M. E. Clifton James - Wikipedia

M. E. Clifton James

Meyrick Edward Clifton James (April 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.

Meyrick Edward Clifton James
Clifton James posing as General Montgomery
Clifton James posing as General Montgomery
BornApril 1898
Perth, Western Australia
Died8 May 1963 (aged 65)
Worthing, Sussex, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1914–1918
RankSecond lieutenant (WWII)
Service number141055 (WWII)
UnitRoyal Fusiliers (WWI)
Royal Army Pay Corps (WWII)
Other workActor

Early lifeEdit

Clifton James was born in Perth, Western Australia, the youngest son of notable Australian public servant John Charles Horsey James and his wife Rebecca Catherine Clifton.[1][2]


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."[3]

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[4] 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.

Operation CopperheadEdit

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.[5]

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.[6]

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 was teetotal), 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.[citation needed]

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.[5]

Post-war lifeEdit

After being demobilised in June 1946, he was unable to find theatrical employment and was obliged to apply for unemployment benefits to support his wife and two children in London.[7]

I Was Monty's DoubleEdit

In 1954, James published his exploits in a book entitled I Was Monty's Double[8] (released in the US as The Counterfeit General Montgomery[9]). 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, including a fictional kidnapping attempt by enemy forces.

In 1947 James had made a brief (non-speaking and uncredited) appearance as an extra in the film Holiday Camp as a holidaymaker in the dance floor scene along with Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison. He also appeared in a short cameo role (again non-speaking and uncredited) as Field Marshal Montgomery (using a mix of original postwar footage of Monty inspecting an RAF passing-out parade and close-up shots of James) in the 1957 film High Flight, starring Ray Milland.[citation needed]

On 20 January 1959, James appeared on an episode of the American TV quiz show series To Tell the Truth where a panel of celebrities had to ascertain which of the three uniformed actors present, all claiming to have been Monty's wartime double, was telling the truth.

Since 2010, the name "Monty's Double" has been adopted by the actor Colin Brooks-Williams as the identity for his popular Field Marshal Montgomery lookalike and impersonation act, with which he tours 1940s-themed events nationwide, as a tribute to the Field Marshal himself and to M. E. Clifton James as the original wartime "Monty's Double". Colin has registered the name "Monty's Double" as his professional stage name with the British actors union Equity and carries the name on his Equity membership card.


James died on 8 May 1963 at his home on Thorn Road in Worthing, Sussex, aged 65.[10][11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "James, John Charles Horsey". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
  2. ^ Erickson, R. (1988). "East Perth Cemeteries". Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians: pre-1829–1888. p. 1618. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  3. ^ Swainson, Leslie (27 August 1957). "No Clash of Arms in War Film". The Age. Melbourne, Australia.
  4. ^ "No. 34905". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 July 1940. p. 4595.
  5. ^ a b Lord, Graham (2003). Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven. Orion Books.
  6. ^ Casey, Dr Dennis. "The impersonation of General Montgomery". Air Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
  7. ^ "Monty's Double Broke". The Northern Times. Carnarvon, Western Australia: National Library of Australia. 4 April 1947. p. 4. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  8. ^ James, M. E. Clifton (1954). I Was Monty's Double. Hamilton and Co.
  9. ^ James, M. E. Clifton (1954). The Counterfeit General Montgomery. New York: Avon.
  10. ^ "Obituaries". The Times. London. 9 May 1963. p. 17.
  11. ^ Obituary Variety, 15 May 1963.

Further readingEdit

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

External linksEdit