To many, “M” might seem like a random letter plucked from thin air by Ian Fleming during a spell of writer’s block; a fictional character. It was, of course, anything but, as the two men (Ian Fleming and Maxwell Knight) were in the security service at the same time, and “M’s” talents as a spy handler were revered by Fleming and his MI5 colleagues. Not only did Fleming base the character of “M” on Maxwell Knight he also gave him the initial, the essential insignia, which must have come as quite a shock to Maxwell Knight. If there’s any doubt about this, watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969. James Bond (George Lazenby) interrupts “M” (Bernard Lee) whilst he’s looking at his butterfly collection with a hand lens – in his bug room:
“Unusually small for a Nymphalis Polychloris,” says Bond looking over M’s shoulder.
“I wasn’t aware that your expertise included lepidoptery,” replies “M”.
Write what you know; Fleming knew that “M” would be a compelling character to counterbalance the ego of Bond.