Ruth Wilson’s grandfather was a spy & bigamist with four different families

Ruth Wilson was on The Late Show and at first I didn’t bother watching her whole segment when she didn’t give any good quotes in the first few minutes. She bugs me a little, which I know is unfair as it’s based almost entirely on her very convincing portrayal of a villian on Luther. (That was SO scary I couldn’t keep watching past a few episodes even though it stars Idris.) So I guess that just means she’s a great actress. She told a story about someone having a medical emergency while she was doing a play and how she didn’t have much sympathy for the person in the audience, which I guess is understandable and at least she admits it. After that I quit watching but I went back a day later to the part where she explained her new show, Mrs. Wilson. At first I thought she was describing the fictional plot of her show but it’s based on the true story of her family! Her grandmother discovered, after her grandfather passed, that he had three other wives, all with kids! He worked as a spy for MI5 so his work gave him the perfect cover to have four families simultaneously. This is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever heard! Ruth is playing her grandmother, Mrs. Wilson of course, and Iain Glen, Jorah from Game of Thrones, is her duplicitous grandfather.

[Mrs. Wilson is] my grandmother. She thought she was happily married to this very mysterious man that she met in MI5. She wasn’t a spy she was a secretary who worked MI5 during the war. He was a spy. When he died of a heart attack in her house she went through his documents and realized she was one of four wives. He had kids with all of them and they never knew about each other. It’s a mad story. We didn’t really find out the truth of this until ten years ago the full extent of the story. My dad recently found all these half siblings. We had a big reunion – or union. We had nametags, “son of,” “daughter of,” it was hilarious.

We’ve since [hired an investigator who] found out [my grandfather] worked for MI5 and MI6 and he was in India for eight years. He wrote 23 spy novels which were all published. We still don’t know the truth. MI5 and MI6 won’t release all records.

[From The Late Show]

MI5 and MI6 are of course the British security and secret intelligence services, which I only know this from watching James Bond movies. Ruth said she’d never met any of her relatives before this without knowing, and that’s the fear, that you end up marrying someone you don’t realize you’re related to. Another celebrity “secret relative” story is when Michael Caine revealed that he had a secret half brother whom he didn’t learn about until his mom passed. His brother had epilepsy, suffered damage from it and lived in a facility, where his mother visited him once a week up until her death. The staff alerted Michael about his brother after their mother died. Michael made sure his brother was well taken care of until his brother passed away. That story really touched me and I covered it 9 years ago but I still remember it. This one is just crazy and strange. I can’t imagine the betrayal her grandmother must have felt, not to mention how her dad and aunts and uncles must have taken it.

This show premiered on Masterpiece March 31 and is getting good reviews. I’m so going to watch it!

Here’s the video and I set it to start at the part where she talks about her grandfather.


I don’t know about this dress.


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26 Responses to “Ruth Wilson’s grandfather was a spy & bigamist with four different families”

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  1. Maya says:

    How in the world did he have the stamina to be a super spy and maintain 5 families at the same time?

    • gingersnaps says:

      He didn’t, he abandoned his second son (he was told that his father died at an early age) and there were times when he would just up and vanish from his other families. I don’t think he was really a spy as they showed that he got kicked out of government service. They were hints that he was suffering from delusion or just a very crafty but troubled man who toyed with the hearts and lives of the women he fancied.

    • Susan says:

      I thought part of the story was that he was actually fired from him job and he was actually hiding that for most of the time too. He wasn’t very good.

  2. LondonLozza says:

    Mrs Wilson is an amazing show! Made all the more so by the fact it’s a true story.

    She has an amazing family photo of all the cousins, siblings, aunts etc, that she met as a result of her Dads bigamy – and more relatives are coming out the woodwork all the time … it blew my tiny mind 😀

    • Jamie says:

      The show has already aired in my city and the end of it shows all the real life Wilsons, first the remaining living siblings then all their children and grandchildren. It’s amazing.

  3. Cee says:

    Oh, I hate stories like this one as they touch too close to home. We discovered my grandmother’s brother in law was a bigamist, all through Facebook. His eldest daughter, product of his first marriage, contacted her half siblings and their kids, introducing herself (she already knew her father had another wife and children). He was able to pull it off because records back then were transcribed and kept in each state, so he married into my grandmother’s family without anyone knowing the truth. Years later they left Argentina for Spain.

    The whole family was shocked but now that they worked past it things are somewhat normal again.

  4. gingersnaps says:

    Yep! I love the show and it was amazing when they showed the entire family a few minutes on the last episode.

  5. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    When I read this story a few months back, it made me love her even more. She’s a phenomenal actress. Her performance in Luther was superb. The fact that her family’s history is stranger than fiction simply adds layers.

  6. Lindy says:

    Luther is on my list of things to watch. I keep hearing good things about the acting.

    I come from an interesting old southern family and my great grandfather was a bigamist. He was a wealthy railroad executive and had a family in Birmingham and a family in Atlanta and he traveled a lot (which was uncommon back in those days) so no one discovered it. Until his funeral. Where both widows met, along with their kids. It was…. the talk of both towns to say the least.

