MI5 and the Magicians

Published September 20th 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The story of the relationship between intelligence agencies and illusionists in the entertainment industry is a long one.  It goes back at least to the beginning of the century, and the friendship between the escapologist Harry Houdini and the man who would help found MI5, William Melville.

The story goes: in June 1900 Melville introduced the young performer to theatre magnate C Dundas Slater and helped launch his stage career in London.  As legend has it, Melville effectively auditioned Houdini, handcuffing him to a pillar inside Scotland Yard and telling Slater ‘here’s how we fasten the Yankee criminals who come over here and get into trouble’.  Melville then told Houdini that he and Slater were going out to lunch and ‘we will be back for you in a couple of hours’.  Houdini cried out ‘Wait!  I’ll go with you.  Here’s the way Yankees open the handcuffs’, before picking the cuffs almost instantly and letting them slip to the floor.

Houdini was rewarded for his impressive demonstration with his first theatre contract in London and, at least according to the book The Secret Life of Houdini was also recruited as a spy by Melville.  Though at the time Melville was only working for the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police he had already begun developing an international network of secret operatives.  These men would become the principal agents of the Secret Service Bureau, the forerunner to MI5, which was run by Melville.  In the same period he also recruited Shlomo Rosenblum, more commonly known as Sidney Reilly, the pseudonym created for him by Melville.  Both Reilly and Melville were among the various real-life inspirations for Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories.

While some of this story may be apocryphal another tale from World War 2 is certainly true.  It centres around another spy whose real life inspired the fiction of James Bond, agent Zigag a.k.a. Eddie Chapman.  Chapman was a safe-cracking criminal turned double agent who worked for both the Nazi intelligence directorate the Abwehr and also for MI5.  One of the techniques MI5 used during the war[…] Read the full article at SmellsLikeHumanSpirit.com

Subscribe to Spy Culture

If you enjoyed this content then keep up with new posts here at Spy Culture by subscribing via email, RSS, facebook, google+ or wordpress:

Support