M. E. Clifton James
|Meyrick Edward Clifton James|
Clifton James posing as General Montgomery
Perth, Western Australia
|Died||8 May 1963 (aged 64–65)
Worthing, Sussex, England
|Years of service||1914–1918
|Rank||Second lieutenant (WWII)|
|Service number||141055 (WWII)|
|Unit||Royal Fusiliers (WWI)
Royal Army Pay Corps (WWII)
Meyrick Edward Clifton James (1898 – 8 May 1963) was an actor and soldier, with a resemblance to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. This was used by British intelligence as part of a deception campaign during the Second World War.
After serving in the Royal Fusiliers during the First World War, and seeing action at the Battle of the Somme, he took up acting, "starting at 15 shillings weekly with Fred Karno, who put Chaplin on the road to fame." At the outbreak of the Second World War he volunteered his services to the British Army as an entertainer. Instead of being assigned to ENSA as he had hoped, on 11 July 1940 James was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Pay Corps and eventually posted to Leicester. Here, his acting seemed to be limited to his membership of the Pay Corps Drama and Variety Group. In 1944 his resemblance to Montgomery was spotted, and he was employed to pretend to be the general as part of a campaign designed to deceive the Germans in the lead-up to D-Day.
About seven weeks before D-Day in 1944, Lieutenant-Colonel J. V. B. Jervis-Reid noticed James's resemblance to Montgomery while he was reviewing photographs in a newspaper. James, it seemed, had 'rescued' a failing patriotic show by appearing in it, quite briefly, as 'Monty'. MI5 decided to exploit the resemblance to confuse German intelligence. James was contacted by Lieutenant-Colonel David Niven, who worked for the Army's film unit, and was asked to come to London on the pretext of making a film. When Niven explained that it was about something different, James supposedly burst into tears because he thought he had been exposed as a bigamist, who was receiving a double marriage allowance. Like many of Niven’s anecdotes, this one is viewed with scepticism.
The ruse was part of a wider deception which aimed to divert troops from Northern France, by convincing the Germans that an Allied invasion of Southern France (Operation Dragoon) would precede a northern invasion. The plan was code-named Operation Copperhead and James was assigned to Montgomery's staff to learn his speech and mannerisms. Despite the problems that he had with alcohol (Montgomery did not drink at all), and the differences in personality, the project continued. He also had to give up smoking. Clifton James had lost his right-hand middle finger in the First World War and so a prosthetic finger was made.
On 25 May 1944, James flew from RAF Northolt to Gibraltar on-board Churchill's private aircraft. During a reception at the Governor-General's house, hints were made about "Plan 303", a plan to invade Southern France. German intelligence picked this up and ordered agents to find out what they could about "Plan 303". James then flew to Algiers where over the next few days he made a round of public appearances with General Maitland Wilson, the Allied commander in the Mediterranean theatre. He was then secretly flown to Cairo where he stayed until the invasion in Normandy was well under way. He then returned to his job after an absence of five weeks.
Various reasons were put forward for the speedy conclusion of the operation (including the suggestion that James was seen in Gibraltar smoking and drunk), though the most likely explanation is the one put forward by Dennis Wheatley (who was part of the British deception efforts during the war) in The Deception Planners published in the 1980s. In it, he states that the operation was wound up successfully, its purpose accomplished. The effectiveness of the deception is hard to assess. According to captured enemy generals, German intelligence believed that it was Montgomery, though they still guessed that it was a feint. Wheatley also suggests that it ended "rather pathetically", and that Clifton James was simply hidden out of sight in a hotel in Algiers with a whisky bottle for company. He was to end his war, still in the Pay Corps, apparently forgotten, having to lie about his missing five weeks, having been (according to Wheatley) "treated shabbily" with no official recognition for his services.
I Was Monty's Double
In 1954, James published his exploits in a book entitled I Was Monty's Double (released in the US as The Counterfeit General Montgomery). The book became the basis for the script of the 1958 film starring John Mills and Cecil Parker with James playing himself and Montgomery. The script was 'tweaked' for effect; 'Operation Copperhead' became 'Operation Hambone', and additional elements of comedy, danger and intrigue were added, but it largely follows the story given in the book, and gave James a deserved if belated recognition, and a sort of screen immortality.
James also appeared in a short cameo (and non-speaking) appearance as Field Marshall Montgomery in the 1957 film High Flight, starring Ray Milland.
- "James, John Charles Horsey". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
- Erickson, R. (1988). "East Perth Cemeteries". Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians: pre-1829–1888. p. 1618. Retrieved 1 Apr 2012.
- Swainson, Leslie (27 August 1957). "No Clash of Arms in War Film". The Age. Melbourne, Australia.
- The London Gazette: . 23 July 1940.
- Lord, Graham (2003). Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven. Orion Books.
- Casey, Dr Dennis. "The impersonation of General Montgomery". Air Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
- "Monty's Double Broke". The Northern Times. Carnarvon, Western Australia: National Library of Australia. 4 April 1947. p. 4. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
- James, M. E. Clifton (1954). I Was Monty's Double. Hamilton and Co.
- James, M. E. Clifton (1954). The Counterfeit General Montgomery. New York: Avon.
- (Obituaries). The Times (London). Thursday, 9 May 1963. p. 17.
- Obituary Variety, 15 May 1963.
- James, M. E. Clifton I Doubled for Montgomery series in Sydney Morning Herald, 17–19 August 1946:
- 1: I Doubled for Montgomery 17 August 1946
- 2: Gibraltar Welcomed a False British Commander 19 August 1946
- 3: The General Went Home as a Lieutenant 20 August 1946
- James, M. E. Clifton How I Played General "Monty" series in The Age Literary Section, August–September 1946:
- In the Limelight of Suspicion. 31 August 1946
- Rehearsal and Departure. 7 September 1946
- Official Reception at Gibraltar. 14 September 1946
- Experiences in Africa. 21 September 1946
- Howard, Sir Michael, Strategic Deception (British Intelligence in the Second World War, Volume 5); Cambridge University Press, New York, 1990, p. 126
- Holt, Thaddeus, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War ; Scribner, New York, 2004, pp. 561–62, 815
- British National Archives, "A" Force Permanent Record File, Narrative War Diary, CAB 154/4 pp. 85–90