Thursday, August 20, 2020

Agent "M" - Maxwell Knight

Agent M – The Lives and Spies of MI5’s Maxwell Knight, by Henry Hemming (bcls 5 Pioneer Blvd., Westampton, N.J. 08060)

“Maxwell Knight was perhaps the greatest spymaster in history, rumored to be the real-life inspiration for the James Bond character ‘M.’”

“Max did not imagine that his work for MI6 and MI5 would ever become public knowledge. Nor did he think that his moniker, ‘M,’ would come to be associated all over the world with a pipe-smoking British spymaster.”

“In late 1962 Max may have visited one of the cinemas in Camberey to see the first James Bond film, Dr. No. The audience would have been mostly teenage boys, all in love with the idea of being a spy – as Max had been at their age. Within the first ten minutes of the film, Bond’s spymaster, ‘M,’ appeared on the screen. Although Max would have known about this character from Fleming’s books, which had begun to be published ten years earlier, the legend of the James Bond ‘M’ only really took off once the films came out.”

“Fleming never revealed who had inspired this character. Yet, in manner, M was clearly based on Fleming’s former boss, Admiral John Godfrey, who had been director of naval intelligence. But Godfrey was never called ‘M.’ The name of this character was most likely a nod to Max. He and Fleming may have met each other either professionally during the war, or socially through Ian Menzies. Otherwise, Fleming would have heard of the MI5 spymaster. Max had been known as ‘M’ within MI5 and beyond since 1931. He ran ‘M’ Section. His agents all had codenames such as ‘M/1’ and ‘M/A.’ He signed all of his correspondence as ‘M’ and had dealings with individuals and organizations throughout the world. Although there was one other figure in wartime British Intelligence who was briefly known as ‘M’ – Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins, the head of SOE (Special Operations Executive) – by the time Fleming began to write his James Bond novels the man with the greatest claim to the moniker ‘M’ in British intelligence was undoubtedly Maxwell Knight.”

Maxwell Knight was also a naturalist – who often wandered into the woods on field trips, so he would have been interested in knowing that the real James Bond was the Philadelphia ornithologist and author of the book “Birds of the West Indies,” from whom Fleming acknowledged appropriating the name for his 007 agent.

The real James Bond also attended Cambridge, and was a member of the Pitt Club, as was notorious double-agent Guy Burgess. Bond was also associated with CIA bagman Philadelpia philanthropist Cummins Catherwood, whose CIA connections were exposted in The Invisible Government (Wise and Ross). 

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