007 in Dubrovnik: Meet Duško Popov, Fleming’s Bond Inspiration

Lauren Simmonds

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Bond, the Dubrovnik connection.

Yesterday, we let you know that the new Bond film, otherwise the 25th in the long-running film series, will be filmed in Dubrovnik after the story broke in the British media. Just another film set in Dubrovnik, you might say. Yes, but not quite. Ever heard of Duško Popov?

Bond and Dubrovnik go back a while, and it all starts with a charming double agent called Duško. The Dubrovnik resident was a double agent who worked for both the United Kingdom’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency (MI5), and the Abwehr (German military intelligence organisation) back in the second world war. To the Brits, he was known as ”Tricycle”, to the Germans, ”Ivan”.

Duško Popov, seemingly a kid like every other, was born in 1912 to a wealthy family in Titel, in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, the Popov family moved to Dubrovnik when Duško was very young. The intelligent young Duško did well in school, mastering total fluency in German language and mingling with all types of people, some savoury, some not quite so savoury. During his university days in Freiburg, he had several questionable brushes with National Socialists and, with his ability to ”turn on the charm” as it were, managed to gain invaluable friends in very high places within the Nazi Party, despite secretly despising them. Nonetheless, Popov managed to earn himself a PhD in Law at the German university before returning to Dubrovnik for a brief period to work as an attorney.
As with most things in the unusual life of Popov, things didn’t stay stagnant for long, eventually, he met a not-quite-usual British passport control officer named Clement Hope, who picked up on his abilities and enrolled him as a double agent under the code name ”Scoot”, he was later known as ”Tricycle” by his handler. He moved to London and his international business activities saw his trips to Lisbon, Portugal, which was then neutral, covered. The Portuguese capital was linked to the UK by a civilian air service throughout the war and Popov used his cover position to frequently bring reports to his Abwehr handlers in Lisbon, feeding enough seemingly priceless MI6 approved intelligence information to the Germans to keep them satisfied and entirely unaware of his ”friendship” with the British. The assignments given to him by the Brits were of huge significance and value when it came to thwarting and assessing enemy plans.
Other than the tiring work involved in his double life, Popov was well known for his Playboy lifestyle and somehow managed to balance a lavish existence, women (and a lot of them, at that) and his secret, increasingly complicated web of deceit with the Brits and the Germans. When the year 1941 rolled around, he was dispatched to the United States by his German handlers to try to establish a new German network there, he was given more than ample funds and an intelligence questionnaire. Among the pages was a deeply detailed questionnaire about United States defences at Pearl Harbour, this led Popov to contact the FBI and explain what had been asked of him. During a televised interview, Popov spoke about informing the FBI about the impending attack on Pearl Harbour on the 12th of August, 1941, but for some reason the information was disregarded by J Edgar Hoover and no further steps were taken to learn more about the apparent German interest in the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Popov spoke about how distrustful and suspicious Hoover was of him and, after having found out that he had taken a woman from New York to Florida with him, had even threatened to have him arrested under the Mann Act (a federal statute that prohibits interstate or foreign transportation of an individual with the intention of engaging such individual in sexual activity) if he did not leave the territory of the United States immediately.

By the time 1944 rolled around and the war continued to rage, Popov played a key part in the Operation Fortitude deception campaign. Remembered as a clever, charming and shrewd womaniser who loved the finer things in life, Popov published his memoirs under the title ”Spy, Counterspy” back in 1974. Cited as Ian Fleming’s real inspiration for the timeless James Bond character, Duško Popov’s name hit the history books, taking Dubrovnik with it.

In 1981, Popov passed away prematurely at the age of 69.

Over the years, the Bond name has found itself in Dubrovnik, with the late, great Roger Moore being the most famous connection. Read the wonderful homage to his life by his friend and our writer Miso Mihočević here.


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