The Book the British tried to Ban (One Girl’s War, Joan Miller, 1986)

      One Girl’s War: Joan Miller (Brandon: Co. Kerry) 1986

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About the Author

The final page of the book states:

Final Page, One Girl's War

Final Page, One Girl’s War

“Shortly after completing this book Joan Miller died at her home in Malta in June 1984”

Joan Miller, author of One Girl’s War, dies aged 68 in June 1984 in Malta having just finished her memoir. But before her daughter can publish through Brandon based in Co. Kerry, Ireland, Brandon will have to fight Sir Michael Havers, as Attorney-General in the High Court in Dublin before being finally allowed to publish in 1986.

Mella Carroll’s legacy as a judge is remarkable for its depth, scope and diversity, Dr Hugh Brady, president of University College, Dublin, cited some of her cases, when she was granted an honorary doctorate in law by her alma mater last year. “In the field of constitutional law she is remembered for her decision in the Attorney General of England and Wales v Brandon Books [1986] IR 597, in which she refused an application by the British government to restrain the publication in Ireland of the memoirs of a former member of the British intelligence service (One Girl’s War by Joan Miller). In reaching this decision the public interest of another state was not allowed to curtail freedom of expression within this jurisdiction.” [ Obituary for Ms Justice Mella Carroll ]

As the back cover states:

“A fascinating memoir from the heart of the world of intelligence operations in war-time Britain, when Joan Miller was personal assistant to Maxwell Knight, Chief of MI5’s B5 (b) Section.

This is the book the British Attorney General tried to stop in the High Court in Dublin, saying that its publication would do irreparable damage to the British Security Service, MI5.”

During 1940, Joan Miller had ended up as Knight’s assistant within B5(b) and when Knight takes a house in Camberley Surrey for de-briefings and his menagerie of animals, Miller is expected to accompany him down there on the weekends. While she is aware as a 21 year old that M is estranged from his wife Lois and that it would be adultery, she is captivated by M’s charisma. However, sex is not really on the cards and as she becomes increasingly mystified as to why, an answer presents itself one Sunday afternoon when M has a visitor.

HC Deb 21 November 1986 vol 105 cc354-5W, Hansard

HC Deb 21 November 1986 vol 105 cc354-5W, Hansard

About the publishers

In not so much a twist of irony, as one of necessity in the search for freedom of speech, Joan Miller’s daughter ended up publishing her mother’s memoir through Brandon Books based in Dingle, County Kerry.

Started in 1981, Brandon Books had already published Gerry Adams memories of growing up in West Belfast Falls Memoirs in 1982, see further for their beginnings and founders in The Oxford History of the Irish Book

 About the ‘irreparable damage to the British Security Service, MI5’

Dark secret life of the original ‘M’: Spymaster who inspired 007’s boss was a closet gay that married three women he never slept with – before reinventing himself as a children’s presenter called Uncle Max (Daily Mail, 13 March 2014)

Miller’s revelations that M was gay and sought out ‘rough trade’ by advertising for motorbike mechanics in Camberley Surrey during 1942 and her suspicion that he may have been being blackmailed before his death in 1968 was to become open knowledge in 1986 if published. Sir Michael Havers, Attorney-General since 1977, overseeing the terms of the Kincora Inquiry, stifling the press from reporting on Elm Guest House had one more year of his tenure to go – a tenure dominated by the Paedophile Information Exchange’s activism, the trial of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, the trials of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, all of which he would later attract criticism for. Sadly M would have lived barely a year past the 1967 Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalising homosexuality. Despite attempting to warn various people, Sir Desmond Morton a close friend of his, of Russian agents within MI5 (later in 1963 revealed to be Sir Anthony Blunt and his Apostle chums Burgess, Maclean and Philby),  Maxwell Knight was discredited as paranoid and eventually left MI5 in 1956 to pursue a career as a naturalist radio broadcaster full time.


MAXWELL KNIGHT: Eccentric who was the inspiration for Fleming’s ‘M’

Surely the most eccentric unsung spy was Maxwell Knight, known to his friends as Max or M. Although he did later become well known, it was not as a spymaster. To children growing up in the late Fifties and early Sixties he was Uncle Max, the BBC radio naturalist.

He had always had a passion for fauna; indeed, when he was head of B5(b), an autonomous department within MI5 in the Thirties and Forties, those who worked with him also had to work with his menagerie of animals. He could recite trivia about them endlessly, from the correct method of mounting a llama to the breeding cycle of the laughing hyena. His daily help, Mrs Leather, would complain of the way grass snakes used to flop down the stairs of his flat in Chelsea. He kept them in the bath. He also kept a blue-fronted Amazonian parrot in the kitchen and a Himalayan monkey in the garden. And he was known to have raised a nest of adder eggs in his pyjama pocket. Ian Fleming, who worked in the Department of Naval Intelligence, was fascinated by Knight’s mysterious persona and used him as the model for “M”, James Bond’s boss.

But for all his eccentricity he was an effective spymaster. As early as 1927, the bisexual Knight had been put in charge of infiltrating the Communist Party of Great Britain. To this end he recruited Tom Driberg, the (homosexual) writer and future MP, and ordered him to join the Communist Party while at Oxford. He also infiltrated the British Union of Fascists and developed a rather sinister fascination with the occult which he shared with his friends Dennis Wheatley and Aleister Crowley.

When war broke out he recruited an astrologer as an MI5 agent and sent him to Germany to infiltrate the occult court of Rudolf Hess. The agent is said to have briefed Hess that the Duke of Hamilton was prepared to meet him to act as a peace negotiator between the German government and the British. Hess’s fateful flight to Scotland followed in 1941.

With the war against the Nazis over, Knight became increasingly obsessed with the Soviet Union, specifically with the idea that a communist spy ring had infiltrated MI5. But his colleagues no longer took him seriously – indeed, they ignored the numerous reports he wrote on the subject. Knight was by then regarded as paranoid and unstable and, even though his theory was proved right in 1951 when Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to the Soviet Union, his reputation within the service never recovered. He left MI5 a few years later and embarked upon a successful second career as a naturalist on radio and television. He soon became a household name and was awarded an OBE. In 1967 he published How to Keep an Elephant, a guide to keeping off-beat pets. The following year he wrote a sequel: How to Keep a Gorilla. [Double-O Who? Meet history’s unsung spies, Daily Telegraph,       ]

From Wikipedia:

After World War II, in 1946, Knight, who had since childhood been an ardent naturalist, began what was to become a successful broadcasting career on BBC radio, appearing in and hosting such programmes as Naturalist, Country Questions and Nature Parliament. He appeared occasionally on television in Peter Scott‘s Look and Animal, Vegetable or Mineral and published 34 books and wrote magazine articles.

His broadcast career progressed alongside his MI5 work until 1956, when he retired early, from MI5, on the grounds of ill health, suffering from angina. He died in Midgham,Berkshire from heart failure in 1968. After his death, the Maxwell Knight Memorial Fund was set up and, from the proceeds funded, the Maxwell Knight Young Naturalists’ Library in the education centre of the Natural History Museum.

The Oxford History of the Irish Book p313

The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Volume V: The Irish Book in English …
edited by Clare Hutton, Patrick Walsh, p.313

About the Book

For a much better round-up of the facts of the books see

When WWII is declared 21 year old Joan Miller leaves the cosmetic counters of Elizabeth Arden behind to end up on a bus to Wormwood Scrubs, the temporary home of MI5.  With references from two officers of high standing (one family, one a friend) and the Dame of Sark where she and her family appear to have holidayed frequently Joan gets to work for MI5. At first Joan works for Lord Cottenham of Brooklands racing and the History of Roadcraft fame (Mark Pepys) but she is quickly spotted by M, Maxwell Knight, Chief of B5 (b)

Dolphin Square: A History of a Unique Building, Terry Gourvish, 2013

Dolphin Square: A History of a Unique Building, Terry Gourvish, 2013

At Wormwood Scrubs she also meets…” the excellent Bill Younger, of the brewing family. Bill, slightly deformed from a childhood attack of Polio, was a step-son of Dennis Wheatley and himself the author of some quite incredible poetry.

Bill had been an MI5 agent since his Oxford days, when M had recruited him to check up on some undergraduates propagating a rather noisy brand of pacifism in the wake of the celebrated motion passed as an Oxford Union Debate ‘ this House will in no circumstances fight for King and its Country’. M had become friendly with Dennis Wheatley, whom he met at one of Charles Birkin’s parties in 1937; at this time, in the early part of the war, Wheatley’s wife Joan, stepson and stepdaughter were also employed at Wormwood Scrubs’. [p.18]

















The Wheatley Family: Joan, Dennis & Bill





By 1940 when Joan Miller first makes Dennis Wheatley’s acquaintance, he is 43. The son of a wine merchant, a family business which he had disposed of in the early 30s having turned to writing. He was a curious mix of loyalty to the empire, anti-Nazism and anti-socialism. Married to Joan, who worked in the MI5 Transport section taking over from Miller, his step-son Bill Younger is described my Miller as M’s right-hand man.

“Joan Wheatley like myself, had belonged to MI5 since the outbreak of the war. (She was the mother of my great friend and M’s right hand man, Bill Younger.) Her job which she’d taken over from me was to estimate the amount of petrol necessary for each official journey and to dole it out accordingly.” p.78

“Come along. Dennis, we’ll be late for the Duchess.’ This striking utterance prompted a dry aside from Charles Birkin, another of our guests that weekend: “What Duchess?”

