"Every Man Has His Own Stylo": British Spies Used To Have A Very NSFW Way Of Communicating

Can't picture a scene in the Daniel Craig films where this particular gadget is used. Image credit: Piotr Zajac/Shutterstock.com

If you've ever watched a James Bond film (or read the books), you'll know of Q, the quartermaster who dispenses agent 007 his high-tech gadgets, ranging from invisible cars to tiny pipes that allow you to breathe underwater.

You may not be aware that he was based on a real person: Charles Fraser-Smith, the supplier of all things gadget-y to Britain's Special Operations Service during World War II. The creation of such gadgets in the agency dates back even further still. 

However, some of the inventions and gadgets provided by the British spy agency now known as MI6 weren't quite how they were fictionalized in Bond. For instance, we never got a scene where Q calls Bond into his office and says "James, see this ordinary pen? Well take it like so, twist and pull off the end, now I want you to obtain an erection, stimulate yourself for a while and ejaculate into this bit here," but this was the gist of a very real (if short-lived) invention: the semen pen.

The first director of the then-Secret Service Bureau (rebranded as MI6 in WWI) was Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, who headed up the agency from 1909 and eventually inspired the character of M. During WWI, Captain Cumming wanted to find a way for spies to secretly communicate and in 1915 tasked scientists at London University with finding a new type of invisible ink. In the meantime, one of his spies – and good lord, we do not want to know how – discovered that he could make his own invisible ink by applying his own semen to the page. 

"Secret inks were our stock and trade and all were anxious to obtain some which came from a natural source of supply. I shall never forget [Captain Cumming’s] delight when the Chief Censor [Frank] Worthington came one day with the announcement that one of his staff had found out that semen would not respond to iodine vapour and told the man that he had had to remove the discoverer from the office immediately as his colleagues were making life intolerable by accusations of masturbation," one of his officers said of the discovery

"The Old Man at once asked Coney Hatch [lunatic asylum] to send female equivalent for testing and the slogan went round the office — every man his own stylo [pen]. We thought we had solved the problem." (The discoverer's move ended up being permanent as he was mocked so much by the other agents.)

Though the new ink was effective, there was a problem with it. It turns out that if you smear semen onto a letter and then send it via post or pigeon, upon arrival a day or so later it absolutely stank.

"Our man in Copenhagen, Major [Richard] Holme, evidently stocked it in a bottle," the officer continued. "For his letters stank to high heaven and we had to tell him that a fresh operation was necessary for each letter."

So there you have it. British spies were actually encouraged to masturbate afresh each time they wanted to send a secret letter in invisible semen ink. If Fleming had incorporated this into his stories no doubt Bond would have had much less energy to devote to chasing women. 

 
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