Five fictional characters inspired by real people

Five fictional characters inspired by real people

Some fictional characters are so incredible and outlandish, it is difficult to believe that they are based on real people. Yet, this is the case for some of our best loved characters.  Here are five famous characters and their real life inspirations.

1)      Sherlock Holmes-  Joseph Bell.

Sherlock Holmes is arguably one of the most famous detectives in the world and a British icon. His stories, first penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and published in 1887 have enchanted the world. Sherlock has been adapted into film, television, radio and his appeal continues in the modern day.

The real Sherlock Holmes was Doctor Joseph Bell.  Doyle used to work for Doctor Bell as a clerk in Scotland and said Bell had Sherlock’s ability to reach conclusions by examining people or places and noticing the smallest detail. Bell however went on record to say he thought Doyle was Sherlock. Several other people have been suggested. Francis Smith was Leicester’s first private detective and a master of disguise. Sir Henry Littlejohn helped Doyle link medical science to criminal stories. The name Sherlock  was borrowed from a famous cricketer and the surname Holmes was adapted from a local doctor called Doctor House whom Doyle was friends with. The newest element to be added to Sherlock (by element I mean characteristics like the deerstalker hat and the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson,” which were both added to Sherlock mythos after the author’s death) is the Mind Palace technique. The idea of a Mind Palace can be traced back to Ancient Rome and if you want to build your own Mind Palace you can find help here.


2)      Severus Snape- John Nettleship

One of the most infamous characters of recent years, many have envisioned Severus Snape (portrayed by the late Alan Rickman) marching down the dungeon corridors in Hogwarts, his black cloak swooping behind him ready to make his students lesson a misery. Who could inspire such a monster?

J K Rowling “loosely” based Snape of her old science teacher John Nettleship. He described himself as a “short-tempered chemistry teacher with long hair…[and a] gloomy, malodorous laboratory”. At first he was unhappy with the comparison (can you blame him?) but he later grew to accept it. His wife understood the link between him and Snape upon reading the Harry Potter books but was too scared to tell him. Sadly Nettleship died in 2011 of cancer but he shall live on in the form of Severus Snape.

3)      Popeye- Frank “Rocky” Fiegel

Popeye is a loveable children’s character who likes to smokes a pipe, brawling and loves spinach. Arguably he was the first comic book superheroe, he outdates Superman by several years.


The inspiration for Popeye was a sailor called Frank Fiegel also known as Rocky. Like Popeye, he smoked a pipe and loved fighting. Apparently when the children saw him napping they would wake him up and laugh as he sprung awake, arms swinging ready for a fight. Sadly Rocky passed away in 1996 but his gravestone bears Popeye’s face.

4)      James Bond/007- Various.

Bond. James Bond. The British super spy who has stared in twenty six films (at time of writing) loves his vodka martini’s, fast cars and pretty ladies. He is the alpha-male, the man every man wants to be. So who was the real James Bond?

Ian Fleming, the creator of 007, worked as a personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. As such he met many interesting people and incorporated many of their stories into his character. Bond had Flemming’s likes and dislikes, for example they shared a love of cigarettes and golf. Flemming based Bond’s looks off Hoagy Carmichael and the name James Bond came from the author of the book Birds of the West Indies because Flemming thought it sounded perfectly ordinary.

What about the stories that made Bond? Well, Duane Hudson spent almost all of World War Two behind enemy lines, survived several assassination attempts and blew up a ship single handedly.  Flemming was with Dušan Popov when Dušan placed a $40,000 bet in a casino forcing a rival to withdraw. Forest Yeo-Thomas parashooted multiple times into Nazi controlled France, had dinner with the Nazis, used a variety of disguises, was captured by and escaped the Gestapo. Flemming was not short of inspiration.

5)      Zorro- Joaquin Murrieta

Diego de la Vega was an aristocrat who flaunted his money,  wrote poetry and hated violence.  By night however he was Zorro, the vigilante who emerged from his cave to rob from the rich and give to the poor. He rode the fastest horse in the land, Tornado, was an expert in the use of whips and swords. He defended the right of the local citizens and battled the corrupt government. Batman was heavily based on Zorro, they both have a faithful servant, a fast means of transportation, the latest gadgets, a cave and the desire for justice.

The character of Zorro was based from Joaquin Murrieta the leader of a outlaw gang. The money they stole from the authorities was used to help feed the poor. When the gang was captured Joanquin’s head was removed from his body ending his career (and his life).

Joaquin achieved something few others have. Like Robin Hood, Zorro was more than just a man, he was a symbol of hope to the people. He was an idea that has lived for centuries.

Be sure to keep an eye open for the second part of this list in weeks to come. Do any of these entries surprise you? Are any of your characters based on real people? Leave your comments down below.


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