Have you ever wondered who inspired James Bond’s bizarre gadgets? New Book Reveals Genius Who Was REAL ‘Q’
Whether it’s bagpipe flamethrowers, spear-wielding umbrellas or sports cars turning into submarines, everyone has a favorite James Bond spy gadget, courtesy of the ever-resourceful ‘Q’ branch.
Though it was long believed that novelist Ian Fleming used an MI6 department as the inspiration for 007’s brilliantly wacky gadgets – exploding shark capsule, anyone? – credit should actually go to MI9, or ‘Military Intelligence 9’, as revealed in a new book, MI9: A History Of The Secret Service For Escape And Evasion In World War Two, by Helen Fry.
A department so top secret that most people have never heard of it, it drew heavily on the inventions of a premature balding misfit named Christopher Clayton Hutton.
‘Clutty’, as he was called, was a former soldier, pilot and journalist, obsessed with escapology and illusions since childhood.
Christopher Clayton Hutton, the genius inventor behind gadgets that helped British and Allied forces escape during the war
Once described as ‘crazy and brilliant’, he would have given today’s Q a run for his money when it came to inventiveness.
Founded in 1939 and led by Major Norman Crockatt (later Brigadier) and Clutty, MI9 was responsible for helping pilots and prisoners make their way home from behind enemy lines.
To this end, it supported resistance networks and encouraged a philosophy of ‘escape consciousness’, making it clear to every soldier that it was their duty to try to escape.
It took a single pilot three months to train for £ 15,000, so the War Office needed them back.
MI9’s engineers, in turn, did everything they could to support them, designing and supplying countless gadgets including pencil cameras, daggers hidden in pens, wire saws hidden in shoelaces, and playing cards with maps of Europe.
Clutty, in particular, was ruthless in his task. He hired a magician to help invent hidden compartments and built himself an underground bunker in the middle of a field – on the grounds of MI9 headquarters in Wilton Park, Beaconsfield – so that he could work undisturbed.
‘Q’ the ever-resourceful fictional character was played by actor Desmond Llewelyn (pictured) and appeared in the James Bond film series from 1963 to 1999
A British bakelite shaving brush, dated 1945, fitted with a hidden escape and avoidance compass. One of the remarkable collections of ‘secret weapons’ sent to British soldiers behind enemy lines during World War II
His disdain for protocol was such that he often had problems with the police and authorities for helping himself to military supplies without permission, and he is said to have provided current health and safety managers with several coronaires.
But he was a genius.
It was he who persuaded Waddington to convert their Monopoly sets into escape packs complete with maps of Europe and compasses. He also helped design the standard issue cards, nearly half a million of which were printed on non-rustling silk with non-running ink that could be hidden inside a chess piece.
It was, of course, also Clutty who came up with a compass hidden in a reverse-threaded coat button, on the basis that it would never occur to the always orderly German mind that something would unscrew the wrong way. He was right.
Steel cutting laces: a Gigli, a flexible saw made of intertwined cutting wire, and strong enough to cut through barbed wire and metal rods, can be hidden in a regular shoe or shoelace
And in 1942, each invention was carefully recorded in a large red leather-bound catalog entitled Per Ardua Libertas – Liberty through Adversity – for the benefit of visiting American intelligence officers.
Unlike 007’s flaming bagpipes and killer umbrella, of course, everything MI9 made was small enough to be hidden in something else.
Clutty’s gadgets may not have been as flamboyant as Bond’s bulletproof Aston Martin or ski pole rifle, but they really worked.
Of the 35,000 British and Allied troops who escaped and came to safety during the war, more than half carried one of his silk cards, and most were helped by at least one of the following inventions.
Miniature spy camera: a Houghton Ticka watch camera with matching viewfinder
Hacksaws, silk maps, and compasses were hidden in Monopoly boards, boxes, and pieces.
Miniature cameras and receivers were disguised in dart boards, ping pong sets, and snake and ladder games. Shove-ha’penny boards feature radio components, chess pieces hidden ink for food seekers, and dominoes hidden a map of France.
London chess maker Jaques was commissioned to plan a box with hidden compartments, and knights were modified with a waterproof compartment for special ink for forging documents.
Waddington also produced special packets of cards designed to disintegrate when dropped into water to reveal 48 overlapping parts of a map of Europe. The four aces resulted in a separate map of roads, railways and rivers.
Concealed Assassination Pipe Dagger: a James Bond style hidden weapon that British spies had at their disposal in WWII
The Geneva Convention allowed prisoners to take packages – including food, clothing, and games (to reduce boredom) – from families and aid organizations.
So Clutty invented a slew of fictional charities, and soon every sixth food and ration pack sent to prisoners of war contained some of his inventions.
Clutty’s kits are credited with aiding 316 escape attempts from Colditz Castle in Saxony, Germany, with 32 men who made it home.
Compasses were hidden everywhere, from matchboxes to razor blades. Hutton invented a particularly effective model of a magnetized razor blade – when the blade hung from a wire, the “G” in Gillette pointed north.
Another success was an invisible ink developed for plain linen handkerchiefs that, when soaked in urine, revealed a map.
But it was only a cursory map – a quick dip in the water made the map disappear again.
Escape Razor Compass Set: Compasses were hidden everywhere, from matchboxes to razor blades
CUT OUT CLOTHES
Gray wool blankets sent to prisoners of war would arrive with cards or dress patterns printed with invisible ink.
After a quick dip in water mixed with chemicals that were separately smuggled into jam jars, hey, the design became visible and the inmates were able to tailor an outfit for their escape.
RAF men were given special ‘flight boots’ with hollow heels containing silk maps, a compass, a file and a small knife so they could cut away the ankle portion, creating black shoes that could pass as civilian footwear.
A nice idea, but a rare Clutty failure. They were not warm enough during winter flights, prone to flooding in heavy rain, and were later abandoned by MI9.
MI9: A Secret Service History of World War II Escape and Dodge by Helen Fry. Published by Yale, £ 20.