007 inspiration, Sidney Cotton.
007 inspiration, Sidney Cotton.

Hidden Vale's James Bond legacy

THE NAME is Cotton... Sidney Cotton.

He may or may not have introduced himself like James Bond, but the inspiration for Ian Fleming's secret agent 007 grew up at Hidden Vale homestead and his ashes reside in the Tallegalla Cemetery.

The extraordinary story of the life of the suave businessman from Grandchester who became a spy for the British Secret Service has remained relatively unknown - until now.

Cotton's headstone at Tallegalla provides a snapshot of a remarkable life. It lists his three wives and acknowledges his career as a pioneer aviator, inventor and spy.

It also states that he "marched to the beat of a different drum."

No truer words have ever graced an epitaph.

Born in 1896, Cotton resisted the temptation to follow his father onto the land and left Australia as a 20-year-old to join the Royal Naval Air Service.

He quickly established himself in England as a ladies man, entrepreneur, pilot and - in the lead-up to the Second World War - a super spy in the employ of MI6.

It was in 1939 that Cotton met Fleming - then working for British Naval intelligence - and the pair hit it off immediately.

It was Cotton and an amalgam of other famous spies such as master of disguises Sidney Reilly and playboy extraordinaire Porfirio Rubirosa who Fleming would use to form the Bond character.

Some scholars believe Cotton's love of gadgetry also became a basis for Fleming's character 'Q' - who famously dispensed quirky devices such as flame throwing bagpipes, exploding toothpaste and mini-rocket cigarettes to an incredulous 007.

A campaign to give voice to the Cotton/Bond story has been launched by Rosewood's David Pahlke, who is also an Ipswich City councillor in charge of tourism.

Pahlke became fascinated with the tale a decade ago and began his own private investigation into the mysterious spy.

Just what did Cotton get up to while spying for the Brits? Well, unlike Bond's martinis, he had the Nazis both shaken and stirred.

"Cotton was an extraordinary character full stop," Pahlke says.

"His mission was to fly over Germany and take photos of anything that had strategic value - naval bases, munitions factories, airfields, troop concentrations...that kind of thing.

"He was once audacious enough to come back with a picture of Hitler's personal yacht."

Pahlke says Cotton is "still regarded as the father of aerial photographic reconnaissance" and was fearless in flying his Lockheed 12A Junior Electra with cameras concealed in the cabin floor.

One daring stunt involved flying with Luftwaffe officer Albert Kesslring - later to become one of Hitler's right hand men - along the Rhine River to visit an "alleged maiden aunt."

"But there was no aunt," Pahlke grins.

"Kesselring, a pilot himself, took the controls and while he was doing that Cotton pressed a secret button and photographed fortifications and airfields with the hidden cameras that he'd cut into the wings and fuselage.

"Cotton had a photographic business so he had a legit reason for being in Germany. He would pose as a film producer, a businessman or an archaeologist on these field trips."

Cotton also displayed his maverick side when he flew to Berlin to bring Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering back to England for peace talks.

"But Hitler put a stop to that," Pahlke says.

"Cotton had to fly back to England in a straight line or be shot down. He was in the last civilian aircraft to leave Berlin before the war started.

"It was just after the war started that he met Ian Fleming. Fleming and Cotton knew they were kindred spirits right from the moment they met.

"They shared a love of women, fast cars, gadgets and exotic weaponry.

"That is how Cotton became the real life inspiration for the James Bond character in Fleming's novels."

A heritage plaque with the story of Cotton's life was placed near his headstone at Tallegalla.

But Pahlke has greater plans and with the help of the Cotton family intends to turn the Bond legacy into an international tourism attraction.

"The mind boggles when you think we have a James Bond linkage to this area and Ipswich," Pahlke says.

"This is a tourism link that can't be denied and we've got to tell the world that people can come and visit the resting place of the original 007.

"You read the book about Cotton's life and it just like a spy novel. We'll never know of course exactly what he really did. That will be buried in an archive somewhere.

"But Fleming had the utmost respect for him - enough to use him as the basis for Bond who lives on today through so many actors and movies.

"Roger Moore was always my favourite Bond - even though Sean Connery is the females' favourite.

"We've gone through the different eras - from gadgetry to the more recent James Bond films which have been darker and more sinister in their makeup.

"My favourites were in the 1970s and 1980s but I still look forward to the next Bond movie."

Pahlke enjoyed the stunts and the Bond girls, whose names like Pussy Galore, Jenny Flex, Plenty O'Toole and Dr Holly Goodhead may raise the odd eyebrow now.

"It was always humorous. I come out of the 1960s era, so I'm not one of these sensitive new age guys," Pahlke grins.

"Today it is all about special effects with Avatar, but back then they had stuntmen who did it all - like when the car twisted in the air across the river in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Pahlke enthuses how "James Bond is a global phenomenon" and that is exactly what Cotton became after the Second World War concluded, although with mixed success.

He engaged in oil exploration and ran guns to India using second-hand Lancasters.

"One of his more exotic interludes included a lengthy vacation sailing the Mediterranean on a luxury yacht where he entertained the British Royal family and other luminaries with a style and panache 007 would have been proud of," Pahlke says.

"He had a Bond-like disdain for authority and was criticised by his superiors for allegedly meddling in political matters."

He made several fortunes, but spent the proceeds just as quickly and died a pauper in 1969.

"But Cotton's legacy lives on," Pahlke says.

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