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 it, Hemming reveals for the first time 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.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By ctolstoy on 04-09-17
What made the experience of listening to M the most enjoyable?
Fascinatingly interesting and gripping.
What was one of the most memorable moments of M?
The happenings in the bayswater flat!
What about Henry Hemming’s performance did you like?
The voice of the author is quite mesmerising and engagingly perfect for the subject.
If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?
M's mercurial character
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
By Dan Rose on 16-05-17
An Enjoyable, Engaging Listen. Highly Recommended
Maxwell Knight joined MI5. Britain's counter espionage intelligence service in 1931. whilst there he infiltrated with the help of his agents the British Communist party and the British Union of fascists, By doing this he was able to monitor the movements and the key players within them. Later, he was involved in the detection and arrest of the American cypher clerk, Tyler Kent who passed secrets to the Germans. Knight used agents from all sections of British Society, indeed, Knight was one of the first to use female agents on a regular basis as he felt there discretion and intuition could save a lot of valuable time. Retiring early from MI5 in 1961 on health grounds (he suffered with angina), he emerged from the shadows to become a well-known writer and broadcaster specialising in animals, birds and the natural environment. He had, in fact started his broadcasting and writing career whilst still an officer at MI5.
Henry Hemming's book is excellent. I found it to be a very enjoyable engaging listen it describes the life of one of britain's key intelligence officers, Maxwell Knight, who during his 30 year career worked to to keep the country safe. If like me, you are interested in the shadowy world of intelligence and the people involved in it then this is a must read.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful