County Kerry-native William Melville forged a career protecting British interests in the late 1800s.
For William Melville, art appears to have imitated life. The Irishman is believed to have been part of the “blueprint” for the character ‘M’ in the James Bond series.
Born in Sneem in 1850, Melville immigrated to London around 1872 where he joined the Metropolitan Police force. It was there that he began an illustrious career with intelligence agencies protecting British interests, sometimes from Irish threats.
Helen O’Carroll, a researcher at the Kerry County Museum, said Melville was “an Irish Catholic, who was proud of his Irish identity, defending Britain from terrorist threats that included Irish terrorism.”
Despite his career, Melville was a proud Irishman, a keen GAA fan, and even a supporter of home rule in Ireland. In 1879, he married Mayo-native Kate Reilly in London. The couple had four children together.
In 1883, Melville was recruited into the British Special Irish Branch which focused on the prevention and investigation of Fenian bombings that were threatening London.
The Irish spy played a key role in preventing the assassination of Queen Victoria in 1887, known as The Jubilee Plot.
In the 1880s, Melville reportedly arrested Francis Tumblety, a prime suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders. Tumblety was allegedly let go by French police due to lack of evidence.
Melville apparently picked up a few tricks of the trade from illusionist Harry Houdini in 1900. The famous magician taught Melville how to pick locks, and was apparently recruited by Melville for some undercover work.
In 1903, Melville surprised many by announcing his retirement. But, as with any good spy, not all was what it seemed. Melville was actually recruited to British intelligence gathering agencies, which would later become known as MI5 and MI6.
It was at this point that Melville was given the alias William Morgan and began to be known by simply as “M.”
Melville died in 1918 from kidney failure, but his spy work helped created the character of ‘M’ in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.
In the James Bond films, many different actors have taken on the role of the spymaster ‘M’, including Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Judi Dench, and Ralph Fiennes.
Who was your favorite 'M?' Let us know in the comments section, below.