Alexander Wilson (24 October 1893 – 4 April 1963) was an English writer, spy and MI6 officer.[1][2]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Wilson was born in Dover to an Irish mother and an English father, who had a 40 year career in the British army from 15 year old boy bugler to Colonel in the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) when he died in 1919. His father served throughout the Boer War receiving the Queen Victoria and King Edward VII medals. He was mentioned in despatches for his managing and supplying of hospital ships and trains from the Western Front. In the final year of World War I he was responsible for all medical supplies to the British Army in Europe. In his childhood Alexander Wilson's family followed his father to Mauritius, Singapore, Hong Kong and Ceylon. He was educated at St. Joseph's College, Hong Kong and St Boniface's Catholic College in Plymouth where he played amateur soccer.

First World War[edit | edit source]

He served in the Royal Navy at the start of World War I. A reference in a War Office document indicated he had been in the Royal Naval Air Service and crashed his plane. He was then commissioned in 1915 in the Royal Army Service Corps escorting motor transports and supplies to France. He received disabling injuries to his knee and shrapnel wounds to the left side of his body before being invalided, and received the Silver War Badge. He was in the merchant navy in 1919 serving as a purser on a requisitioned German liner SS Prinzessin, sailing from London to Vancouver via South Africa, China and Japan. In the early 1920s he was actor-manager of a touring repertory company.

Academic and intelligence career in India[edit | edit source]

In 1925, he left his first wife, Gladys, and three young children in England and went to British-ruled India to become Professor of English Literature at Islamia College, the University of Punjab in Lahore (now part of Pakistan). It is believed that, by this time, he was already recruited into the British secret services. Certainly, while in the post at Lahore, he travelled around the North-West Frontier, learned Urdu and Persian and was appointed an honorary Major in the Indian Army Reserve. In these years, he also spent time in Arabia, Ceylon and Palestine, on what may have been intelligence missions.

He was interviewed and appointed as an English Professor by the then Principal of Islamia College, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who was a famous author, academic and educationalist who went on to translate the Quran, the Holy Book of the Muslim faith. Wilson provided a positive and sympathetic portrait of Abdullah in his second novel The Devil's Cocktail 1928, as the Principal of a fictional Sheranwalla College, Lahore.[3] Wilson succeeded Yusuf Ali as Principal of Islamia College in 1928 until he resigned in 1931 to take up the post of a newspaper editor in the city.

Writing career[edit | edit source]

In 1928, he published his first spy novel, The Mystery of Tunnel 51, which introduced a character, Sir Leonard Wallace,[4] who appeared in subsequent novels. That same year he also published The Devil's Cocktail. In total, Wilson wrote and published three academic books and 21 novels; he also wrote 4 unpublished manuscripts. The Sir Leonard Wallace character appears closely based on the first 'C' of MI6 Mansfield Smith-Cumming.[5] Wilson's first four books were published by Longmans Green & Co between 1928 and 1931 and in addition to the two spy novels first featuring Sir Leonard Wallace and the British Secret Service, Murder Mansion (1929) and The Death of Dr. Whitelaw were both crime thrillers. In 1933 he published Confessions Of A Scoundrel under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Spencer, the same surname used by the first actual 'C' Mansfield Smith-Cumming when renting the MI6 headquarters at 2 Whitehall Court, also coincidentally the same address as the Authors' Club of which Wilson was a member. Wilson was first published by Herbert Jenkins in 1933 and the novels included titles in the Sir Leonard Wallace series and other novels in the crime, romance, comedy and thriller genres. He published under at least one other pseudonym, Gregory Wilson, in 1938 and it would appear his last two novels were published by Herbert Jenkins in 1940.[citation needed]

Second marriage[edit | edit source]

In India, he met and is believed to have bigamously married a touring actress called Dorothy Wick. When they returned to England, in 1933, Wilson left Dorothy and their baby son Michael in London and returned to his first wife and family, now in Southampton. However, he stayed with them for only 18 months. In 1935, Wilson moved to London, telling Gladys and family that he would find them a place for them all to live. Instead, he returned to Dorothy.[6]

Third marriage and intelligence career in the Second World War[edit | edit source]

Although there is evidence he was involved in intelligence activities as an agent in the 1920s and 1930s, it is certain that he was in MI6 in 1940, by which time he had left Dorothy and found his third wife, Alison McKelvie, a secretary in MI6. Dorothy's son, the actor and poet Mike Shannon [He changed his name by deed poll] was led to believe that Wilson was killed in the Battle of El Alamein and did not discover the truth until 2006.[7] In 1942, Wilson told his third wife Alison that he was dismissed from MI6 to go into the field as an agent. He said his subsequent misadventures, including being declared bankrupt, though never discharged, and being jailed for petty crime, were part of the cover he had to adopt for operational reasons.

