The documentary Coup 53, submitted for consideration by BAFTA members, has recently been granted a new archive license after ITV withdrew the license in September, 2020, because the film “brings Granada TV and the End of Empire team into disrepute”. This new license is conditional on Amirani Media making some 17 specific amendments, including a ‘right of reply’ from us. Whilst these changes include the End of Empire team’s clear statement that MI6 agent Norman Darbyshire was never filmed, we remain concerned that they do not represent the whole truth as we see it.
Coup 53, potentially an excellent documentary, persists in innuendo, untruths and an unwarranted attack on the integrity of fellow film makers.
These are our basic points:
- Since Coup 53 was released in August 2020, Amirani Media has been sent detailed evidence that the film’s central thesis about the Darbyshire interview is untrue. This evidence should have been enough to persuade them to reedit the film. We were hoping for an amicable and mutually supporting resolution. But advised by Carter Ruck, eminent media solicitors, Amirani Media would not reconsider, and gave way as little as they could. This is a sad outcome. We, the End of Empire team, had offered all our research materials and ongoing advice, gratis, throughout the ten-year making of Coup 53. Amirani Media has a strange way of recognising this assistance
2. Amirani Media has consistently ignored our evidence:
- Granada TV cameraman, Humphry Trevelyan, who appears in Coup 53, has withdrawn his testimony in writing because, after 35 years and on reviewing the records, he states he misremembered and believed one interviewee, Sam Falle, was a different man, MI6 operative Norman Darbyshire. But Trevelyan’s contribution to Coup 53 remains intact and uncut. No self-respecting documentary-maker would knowingly include a witness s/he knows to be mistaken.
- The testimony of Dr Heda Matine-Daftary, Mossdegh’s grandson and in his 80’s, is second-hand and unfortunately misremembered. He quotes End of Empire: Iran’s film producer and researcher, telling him they were cutting the spy Norman Darbyshire from their film and implies this was the result of pressure from the government: in other words, censorship. Both Mark Anderson and Alison Rooper deny absolutely that they told Matine-Daftary any such thing. Indeed, we could not, as we never filmed Darbyshire because, as a signatory of the Official Secrets Act, he refused to go on camera.
- The single–spaced, non verbatim transcript which appears in Coup 53 is clearly that of a research interview – not of a double-spaced, verbatim filmed interview with slate or roll numbers.
- The Observer article of 25th May 1985 which quotes from the Darbyshire transcript states clearly that the MI6 agent will not be seen in the programme as “he declined to be filmed to protect his anonymity”. Nevertheless Coup 53 which uses this article, completely ignores this fact.
3. Throughout Coup 53 a running story is the ‘search’ for the ‘lost film’ of the Darbyshire interview. And with it the continuing implication that we colluded with government censorship and are engaging in a cover up of some sort (as in Ralph Fiennes’ statement “They suddenly go wierd…. And they don’t remember him and they all go vague”) The above false narrative remains intact in Coup 53 despite the 17 ‘amendments’ agreed with ITV, and has been repeated in Amirani Media’s public statements and in the film’s trailer.
4. A new line of commentary stating End of Empire’s case that Darbyshire was never filmed has been inserted just before Ralph Fiennes speaks his words. And some new captions stating our position precede the end credits. These appear a good hour after the bogus story of the ‘lost interview’. This is too little, too late, has been inserted on legal advice and is, in our view, a poor substitute for genuine factual accuracy in a documentary.
5. Amirani Media has made many public claims to be the first to ‘tell the whole story’ of Britain’s role in the 1953 coup against Mossadegh in Iran. The truth is that End of Empire: Iran told this story, in depth, 35 years ago. Coup 53 builds on this, and takes the story much further; but they are not the first to do so. Both Channel 4 and the BBC have shown films about Britain’s role in overthrowing Mossadegh. Details of Darbyshire’s role and our transcript have been in the public domain since 2000.
6. Coup 53 relies heavily for its dramatic narrative on some 14 minutes of footage from End of Empire: Iran, which was made in 1983/4 and transmitted in 1985: some 12 interviewees. In the original version of Coup 53 not one of these interviews was properly credited to End of Empire Iran – which considering the amount of material used is unusual.
7. Amirani Media has been releasing various ‘editions’ of Coup 53 – in the USA, Iran and possibly elsewhere. In Iran, we know for sure, the original and ‘un-amended’ version was shown at a documentary festival. In an interview on Iranian State radio Taghi Amirani, the director, maintained still his original line: that the End of Empire team filmed Darbyshire and he, Amirani, was smart enough to discover a transcript of that interview. The truth is that we gave Amirani that transcript in 2014, explaining that it was a transcript of an off-the-record audio recording. Despite our help and guidance, freely given, Amirani continues to impugn our reputation. Why? The only reason can be because he prefers what he sees as a ‘good story’ to what he knows to be truth. Again, not decent documentary practice.
8. Throughout recent months, Amirani Media has persisted in claiming that we ‘blocked’ their film from digital release, a fallacious story which appeared in the Observer/Guardian but was later corrected in their online edition. We did not block Coup 53: it was ITV Archive, unprompted by us, which removed their archive license, and forced Amirani Media to withdraw Coup 53 from circulation.
9. We believe that, despite the 17 ‘amendments’, Taghi Amirani’s film Coup 53 falls short of proper documentary practice, following a storyline its makers know to be false, and impugning the professional integrity of us, the End of Empire team. In our view, for all these above reasons, it does not merit consideration for any award or recognition by BAFTA or any other body, nor acceptance by any broadcaster or digital streaming service unless the deliberate untruths are addressed and rectified.
10. We sincerely wish we could have reached a more amicable resolution to our dispute with Amirani Media. The fact that we failed is not, repeat not, of our doing or desire.
By: Brian Lapping, Norma Percy, Mark Anderson, and Alison Rooper