A personal view by the author of MI6: 50 Years of Special Operations
11 January 2020
I find the current situation with regard to Coup 53 bizarre in the extreme. Here is a documentary being lauded that is, in fact, essentially fraudulent. The ‘hidden role’ of an MI6 officer is not being ‘revealed for the first’. It is not the case that ‘Norman Darbyshire’s identity disappeared from public debate’. Nor is it true that ‘no one followed up the story’. Taghi did not reply to these when he asked me to ‘point out any such errors’.
When Taghi came to interview me I told my wife afterwards that it was very, very strange and that he seemed to be obsessed by the End of Empire transcript and totally focussed on Darbyshire’s interview and the events surrounding it. I told him at the time the facts as I knew them and that there was no big deal about this. MI6 officer’s names did not, at that time, get published and they did not go on the record for television interviews. I had had experience of this having had a number of run-ins with the D-Notice Committee secretary and the Attorney General, and having been consultant to BBC’s Panorama when they did a programme on MI6.
MI6 officer’s names did not, at that time, get published and they did not go on the record for television interviews.
I was led to believe by Taghi that Darbyshire had, in fact, been filmed and that it had been cut from the documentary. That is why, if in fact it had happened, I said the D-Notice Committee would intervene and a possible reason why then the producers might leak it. I said to him, however, that filming and including an interview with an MI6 officer on television would have been highly improbable, again, in fact, almost impossible in those days and still is highly unlikely today. As I stated I already had experience of that.
What I did not know was that Taghi had already been given a copy of the transcript six years before by the End of Empire team. Clearly what he said to me about the alleged filming of the interview of Darbyshire was completely false.
I had published Darbyshire’s name back in May 1989 in a list of MI6 officers in Lobster. He had originally been identified by Kim Philby in article in the Soviet press in 1970.
Taghi knew that I had published Darbyshire’s name in my book on MI6 and that he was mentioned nearly 20 times. He knew that I had also taken part in two previous major documentaries on Iran (one for ABC in the US and one by an Iranian he knew). I loaned him the transcript and a video of the previous documentary which took three months for him to return. My account of the British side of the Iran Coup is still the most detailed in print and has been referred to in almost all books published on the Coup since.
It became clear to me when I eventually saw the documentary that the entire approach to interviewing me was misleading as they were trying to fit me into a narrative they had for it which was already set (I was clearly filmed late on in the process) and which is untrue.
My words on seeing the documentary were: “This is fucking bullshit.”
A Guardian journalist phoned me. He said: “Have you seen it? At least you are smiling.” He knew it was a travesty and fully aware of my MI6 book and naming of Darbyshire. A documentary company I had been working with rang to congratulate me on a great documentary. When I told them the full story they were completely shocked and could not believe that Taghi had got away with it.
Only one review – the New York Times – has hinted at the true story about the documentary. If one didn’t know the full story this would indeed be an entertaining and illuminating documentary but integrity is what I value most and this documentary has none.