It is one of James Bond’s most famous scenes, showing the agent at his deadliest – and most dapper.
Emerging from the water in a wetsuit, he knocks out a sentry and plants explosives before unzipping his suit to reveal a pristine dinner jacket underneath. He then walks into the nearest bar, glances at his watch and nonchalantly lights a cigarette just as the storage tanks erupt into flames behind him.
Jeremy Duns, a British author researching his new book, has discovered that a Dutch spy used an almost identical technique to get into Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
Peter Tazelaar was under orders from the exiled Dutch queen, Wilhelmina, to slip into the country to extract two fellow countrymen to join the government-in-exile in Britain.
He and his fellow secret agents – Eric Hazelhoff Roelfzema and Bob Van der Stok – had often spent time at the seaside resort of Scheveningen, near The Hague, and knew that the Palace hotel there had been taken over by the Germans as a headquarters, and that every Friday night they held large and boisterous parties there.
Their plan was simple but audacious – approach Scheveningen in darkness by boat, and take Mr Tazelaar into the surf by dinghy, from where he could scramble ashore. Once there, he would strip off his wetsuit, to reveal his evening clothes underneath, to enable him to pose as a partygoer and slip past the sentries.
The scene it inspired, in the opening sequence of the 1964 film, was not in Ian Fleming’s book, on which it is based, and the original draft screenplay began with Bond, played by Sean Connery, already in a bar.
But Mr Duns believes that Paul Dehn, a British scriptwriter and former senior intelligence officer during the Second World War who was called in to polish the screenplay, knew about the Dutch operation and wrote in the scene to give the film a powerful, dramatic opening.
“Dehn was steeped in the world of intelligence and special operations and his senior position meant he would certainly have been aware of the amazing Dutch operation, and he decided to use in the screenplay,” Mr Duns said.
“It’s just too much of a coincidence because it was such an extraordinary operation. Dehn used his knowledge and experience in the intelligence world to embellish Fleming’s work to great artistic effect.”
The real operation itself proved harder to pull off than expected, because of bad weather and the difficulties of finding Scheveningen’s promenade in the dark.
But just after 4.30am on November 23 1941, after several false starts, Mr Tazelaar, Mr Hazelhoff Roelfzema, and another Dutchman, Chris Krediet, and Lieutenant Bob Goodfellow, disembarked from a British Motor Gun Boat into a small dinghy.
Once they neared the surf, Mr Hazelhoff Roelfzema and Mr Tazelaar slipped off the boat and waded onto the beach. Mr Hazelhoff Roelfzema then helped his comrade unzip his specially designed wetsuit to reveal his immaculate evening clothes.
Mr Hazelhoff Roelfzema then poured a generous measure of Hennessy XO – Mr Tazelaar’s favourite – from a hip flask over his friend, and returned to the dinghy. Reeking of brandy, Mr Tazelaar managed to stagger convincingly past the sentries stationed around the hotel.
Makes you wonder how much real life makes it into today’s movies via consultants.