Those few lines took me on a fascinating journey into the origins of one of the best known moments in modern cinema, and taught me a great deal about how fiction and reality can sometimes collide in the most surprising ways. I submitted an article about my research to The Sunday Telegraph, who felt that the story would be better told for their readership if they cut it a little and reframed it as an interview with me. I agreed, and you can read the result here. Below is a slightly extended version of the article I originally submitted to them – click on the images to enlarge them. And Paul Dark's arrival in the Baltic? You'll have to wait a bit for that one. But no dinner jackets are involved.
Dehn also took part in SOE operations himself, in both France and Norway. Camp X’s syllabus, much of which Dehn probably wrote, and with all of which he would have been very familiar, contained detailed instructions on how to kill sentries silently, place explosives in storage tanks and camouflage oneself when crossing water.
Peter Tazelaar undertook his mission in November 1941 with MI6, but he joined SOE later in the war. Following his brief capture by the Germans in January 1942, his use as an agent in Scheveningen was over. After escaping via Switzerland and Spain, he made his way back to Britain in April 1942, whereupon he was promptly dismissed from the Dutch navy for insubordination, a victim of political intrigues beyond his control. After a stint with the Commandos, Tazelaar also became a training instructor in Canada, at the Dutch military base in Guelph, following which he was recruited by SOE and parachuted back into Holland in 1944, from where he maintained radio contact with London for six months.
There is no evidence that Dehn ever met Tazelaar, either in England or Canada, but it seems likely he would have heard about such a remarkable operation from colleagues either during or after the war. One possible occasion came the year before he started work on Goldfinger. In December 1962, former SOE agent William Deakin organized a conference on wartime resistance in Europe at St Antony’s College, Oxford, of which he was warden. One of the lectures was by Dr Louis de Jong, the director of Holland’s State Institute for War Documentation, and in it he described Tazelaar’s ‘evening dress’ operation in detail. De Jong’s lecture was published in the proceedings of the conference in a limited mimeograph of fewer than 100 copies. Dehn may well have attended the conference or read de Jong’s lecture in the proceedings afterwards.
At any rate, the idea of the real operation seems too bizarre to have been thought up twice, so it seems likely that, one way or another, Paul Dehn learned of it through his contacts in Britain’s close-knit intelligence community and decided it was just the sort of daring mission suitable for James Bond. In drawing on real espionage history and expertise, Dehn created a sensational opening sequence that would become an iconic cinematic moment, but perhaps also paid secret tribute to the ingenuity and bravery of Allied secret agents he had worked with and heard about during the war. If so, that would have been very much in the spirit of Ian Fleming, who did much the same in his novels.
Dehn went on to work on the screenplays for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Deadly Affair and several other films. He died in 1976.
Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema continued to run operations on the coast of Holland, inserting agents, weapons and transmitters, before joining the Royal Air Force – he flew 72 missions in a Mosquito and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as the Militaire Willemsorde, the Netherlands’ highest military decoration. After the war, he emigrated to the United States. His autobiography, Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange), was published in 1971 and was made into a film by Paul Verhoeven in 1977, with Rutger Hauer starring as a fictionalised version of him and Jeroen Krabbé as a composite of several characters, including Peter Tazelaar. Edward Fox played a version of Euan ‘The Rabbi’ Rabagliati.
Soldier of Orange was the most expensive Dutch film made to date, and helped pave the way for Verhoeven and Hauer’s careers in Hollywood. It was also a calling card for Krabbé. In the DVD documentary Inside The Living Daylights, the James Bond films' producer and writer Michael G Wilson mentions that Krabbé, who plays Koskov in The Living Daylights, had been brought to their attention by Soldier of Orange.
In 2003, Hazelhoff Roelfzema published In Pursuit Of Life, an expanded autobiography in English, including most of the material from Soldier of Orange. The introduction was by Len Deighton. Hazelhoff Roelfzema died in Hawaii in 2007.
Bob van der Stok also joined the RAF, but his Spitfire was shot down in France in 1942 and he was captured by the Germans. He was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III, but was one of the three men to tunnel his way out. In the film The Great Escape, James Coburn’s character was partly based on van der Stok. He died in 1993.
With many thanks to Guy Hamilton; Victor Laurentius; Lynn Hodgson, Renu Barrett at McMaster University Library, Ontario; Sophie Bridges at the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge; and Colleen Kelley at the Special Collections of the University of Iowa Libraries.
EH Cookridge, Set Europe Ablaze: Special Operations Executive in Western Europe 1940-1945 (Pan, 1969)
MRD Foot, SOE: The Special Operations Executive, 1940-1946 (BBC, 1984)
Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, Soldier of Orange (Sphere, 1982)
Erik Hazelhoff, In Pursuit Of Life (Sutton, 2003)
Louis de Jong, Britain and Dutch Resistance, 1940-1945 (delivered at a conference on Britain and European resistance, St Anthony’s College, Oxford, December 10-16, 1962)
Victor Laurentius, De Grote Tazelaar, Ridder & Rebel (Stichting Peter Tazelaar, 2010)
Denis Rigden (introduction), SOE Syllabus: Lessons in Ungentlemanly Warfare, World War II (PRO, 2004)
Adrian Turner, On Goldfinger (Bloomsbury, 1998)
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