Charles Henry Maxwell Knight OBE, known as Maxwell Knight, (b. Mitcham, Surrey, 4 September 1900 – 27 January 1968) was an English spymaster, naturalist and broadcaster, whilst reputedly being a model for the James Bond character M.

Spymaster[edit | edit source]

Knight had been a member of Rotha Lintorn-Orman's British Fascisti and served as the organisation's intelligence director. He maintained his membership until 1930. [1] His ex-wife, Joan Miller, described Knight as a rightwing, anti-semitic homosexual. [2]

In April 1925, Knight was recruited by Major General Sir Vernon Kell, Director General of the British Security Service MI5 responsible for counter terrorism. He was MI5's chief 'agent runner', principally against the Communist Party of Great Britain[1] He rose to be head of section B5(b) responsible for infiltrating agents into potentially subversive groups, based for much of its existence at 308 Hood House, Dolphin Square, London, separate from the rest of MI5.

During his career with MI5, Knight found that there was "a very long standing and ill-founded prejudice against the employment of women as agents", a position with which he did not agree. Indeed, many of his best agents were women. Agents working under him included Olga Gray (who infiltrated the leadership of the CPGB), Joan Miller (who "penetrated the anti-semitic underworld of British Fascism")[1] and Tom Driberg.

A respected case officer, notable successes were the infiltration of political groups leading to the internment and imprisonment of people regarded as a threat to the UK such as Albert Williams, Percy Glading, George Whomack, Anna Wolkoff, Tyler Kent, Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay and Sir Oswald Mosley. His early warnings of communist infiltration of MI5 were not taken seriously. A notable failing was his entrapment of Ben Greene the pacifist Quaker refugee worker who was interned by the then Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, as result of false evidence from Knight's agent provocateur Harald Kurtz.

Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond series of books, used an amalgam of Knight and his former superior Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of the Naval Intelligence Division, as a model for the character 'M', Bond's boss.

Naturalist[edit | edit source]

After World War II, in 1946, Knight, who had since childhood been an ardent naturalist, began what was to become a successful broadcasting career on BBC radio, appearing in and hosting such programmes as Naturalist, Country Questions and Nature Parliament. He appeared occasionally on television in Peter Scott's Look and Animal, Vegetable or Mineral and published 34 books and wrote magazine articles. His broadcast career progressed alongside his MI5 work until 1956 when he retired early, from MI5, on the grounds of ill health, suffering from angina. He died in Midgham, Berkshire from heart failure in 1968. After his death, the Maxwell Knight Memorial Fund was set up and from the proceeds funded the Maxwell Knight Young Naturalists' Library in the education centre of the Natural History Museum.

Published works[edit | edit source]

Detective fiction[edit | edit source]

  • Crime Cargo. London: Philip Allan. 1934. 
  • Gunman's Holiday. London: Philip Allan. 1935. 

Natural history[edit | edit source]

  • The Young Naturalists Field Guide. G. Bell. 1952. 
  • Bird Gardening: How to Attract Birds. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1954. 
  • Frogs, Toads and Newts in Britain. 1962. 
  • Reptiles in Britain. Heinemann. 1965. 
  • Pets and their Problems. Heinemann. 1968. 
  • Be a Nature Detective. Warne. 1969. 

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 S Twigge, E Hampshire, G Macklin British Intelligence, The National Archives, Kew, 2008, p33
  2. Bowcott, Owen (21 May 2004). "Women make better spies - as long as they forget sex". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 

References[edit | edit source]

  • Masters, A. (1986). The Man Who Was M: The life of Maxwell Knight. London: Grafton Books. ISBN 978-0-586-06867-0. 
  • Robinson, Curtis B. (2011). Caught Red Starred: The Woolwich Spy-Ring and Stalin's Naval Rearmament on the Eve of War. Bloomington IN.: Xlibris. ISBN 978-1-4653-4041-2. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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