Kim Philby warning ignored by BBC in plan for TV show about spy's son

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Jul 19, 2022

Kim Philby warning was ignored by BBC amid plan for TV show about the spy’s son travelling to Russia

BBC ignored efforts to stop them broadcasting a TV show about Kim Philby’s son
MI6 agent Kim Philby was Britain’s worst traitor, defecting to the Soviets in 1963 
Independent broadcasters agreed to ban any publicity for Philby after he went 

Officials’ efforts to stop a TV show about Kim Philby’s son going on holiday to Russia to see the Cold War traitor fell on deaf ears at the BBC.
Independent broadcasters agreed to ban any publicity for Philby, who defected in 1963, but the BBC rejected No 10-sanctioned suggestions it was ‘improper’ to show the film, papers released by the National Archives show.
The film-maker behind the show – which featured broadcaster David Frost – told the Foreign Office in 1969 it was about the relationship between Philby and his son John.
Top official Christopher Ewart-Biggs asked the film-maker if ‘he wished to act as an outlet for material provided by Philby – which meant ‘provided by the KGB’ – and whether he wanted to help Philby or his son make money out of his treachery’.

A photo of the double agent Kim Philby who betrayed Britain and defected to the Soviet Union in 1963

Four members of the ‘Cambridge Five’, graduates of Trinity College, Cambridge, who passed information from British Intelligence to the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s. Clockwise from top left, Anthony Blunt (1907 – 1983), Donald Duart Maclean (1913 – 1983), Kim Philby (1912 – 1988) and Guy Burgess (1911 – 1963)
In a memo, he said Kim Philby ‘is working for the Russian Intelligence Services. Anything he produces for publication will be under their sponsorship and for their purposes.’
Philby was one of the five Cambridge spies whose unmasking as Soviet agents during the Cold War threatened the stability of the Government.
He was recruited by the Russians in the 1930s after graduating from Cambridge, and became one of MI6’s most senior officers. He defected in 1963, following fellow spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean who had fled to Moscow in 1951.
Mr Ewart-Biggs later met with the film-maker, Maurice Stanton, who told him his plans for the show included David Frost interviewing John Philby and a film taken by John Philby on his holiday with his father.
He told Mr Stanton ‘he must consult his own conscience about whether he wished to act as an outlet for material provided by Philby, which meant provided by the KGB, and whether he wanted to help Philby or his son make money out of his treachery. It was better to use a very long spoon when supping with the Devil, and best not to sup at all.’
But he doubted Mr Stanton would abandon the project as ‘he has invested at least £100 in Philby Junior and did not strike me as the sort of person who wold readily kiss it goodbye out of moral scruples.’
He added: ‘It was news to us, though not surprising, that David Frost is involved in this nasty little project’.
Frost had earlier planned to interview Kim Philby for a separate show, the files say. That had prompted Foreign Office head Sir Denis(ok) Greenhill to contact Lord Aylestone, chairman of the Independent Television Authority, who assured him the ITA would exclude any interview with Philby from its programmes.
Officials contacted Lord Aylestone again over the John Philby show suggesting a producer ‘trying to pull a fast one’ could argue a show about his holiday in Russia with his father was different and were reassured the ITA had an absolute ban on any publicity for Kim Philby.

Then Prime Minister Harold Wilson backed a plan for officials to speak privately to the BBC’s Director General Charles Curran about not showing the Philby film
The files say John Philby went to Russia and brought back film and still photographs of his father at his flat in Moscow, in the Moscow streets and on a boat trip to Siberia but he was not allowed to take voice recordings. Some of the film showed two men Mr Stanton assumed were KGB members.
After the BBC took on the film’s screening, the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson backed a plan for officials to speak privately to the corporation’s Director General Charles Curran.
But a memo says Mr Curran was ‘not moved either by the suggestion that to show the film might be improper or by the fact ITV had not proceeded with it’ and ‘saw nothing offensive’ it.
*KIM Philby was feared to be exerting a malign influence on the English-language edition of a Soviet magazine, the files show.
Harold Wilson felt it was ‘probable’ the spy’s knowledge was ‘being utilised’ after concerns were raised he might be contributing to Sputnik in 1967.
The then Prime Minster gave his view in a letter to the International Publishing Corporation (IPL), which was planning to publish the first issue of the English-language version of the magazine in 1967 and described it as ‘the USSR equivalent of the US Readers’ Digest’.
But Mr Wilson added ‘no one here can answer your question with certainty’ about whether Novosti was a channel through which Philby ‘might be used by the Soviet authorities for sinister purposes in this country.’
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One thought on “Kim Philby warning ignored by BBC in plan for TV show about spy's son”
  1. If you study spies like Philby and enjoyed this excellent and informative article you are going to love this non-promotional anecdote about real spies and authors from the espionage genre whether you’re a le Carré connoisseur, a Deighton disciple, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or a Macintyre marauder. If you don’t love all such things you might learn something so read on! It’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti.

