For the 13 May 1973 cover story, the Observer Magazine asked, ‘Is this the real James Bond?’ The man with the fast-receding widow’s peak, crow’s feet walking all the way to his ears and a face craggier than a fell? It’s not Daniel Craig.
Alan Road tracked down the fantastically named Dusko Popov – codename Tricycle – a British double agent in semi-retirement as a lawyer living in the south of France. Inside, there’s a picture of him with his young son Omar on… a tricycle.
‘If James Bond had aged like the rest of us, he would not be far off Popov’s age today,’ writes Road. ‘Slightly stooped, Popov still has the dark hair, the high cheekbones and the grey-blue eyes that Bond saw when he looked in the mirror in Casino Royale.’
Popov, a Serbian, became a British double agent in 1940 when he was 28, ‘one of the chief figures in the double-cross world’, passing misinformation to the Germans.
When Popov gambled with £50,000 of British intelligence money at a casino, fellow agent Ian Fleming turned pale according to Popov, but it gave Fleming an idea for his book. Road thinks that Fleming would have approved of Popov’s set-up in a ‘former bishop’s palace, surrounded by cypress trees, in the hills beyond Cannes on France’s Mediterranean coast’.
For a high-ranking ex-spy, there seems to be a lot of revealing information. There’s even a reference to him owning a Modigliani, hanging in his ‘lofty, timbered drawing room’ – a gift from the British government, who also made him an OBE. Road also notices ‘Madame Popov, a Swedish beauty of 28, who might have stepped straight out of a Bond novel.’ As that sentence might have, too.
Popov himself is pretty dismissive of 007: ‘A spy who drank like Bond would be drunk the first night and dead the second.’ But then, can you ever really trust what a spy tells you?