In 1985 Channel 4 and ITV transmitted Iran, part of the End of Empire series. It told the story, for the first time and with frank eye-witness accounts, of the 1953 Anglo-American coup against the Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. Now, in 2021, a film entitled COUP 53, made by Amirani Media and directed by Taghi Amirani, revisits that history, using some 14 minutes of the End of Empire: Iran footage (largely uncredited) and a dozen of our interviewees.
Most grievously, COUP 53 sets running a fallacious hare: that we filmed the main British spy, Norman Darbyshire, and then, under pressure from the government and/or MI6, agreed to cut him from our film. This is entirely a fabrication; and it seriously impugns our reputation as honest documentary makers. This valued reputation, it appears, is not one Amirani much cares about – ours, or his own.
COUP 53: an important film about a shocking period in British history, discredited by the deliberate inclusion of untruths and false allegations.
- Amirani claims to be the first to tell the full story of the Anglo-American coup against Mossadegh. But we at Granada TV were the first to reveal Britain’s and MI6’s role, 35 years ago.
- A running theme of the first hour of Taghi Amirani’s film is that we, the End of Empire team, filmed the key British spy, Norman Darbyshire, in the early 1980s; and then succumbed to pressure from MI6 to cut him from our film, transmitted in 1985. This is untrue, and Amirani knows it.
- We never filmed Darbyshire: as a signatory of the Official Secrets Act, he refused categorically to go on camera.
- Therefore, we could not have cut him from our film.
- We did record a sound cassette of Darbyshire, off the record, for research purposes. We gave Amirani a transcript of this conversation, six years ago. But Amirani pretends to have ‘discovered’ this transcript, and makes much of tracking down the ‘lost’ filmed interview. Why pursue what he knows to be an untruth?
- Amirani recorded an interview with our cameraman, Humphry Trevelyan, who says he remembers filming the spy. But Trevelyan has now, in writing, withdrawn his testimony, acknowledging that he misremembered after 35 years, and was thinking of another interviewee, Sam Falle. We have informed Amirani, but he has kept Trevelyan, uncut, in COUP 53. Again, why?
- Amirani has used 14 minutes of our material, a dozen interviewees, often without any credit. And has had access to all our research material, gratis, since beginning work on COUP 53. He avoids using clips from our film which confirm how we told in some detail how MI6 collaborated with Iranians to oust Mossadegh.
- Amirani has recently made some minor amendments to COUP 53, enough to satisfy ITV Archive to renew the licence they withdrew in September 2020, believing his film brought “the End of Empire team in disrepute”. These include granting us a ‘right to reply’ – but nowhere does Amirani himself withdraw or cut the falsities that disfigure his film. Again, why?
- In November 2020 Amirani accused us of ‘blocking’ his film, when it was ITV Archive that withdrew the film’s license. We had nothing to do with it. Why does Amirani persist in peddling untruths – as in a showing recently in Iran – when he could, like any decent documentary maker, stick to the truth?
- We commend Ralph Fiennes on his performance as Darbyshire, now long dead; and would like to stress that we have no objection at all to this re-enactment, using our sound cassette as his ‘script’.
By: Brian Lapping, Norma Percy, Mark Anderson, Alison Rooper, multi-award-winning producers (BAFTA, Emmy, RTS, Broadcasting Guild, Peabody and more) of serious factual programming since the 1970s.