The Second World War Chief of MI6 said Alexander Wilson had ‘remarkable gifts as a writer of fiction, and no sense of responsibility in using them!’
Wilson’s three year career in the Secret Intelligence Service ended when the country’s spy chiefs decided his creativity got the better of his grasp of reality.
Media Release for Secret Lives 2nd Edition
His ‘secret lives’ extended to his private life.
Four wives and four families; not necessarily one after the other.
In this second Edition Tim Crook unravels more of the mysteries of this extraordinary story.
The first edition of his biography is the foundation, along with the memoir of Alexander Wilson’s third wife, Alison, of the BBC drama series ‘Mrs Wilson.’
The series is based on a dramatised interpretation of Alison’s viewpoint and has been executively produced by the award-winning actor Ruth Wilson who is Alexander and Alison Wilson’s granddaughter.
It is eight years since Tim first told the story of the life and times of the father of his friend Mike Shannon.
In the spring of 1941 Mike was only 7 years old when he said goodbye to his father, Alexander Wilson, dressed as a lieutenant colonel in the Indian Army.
As the steam train pulled away from the Yorkshire railway station platform that would be the last time he ever saw him.
More than six decades later Tim Crook would help unlock the secrets of his father’s life.
The biography was published in October 2010 shortly before Mike passed away.
Not only had he learned that his father had worked for MI6 during the Second World War, but that he had been one of the leading spy, crime and romance authors of the 1920s and 30s.
At first he seemed to be a man with no beginning and no end.
There was no record of his death in action in the North African desert, and there was no record of his birth in the identity his father had put on his son’s birth certificate.
Mike would have to come to terms with the fact that his father had faked his own death, had lived double, triple and quadruple lives.
He would be revealed as a multiple bigamist, but at the same time also a celebrated and successful author.
Details of crimes and imprisonment would be mixed with the discovery of relatives and a new family he had no idea existed.
The second edition includes more revelations about Wilson’s work in MI6, where his talent for invention is said to have done more harm than good, his role as a university chief in British India where he enjoyed great success despite getting the job with a fake CV, and more spy novels under a pseudonym that indicates that he must have loved the son he abandoned.
Fabulist and multiple bigamist, or patriotic author whose imagination blurred the lines between truth and fantasy?
The new edition gives focus to the four remarkable women in his life: Gladys, Dorothy, Alison and Elizabeth- each in a way representing and symbolising different epochs of the twentieth century.
Wilson created a chief of a fictional British Secret Service, Sir Leonard Wallace, who appears substantially based on the first real ‘C’ of MI6, Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming.
The story involves the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, the Security Service, MI5, and two World Wars.
It is a story of love, betrayal, broken hearts, terrorism, espionage, patriotism, and a triumph of human dignity on the part of the women and children in his life.
Preface, Contents, Chapter One- A very unusual funeral, Chapter Two- Gladys and children, Chapter Three – Dorothy and son, Chapter Four – Alison and sons, Chapter Five – Elizabeth and son, Chapter Six – The Buddha of St James’s, Chapter Seven – `A Great Public Danger?’, Chapter Eight – `One of the best’ – Compton Mackenzie, Chapter Nine- Killing The Writer, Chapter Ten – Scoundrel or Sentimental Crook? Chapter Eleven- Discovery, forgiveness and reparation, Appendices – Timeline and literary output, Bibliography, Illustrations.
Publication of the second edition of The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent by Kultura Press took place Friday 30th November 2018.
The Second Edition can now be ordered from the print on demand service Blurb.co.uk on this link.
You can order through Waterstones- Britain’s leading chain of bookshops, RRP is £19.99
It is a popular and highly reviewed book available at amazon.co.uk with free delivery in the UK
The US and International edition for amazon.com and other global online sellers was released January 12th 2019 at $24.75, available to ship in 1 to 2 days.
The international edition can be obtained throughout the world including countries such as Australia where the series aired on ABC in February 2019.
Tim Crook is Professor in Media & Communication at Goldsmiths, University of London and Visiting Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Birmingham City University. He is the author of many books on journalism, media law, and radio history.
Media Pack available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Includes media release, sample chapters on intelligence story, cover image and images of the author.
6 Comments Add yours
May I simply just say what a comfort to discover someone that actually knows what they’re discussing over the internet.
You actually know how to bring an issue to light and make it
important. A lot more people should check this out and
understand this side of the story. I was surprised you’re not more popular given that
you definitely have the gift.
