Charles Fraser-Smith was a gadget designer during World War II who is widely believed to be the inspiration for the character of Q in the James Bond novels.

Fraser-Smith was orphaned at age seven and fostered by a Christian missionary family in Croxley Green. He attended Brighton College, where he was described by teachers as ‘scholastically useless except for woodwork and science and making things’.

After leaving school he worked in a variety of occupations, including prep school teacher, motorcycle messenger rider, and aircraft factory worker.

Inspired by his foster family, he then travelled to Morocco as a Christian missionary.

Upon returning to England in 1939, Fraser-Smith gave a Sunday sermon at the Open Brethren Evangelical Church in Leeds, during which he described his enthusiasm for bricolage (the art of making things from useful but random objects).

In the congregation that day were two officials from Britain’s Ministry of Supply. They were so impressed by Fraser-Smith’s sermon that they offered him a job.

Officially, Fraser-Smith was a civil servant for the Ministry of Supply’s Clothing and Textile Department. In reality, he developed and supplied gadgets and other equipment for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain’s World War II intelligence organisation.

Every day he would travel by train from his home in Hertfordshire to the clothing department of the Ministry of Supply in London, near St James’s Park. But he was actually working under MI6 in the nearby Minimax House. His job was so top secret that neither his secretary nor his boss knew what he was doing.

Fraser-Smith was not the only gadget master working for British intelligence during World War II. The SOE had various secret research and development laboratories, including Station IX at the Natural History Museum and Station XII at the Frythe Hotel.

Fraser-Smith’s first order was to counterfeit Spanish Army uniforms for an SOE plan to send agents into neutral Spain, to prevent it from entering the war on Germany’s side. He dealt directly with the textile suppliers, using more than 300 firms in and around London, most of whom had no idea what they were making or why.

Eventually, Fraser-Smith’s skill with gadgetry led him to develop a wide range of devices, including miniature cameras inside cigarette lighters, shaving brushes containing film, hairbrushes containing a map and saw, pens containing hidden compasses and steel shoelaces that doubled as garrottes. His design for a compressed gas canister to inflate life jackets is still used today.

His gadgets were used to help prisoners of war to escape and to aid SOE agents gathering intelligence on Nazi activities in occupied Europe.

It was during his time working for the SOE that Fraser-Smith met Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels.

Fraser-Smith called his inventions ‘Q gadgets’, after the Q ships, warships disguised as freighters which were deployed in World War I. This may have been why Fleming named his character ‘Q’.

Fraser-Smith was also involved in the intelligence operation codenamed Operation Mincemeat. The plan was to drop a body carrying false papers off the Spanish coast. The papers would convince German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia, when Sicily was the real objective.

Fraser-Smith was instructed to design a trunk that would carry a dead body preserved in dry ice. When the dry ice evaporated, it would fill the trunk with carbon dioxide and drive out oxygen, thus preserving the body without the need for refrigeration.

When the body was found, German defensive efforts were redirected to Greece and Sardinia instead of Sicily.

Later, when the Allies invaded Sicily, the Germans remained convinced for two more weeks that the main attacks would be in Sardinia and Greece, and kept reinforcements there until it was too late. Operation Mincemeat was a success.

After the war, Fraser-Smith bought a rundown dairy farm in Bratton Fleming in southwest England and turned it into a profitable business.

In the late 1970s, his family persuaded him to seek permission to write a book about his wartime exploits. With clearance under the Official Secrets Act he wrote several books and donated the royalties to charity.

In 1992, Charles Fraser-Smith died at his home of undisclosed causes at the age of 88. He was survived by his wife and two children.