    I think it really scarred my grandmother as a girl, though. Which is not hard to understand. They had to look up marriage certificates to determine who was the legitimate widow and it wasn’t my great grandmother. So my grandmother and her sister suddenly became illegitimate in one day.

  7. Eliza says:

    What a crazy story! Kind of awesome she’s playing her grandma but wow I can’t imagine what happened when all the wives found out. That’s heartbreaking.

  8. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Lol. Girl a few episodes?! It wasn’t THAT scary, and you’ve missed a LOT. Specifically about her character and Luther. She isn’t quite the villain she seems. At least not in subsequent seasons.
    Mrs. Wilson sounds really interesting. It had to be strange playing your own grandmother.

  9. Darla says:

    I love her, she is so talented. I just don’t think The Affair is going to work without her. But I am definitely going to watch this show! I never heard of it, it sounds amazing.

    When my grandfather died, one of my grandmother’s “friends” told her that the owner of the funeral home had let a woman in after hours. With her little son. My grandfather died before I was born but my grandmother lived to be 90, and I will never forget the day we were sitting around the kitchen table, and I was the only one of my generation in the family present. My cousins and siblings were not there. And so my grandmother starts telling this story about the funeral home, and she asks my aunts and my mom if they remember the night their dad got a strange phone call. And my mom didn’t, she was a late in life baby, but her two older sisters did and exclaimed, yes we sure do!

    So apparently this woman had called my grandmother’s home to ask for my grandfather, and when my grandmother asked, well who is calling, she answered, oh I just thought he would want to be here for my son’s birthday. Anyway when all was said and done, and all of the pieces put together at that kitchen table so many decades after my grandfather passed, it was sussed out that he had a long term mistress who had his son. And my mom has a half brother out there.

    I think this kind of thing is way more common than people think. Well, not being a spy and having FIVE families, but you know what I mean.

  10. Other Renee says:

    Why didn’t she feel any sympathy for the woman with the medical emergency? That’s a bit cold.

  11. Annika says:

    I agree w/ Darla that this is quite common.
    I’m a hospice RN, & even in the small community i which I work we’ve had a number of patients whom, near end of life or afterwards at the patient’s funeral, have family secrets revealed like this. I find it to be fascinating!
    My mom has said it’s highly likely that this occurred in her family, but we don’t have many family records to guide us in our research. Her relatives were Germans, Poles, Latvians that were displaced by centuries of wars & economic strife, some concealed their Jewish heritage, others did not, some were confirmed to have died in concentration camps, others have disappeared (probably in South America)…it’s a lot to sift through. Also complicated by the fact that my mom emigrated to the States from East Germany at 17 yrs old & cut off ties with her father & she hasn’t completely told us why.
    She did get here under legitimate circumstances: she was in an esteemed culinary apprenticeship that brought her here legally. But she’s been withholding about some of those details, & I’ve long had the feeling that she’ll share those details with us at end of life.

  12. Mumbles says:

    I enjoyed Mrs. Wilson on Masterpiece although without spoiling anything I was a bit let down by the ending. And I think Fiona Shaw has a corner on “hard-to-decipher British intelligence woman” roles. Good on her.

    As for bigamists, I was blown away when after his death, folksy CBS newsman Charles Kuralt was exposed of having two families. I guess he had a lot of time “On the Road.”

  13. Jb says:

    How awful for her family! Can you imagine the betrayal her grandmother felt and then not being able to truly get closure or answers since this POS man died before he could face his deception?! Ugh. Although this shows how before technology advanced, ppl could literally disappear and live a different life in another state (not country) and no one would know, you could leave the country and fake your death and get away with it.

  14. LT says:

    We have had some odd stuff too, though not that extreme. My dad discovered in his 20’s that he he had a great uncle no one knew about. The uncle had lived his entire life in an institution (in the same tiny town in the Midwest where the rest of the family lived) and my dad only met him once he started a rotational at the facility. Out of the blue, his boss asked him if he wanted to meet his uncle and then took him to a back room in a seldom used building and surprise! New family! My great-grandmother was a snob and evidently having a brother-in-law with brain damage didn’t project the “perfect family” image she had worked so hard to cultivate, so she hid him away for decades until my dad “discovered” him. Unfortunately, I don’t think our story was all that unusual for that day and age – mental illness and traumatic brain injuries were not treated terribly well.

  15. Emmet says:

    Kim Cattrall had this in her family too. Her mother’s father abandoned the family, married another woman and moved to Australia.

    Personally in the last two years, a “new” cousin found our family. She wasn’t told until her dad died who her real dad was. Big shock for her, huge family and a different religion.

  16. Swan Lake says:

    I watched the Masterpiece mini series. I usually love any spy story, but this one just didn’t appeal to me. It had the right elements, but I was bored.

  17. Dee Kay says:

    I’ve had a polygamist in my family (12 wives!!! all in different regions) and I’m never surprised when I hear or read about stories like this, but I am *always* disgusted. Many, many men are absolute trash. Like, garbage on fire levels of trash. I am grateful I found and married my H, who has definitively proven that at least *some* men can be loyal and devoted and caring spouses. But many, many, many men I know about are 100% gutter trash.

  18. asdfa says:

    People keep finding secret relatives these days with the rise of services like 23 & me.