nazi for which he was jailed by the Gestapo. He was accused of being a communist. Quite unlikely that he would have gotten the job. He was let go within eight days after his father brought up the matter with the Yugoslav Prime Minister. His selection was mostly due to his trade connections to France and the UK besides high-society involvement. By “high-society”, at that time, it was meant that he had access to the bureaucracy.

Popov, being the student activist he was, soon contacted the British Passport Control Officer in Yugoslavia. He was inducted into the Double-Cross System. There came his first code names. The first one being “Scoot” and later known to his handler as “Tricycle.

Popov kept providing the Abwehr with titbits of MI-6 approved information periodically. He travelled unimpeded throughout Europe under the cover of his import-export business set up by his Grandfather. His major location of operation was from the neutral Portuguese capital, Lisbon.

All this started off because of Jebsen, the son of a German shipping Magnate. He had to join the Abwehr first to avoid being inducted into the Wehrmacht even though he fostered hostility towards the Nazis. But Jebsen had other intentions. He suggested Popov’s name for the informant position because he knew it would be easier for Duško to cross them being a Serbian. Which Duško did.

Duško kept deceiving the Abwehr with information which was accurate but severely incomplete. The Germans were more than impressed since that was the closest any of their agents had ever gotten to the Allies. They kept Duško content by lavishly paying him for his reports and accommodating him in the poshest of hotels.

One of these posh moments was when Ian Fleming followed Popov in Lisbon. Fleming was appointed by MI-6 to escort Popov. This was the time he had witnessed Popov bet $40,000 on a baccarat table at the Estoril Casino to have a rival withdraw from it. This was used by Fleming in Casino Royale as a base.

What Fleming also observed was the smooth ways of young Duško. He has a way with the ladies. He had a relationship with countless women (The Bond Ladies!) and met someone new on each of his socially active visits. One of them was the French actress Simone Simon.

Past the ladies, Popov was equally charming with the German intelligence. He convinced them that the D-Day landings (Operation Neptune) would happen in Calais and not in Normandy. For his assignment in the USA, he sent in partially blacked out pictures of the Pearl Harbour and bogus numbers of the fleet.

Quite strikingly he had informed the then FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover about the impending attack on Pearl Harbour months before the attack. One would question as to why no action was taken? Hoover apparently despised Popov’s lifestyle and even threatened to have him deported under the Mann Act for taking a woman from New York to Florida for a holiday. That is another story.

The fancy devices in the Bond novels and movies were also a part of Popov’s espionage work. He was given access to German Encryption devices which were delivered through laymen in the shady parts of Lisbon. He was working with the MI5, MI6, Abwehr and the XXX committee all at once. He practically ran his own espionage network with German funds.

Popov was once believed to be compromised the MI6. The British Intelligence had started to distance themselves and blocked information and funds under the impression that Popov no longer had British interests in mind. But he was reconciled later. Rings bells from when Bond fell out with M.

All this and more is accounted for in an autobiography written by Popov himself by the name “Spy/Counter-Spy”. The fact that both Hitler and Churchill trusted him at the same time comes as a spine-chiller in the bildungsroman which seems like an action-thriller. It is hard to believe that the autobiography is very much realistic as thrilling as it might seem.

Secret codes to fantastical rendezvous points, advanced technology to tricky deadlocks, bureaucratic brainstorms to lovely nights in five-star hotels around the world. It comes as no surprise at the end of his autobiography that Dušan Duško Popov was indeed the “James” behind the “Bond”, that master of spies and counter-spies.