    As Kim Philby (codename Stanley) and KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky (codename Sunbeam) would have told you in their heyday, there is one category of secret agent that is often overlooked … namely those who don’t know they have been recruited. For more on that topic we suggest you read Beyond Enkription (explained below) and a recent article on that topic by the ex-spook Bill Fairclough. The article can be found at TheBurlingtonFiles website in the News Section. The article (dated July 21, 2021) is about “Russian Interference”; it’s been read well over 20,000 times.

    Now talking of Gordievsky, John le Carré described Ben Macintyre’s fact based novel, The Spy and The Traitor, as “the best true spy story I have ever read”. It was of course about Kim Philby’s Russian counterpart, a KGB Colonel named Oleg Gordievsky, codename Sunbeam. In 1974 Gordievsky became a double agent working for MI6 in Copenhagen which was when Bill Fairclough aka Edward Burlington unwittingly launched his career as a secret agent for MI6. Fairclough and le Carré knew of each other: le Carré had even rejected Fairclough’s suggestion in 2014 that they collaborate on a book. As le Carré said at the time, “Why should I? I’ve got by so far without collaboration so why bother now?” A realistic response from a famous expert in fiction in his eighties!

    Philby and Gordievsky never met Fairclough, but they did know Fairclough’s handler, Colonel Alan McKenzie aka Colonel Alan Pemberton CVO MBE. It is little wonder therefore that in Beyond Enkription, the first fact based novel in The Burlington Files espionage series, genuine double agents, disinformation and deception weave wondrously within the relentless twists and turns of evolving events. Beyond Enkription is set in 1974 in London, Nassau and Port au Prince. Edward Burlington, a far from boring accountant, unwittingly started working for Alan McKenzie in MI6 and later worked eyes wide open for the CIA.

    What happens is so exhilarating and bone chilling it makes one wonder why bother reading espionage fiction when facts are so much more breathtaking. The fact based novel begs the question, were his covert activities in Haiti a prelude to the abortion of a CIA sponsored Haitian equivalent to the Cuban Bay of Pigs? Why was his father Dr Richard Fairclough, ex MI1, involved? Richard was of course a confidant of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who became chief adviser to JFK during the Cuban missile crisis.

    Len Deighton and Mick Herron could be forgiven for thinking they co-wrote the raw noir anti-Bond narrative, Beyond Enkription. Atmospherically it’s reminiscent of Ted Lewis’ Get Carter of Michael Caine fame. If anyone ever makes a film based on Beyond Enkription they’ll only have themselves to blame if it doesn’t go down in history as a classic espionage thriller.

    By the way, the maverick Bill Fairclough had quite a lot in common with Greville Wynne (famous for his part in helping to reveal Russian missile deployment in Cuba in 1962) and has also even been called “a posh Harry Palmer”. As already noted, Bill Fairclough and John le Carré (aka David Cornwell) knew of each other but only long after Cornwell’s MI6 career ended thanks to Kim Philby shopping all Cornwell’s supposedly secret agents in Europe. Coincidentally, the novelist Graham Greene used to work in MI6 reporting to Philby and Bill Fairclough actually stayed in Hôtel Oloffson during a covert op in Haiti (explained in Beyond Enkription) which was at the heart of Graham Greene’s spy novel The Comedians. Funny it’s such a small world!

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