Noor Inayat Khan: in profile

Noor Inayat Khan was a secret agent who worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in occupied France. Born in Moscow, she later lived in London and Paris. After the Nazi invasion, Khan escaped to Britain and joined the SOE in 1942.

A year later she was sent to France to join the Resistance, but in October 1943 she was betrayed to the Gestapo. Imprisoned until September 1944, she was then taken to Dachau concentration camp and executed. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

When did you first hear about Noor Inayat Khan?

My obsession with Noor began more than a decade ago. I spotted an article in a newspaper about some of the women of the Second World War, within which was this formidable, forgotten heroine – a Muslim woman who was a British spy! I couldn’t believe that here was someone who looked like me, yet about whom I had been taught nothing. Khan’s life, her remarkable contribution to the war effort and, ultimately, her sacrifice were not common knowledge. For me, that was the start of years of revisiting her story.


What kind of person was she?

Khan was a complex, international person. She was a descendant of Indian nobility with an American mother. Growing up in a spiritual Sufi Muslim household in England and France, she was around music from an early age, and adored playing the harp and piano. Creative to the core, she also wrote poems and children’s stories. She must have been fiercely independent to have pursued all this as a single woman back then.

What made Khan a hero?

Ultimately, she defied the odds to become the unlikeliest of spies. She pushed past being underestimated by those training her, and committed herself to one of the most dangerous jobs in the war – that of a wireless operator, where the life expectancy was just six weeks. To put her life on the line despite the prejudice she must have faced as a woman of colour is awe-inspiring.

It’s this resilience and mental strength that I really wanted to explore in my film Liberté

What was her finest hour?

Firstly, her decision to remain in Paris after the rest of her network had fallen to the Gestapo. To continue to work alone, providing that vital communication link to London despite knowing that the enemy was closing in, showed remarkable bravery. Secondly, her loyalty after being captured. She maintained her silence in the face of horrific brutality and interrogations over 10 months. It’s this resilience and mental strength that I really wanted to explore in my film Liberté.

Is there anything you don’t particularly admire about her?

I think she was perhaps a little naïve. Some reports say that she had written down information that ended up with the Nazis.

You played Khan in your film Liberté. How did you prepare for the role?

I’ve covered Khan’s story as a journalist, but this was vastly different, emotionally and physically. Portraying her authentically meant embodying the character completely, which is where I hope my extensive research delving into the archives helped.

What would you ask Khan if you could meet her?

I’d ask how she kept her silence during such desperate times in solitary confinement. What kept her going, and how did she stay so loyal?

Read more | Noor Inayat Khan: why was the British spy such an unlikely war hero?

Sam Naz is an actor, TV presenter and news anchor for Sky News. She recently wrote, produced and starred in the film Liberté about Noor Inayat Khan, available at


This content first appeared in the December 2022 issue of BBC History Magazine. Jeremy Bowen was talking to York Membery

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York MemberyJournalist

York Membery is a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine, the Daily Mail and Sunday Times among other publications. York, who lives in London, worked on the Mirror, Express and Times before turning freelance. He studied history at Cardiff University and the Institute of Historical Research, and has a History PhD from Maastricht University.