| 10°C Belfast

MI5 feared writer behind James Bond films was a real-life spy

As the writer who brought James Bond to life on the big screen, Wolf Mankowitz was well versed in the skulduggery of British intelligence services.

Unbeknown to him, MI5 returned the favour by investigating him for more than a decade as a suspected Soviet spy.

The playwright and renowned expert in Wedgwood porcelain, who is reputed to have made the introduction which led to the 007 film franchise and later became a scriptwriter on two of the films, was carefully watched by the Security Service after it was claimed that he became a “pure Marxist” while studying English at Cambridge University during the Second World War.

The son of Russian-Jewish émigrés who ran a second-hand book stall in London's East End, Mr Mankowitz was pursued as part of an MI5 operation to weed out potential Communist agents sanctioned by its then director general, Sir Percy Sillitoe.

Documents released at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show that Mr Mankowitz, who later wrote the screenplay for Casino Royale and the first draft of the 007 classic Dr No, even fell foul of a warning from MI5 to the BBC that a “security risk would exist” if he gained access to classified information.

Quite what secrets it was feared the writer might obtain is unclear since the records show that he worked only as an occasional contributor to what became BBC Radio 3 and provided a translation of Chekhov's The Bear.

But those in charge of the Security Service's efforts to weed out feared fifth columnists nonetheless felt they had grounds for ordering an inquiry into the nature of his political beliefs between 1944 and the late 1950s after it emerged his wife, Ann, had been a Communist Party member in Cambridge.

One MI5 memo asking for a report on Mr Mankowitz's wartime record in the Royal Army Education Corps in 1945, said: “This man is known to me as the husband of a Communist Party member and is himself a convinced Marxist. I think there is little doubt that he too is a party member and I should be glad to have a general report on him.”

Over the next 16 years, agents collected information on Mr Mankowitz as he moved around Britain, intercepting telegrams and phone calls as well as photographing him during visits to the Soviet consulate to apply for visas to visit Moscow as part of his membership of British-Soviet Friendship Society.

The documents suggest that MI5 began to lose interest in Mr Mankowitz, who also ran an antiques shop in London's Piccadilly specialising in Wedgwood china, when his career as a screenwriter and impresario began to take off.

After writing two successful novels and films, Make Me An Offer and A Kid for Two Farthings, he became a significant figure in British film and introduced the producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli to each other, before they decided to start making the James Bond movies.

By way of a reward, the two men asked Mr Mankowitz to write the first draft of the script for Dr No but the writer lost his chance to enter cinematic history when he withdrew from the project after seeing early rushes and fearing it would ruin his reputation. By the time he asked for his name to be reinstated, the final prints had been made and it was too late.

Belfast Telegraph

Top Videos