Mankowitz Wolf

 Wolf Mankowitz

Born Cyril Wolf Mankowitz on 7th November 1924 in Bethnal Green, he was educated at East Ham Grammar School. His father, Solomon Mankowitz, was an émigré Russian Jewish immigrant. Being a second-hand book dealer, this produced an atmosphere of respect for learning around the young boy. This possibly enabled Wolf to win an exhibition scholarship in English literature to Downing College, Cambridge. There, he read English, was tutored by F R Leavis, edited an undergraduate magazine, and worked in a bookshop part time.

During the Second World War he served as a volunteer coal miner and then in the Army.  MI5 began observing him first in June 1944, mainly due to his wife, Ann Seligman, being placed on a list of the proposed branch committee of Cambridge University Communist Society, that was acquired by the secret service.  David Holbrook (see separate entry), who had been at university with them both, also had his mail regularly intercepted and brought them to attention. Seemingly, Holbrook wrote that the couple were "avoiding National Service and doing themselves well", earning £6 a week each lecturing for the Workers' Educational Association. MI5 asked the Newcastle police to investigate them; reporting back, it was said of Mankowitz that he was “known to frequently discuss the theories of Marxism with his friends whilst in lodgings”. 

In December 1946, the Metropolitan police special branch wrote to MI5 saying that a "Jew name Mankowitz", said to be a Cambridge professor, intended to take up residence in a renovated labourer's cottage at Mistley Heath, near Manningtree, Essex. It was rumoured that he intended to lecture for the Communist Party in that part of Essex. "I thought it a little odd for a Cambridge University professor (if such he be) to settle in such a forsaken place," reported the special branch officer. 

The couple were periodically spied on for the next decade or so. Despite this surveillance by the authorities, Mankowitz was able to enlist with the Territorial Army. Although no sign of his seeking to disrupt the work of the force was reported, his commanding officer described him as a "highly strung individual of nervous temperament" who was awaiting an interview with a psychiatrist. After leaving university, he began selling antiques and built up a good collection of Wedgwood pottery; this interest in ceramics became a life-long fascination. Working in street markets, then in his own lock-up shop, he seems to have initially really wanted to make this career a success. He jointly became the editor of the Concise Encyclopaedia of English Pottery and Porcelain (1957). In 1953 he had published his `The Portland Vase and the Wedgwood Copies’.

Alongside this career, Mankiewitz aimed to bolster his creative writing work by applying for a temporary job, in September 1948, with the Central Office of Information, which produced information booklets and cinema shorts. COI asked for information on Mankowitz of MI5 and was told he was “the husband of a Communist Party member and himself a convinced Marxist.” Naturally, COI turned him down for the job but to potentially add further complications, Sir Percy Sillitoe, the director general of MI5, then circulated a letter asking for information about Mankovitz to chief constables in April 1949 but, fortunately, nothing new emerged.

In 1951, a Captain Hindemarch told MI5 that he had joined the Communist Party after being approached by a man called "Mankiewitch", who now worked for the BBC Third Programme. The security services warned the BBC that Mankowitz was a convinced Marxist, married to a Party member and "a security risk would exist should Mankowitz have access to classified information". But a memo from the BBC to MI5 in November of that year said he was only a contributor to programmes from time to time and described himself as a freelance writer and lecturer, who had written for magazines including the Spectator.  MI5 replied that he would be a security risk if he was given access to classified information – which seemed unlikely since he was working on a translation of a Chekhov play. 

Mankowitz kept unsuccessfully applying for BBC staff jobs and, in 1957, the corporation cleared it with MI5 before engaging him on a three-week contract to translate and dub a film of Anton Chekhov's The Bear for television. Probably because of this, Mankewitz was now repeatedly invited to Moscow by the Union of Soviet Writers, a fact that bothered MI5.

     Mankiewitz had been pushing ahead with his writing career, and wrote short novels in a series published by Andre Deutsch, such as `Make Me An Offer’ (1952), about an antique dealer in search of the Portland Vase. He scored a considerable success with his theatre play, `The Bespoke Overcoat’ (1953), which was simply a modernisation of a short story by the classic Russian author, Gogol. It was the role played by David Kossoff, which he reprised many times over the years, that inspired.

His second novel, `A Kid For Two Farthings’ (1953), was based on his East End experiences and Mankowitz was delighted to find that this was now taken up and made into a film in 1954. He supplied a screen play for it and his treatment was so good that it gave him contacts in the film business. He then also worked on Expresso Bongo (1954), a low budget, which was a mildly amusing soft critique of the music industry, starring Cliff Richard but based on the career of Tommy Steele.

Oddly, this lucrative new career led to the security service getting even more nervous about him when he conceived of a project in October 1956 to set up a British-Soviet co-film production. This led to observation logs kept by MI5 officers watching the Soviet embassy, recording him arriving by taxi four times between October 1955 and December 1956.  A report from December 1956 from “an established and usually reliable source” said that Mankowitz was an active member of the British Soviet Friendship Society and had made a trip to the USSR shortly after this.

Out of the blue, arising from a slight relationship between the two (to be famed) producers, Mankovitch was and later “Dr. No”. Inexplicably, this seems to have triggered a sudden loss of interest in Mankovitch by MI5, and in 1958 his file was simply closed. 

Pic right: An MI5 surveillance operative's picture of Wolf meeting an unknown friend in the street – almost certainly an entirely innocent event.

It is probably relevant that, the previous year, the security forces were most worried about his playing a leading role in organising a British delegation to the World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow, attempting to recruit the likes of Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson and others in the cast of `Look Back in Anger, which was then playing at the Royal Court. 

But, when Mankowitz cancelled his involvement in the Festival, seemingly because he was offered the chance of filming in the West Indies, MI5 lost all interest in him as a security risk. The suddenness of this seems odd but whether MI5 had a hand in giving him the Bond gig or not, it was certainly that which lured him well away from the Left.

A series of ten scripts for television followed, then Mankievitz worked on the script of the film, The Millionairess, in 1960 and he was off in his search for an extravagant lifestyle, which at one point included three luxury homes, although he was frequently in trouble with tax authorities.  


In 1967 he was one of the screenwriters to the James Bond film "Casino Royale".


In later years, when challenged about his youthful Marxism, Manckiewitz claimed he was an anarchist.


Mankowitz died in 1998.


Sources: Guardian, 26th August 2010; The Independent 23rd May 1998; Daily Telegraph 25th Aug 2010




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