5 November 1925: Britain’s real-life James Bond is killed

Sidney Reilly, one of Britain's greatest spies, and the inspiration for James Bond, was executed in Russia on this day in 1925.

The new Bond film, Spectre, starring tough guy Daniel Craig as 007, is not short on action. A stadium gets blown up, a bunch of baddies get what's coming to them, beautiful women go weak at the knees You can probably guess the rest if you haven't already seen it.But for all that, author and 007 creator Ian Fleming never forgot who the real hero was. "James Bond is just a piece of nonsense I dreamed up", he once said. "He's not a Sidney Reilly, you know!"

To this day, Sidney Reilly, dubbed the Ace of Spies, remains an enigma. That's just how he would have liked it. He invented so many aliases, and so many different disguises, that the truth of who Reilly really was is shrouded in mystery. We do know, however, that his name wasn't Sidney Reilly. It was Sigmund Georgievich Rosenblum.

Rosenblum had been born in 1874 in what is today Odessa in Ukraine, but was then in southern Russia. He had, as Giles Milton notes in Russian Roulette, an "emotional hated of Bolshevism". That was partly down to his being "a social and intellectual snob". He hated the fact that the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had done away with the Russian elite. Reilly would do anything to bring down the Bolsheviks. And he very nearly did.

The newly created British Secret Service Bureau that Reilly joined in 1918 was still finding its feet. But it was aware that in signing up Reilly, it was taking a risk. It was said that Reilly had amassed a $2m fortune selling weapons to the Russians during the First World War. Reilly was known to be talented and ambitious, if not unscrupulous and ruthless. He was also a gambler, a bon viveur and had a fondness for women.

Taking a chance, the Secret Service sent Reilly to Russia under the cover of being a diamond trader. The government kitted him out with 16 large diamonds and £50,000 in today's money. Reilly also asked for £1m to fund the Russian opposition, but that was too great a sum for a war-ravaged country. His other disguises included a Levantine merchant, a Baltic merchant, and a Greek businessman named Mr Constantine.

Reilly sent back a wealth of information to London, and even went against orders to set up an audacious plot to kidnap one Vladimir Ilyich Lenin the head of the Bolsheviks. The plot was uncovered by the secret police, the Cheka, and Reilly only just made it back to Britain alive. At one point, he had even posed as a Cheka agent searching for himself! But back in Russia, he was sentenced to death.

Without the consent of the Secret Service, Reilly was "lured" back to Russia in 1925 in the hope of making contact with the leader of the counter-revolutionaries, Boris Savinkov. It was a trap. Savinkov was already dead, and Reilly was captured. He was shot on 5 November, 90 years ago, near Moscow. But his legacy would one day help to foster the creation of Britain's most dashing big screen hero: Bond. James Bond.

 

Recommended

High street giant HSBC to close 114 branches
Personal finance

High street giant HSBC to close 114 branches

HSBC is to shut the doors of 114 branches as more customers switch to online banking.
30 Nov 2022
House prices expected to fall by 5% in 2023
House prices

House prices expected to fall by 5% in 2023

House prices could fall by 5% next year as rising mortgage rates weigh on buyer demand.
30 Nov 2022
The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash
Personal finance

The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash

Looking to move bank accounts? You can now bag as much as £200 for switching current accounts from two major banks
30 Nov 2022
Stock market crash? This time it’s (slightly) different
Stockmarkets

Stock market crash? This time it’s (slightly) different

The bears expecting a stock market crash have got it wrong, says Max King.
30 Nov 2022

Most Popular

Wood-burning stove vs central heating ‒ which is cheapest?
Personal finance

Wood-burning stove vs central heating ‒ which is cheapest?

Demand for wood-burning stoves has surged as households try to reduce their heating costs this winter. But how does a wood burner compare with central…
29 Nov 2022
Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?

Sales of portable heaters have soared, as households look to cut their energy costs. But which is better: a fan heater or an oil heater? We put them t…
21 Nov 2022
Best regular savings accounts – November 2022
Savings

Best regular savings accounts – November 2022

You can earn an attractive rate on the best regular savings accounts. We tell you the best on the market to take advantage of right now
29 Nov 2022