"Count Laszlo de Almásy" is a character based on László Ede Almásy de Zsadány et Törökszentmiklós, an Hungarian aviator and Afrologist.
Born in Borostyánk, Austria-Hungary on 22 August 1895, his family were of nobility, but not titled. His mother was an Italian princess. His father, György, was a famed zoologist and ethnographer. While in boarding school in England, Almásy obtained a pilot's license. He flew for the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops during World War I.
While racing in Egypt and the Sudan for automaker Steyr in 1926, he fell in love with North Africa. Beginning in 1931, he participated in expeditions with other Europeans, and hired himself out as a safari guide. He became so well-known, the Bedouins nicknamed him Abu Ramla, "Father of the Sands". When World War II broke out, he returned to Hungary, which formally joined the Axis in 1940.
Although he smuggled spies behind Allied lines during his service in the Afrika Korps, it must be noted that Almásy never joined the Nazi Party, nor were his loyalties with the Axis, but with Hungary and with whomever was willing to hire him. In fact, he saved the lives of several Jewish families in Budapest who were destined for the concentration camps.
In The English Patient, Geoffrey Clifton (based on Robert Clayton East-Clayton, 9th Baronet of Marden and 5th Baronet of Hall Place Maidenhead) is an operative for British Intelligence posing as a tourist who, with his wife Katharine (based on East-Clayton's wife, Dorothy), joins Almásy and others in a Royal Geographic expedition. In fact, East-Clayton was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy whom, with Prince Kemal el Din, funded a 1932 expedition to the Gilf Kebir, and hired Almásy and Patrick Clayton (the basis for Madox) to organize it. And while Katharine and Almásy have a torrid affair, the real Almásy was gay, a fact East-Clayton was willing to overlook, but not Dorothy, who refused to even shake Almásy's hand.
After the Communists took over Hungary, Almásy was tried for treason as a Nazi sympathizer, but acquitted. He fled the country with the help of bribes to Communist officials by British Intelligence. When an attempt was made on his life in Austria, he was flown to Egypt, where he became technical director of the Desert Research Institute at the behest of King Farouk.
He died of dysentery in Salzburg while on a visit on 22 March 1951. A headstone was erected in 1995 after his grave was rediscovered.