Premium

Meet the real 'M': the extraordinary life of Maxwell Knight, MI5's greatest spy-master

maxwell knight
Maxwell Knight with Goo, his pet cuckoo

When Maxwell Knight died in the final week of January, 1968, most people around the country – including his close friends, family and former colleagues ­– thought they’d lost a slightly eccentric, avuncular BBC natural history presenter. At his memorial service a few weeks later, however, those same mourners watched as swarms of mysterious men in brown felt hats filled the pews of St. James’s Church in Piccadilly, west London, silently paying their respects to a person they had known somewhat differently. To them, Knight was ‘M’.

Rumours and reports over the years that followed revealed Maxwell Knight had, in fact, spent decades as the highest-ranking spymaster in MI5 with his own division, ‘M Section’. So legendary was he in the intelligence community that many believe he’s the chief inspiration behind James Bond’s po-faced superior.

Dame Judi Dench as M in Casino Royale Credit: Rex Features

Almost 40 years after Knight’s death, a new book by the...

To continue reading this Premium article

Register for free and access one Premium article per week

Enjoy unlimited access to Premium articles with a subscription

  • Subscriber-only events and experiences
  • Access Premium articles on our mobile app

30-day free trial

then only £2 per week

Unlock all Premium articles for 24 hours. Only £1.

Free £50 gift card when you subscribe
Enjoy a free £50 gift card* for one of your favourite brands when you take out an annual subscription
*Gift cards will be sent out by email within 21 days of the subscription start date. Available in the UK Only.