Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ace of Spies

The dapper fellow above is one Sidney Reilly, and today is not his birthday. His birthday was a bit crowded, so I stashed M. Reilly away for a day like to day. June is rough, for the third day running we are having a stand-in hero because no one born on this day meets my high standards of heroism. Therefore, we have to dip into our ever decreasing store of stand-ins. He was born sometime around March 24th in either 1873 or 1874 in Odessa, Russia. His origins are a bit murky, and he told several different stories about them over the course of his life. This is in keeping with what he would become, the first 20th century super spy. A spy needs to have mysterious origins, and several good yarns about his background, and Reilly spun a good yarn. His lineage is Jewish, but as to the true identity of mom and pop scholars disagree. Most of his early exploits are shrouded in mystery, and there are numerous tales, and numerous sources that describe Reilly's life before him washed up in London in 1896. Once again, this type of mystery just makes him all the more intriguing of a character. Even his "name" was adopted, he took the maiden name of his first wife after possibly helping do away with her first husband, and helping her inherit a considerable sum from the poor bastard. There is a theory that Ian Fleming used Reilly as one of the inspirations for James Bond, and the two share several character traits. They are both multi-lingual, they both loved the ladies (and the ladies loved them back), they both liked high living, and they both liked to gamble, a lot. His exploits whilst serving as a British spy would take ages to recount. There is an excellent mini-series called "Reilly: Ace of Spies" with Sam Neill playing Reilly to perfection, I highly recommend it. It is a good view, and is based upon one of the several books written about Reilly (this one by Sir Robin Bruce Lockhart, a contemporary of Reilly's, so it is a good source and as accurate as you can be about Reilly). His exploits did win him, in 1919, a Military Cross, and he was an extremely talented and valuable agent for the British Secret Service. But, unlike our immortal hero (for another day) James Bond, Reilly was not able to escape all the traps laid for him. Eventually, he was lured to Russia by agents of the OGPU, (the successor to the Cheka), and eventually executed in November of 1925. Even after his death, rumours swirled that he was not actually dead, and there were reported sightings of him in places such as New York City, St. Petersburg, and London. The evidence is pretty convincing that the Russian, as was there wont, took him out one day, stood him against a wall, and shot him. Thus ending the career of one of the most brilliant spies the world has ever seen. It is sort of poetic that mystery surrounded his death, his life was one big mystery and I like to think he would smile a bit if he knew that his death was one too. So, for all those wonderfully mysterious stories, origins, and exploits, Sidney Reilly (March 24th or March 25th, 1873 or 1874-November 5th, 1925, at the age of 51 or 52) you are my (291st) hero of the day.

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