Early in the war Wheatley had applied for a post in the Ministry of Information but receives no reply and M, his friend, doesn’t find him a niche post so he ends up doing a few odd jobs for M until towards the end of 1941 he was made a member of the Joint Planning Staff under the Minister of Defence, an appointment carrying a great deal of prestige.

Wheatley never really likes Joan Miller and makes it apparent.

Miller speaks of M’s interest in the occult and this is indicated by those how he surrounds himself with such as ,Sir Charles Lloyd Birkin, 5th Baronet (24 September 1907 – 1985) the Creeps Library Anthologies editor and horror short story writer who introduced M to Dennis Wheatley in 1937.




A Saturday afternoon in 1942 – Miller discovers M’s secret

“At the beginning of May, when the Wolkoff case was at its height, M sent me off one day to Camberley, in Surrey, to look for a house to rent. The one I eventually took was called ‘Llanfoist’; set well back from the main London road, about a mile and a half outside Camberley, in grounds complete with stables and garages and screened by a row of pine trees, it was ideal for our purposes. M needed the place as a retreat from the stresses of London, as a ‘safe house’ for agents, and as a spot where fellow MI5 officers, joursnalists and so forth could be

Down at the country house in Camberley, Surrey, Joan accompanies M where he places an advert in the local paper asking for assistance from a motorbike mechanic, 3 of which he kept in a garage. A young man turns up one Saturday afternoon and he and M spend several hours in the garage, for M to leave briefly to fetch something from the house, unaware Joan was sitting on a windowseat reading and observes him walk back to the garage it dawns on her she was always only ever destined to be M’s cover, not lover:

“In the middle of yawning and stretching I happened to glance out of the window, in time to see M come up to the house to fetch something. A few minutes later he went out again, and I watched him make his way back towads the barn where the bus driver was standing in the open doorway. M had no idea he was being observed. For the first time he was off guard, and so fell into a posture he must have found pretty natural. I recognised it for what it was, for he had pointed it out to me himself, when we passed a couple of male prostitutes in the street.

As I sat there watching this avowed opponent of homosexuality mince across the lawn, a number of things became clear to me. The first of those was that I had acquired a piece of very dangerous knowledge which I had better keep to myself. M’s disability with regard to performing the sexual act in the ordinary way was now explained. So was the vehemence of his prejudice against homosexuals: it was obviously to safeguard his reputation in the office that he took this stand. Not, I knew, that this need have made his attitude any less genuine, in a sense: it is perfectly possible to disapprove of something and still remain addicted to it.”….

“His tastes obviously inclined him in the direction of what, in a phrase not then current, is known as ‘rough trade’. [p.112]

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Joan, remembering rumours about the demise of M’s first wife is scared to discover she holds a secret about M that would make him very vulnerable to blackmail and she didn’t underestimate his reaction to her having this knowledge:

“I couldn’t help dwelling on the things I knew about M that underlined the ruthless side of his character. I thought of his first wife’s death, an obscure and sinister event as far as my knowledge of it went, ited up with M’s disquieting interest in the occult. There was an unedifying Canadian, I remember, an ex-drug addict and jailbird known to me as Frank, who’d performed some unofficial jobs for M such as getting rid of an unreliable double agent in the middle of the North Sea. It didn’t cheer me to envisage this sort of end for myself. The threat of blackmail must be a constant worry for someone in M’s position; once he realised he’d given himself away, he would have to take steps to destroy in advance the value of any information I might lay against him.” [p.113]

“M after leaving MI5 went on to become a well-known radio naturalist, with a regular slot on the Home Service. Among his later proteges, appropriately enough, was John Le Carre, who under his proper name of David Cornwell, illustrated one or two of M’s works on natural history.”


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 “There is some evidence, which suggests to my mind, that M was being subject to blackmail in the later part of his life. Why else should he have been impoverished to the extent of having to move in with ex-B(5) b colleague Guy Poston and his family? He was never rich, it’s true, but he always had enough to enjoy a way of life that suited him. And why did he opt for the comparative anonymity of radio work, when he’d have made such a splendid television performer? There may be some perfectly innocuous explanation, of course, but I can’t help feeling that one of the risks that he’d taken in his private life might have caught up with him.” [p.154]

M died in 1968 of heart failure in Midgham, Berkshire.

Maxwell Knight

A review of his book Cuckoo by Helen MacDonald for Aeon online provides some glimpses into ‘Uncle Max’ the naturalist on BBC Radio Children’s Hour featuring in the regular “Nature Parliament” series broadcast during the 1950s.


