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banner Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 05:29 GMT 06:29 UK
The Real James Bond
black and white newspaper photograph of Sidney Reilly
The real life James Bond? Sidney Reilly, master spy and bigamist
Sensitive government files which shed light on the life of the master spy Sidney Reilly are finally opened to the public today.

Reilly is credited with providing Ian Fleming with the inspiration for his character James Bond.

historian Andrew Cook live on BBC Breakfast
Cook: doubts Reilly was a double agent
His exploits for British intelligence in Russia made him a household name in Britain in the twenties. But many suspect he may have been a double, triple or even quadruple agent.

Breakfast spoke to Andrew Cook, who's written a book on Sidney Reilly.

To watch his interview in full, click on the watch/listen box at the top right hand side of this story

Reilly disappeared on a mission in Russia in 1925, and today's papers may shed light on whether he was betrayed by a mole inside British intelligence.


He was born Shlomo Rosenblum, in Ukraine, in 1873.

He was recruited by the British intelligence and won the Military Cross for work in Russia.

He was also kept under close observation by the MI5 between his volunteering and actually being enlisted into the service.

His love-life was tangled: it's known that he had at least four wives (three of the marriages were bigamous) and he claimed to have at least ninety lovers.

Reilly disappeared on an undercover mission in Russia in 1925.

Historian Andrew Cook believes that the manner of his death proves he was never a double agent.

Reilly had been working inside Russia with a shadowy organisation called The Trust, which Western Intelligence believed was trying to overthrow the Bolsheviks.

In fact, The Trust was the creation of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Russian KGB: Reilly had been set up.

Andrew Cook told Breakfast:

The manner of his death indicates he was not a double agent.

OGPU (the fore-runner of the KGB) took him for a drive into the country.

The car "broke down" and they took him for a short walk while it was being repaired. Then they shot him in the back.

Compared with how executions were normally carried out, it was a kindness to do it this way.

  • Andrew Cook's book The Real James Bond will be published in September by Tempus
  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Andrew Cook
    "These files are the tip of an enormously interesting iceberg"
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