The Man from the Ministry of Supplies
Charles Fraser Smith
Ian Fleming’s characters were often given names of people he had known and like many authors he was known to base them on amalgams of his own associates, colleagues and family.
Many people have been offered up as the basis for James Bond’s characterization. Most being heroic war time figures or associates of Fleming. Several will probably be correct. Similarly, Fleming’s books were understandably influenced by his time as a naval intelligence officer during the Second World War.
In 1939 Fleming was appointed by Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy, as his personal assistant. And it was in that role that Fleming quickly rose to the rank of Commander, and enjoyed a war time career in which he got to live out a life in James Bond’s world. Godfrey is clearly the reference for the character ‘M’ in Fleming’s novels.
Fleming was involved with Operation Mincemeat and Operation Golden Eye. He also worked with two intelligence units, 30 Assault Unit and T-Force. In his role, he liaised and dealt with colleagues at the Secret Intelligence Service and the Special Operations Executive.
It was while working with the latter on Operation Mincemeat that Fleming met Charles Fraser Smith. The man whose work would form the basis of Q Branch’s relationship with James Bond in the author’s novels.
Officially Fraser Smith worked for the Ministry of Supply’s Clothing and Textile Department. In practice, he invented, made, and provided gadgets and equipment, to field operatives carrying out work for the Special Operations Executive. Neither Fraser Smith’s boss nor personal assistant knew what he was up to.
Initially he supplied clothing and related props to for SOE agents, but this expanded to include ingenious devices such as hairbrushes with hidden compartments containing maps, cigarette lighters containing miniature cameras, and steel shoelaces that doubled as garrottes.
Charles Fraser Smith was not alone in his efforts to thwart the enemy with imaginative gadgets and gizmos during the war. Just as Major Jasper Maskelyne, a stage magician; was said to have helped the war effort in El Alemein with his talent for camouflage, Christopher Clayton Hutton was an intelligence officer working for MI9, who helped design and supply escape kits for Prisoners of War.
It is believed that up to 35,000 POWs may have used Clayton Hutton’s help to escape back to Britain. Ideas attributed to Clayton Hutton, and seemingly simple, such as a screen printed cloth map would have been invaluable for escaping prisoners.
Some claim that Charles Fraser Smith was Fleming’s Q. Considering their relationship, work together and the fascinating character that he obviously was, this is perhaps understandable, and maybe even emphasised by the fact that Fraser Smith nicknamed his Ministry of Supply gadgets, “Q-Devices” after the Q-Ships, the heavily armoured boats that were disguised as merchant ships by the navy.
However, as we know, Fleming did not have a character with a name until he introduced Major Boothroyd. Instead, it was the work of Fraser Smith, and others like him, creating such clever devices and cunning plans to help the war effort, that led to the creation of Q Branch in the Bond novels.
So, if Ian Fleming wasn’t responsible for Q, the character, who was?