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James Bond’s one of us!

A Jew from Odessa was the prototype for agent ‘007’

The latest James Bond film, the 24th in the series, is released in Autumn of this year. The screenwriters’ flights of fancy send the super spy back into the past where agent ‘007’ receives a mission involving that most evil terrorist organization ‘Spectre’. In the meantime if we look back at the past of our hero himself, or to be more precise at his prototype, the secret agent Sidney Reilly, a lot of interesting information comes to light. For example that he himself was Ukrainian by birth and that his real name was Solomon Rosenblum.

Papa Fleming

One of the main prototypes for the super spy was the secret agent Sidney Reilly. During the war, the father figure of the Bond franchise, the writer Ian Fleming worked as the personal assistant of the head of intelligence of the British navy, admiral John Godfrey and took part in planning special operations. The idea for a novel came to him after reading accounts of the activities of agent Sidney Reilly in the archives of the British secret services. Godfrey would later highly praise the talents of Fleming; ‘I always considered that he, and not I should be the director of naval intelligence’. The writer accordingly drew from his former boss in the creation of the image of ‘007’s superior – M.

The hero’s name was found at random; on one of Fleming’s bookshelves stood a book by the ornithologist James Bond ‘Birds of the West Indies’. For the modest man of science this was a dubious honour. He was pestered by readers enamoured with the character and journalists wouldn’t leave him in peace either. The ornithologist’s wife even wrote Fleming an indignant letter. The writer apologized and invited James Bond to his house in Jamaica. However the hapless professor got stuck at customs. The guards were also fans of Fleming it seemed and they examined Bond’s luggage with exceptional rigour, looking for spy gadgetry and weapons.

«For pleasure and money»

Money, women and adventure –these were the things that both Ian Fleming and James Bond valued, and of course his prototype – Sidney Reilly. Each of them made a living in the only way they knew how.

Fleming came into real money and fame through his quill, or rather through his type writer. ‘People write books for fame, pleasure or money’, he said. ‘I write for pleasure and money’. Reilly and Bond were brought intrigue and money through a cunning combination. One of the most famous adventures of Reilly was organizing the assassination attempt of Lenin in 1918 for which the Soviet authorities sentenced the spy to death. He also organised the printing of counterfeit roubles, sold Russian commercial secrets to the Americans and helped the Japanese to take Port Arthur. He was also not squeamish about taking lives or conducting extra marital affairs.

The British historian, former National Security Service officer Andrew Cooke managed to shed light on the life of Reilly in his book "In the Web of the Secret Services." Thanks to his friendship with senior officials the writer was admitted to the secret service archives of the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States. He was assisted by historians from Japan, France, Ireland and other countries. Andrew Cook collected the material for his book over 20 years.

Was Reilly the Gadfly?

The situation is complicated by three circumstances: spies do not advertise their activities, many documents were lost during the war and Reilly himself loved to embellish his biography. For example, he has claimed his year of birth to be 1872, 1873, 1874, and place of birth - Dublin, Tipperary, Odessa ... Reilly claimed that his parents were Russian aristocrats, or that he was illegitimate: his Irish mother conceived him with the family doctor, a Jew who, after learning of this shame, fled to Brazil.

This part of the story even spawned a version that it was Sidney Reilly who was the prototype of the Gadfly - the hero of the novel by Ethel Lilian Voynich. A number of Western writers and journalists in the 60s of the last century absolutely revelled in the fact that the prototype of Arthur, who was admired by the entire Soviet Union, was an enemy of the Soviet Union. They even claimed that Voynich was Reilly’s mistress.

However, the basic facts negate this version. Voynich began work on the novel in 1889. Reilly at the time was about 14-15 years old and when he arrived in England in 1895, the book was already finished. So Arthur was not copied from Sidney, on the contrary, Reilly in his biography creatively retold the novel. He also passed himself off as a Greek, then as a German, then as a Russian.

Solomon Bond

Andrew Cook with all the thoroughness of the British, found that Sidney Reilly was indeed Russian; A Russian Jew. He was born on March 24, 1873. His real name was Sigmund or Solomon Rosenblum.

