In Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov, author Larry Loftis calls Dusko Popov a showman. He’s the stuff of movies, with ample cunning and lacking conscience, the qualities of being debonair among the ladies and villainous among the villains and stone cold eyes that spare no one and nothing. Is that why this British double agent inspired Ian Flemming to create James Bond?
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Who Was Dusko Popov?
Born to Milorad Popov in Titel, Serbia, Dusan ‘Dusko’ Popov grew up riding horses in holiday domes and testing summer waters in the Adriatic sea. Life even then was anything but ordinary for him. While pursuing a doctorate in law at the University of Frieburg, Popov made his mark as a staunch criticiser of the Reich, so much so that his final dissertation landed him straight from graduation to incarceration at the Frieburg prison. But his killer instinct, sharp intelligence and skills of persuasion impressed even the Nazis. It was the early 1940’s, when the cries of World War II were getting louder, and the able man was recruited as a spy for the opportunist Germans. What they did not know though was that in reality, Dusko Popov was a British double agent code named Tricycle, relaying misinformation to the Germans and stealing money from under their noses. This was a man who had a license to gamble. Over the course of his career, Popov served the MI5 and MI6, and also the FBI apart from working with the German Abwehr.
This was also the time when Ian Flemming worked for the British Naval Intelligence—a job that would go on to set the stage for the making of our very own agent 007. In 1941, Fleming crossed paths with Popov for the first time in Lisbon, Portugal, at a casino where the latter gambled £50,000 while Flemming stared open-mouthed. Dusko, who is also known to have written his own memoir in his later years, recalled a man named Bloch holding the bank at the casino on the night in question. Way out of line, the man called for unlimited stakes, prompting Popov to produce the ungodly amount at the table. As Loftis writes in the biography, “‘I don’t know what prompted me,’ he [Popov] said later, ‘perhaps I just wanted to shake Fleming up.’”
During their stay, their paths must have crossed at least three to four times, but it is said that that one incident in particular birthed the book that gained recognition across the world. Estoril Casino became the Casino Royale that set off the Bond series; the inspiration was Dusko himself, who shaped the protagonist James Bond.
Many have asked if James Bond is really Dusko Popov. Some even say that the machiavellian character is Flemming himself, smoking the same Morland cigarettes as he did. That night at the casino, he was there playing a game of his own as well, hoping to loot a hefty sum from the Nazis. In an interview before his death, the author admitted that James Bond’s famous baccarat battle in Casino Royale had drawn on that very game.
Over the years, the lethal agent’s exploits evolved as the author mingled the stories and personalities of various incidents and agents. Popov, on the other hand, retired from his life of lies and deceit, settling as a lawyer in the south of France as he’d always dreamed of. He died in 1981. But one thing remained clear: on that smoke laden night coloured by the red velvet curtains of the gambling arena, the agent had decided to write an evergreen book while watching Popov in action.
# Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov by Larry Loftis
# USA Today
# The Guardian