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Conrad Fulke O'Brien-ffrench. Artist and Spy.

The real James Bond.

A few years ago while browsing eBay's ending art auctions, I came across some Abstract Expressionist watercolours by one Captain Conrad O'Brien-ffrench.  They were being sold from Loveland, Colorado.  ffrench had written a book, Delicate Mission; the seller, Deborah, had quoted the flysheet in her description of the art.

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.

I was hooked. I quickly snapped up the four pieces remaining of the twelve that had been auctioned.  A few minutes later, I got my confirmation e-mail. I contacted the vendor, Deborah, and asked if she had any more. She had a portfolio full of pieces. A month later, I had a collection of more than 200 pieces – for the most part Abstract Expressionist watercolours and also sketches, some of which dated back to the 1920s. I bought his book Delicate Mission and set to seeing how far I could research his story over the Internet.  I have endeavoured to tell Conrad’s story on this web site. 

There is, of course, no one single inspiration for the James Bond character. Ian Fleming includes aspects of other men too –   not least himself; the ‘Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang’ reputation we all know is pure Ian.  But I believe I can show that his meeting with Conrad was the spark that, 25 years later, exploded onto cinema screens as 007 – the hero men aspire to be and the lover women dream of having.  Conrad’s story is worth knowing without the Fleming connection, but that connection is strong. As you read his tale, you will believe, as I do, that 007’s original name was ffrench, Conrad ffrench. 

Bonds on Bond!
 Roger  Moore  is asked "Is  there a Real Spy who was Bond?" 
Conrad is asked "Is he Bond?" 

But, Rodger, If your cover is Millionaire Playboy of Aristocratic birth
Who who brings wealthy english guests to your Casino or Hotel?
 Conjectures sometimes turn out to be true?

* Peter Fleming, Invasion 1940. An account of the German preparations and the British counter-measures. Rupert Hart Davis Soho Square London. 1957

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Self Portrail circa 1960
Captain Conrad Fulke O'Brien Ffrench 11/19/1893-10/23/1986 rip

Conrad in Full Dress Uniform 1930's
Reproduced from Delicate Mission with kind permission of John Ffrench

From Peter Flemings Book Invasion 1940*
Churchill is #49
Dated 1940 this list had only 2800 names


Supporting Reference

© Copyright. Paul Atkinson 2007. 
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