Post-war career and fourth marriage[edit | edit source]

In the mid-1950s, when Wilson was working as a hospital porter, he met and married a nurse, Elizabeth Hill, with whom he also had a child.[8] Wilson died of a heart attack on 4 April 1963 in Ealing and is buried in Milton cemetery, Portsmouth with a tombstone describing him as an author and patriot and the quotation from Shakespeare's Othello 'He loved not wisely but too well.' The monument is feet away from the grave of fellow MI6 agent Commander Buster Crabb.[9]

Grandchildren[edit | edit source]

The actress Ruth Wilson is one of his grandchildren.[10] It was only since 2007 that Alexander Wilson's multiple families and descendants began meeting each other for the first time. Ruth discovered that the children of Mike Shannon were also professionals in playwriting, film-making and drama education.[11] Ruth's brother, Sam, a senior BBC journalist, wrote an article in The Times in 2010 that explored the impact of Alexander Wilson's complicated private life on his various families.[12]

Books by Alexander Wilson[edit | edit source]

Wilson wrote and published three academic books and 21 novels.

  • 1928: The Mystery of Tunnel 51. London: Longmans, Green and Co. The cover of this book carries the blurb: 'Murder in the tunnel, and the theft of plans. Then spies pursued through India by Secret Agents.'

Publisher's blurb: 'The mysterious death of Major Elliott and the theft of some very important plans of the Frontier, cause great consternation to the Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief in India. The Viceroy cables for Sir Leonard Wallace, the Chief of the Intelligence Department in the India Office in London. Sir Leonard Wallace, with his assistant, Major Brien, makes a rapid flight to India, where he finds himself up against agents of the Russian Soviet, and makes important discoveries on the very night of his arrival in Karachi.'

  • 1928: The Devil's Cocktail. Longmans, Green and Co.
  • 1929: Murder Mansion. Longmans, Green and Co.
  • 1930: The Death of Dr. Whitelaw. Longmans, Green and Co.
  • 1933: The Confessions of a Scoundrel under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Spencer. T Werner Laurie.
  • 1933: Wallace of the Secret Service. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1934: Get Wallace! Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1934: The Sentimental Crook. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1935: The Magnificent Hobo. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1936: His Excellency, Governor Wallace. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1937: Microbes of Power. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1937: Mr Justice. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1937: Double Events. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1938: Wallace At Bay. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1938: The Factory Mystery as 'Gregory Wilson.' Modern Publishing Company.
  • 1938: The Boxing Mystery as 'Gregory Wilson.' Modern Publishing Company.
  • 1939: Wallace Intervenes. Herbert Jenkins.

Publisher's blurb: 'Foster, a British agent sent to Germany to obtain vital information, fell passionately in love with Baroness von Reudath, the beautiful confidante of the infamous Marshal von Strom. The Marshal, almost insane with jealousy and fearing betrayal of his plans, seized Foster and had him removed from the sight of prying eyes. The Baroness, after a travesty of a trial, was condemned to the headsman's axe. But Wallace, the famous Chief of Secret Service, discovered her plight. With the cool and calculating courage that had borne him through many a desperate enterprise he made his plans to free Foster and the Baroness.

  • 1939: Scapegoats for Murder. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1940: Chronicles of the Secret Service. Herbert Jenkins.
  • 1940: Double Masquerade. Herbert Jenkins.

A novel published by Simon & Schuster in the USA entitled 'The Town Is Full Of Rumors' in 1941 and republished in 1955 as 'Death Watch,' was written by Alexander Wilson and Ruth Wilson, but this Alexander Wilson, coincidentally also born in 1893, was a different writer.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Terry Kirby, Writer lover, soldier, spy: The strange and secretive life of Alexander Wilson, The Independent, 8 October 2010
  2. Tim Crook, The Secret Lives of the Secret Agent: The Mysterious Life and Times of Alexander Wilson, Kultura Press, 2010
  3. Dr. Jamil Sherif, [1] New Light on Abdullah Yusuf Ali
  4. Allen J. Hubin, Crime fiction, 1749–1980: a comprehensive bibliography, Garland Pub., 1984
  5. Cat Wiener, [2] Secrets of real-life MI6 spook revealed in new book, 13 October 2010
  6. "Writer, lover, soldier, spy: The strange and secretive life of Alexander Wilson – Profiles, People". The Independent. UK. 8 October 2010. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/writer-lover-soldier-spy-the-strange-and-secretive-life-of-alexander-wilson-2100874.html. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  7. Nick Curtis,[3] Bigamist, writer, soldier, spy...the truth about Ruth Wilson's grandfather, Evening Standard 12 October 2010
  8. "Bigamist, writer, soldier, spy...the truth about Ruth Wilson's grandfather | Life & Style". Thisislondon.co.uk. 12 October 2010. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/lifestyle/article-23886966-bigamist-writer-soldier-spythe-truth-about-ruth-wilsons-grandfather.do. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  9. Peter Mitchell [4] Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb, 4 July 2007
  10. "Comparative Media Law and Ethics – by Tim Crook". Ma-radio.gold.ac.uk. http://www.ma-radio.gold.ac.uk/cmle/timcrookbiog.htm. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  11. ":: Richard Shannon Online ::". Richardshannon.co.uk. http://www.richardshannon.co.uk/playwright.html. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  12. The Times, 11 October 2010 Monday, Edition 1; National Edition, SECTION: FEATURES; Pg. 55,56, LENGTH: 2340 words 'Four wives, seven children and a life of lies; Alexander Wilson was a Second World War hero and a leading novelist, as well as a bigamist and a cad. His grandson, Sam Wilson, pieces together his family's incredible past'

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