At the funeral of Alexander Wilson in Portsmouth England, in 1963, two widows grieved by his graveside. Alison and Gladys. Each shared his last name, each had given him children and, until just a few days prior, each had believed herself to be his only current wife.
Alison Wilson had made the discovery when sorting through the 69-year-old’s papers after he was felled by a heart attack.
She had pulled the first thread to unravel the mysterious, duplicitous existence her beloved ‘Alec’ had led: one involving British intelligence, a criminal history, best-selling novels, and yet two more wives.
The father of seven’s tangled story has been dramatised in the three-part BBC drama, Mrs. Wilson, currently streaming in Australia on Stan.
Ruth Wilson plays her own grandmother in the drama series, Mrs. Wilson.
While the full truth of his strange life remains patchy, the series explores his journey through the gaze of his third wife Alison, who is played by her real-life granddaughter, British actor Ruth Wilson (Jane Eyre, Luther).
This is her family’s story.
Alexander married his first wife, Gladys, in 1916, and together they had two sons — Adrian and Dennis — and a daughter named Daphne.
After WWI, during which Alexander had served as a naval pilot and in the army, the couple operated a touring theatre company together. But in 1925, when Alexander was 32, he made the stunning move to British India to accept a job as a Professor of English Literature at the University of Punjab, leaving Gladys behind.
It was during his time in India, that Alexander’s biographer, journalist and academic Tim Crooke, believes he may have been recruited by British Secret Intelligence Services.
He travelled broadly around the country as well as to Arabia, Palestine and Ceylon, learnt Urdu and Persian, and became an honorary Major in the Indian Army Reserve, The Independent reported.
Most intriguing though was the series of successful spy novels he penned during the period, many with references and characters alarmingly similar to real-life members of British intelligence.
“What was remarkable about these books was their uncanny portrayal of the original ‘C’ – Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the first head of MI6 — fictionalised as ‘Sir Leonard’,” Crooke told the outlet. “Only someone who knew Smith-Cumming could have written those books.”