Many thanks for your comment. It is very much appreciated.
I have found this story quite engrossing since watching the BBC drama, due to the many layers of fact and fiction. I have just finished the second edition of the biography and am about to start on Alison Wilson’s memoir. My mind is reeling with all the information so apologies in advance if I have overlooked something in the book in making the following comments, and I have not read ll of the posts here. First a couple of apparent errors: on p159 reference is made to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1948; construction of the wall did not begin until 1961.On p171 there is a statement that Wilson’s father joined the army as a boy soldier 1t the age of 15 in 1869; this would appear inconsistent with the statement on p169 that Wilson amended the date of birth in his father’s blue book from 1864 to 1894.
Unfortunately my first comment was posted before I added my more substantive comments: I felt that there was not enough information in the book to explain how the relationship of the children of the first and third wives to those of the second and fourth wives was established. I learnt in a magazine article that it was Gordon and Mike who provided the link to Douglas, but I don’t recall anything on this from the biography. Also on p51 Mike is quoted ‘I received the cutting.’ (on his father’s bankruptcy) but it was not clear to me how this cutting was discovered.
Dear Russell, Many thanks again for your further comments and questions.
I apologise if there was not enough information in the book to explain how the relationship of the children of the first and third wives was established. This was made clearer in the first edition. To clear up any misunderstanding, here is how it happened.
On tracing Dennis Wilson- the surviving son of the first marriage, Dennis remembered that one of the sons from the third marriage, whom he had met at the funeral in 1963 had been in Royal Naval uniform. From Alexander Wilson’s death certificate, I had established the death had been registered by a son with the initial G. I did some research and triangulated a Captain called Gordon Wilson. I sent a letter to the Royal Navy who passed this onto to the eldest son of the third marriage. Gordon wrote to me and he and his brother Nigel agreed to meet me in London. At this meeting they explained that the son of a fourth marriage called Douglas had been in contact with them but had not met them at that stage.
I then contacted Douglas to brief him on the first marriage, and second marriage, and he agreed to talk to Dennis, Mike, Gordon and Nigel and they all agreed to meet for the first time. A later meeting involved the surviving daughter from the first marriage Daphne.
On page 98 there is some explanation of how Douglas was initially able to make contact with Gordon.
Mike Shannon’s reference to the cutting that he had received which made him aware that his father had not died at the battle of El Alamein is in the penultimate paragraph at page 58. Mike received the cutting from me by post. At this time in the project when it was becoming impossible to trace any actual evidence of his father dying in the Second World War or indeed existing after he was supposed to have died, I began sending Mike any archive references to Alexander Wilsons who had been in the British Army- even if the dates were outside the putative range of his birth and death.
Many apologies to you for any confusion. I take full responsibility for this. Do let me know if you have any more questions and I will do my best to answer them. Again, we fully appreciate the feedback. Sincerely and respectfully, Tim Crook.
Thank you for your comments and questions in respect of the 2nd edition of the Alexander Wilson biography.
Thank you for drawing our attention to two proofing and copy-editing errors which will be fully corrected for any future edition.
The reference on page 159 was originally intended to refer to ‘after the Berlin blockade and air-lift of 1948 and building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.’ Apologies for the error being published.
At page 169 the reference to the likelihood that Alexander Wilson had amended the date of birth in his father’s blue book from 1864 to 1894 is correct.
But there is an error on page 171 in respect of Alexander Wilson’s father. He had in fact joined the army at the age of 14 in 1878 and not the age of 15 in 1869. This will be corrected in any future edition.
When Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wilson of the Royal Army Medical Corps died in 1919, the obituary and report of his funeral in the Sheerness Guardian and East Kent Advertiser (27th September 1919) stated he had been in the army for 40 years and had joined at the age of 15.
This was, in fact, slightly inaccurate. To make things absolutely clear Lt Col Alexander Wilson was born 8th September 1864.
He joined the British Army’s ‘Army Hospital Corps’ as a ‘Boy and Private’ 15th October 1878.
He died 18th September 1919 at Alnwick Cottage, 453 Kent Avenue, Minster, Sheppey in Kent.
That means he was 14 years old when he joined the Army. He was 55 years old when he died. And he had been in the army for 40 years and and just over 11 months. We are very grateful for your feedback and interest. Sincerely and respectfully, Tim Crook.