The unaccountable and extraordinary life of Alexander Wilson spanned 69 years, four wives, seven children and two wars, and even still, questions remain about the spy and author’s career and the web of secrets he spun. Take a look at our definitive timeline of Wilson’s life, spanning from his birth in 1893, through his marriages, the births of his children and all the way through to his untimely death in 1963.
October 24, 1893
Alexander Joseph Patrick Wilson is born in Dover, Kent to Annie O’Toole and Alexander Wilson. (Though, a second identity would claim his birth date as 7 years later.)
Alec meets Gladys Kellaway, in the same year that he leaves the Royal Navy to take up commission as a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps. He receives a disabling knee injury later in the year while serving.
Alec marries Gladys in Lyndhurst, New Forest, England, with whom he has two sons (Adrian in 1917, and Dennis in 1921) and a daughter (Daphne, born in 1922). This was, in the end, his only legal marriage.
Alec is invalided out of the British Army after the knee injury and complications arising, as well as wounds leaving shrapnel scars across his body. He is awarded the Silver War Badge for injuries and wounds received while on active service.
Alec is accused of theft on board ship while serving as a merchant marine purser aboard the SS Prinzessin, and serves a six-month sentence of hard labor in Canada at the Oakalla Prison Farm in British Columbia.
Alec and Gladys run a touring repertory drama and theatrical revue company, travelling throughout England.
Alec applies to be (and is appointed) Professor of English Literature, at Islamia College, University of Punjab, Lahore. While en route aboard an ocean liner, Alec meets Dorothy Wick, both heading to British India, where she was a touring actress.
The manuscripts for his first two novels, The Mystery of Tunnel 51 and The Devil’s Cocktail are accepted and published. These would be the first of 24 novels published in his lifetime (another four went unpublished).
Alec and Dorothy marry in Lahore, making Dorothy his second (though, not legally) wife. Later, in 1933, they have their first and only child together: Michael Chesney Wilson (later Michael Shannon). Michael was born in Paddington, after Dorothy returned to England while pregnant. (Alec would return to England in 1934.)
In April or May of 1935, according to Dennis Wilson, Alexander and Gladys’s aunt Ruth, with whom the family was staying with, had a falling out over financial support. This prompted Alexander’s separation from the family, though he stayed on good terms with his children and Gladys throughout the years. He goes to live with Dorothy and Michael in London after this event.
While living abroad, it is possible that Wilson worked on intelligence activities, though no confirmation can be given. It is assumed by 1937 that he may be working as an intelligence agent when back in England. He’s certainly making applications to work for the intelligence services as an officer.
He is recruited and accepted by the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6 in October to translate and report on the eavesdropping of bugged telephones in and out of the Egyptian Embassy in London, while also serving an emergency War Police Constable in the London Metropolitan Police.
Dorothy and Michael leave London and move to Yorkshire, after Dorothy and Alec separate. Michael would last see his father in 1941, and later be told his father died in service in 1942, a story which he believed throughout most of his adult life.
During the Blitz of 1940 and ’41, Alec meets Alison McKelvie and they begin their relationship despite a nearly thirty year age difference. At the time, he’s a respected British Indian Army Colonel, and she’s an MI6 secretary typing up and filing his ‘special material’ Top Secret reports. They marry in 1941 and have two sons: Gordon, born in 1942, and Nigel (Ruth’s father) born in 1944.
Dismissed by the Service after a Met Police investigation into a suspected fake burglary at Alec’s London flat.
Michael Shannon, Alec’s son with Dorothy, was told his father died in October 1942 at the Battle of El Alamein. He was unaware for six decades that his father, in fact, lived until 1963, dying at the age of 69 at home in England.
Alec is accused and prosecuted for wearing a false uniform and decorations. He serves a two-month sentence for the crime, but tells Alison that it is an intelligence stunt and operation.
After beginning a career in cinema management, he is jailed for three months on the charges that he embezzled takings at a cinema in Hampstead.
Alec marries a nurse named Elizabeth Hill in Ealing (not far from his family with Alison), while working together during the early years of the National Health Service (she as a nurse, he in A&E). They have a son named Douglas together. Not long after, Elizabeth and Douglas move to Scotland.
April 4, 1963
At the age of 69, Alexander Wilson dies of a heart attack at his home (with wife Alison) in Ealing. Alison finds him. His death and funeral proceedings prompt the unveilings of some of Alexander’s lies and secrets.
December 7, 2007
The first time all of his surviving children (all but Adrian who had passed away prior to 2007) and family members connect and meet each other in person.
Thanks to Tim Crook for his invaluable assistance in creating this timeline. Crook is the author of The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent. To learn more about Tim Crook, his book, and Alexander Wilson, visit alexanderwilsonauthorandspy.com.