Friday, 21 August 2015

The Men in Dirty Raincoats: Doris Lessing and the Spooks

You know, sometimes I wonder how we survived The Cold War with The Establishment we had then. In the past week, newspapers in this country have reported War Minister John Profumo (Conservative) leaving secret documents lying around in his study, used as an unaccompanied waiting room for the Soviet naval attaché on his visits – for which Captain Ivanov came equipped with smiles and  a miniature camera.

Then today we have newly released documents from the Archives telling us what the men in dirty raincoats got up to in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1956, the man from the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch thought that Doris Lessing, the novelist, was running a brothel – well, she had so many unaccompanied male visitors ringing the bell to her flat. Must be immoral purposes, Sir.

All solemnly written down and filed away as part of a twenty year long surveillance operation involving Special Branch, MI5 and MI6.

It’s not the first time I’ve thought, They must have been a prurient-minded bunch. Or else, men with their eye on the main chance of selling a tip-off to the tabloids. (Why didn’t the man from Special Branch suggest to The News of the World that they send along a reporter to ring the bell and, story bagged, make an excuse and leave? Perhaps he did).

Another target, Edith Tudor-Hart – whose photographic work recently got a retrospective exhibition – also had the men in dirty raincoats on her tail, as it were. Foreign, Jewish, Intellectual, Communist … must be a sex story there.

(I have a vague memory that as a young student I was invited to a meeting held in the flat of her ex-husband a medical doctor, Dr Alex Tudor-Hart. A basement (Ho! Ho!) somewhere in London. I Googled him today and I’m pretty sure he was the chap in a plaster bust which showed up on Google images. I do wish I could remember more. I am sure the files do)
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Thankfully it’s all different now. The raincoats are only interested in men with beards and in fifty years’ time my grandchildren will read the newspapers telling them just how good the spooks were in spotting, trailing and catching those who wanted to cut off our heads with a carving knife. Not forgetting Jeremy Corbyn.

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