Maxwell Knight was a paradox. A jazz obsessive and nature enthusiast (he is the author of the definitive work on how to look after a gorilla), he is seen today as one of MI5's greatest spymasters, a man who did more than any other to break up British fascism during the Second World War – in spite of having once belonged to the British Fascisti himself. He was known to his agents and colleagues simply as M, and was rumoured to be part of the inspiration for the character M in the James Bond series.
Knight became a legendary spymaster despite an almost total lack of qualifications. What set him apart from his peers was a mercurial ability to transform almost anyone into a fearless secret agent. He was the first in MI5 to grasp the potential of training female agents.
M is about more than just one man however. In its pages, Hemming reveals for the first time in print the names and stories of seven men and women recruited by Knight, on behalf of MI5, and then asked to infiltrate the most dangerous political organizations in Britain at that time. Until now, their identities have been kept secret outside MI5. Drawn from every walk of life, they led double lives—often at great personal cost—in order to protect the country they loved. With the publication of this book, it will be possible at last to celebrate the lives of these courageous, selfless individuals.
Drawing on declassified documents, private family archives and interviews with retired MI5 officers as well as the families of MI5 agents, M reveals not just the shadowy world of espionage but a brilliant, enigmatic man at its centre.
About the Author
Henry Hemming is the author of five previous works of Non Fiction, including most recently Churchill's Iceman, published in the US as The Ingenious Mr. Pyke, where it became a New York Times bestseller. Earlier works include Misadventure in the Middle East and In Search of the English Eccentric. He has written for the Economist, The Sunday Times, FT Magazine and the Washington Post, among many others. He lives in London with his two children.
"Fascinating biography ... Hemming has done a superb job" -- Ben Macintyre * The Times, 'Book of the Week' *
"Excellent biography... The author has done a terrific job of unscrambling Knight's muddled life" * The Sunday Times *
"Jaw-droppingly revelatory biography. *****" * Mail on Sunday *
"`Compelling new biography... Hemming has done a wonderful espionage job of his own, scouring obscure files to bring long-hidden agents and their exploits to light. It is also a gripping portrait of an era, now long gone, when the establishment could accommodate such extravagant oddness." * Daily Telegraph *
"Henry Hemming has found a peach of a subject... Full of new material, fresh interpretations and uncompromising integrity... He has managed the great feat of producing a rattling good read that is also a major piece of revisionist history" -- Richard Davenport-Hines * Wall Street Journal *
"Hemming has written a very readable, thoughtful and comprehensive account" -- Alan Judd * Literary Review *
"I raced through Henry Hemming's book, constantly having to remind myself that it wasn't a work of fiction. It really has everything you'd want from a great espionage story: incredible agents risking their lives; the highest possible stakes, with the safety of the world hanging in the balance; and at its heart a complicated, mercurial spy master in Maxwell Knight spinning an ever more intricate web." -- Matt Charman, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of 'Bridge of Spies'
"A major new biography" * Mail on Sunday *
"Engaging and suspenseful" * Financial Times *
"Lively contribution to a maverick literature" * The Observer *
"Crammed with cracking stories and founded on sound research, Henry Hemming's biography of Maxwell Knight - `M' - stands comparison with the bestselling books of Ben Macintyre." -- Adam Sisman (Author of John Le Carre)
"Absolute proof that assiduous digging in the archives can produce scoops. This is intelligence research at its best, especially in the identification of hitherto anonymous agents. Definitely a great contribution to the literature." -- Nigel West (Author of MI5)
"A fascinating portrait of a complex man. Espionage writing at its best." -- Charles Cumming (Author of A Divided Spy)
"A cracking read, which both informs and entertains in equal measure." -- Robin Handbury-Tenison * Country Life *
"Henry Hemming's excellent new life of Maxwell Knight [...] the most convincing, balanced and intricate biography of this extraordinary figure." -- Alex Bughart * The Spectator *
"`A terrific life of the brilliant and eccentric spymaster'" * The Sunday Times *
"A jaw-droppingly revelatory biography" * EVENT magazine, Mail on Sunday *
"The odd chap is brought to life" * The Times *
"This is a terrific book, well researched and superbly written" * The Guardian *
"a fascinating biography" * Keith Simpson MP's Summer Reading List *