Ipswich City Council

Media Release

Ipswich's "James Bond" remembered on birthday

28 May 2008

THE exploits of an Ipswich man will be remembered today on what would have been the 100th birthday of the creator of the famous James Bond character.

Division 10 Councillor David Pahlke said Frederick Sidney Cotton, known as Sidney, was the son of AJ Cotton who once lived on the property now known as Old Hidden Vale at Grandchester.

"Sidney Cotton became famous as a pioneer of aerial photograph and as a notorious allied spy who flew daring  flights over Nazi Germany before World War II," Cr Pahlke said.

Cotton was close friends with James Bond author the late Ian Fleming, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and George Eastman founder of the Eastman Kodak Company who invented the roll of film and helped to bring photography to the mainstream.

"Sidney Cotton is believed to be the real life inspiration for the James Bond character in Ian Fleming's novels."

Cr Pahlke said Ian Lancaster Fleming  was born 100 years ago today on May 28, 1908 and passed away on August 12, 1964.

Fleming was a British author, journalist and Second World War Navy Commander.

He is best remembered for creating the character of Jame Bond and chronicling his adventures in 12 novels and nine short stories.

Fleming wrote the children's story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two non-fiction books.

Cr Pahlke said many people would be unaware that Tallegalla Cemetery on the outskirts of Ipswich was home to the final resting place of such a significant identity as Sidney Cotton and of his connection to James Bond and Ian Fleming.

"In 2005, council placed a historical marker at the Tallegalla Cemetery detailing Sidney's history and his connection to James Bond and Ian Fleming."

Cr Pahlke said Sidney Cotton was born on June 17, 1894 and passed away on February 13, 1969 and his ashes were buried in the Cotton family grave at Tallegalla.

"Aside from his reported connection to James Bond, Cotton also led an extremely interesting life.

"Cotton is recognised as the father of aerial photographic reconnaissance and flew a Lockheed 12A Junior Electra with cameras concealed in the cabin floor."

In the late 1930s, Cotton ran a photographic business and lived in London. He was a skilled pilot who had flown combat missions with the Royal Naval Air Service in World War I.

Between the wars, Cotton ran an aerial seal-spotting operation in Newfoundland and developed a colour film process.

It was in Newfoundland that he took his first aerial photographs - using his knees to hold the control column and manhandling a large plate camera over the aircraft's side.

As Cotton had legitimate reasons for going to Germany,  in 1939 British Intelligence entrusted him to take aerial photographs of Nazi Germany.

MI6 bought him the Lockheed and had the aircraft modified to hide cameras in the floor.

Cotton's cameras took photographs of everything the Germans wished to hide - munitions factories, airfields, troop concentrations and anti-aircraft batteries.

On one trip to Berlin, Cotton photographed the naval base at Wilhelmshaven and even took pictures of Hitler's personal yacht.

He posed as a businessman, an archaeologist or a film producer looking for locations for a movie.

His most audacious act was to take Luftwaffe officer Albert Kesselring - who became one of Hitler's outstanding commanders - on a flight while taking spy photographs.

Cotton offered to take Kesselring on a flight along the Rhine, saying he had a maiden aunt who lived there.

After the Lockheed was airborne and Kesselring was at the controls, Cotton reached under the seat and switched on the hidden cameras, photographing fortifications and airfields. Kesselring was unaware the photographs were being taken, nor that there was no maiden aunt.

A week before war started, Cotton flew to Berlin on his own initiative to collect Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering and fly him to England for talks with the British government.

However, Hitler refused to allow Goering to make the trip. Cotton was told to return to England and not to divert from his flight plan or he would be shot down. Cotton claimed the Lockheed was the last civilian aircraft to leave Berlin before WWII.

Cotton's work with MI6 led to him being given his own clandestine photographic unit. He was appointed a squadron leader and empowered to hire civilians or military members.

The unit quickly became known as Cotton's Club or, more unkindly, Cotton's Crooks.

Cotton even had a special badge struck bearing the initials CC-11 that signified the 11th commandment - "Thou shalt not be found out".

The Photographic Development Unit he commanded later became the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, which by war's end employed more than 5000 pilots, photographers and photographic interpreters.

After WWII, Cotton dabbled in oil exploration, civil engineering and ran guns into the Indian state of Hyderabad using second-hand Lancasters.

The latter venture was said to have made him a millionaire but he died in England in 1969 penniless.