Ian Fleming the author of the James Bond novels once said, “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson.”
Ian Fleming went to a training school for World War II spies operated by William Stephenson.
Fleming said he used about 15 different spies as models for his character James Bond, but William Stephenson was definitely one of them. Apparently, Bond’s love of martinis, magnetic personality and skill at hand to hand combat were characteristics the literary hero inherited from William Stephenson.
Stephenson was a Winnipeg native, born in the Point Douglas area. He taught math and science at the University of Manitoba and before he died he bequeathed $100,000 to the University of Winnipeg to fund scholarships for outstanding students.
Winnipeg has an official fan club for Stephenson called The Intrepid Society. As part of their agenda, they’ve not only erected the statue on Memorial Boulevard, they have also successfully lobbied to have a street in Winnipeg named after their hero and a statue of him installed in CIA headquarters in Washington. DC. A public library in Winnipeg also bears his name.
As this plaque on his sculpture indicates, William’s code name was Intrepid when he worked for British intelligence in New York during World War II. A book about his life titled A Man Called Intrepid was a best seller and later was turned into a TV mini-series starring David Niven and Barbara Hershey.
Orphaned as a young child and then adopted, William was fascinated with Morse code as a teenager and was good at boxing. He served as a pilot during World War I and was shot down and captured by the Germans. He managed to escape after three months and won several medals for bravery. Stephenson went on to study at Oxford University.
William accomplished many significant and impressive things in the next couple of decades. After teaching at the University of Manitoba he moved to Britain where he invented the process for sending photographs over the wire electronically, purchased a radio manufacturing company that made him a millionaire before he was thirty and then diversified into film, coal and oil refining, the steel industry, television and aircraft production. He helped to found the British Broadcasting Corporation. (BBC).
Thanks to his broad base of industrial contacts in Europe by as early as April 1936, William began voluntarily passing confidential information to Winston Churchill about how Adolf Hitler was building up his armed forces while hiding his military expenditures.
In 1940 Churchill asked him to become the head of British security in New York coordinating counter-espionage efforts together with the Americans. William hired hundreds of people to work for him, many of them Canadians and he paid for their salaries out of his own pocket. He set up a school in Whitby Ontario that trained more than 2000 covert operators including Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books.