Editor's note: October 5 marks the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No."
When I was an MI6 officer, I operated deep cover in hostile territories and had numerous aliases. Each alias would have different covers and lifestyles.
Playing the part of a jet setting millionaire businessman was great because I had to do the things a man like that would do. Sitting in a warzone trench while pretending to be a foreign freedom fighter or whatever was anything but James Bond. But even when I got the chance to travel the world first class and stay at luxurious five star hotels, there were many things that Bond had that I didn’t. Here’s 007 of them:
1. Glamorous Women
Bond could walk into a casino in Monte Carlo and announce to everyone that he was “James Bond. British Intelligence.” It was a fantastic way to grab people’s attention and he instantly had drop dead gorgeous women flocking around him. Regrettably, I wasn’t allowed to tell the beautiful women I met that I was Matthew Dunn, let alone a spy. Sigh…
2. Reliable Gadgets
The real MI6 has an entire department whose sole purpose is to create inventions every bit as ingenious and wacky as those created by Bond’s gadget man, Q. But we had a problem. First, it’s all well and good inventing a pen that could shoot bullets, but try travelling through airport security with one. If field operatives like me had been given watches that could cut holes through doors with a laser, we’d have told you that we might as well have the word “spy” tattooed on our foreheads.
It’s all well and good inventing a pen that could shoot bullets, but try traveling through airport security with one.
Second, for some reason those gadgets we could travel with would frequently fail to work upon arrival at our destination. It happened so often that it became a joke. I once had an attaché case within which was concealed a digital recorder. If I flicked the case’s opening and closing switches it would turn the device on and off. Prior to my travel, experts tested the case in every conceivable condition. It passed with distinction. And yes, it didn’t work when I needed it to.
3. An Aston Martin
Driving through the Swiss Alps, in an Aston Martin DB5, with two pairs of skis on the roof, a bottle of Moët et Chandon on ice by my side, and a beautiful Russian female double agent in the passenger seat -- Alas, that didn’t happen to me…not once.
4. A Great Soundtrack
From the opening Bond theme, through to the majestic additional music of Shirley Bassey, Louis Armstrong, Paul McCartney, and composer John Barry, Bond went about his business with a scorching soundtrack to remind him and everyone else that his work was big boys’ espionage. Given many of my meetings with foreign assets took place in hotels, I went about my business to the soundtrack of elevator music. You know the stuff – Vivaldi’s "The Four Seasons" and the like. The kind of music that every hotel lobby and, well, elevator, likes.
5. Travel to Exotic Locations
Among other exotic locations, Bond carried out his business in the Caribbean, Monaco, Florida, Thailand, and Vienna. He always packed a tuxedo for use at the nearest casino or ambassadorial cocktail party, though sometimes he had to don a wetsuit or ski ware over the top of it and swim through azure waters or slalom down pristine mountain slopes to reach the venues.
My experience was different. Typically, I operated in impoverished parts of the world, in warzones, and, on more than one occasion, Brussels.
6. Fabulous Baddies
Like the arch baddies in the Bond books and movies, the ones I combated were highly intelligent, sophisticated, professional, and evil. But unlike each nemesis that Bond faced, mine didn’t have recourse to satellites that could fire continent-destroying death lasers, subterranean armed fortresses that were guarded by spear gun wielding frogmen, or a volcano that was actually a space program. Nor did my baddies have steel-rimmed bowler hats, golden guns, metal jaws, or a third nipple. At least, not to my knowledge…
7. A License To Kill
Real MI6 officers don’t need licenses because everything we do overseas is illegal meaning we’re at the mercy of the lawmakers in the country we’re operating. However, I concede it would have been cool to have carried such a document – particularly when in the UK and asked to provide photo ID. It would have been great to whip out the License to Kill when applying for membership to e.g. Blockbuster’s DVD store or the local library.
Matthew Dunn is an author. His latest book is "Sentinel: A Spycatcher Novel." (HarperCollins 2012). As an MI6 field officer, Matthew Dunn recruited and ran agents, coordinated and participated in special operations, and acted in deep-cover roles throughout the world. During his time in MI6, Dunn conducted approximately seventy missions. All of them were successful. He lives in England.