Did “M” exist in real life? In Ian Fleming’s novels, James Bond’s boss at MI6 is Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy. However, this fictional character was inspired by the writer’s superiors, with whom he worked during World War II, while he belonged to the British Secret Service. As well as those that are so often referred to, his first boss, Mansfield Smith Cumming, or Admiral John Godfrey, of Naval Intelligence, another of these inspirations could have been Arthur Yencken, a diplomat posted at the British Embassy in Madrid.
Not that long ago, in February 2004, Sotheby’s sold at auction, for 15,525 euros, the Passport that Ian Fleming used for Operation Goldeneye, the objective of which was to ensure the continuation of communications between London and Gibraltar if General Franco’s government decided to join the war, siding with Germany, or if the peninsula was invaded by Axis troops.
The British Territory, in the south of Spain was key to maintaining safe passage for Royal Navy ships between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Fleming’s mission, therefore, was to establish a “station” to monitor German movements, and to avoid, even by means of sabotage if necessary, any enemy attempt to install radars or infrared cameras in the Strait. The British agent went so far as to establish another “station” in Tangiers, in case Gibraltar was invaded.
In 1941, Yencken was minister at the British diplomatic mission in Spain and one of his main tasks was to direct undercover operations; among others (see The Diplomat: The-british diplomat honoured by Franco), one of them was rescuing Allied prisoners deported by the Third Reich to concentration camps in Spain, in which he died. It was Yencken who issued Fleming’s famous passport, when he passed through Madrid on his way to the Rock.
“Did Fleming use Yencken’s personality to portray “M” in the Bond novels?”, asks David Butler, British historian resident in Madrid. It’s not preposterous to think that the Bond author could have used some of Yencken’s traits to build the character. Among them there is a clear coincidence: Vice Admiral Messervy, like Yencken, was a member of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
Captain Alan Hugh Hillgarth, naval attaché to the embassy and head of covert operations, was also a member of the Order, and another person the spy, recently arrived from London, contacted immediately. It would have been Hillgarth, had it been necessary, that would have prepared the guerrilla in charge of sabotaging German operations in the Spanish peninsula.
In the end, there was no need to activate these plans. The Goldeneye station only moved into a state of alert in 1942, before the Allied invasion of North Africa, in the well-known Operation Torch, in order to avoid any German reaction that might have complicated the attack. After August 1943, Goldeneye ceased operating, due to the limited threat of a Nazi occupation of Spain.
Fleming, discharged from the Secret Service in 1945, began to write ‘Casino Royale’ in 1952, at his home in Jamaica, which he gave the moniker Goldeneye. There he began to construct characters like “M” with the “pieces” that were given to him, during his years of service, by men such as Cumming, Godfrey, or perhaps even Yencken.