M’s interest in Crowley’s Magick

See further for mention of the Isle of Man hypnotist and Sean Stowell’s book The King’s Psychiatrist which details Dr Alexander Cannon’s treatment of Crowley’s first wife.

“Another unsung hero of World War II is Aleister Crowley provided we accept his claim that MI5 invited him to organise some woodland magic of his own, code-named Operation Mistletoe, in Ashdown Forest. Also rumoured to have been involved are Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books, and Dennis Wheatley whose novels about magic and witchcraft were immensely popular in the nineteen-fifties and sixties. While undeniable that both men worked for the security services during the war there is no evidence that they participated in such an exercise, reportedly the brain child of Maxwell Knight, Head of Section B5(b). (The selfsame Maxwell Knight was an occasional visitor to the vicarage in Limehouse though his MI5 colleague, the predatory Tom Driberg MP, was less welcome and came only once, a former chum of Crowley’s, he was famously described by Winston Churchill as “the sort of man who gives sodomy a bad name.”)” [Magic without Mirrors, David Conway, p.220-221]

Magic without Mirrors: The Making of a Magician, David Conway

Magic without Mirrors: The Making of a Magician, David Conway

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“There are others which are more telling, though still obscure. His first wife Gladys, I learnt, died in the Overseas Club after some sort of occult misadventure in which the notorious Aleister Crowley was involved – certainly I’d have been unwilling to enquire too deeply into that particular incident. Black magic was not a subject that held any attraction for me. I accepted M’s interest in it, hoping it was purely academic, but for myself, I preferred to leave it well and truly alone: M understood this. When I tore up a photograph of Aleister Crowley which he had kept, as I believed it to be unlucky, he only laughed.” [p.45]



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“M was enigmatic and debonair, qualities I found irresistible, as well as being deeply knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects. This made him a fascinating companion.  The range of his accomplishments was extraordinary. He’d played the drums in a jazz band at the Hammersmith Palais; and, more impressively, he was equally proficient on the clarinet. He might have made a living as a schoolmaster if he hadn’t found that profession unendurably tame. For a short period he ran a small hotel on Exmoor with his first wife Gladys, at the same time working as a riding instructor. (It was during this time – according to a rumour – that M was suspected of being  a werewolf!) He published a couple of thrillers before the war, Crime Cargo (1934) and Gunmen’s Holiday (1935) both of which I read with some enjoyment though he himself had a low opinion of them. He was a Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society and a keen naturalist. He knew more about the occult than anyone I’ve ever met, including Dennis Wheatley. (Like Wheatley, though a few years later, he’d spent some time as a naval cadet on the training ship Worcester.) He was a crack shot, and also a collector of antique guns. Botany, ornithology and literature were among his enthusiasms. I didn’t acquire all of this information of course – M was never very forthcoming about his own affairs. I think it pleased him to display an air of secrecy; certainly he discouraged questions about the past. The ‘Captain King’ role, dangerous and mysterious, suited him down to the ground. He wore his affectations lightly, though; among his assets was a sense of humour, without which he’d hardly have made such a success of running B5(b).” [pp 44 – 45]



M on Anthony Blunt

M, undaunted, got the paper off to Desmond Morton, Churchill’s private secretary, who was also a personal friend of his, with the plea that it shold be passed on to the Prime Minister.”p. 64

“When the Driberg incident alerted him to the fact that a Soviet agent must be at work inside the Security Service. Driberg’s code name was M8 and one of his reports for M, which contained a reference to a book he had written, was read by an unauthorised person who recognised the allusion and immediately identifed M8 as Driberg – it emerged in 1963 that this person was Anthony Blunt, ex personal assistant to Guy Liddell and still a prominent member of ‘B’ Division at this time. I am sure M never suspected Blunt, which is rather odd really, as he had had several proteges at Cambridge before the war, and certainly knew all  about the Apostles.* Of course, under Sir Vernon Kell, we were all encouraged to think of the office as a kind of extended family.

*No one, indeed, had come up with a satisfactory explanation of how Blunt came to be recruited into MI5, after being dismissed from the Manley staff course for budding intelligence officers because he had been so far to the Left at Cambridge.” [p.65]





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p 67



A particular piece of information that struck me (mentally conjuring up a scene for me owing much to comedian Victoria Wood) was the fact that Lady Kell, Sir Vernon Kell’s wife, Head of MI5 was the canteen manager at Wormwood Scrubs – which becomes apparent in the context of Winston Churchill sacking Kell and his wife’s outrage “He’s sacked the General”. Would one decorate one’s tabard as Commander of the Dinner-Ladies? Any amusement aside, her role would have been extremely useful no doubt in keeping an eye on staff and general gossip.

One comment

  1. This at this very moment in time an attempt by Henry Hemming to write Joan Miller out of history

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