`Real life' inspiration for James Bond dies, aged 85

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The man believed to have been the inspiration for Ian Fleming's fictional hero James Bond has died at the age of 85, his family said yesterday.

Former diplomat, writer, soldier and Tory MP Sir Fitzroy Maclean died on Saturday from a heart attack while staying with friends in Hertfordshire, his son Charles said at the family home in Strachur, Argyll.

His most famous exploit was being parachuted into Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia as Winston Churchill's personal envoy. He was believed to have been instrumental in securing British backing for the partisan leader Tito - recalling afterwards that Churchill had briefed him: "Your job is to find out who is killing the most Germans - and how we can help them kill more." His other wartime exploits included a series of raids behind enemy lines in North Africa.

Among the tributes last night was one from the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, who called him "a great man from a great generation".

"He will be remembered as someone who loved Scotland greatly, and was a very lovable Scot. His career was extraordinary. He was a great soldier, diplomat and parliamentarian.

"A larger than life character - but I'm sure he will be missed most in the community in Argyll which he loved so much and made such a tremendous contribution to."

Educated at Eton and Cambridge education, he joined the diplomatic service in 1933 but enlisted as a private with the Cameron Highlanders in 1939. He became friends with Fleming before the war and during the conflict their paths crossed on several occasions.

Promoted to second lieutenant in 1941, he joined the Special Air Service regiment in 1942. After the war, he travelled without permits through Central Asia, but always denied he was ever involved in espionage.

Sir Fitzroy served as Conservative MP for Lancaster in 1941 while on active service, and as Under Secretary for War from 1954 to 1957. From 1959 until 1974, he was MP for Bute and North Ayrshire.

Yesterday, his son Charles, 49, said: " He led a marvellous life, for which we will all remember him. He did not tolerate illness, so we should be glad that he went so suddenly. Living out his years in a wheelchair, or confined indoors, would have been a far more cruel end to his remarkable life.

"He was a tremendous individual, a remarkable man, an indomitable spirit and a wonderful father."

He won the French Croix de Guerre, the Order of Kutusov, the Partisans' Star (First Class), and the order of the Yugoslav Star with Ribbon. He was made a baronet in 1957, and a Knight of the Thistle, Scotland's highest order of chivalry, in 1993. Despite all his honours, however, his son said yesterday that the award closest to his heart was the Freedom of Argyll, which was conferred in March of this year.

He leaves a widow Veronica, sister of another Scottish war hero, the late Lord Lovat.