The Man Who Never Was

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This article is about the 1956 film. For other uses, see The Man Who Never Was (disambiguation).
The Man Who Never Was
The Man Who Never Was.jpg
Directed by Ronald Neame
Produced by André Hakim
Written by Ewen Montagu (book)
Screenplay by Nigel Balchin
Based on The Man Who Never Was (1953 book)
Starring Clifton Webb
Gloria Grahame
Robert Flemyng
Music by Alan Rawsthorne
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Edited by Peter Taylor
Sumar Productions
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
15 March 1956 (1956-03-15) (London)
Running time
103 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Man Who Never Was is a 1956 Second World War war film, based on the book of the same name by (Lt. Cmdr.) Ewen Montagu and dramatising actual events. The film was directed by Ronald Neame and starred Clifton Webb, Gloria Grahame and Robert Flemyng. It is about Operation Mincemeat, a 1943 British Intelligence plan to deceive the Axis powers into thinking Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, would take place elsewhere. It was entered into the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.[1] Nigel Balchin's screenplay won the BAFTA for that year.

Plot summary[edit]

Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu (Clifton Webb) in the British Navy during World War II, becomes involved in a scheme to fool the Nazis. It entails locating a corpse, establishing an identity for it as an intelligence officer called Martin, and having the body float in the water just off the coast of Spain, with military identification and letters in its pockets that describe a forthcoming invasion of Greece by the British.[2]

After the operation is carried out and the body is recovered by German intelligence officials, a Nazi spy (Stephen Boyd) is dispatched to London under orders to discover whether the information found on the corpse is genuine.


Historical accuracy[edit]

Operation Mincemeat involved the acquisition and dressing up of a human cadaver as a "Major William Martin, R.M." and putting it into the sea near Huelva, Spain. Attached to the dead body was a brief-case containing fake letters falsely stating that the Allied attack would be against Sardinia and Greece rather than Sicily, the actual point of invasion. When the body was found, with all the false pocket litter data, the Spanish Intelligence Service passed copies of the papers to the German Intelligence Service which passed them on to their High Command. The ruse was so successful that the Germans still believed that Sardinia and Greece were the intended objectives, weeks after the landings in Sicily had begun.

The screenplay of the film stayed as close to the truth as was convenient, with the remainder being fiction. For example, the Irish spy in the film is a complete fabrication. Ewen Montagu declared that he was happy with the fictitious incidents which, although they did not happen, might have happened. During filming, Montagu has a cameo role, that of a Royal Air Force air vice-marshal who has doubts about the feasibility of the proposed plan. It was described as a "surreal" moment when the real Montagu addressed his fictional persona, played by Webb.


The film earned an estimated $1.1 million in North American rentals in 1956.[3]

The Goon Show[edit]

The BBC's popular radio comedy show, The Goon Show, made a send-up of the story of The Man Who Never Was and incorporated most of the regular Goon Show characters. Written by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens, it was broadcast on 20 March 1956 and remade later and broadcast on 17 February 1958. Coincidentally, Peter Sellers (one of the Goons) provided the voice of Winston Churchill in the film, although the character did not appear in The Goon Show adaptation.


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Man Who Never Was". Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  2. ^ The Man Who Never Was - Notes Turner Classic Movies
  3. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957

External links[edit]