Cook found that the Rosenblums had roots in Odessa. It turned out that in the 1850s Reilly’s ancestors had moved from Poland to Kherson, then to Odessa. The father of the future spy was called Grigorii, his mother - Polina. And in the centre of the city, at 24 Marazlievskaya, lived the doctor Mikhail Rosenblum- Grigorii’s cousin. Andrew Cook claims that the real father of the future spy was this very Mikhail. The writer compiled family rumours of Polina’s infidelity, about family conflict between the brothers and family photos.

Solomon received a secondary education at Odessa High School №3, and a higher education in Novorossiysk University in the physics and mathematics faculty. (Incidentally, Reilly gave this information himself to the GPU, but that bureau was not interested in the spy’s education and did not check it).

‘It is prohibited for dogs and Jews to wash here’

In 1895 Solomon Rosenblum, under the name of Sidney Reilly and with a cross round his neck, arrived in England. When he was baptised and left Odessa is unknown, nor are the reasons why understood.

The mid-19th century was still considered the golden age of Jewish Odessa. Here Jews felt themselves to be full citizens, they received both religious and secular education, actively participated in the management of the city, worked successfully and competed in business. Perhaps if this golden atmosphere had persisted then the young Rosenblum may have remained in Odessa. In a city where a third of the population were Jews, in a city whose inhabitants spoke Italian, French, German, Yiddish, and also Russian and Ukrainian languages. By the way, this knowledge of languages came in very useful for the future spy: Reilly spoke fluently in seven languages.

But in the last quarter of the 19th century, the economic situation deteriorated and, as is usually the case, the crime rate increased. The American professor Patricia Herlihy in her book about Odessa quotes a traveller on the residents of Odessa: "They are absolutely pitiless chancers and crooks, schooled in knavery in Constantinople, in Romania and in the Levant, ossified in vices and crimes both imaginable and unimaginable."

Odessa’s reputation was so dubious that when Chaliapin learned that Babel was from Odessa, he was loathe to hand over a gift passed on to him by Gorky. In addition, Jews began to have their rights infringed and were downright persecuted. For example, a notice on a public bathhouse read: ‘Dogs and Jews are forbidden to wash here.’
Many Jews started to leave Odessa. Solomon Rosenblum was no exception and he went to seek his fortune in Europe. He hankered to wear smart suits, live in expensive hotels, eat in the best restaurants and make love to the most beautiful women. He indeed enjoyed huge success with the ladies. All these qualities Fleming bestowed on agent ‘007’.

A super-agent visits

In 1919, Reilly went to Russia on the instructions of British intelligence. He was to gather information on the Black Sea coast and the south of Russia. Reilly was accompanied by Captain George Hill. Reilly took to his mission with enthusiasm, all the more so because he had always maintained contacts with Odessa.

He arrived in the city on 3 February 1920. The next day he fainted near house №15 on Alexander Avenue. Hill suggested that this was the house Reilly grew up. Physician and author of the book about spies "Declassified Fate", Leonid Averbukh does not exclude such a possibility. "Strong emotional stress could cause fainting," says the doctor.

Nevertheless, Cook did not find any evidence that Rosenblum’s family ever lived in this house, but house №27 on Alexander Avenue belonged to Mikhail Rosenblum – Reilly’s real father. In Odessa, Reilly lived in the famous "London" hotel. From there he sent a dispatch about the situation in the city of London.

In Odessa, at that time a French garrison was stationed, which Reilly criticized for its unfriendly attitude toward the volunteer army. He also accused the French of "an attitude towards Russian officers clearly lacking elementary courtesy and even of insulting rudeness," and the transformation of Odessa to "one of the worst managed and least defended cities in the world." At that time, the south of Russia was divided between its allies: the eastern zone was British, the western - French.

Sidney Reilly was shot in Moscow on the 5 November 1925. Thus the sentence of 1918 was carried out. After his execution rumours abounded that he was alive and had been recruited by the GPU.

More than fifty books have been written about James Bond. Fourteen of them, published between 1953 to 1964, were written by Ian Fleming. The Bond franchise is continued by authors who manage to get permission from the Fleming family. So, the passion for pleasure and money of two spies, an Odessite and a Briton, has given the world a host of pleasure. What’s more, for the creators of the books and films, plenty of money into the bargain.


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