Even though most Bond enthusiast know that James Bond is loosely based on Ian Fleming’s own stint in the Naval Intelligence Division as a commander with the codename 17F, he also decided to include some of the exploits of the first well known super-spy Sidney Reilly.
Sidney G. Reilly 1873-1925, also known as the “Ace Of Spies” worked for many British services including Scotland Yard, The British Secret Service Bureau, The Secret Intelligence Service and MI1 (later known as MI6). But unlike the character James Bond, who was crafted after him, his loyalty did not lie with the British Empire alone.
Reilly is allegedly known to have spied for at least four other nations as well as becoming a war profiteer.
His life is shrouded in legend. Since some of the escapades his friends and biographers wrote about were sensationalized, I’ll try to stick with most of the known facts.
Reilly was a Ukrainian, his birthname was Sigmund Gregorivich Rosenblum and he left his home in Odessa under mysterious circumstances. Years later he arrives in London via France after stealing a substantial amount of revolutionary funds from two Italian anarchist and decides to change his name to Sidney George Reilly. After opening a shell company called Ozone Preparation Company, he worked as a paid informant for the Emigre’ Intelligence network at Scotland Yard because of his vast knowledge of languages.
As Reilly became a comfortable English gentleman, he was recruited by other British intelligence agencies that sent him abroad where he learns how to profit from selling information back to his handlers. During his career as a profiteering spy he worked for the Canadians, British and French. He was a gambler who liked to gamble in exotic locales, he married numerous times and had affairs with a countess and the wife of a Russian minister to obtain information on German arms sales.
He was awarded the Military Cross by the Canadians for his clandestine operations behind German lines but his archenemy was the Russian Bolshevik government which he attempted to form a coup to overthrow their government.
He was assassinated by the Russians Intelligence service OGPU when he was lured into the country by undercover agents claiming to be anti-communists forming a organization called The Trust.
Ian Fleming happened to be good friends with Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart who was a close acquaintance of Reilly and learned of his many espionage dealings. In 1983, a British television mini-series named Reilly: Ace Of Spies dramatized the many adventures of Sidney Reilly and as it starred Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, the television premiere sparked new interest in his exploits.