M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster by Henry Hemming - review by Alan Judd

Alan Judd

Monkey Business

M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster

By

Preface 400pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Maxwell Knight (1900–1968) was widely known as a naturalist, BBC broadcaster and author who maintained a collection of household pets, including bears, baboons, bulldogs, spiders, snakes and marmosets. Two of his books were illustrated by a young David Cornwell (better known now as John le Carré). But for thirty years he was also MI5’s most influential agent runner, masterminding long-term penetration of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and helping to ensure that fascism never took hold in Britain. Le Carré was one of his staff.

As a child he wanted to be a zookeeper, vet or taxidermist. He served two years in the navy in the First World War, then worked in London as a civil service clerk, paint salesman, jazz player and games teacher. Anyone who shared his flats, including his three wives and

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter