Monday, April 19, 2010
Rosa Klebb was one of James Bond's most ruthless enemies, and one of Ian Fleming’s most memorable characters. Jeremy Duns reveals some surprising truths about the real secret agents who inspired her creation
Major Tamara Nicolayeva Ivanova was one of Soviet intelligence's 'few female high officials' and 'an over-worked nervous spinster', according to Soviet Spy Net by E.H. Cookridge. Cookridge was a pseudonym for former British agent Edward Spiro, and this book, published in Britain in 1955, is a highly coloured account of the activities of Russian intelligence agencies around the world – Fleming used it as the background source for several novels. Ivanova was an instructor of Nikolai Khokhlov, the Soviet agent who defected to the Americans in Germany in 1954, claiming he had been sent to assassinate an anti-Communist activist in Frankfurt. The Americans wasted no time in showing the world press the would-be assassin’s equipment, which included a gold cigarette case that concealed an electrically operated gun capable of firing cyanide-tipped bullets. In Fleming’s From Russia, With Love, the fearsome assassin Red Grant tells his masters at SMERSH that they gave Khokhlov's mission to the wrong man: 'I wouldn’t have gone over to the Yanks.'
After the war, Rybkina's career took a surprising turn: under the name Zoya Voskresenskaya, she became famous throughout the Soviet Union as a children's writer, penning a series of best-selling stories following the adventures of Lenin as a boy, two of which were made into successful films. Between 1962 and 1980, over 21 million copies of her books were in print. Another wartime intelligence officer who became a children’s author, of course, was Ian Fleming, who wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, published in 1964.
Rybkina died in Moscow in 1992. It seems unlikely that she ever learned that she was the inspiration for one of James Bond’s most fearsome villains – or that Ian Fleming ever knew about the second career of the real Rosa Klebb.