Audio Recorded ‘Pre-Interview’ Research Transcript
Interviewing Norman Darbyshire for End of Empire: Iran
An Introduction by Mark Anderson, Producer/Director of End of Empire: Iran
On a cold December morning in 1982 I and researcher Alison Rooper arrived at Norman Darbyshire’s mansion flat in Kensington. It had been a couple of months since we first identified, and then located, our quarry: the chief spy from MI6 who had run the 1953 Anglo-American coup against Mohammed Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran. And a week or so more before he agreed to meet with us. We knew the overall story – but we needed chapter and verse, preferably from the horse’s mouth. We knew, of course, that Darbyshire had signed the Official Secrets Act, so it was all but inconceivable that he would agree to an on-screen interview. Would he even agree to answer our questions at all? But we struck gold: Darbyshire had decided it was time, three decades after the events, to speak frankly, as long as he was never identified as the source. While nowhere near as good as a filmed interview, this was a major breakthrough – it would help immensely in formulating our questions to interviewees we had yet to see, especially in the USA.
So we set our little cassette recorder going on the coffee table, and the 58 year old Darbyshire began to sing: an off-the-record, audio-taped interview about his experience as an MI6 agent in Iran. Alison remembers him as a thick set, urbane, articulate man with a gruff voice, typical of heavy smokers, whose whisky glass was never far from his hands.
What we learned confirmed that the British government had played an integral – indeed, initiating – role in the success of the coup d’état that removed democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh from power. The recorded interview was transcribed using a typewriter or a very early word processor in our small production office in Upper James Street, W1 (we assume by Alison given the number of typing errors). We kept it on file as we continued the research for our film about Britain’s role in Iran in the early 1950s. It informed all our filmed interviews, especially with British embassy staff who’d worked alongside Darbyshire such as Sam Falle and with the former CIA agents Stephen Meade and Richard Cottam.
We never persuaded Darbyshire to go on camera. We approached him for the last time in late Spring of 1984 – by which time we had filmed most of the other interviews. and were running out of time as the editing was booked for September 1984.
Since Coup 53 was released in August 2020 alleging that we filmed Darbyshire, we’ve found out that in April 1984 Darbyshire agreed to talk with Oxford PhD student Fakreddin Azimi. (Dr Azimi gives the date of this interview in the notes to his chapter in Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 coup in Iran, ed. Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne).
Dr. Azimi has recently revealed the details of what happened next:
“The day after the interview, Norman Darbyshire contacted me and said that the interview should not have taken place, and I did not have the right to make use of it. I was very sorry at this, and without mentioning his name, I included several of the point in my thesis that we had discussed in the interview, and, after Darbyshire’s death, the remainder were used in one of my studies in English and in my book Iran: The Crisis of Democracy.” [Translated from Persian to English]
Azimi’s account confirms that by April 1984 Darbyshire was beginning to regret his willingness to talk off the record to those interested in the coup against Mossadegh. Which would explain why he never responded to our final request for a filmed interview. We assume that by then, word had got around from our interviewees that Darbyshire had talked to us. He had doubtless been warned off going any further by a call from his former employers.
After our film was shown in 1985 Alison left all her research notes, transcripts of research interviews and filmed interviews with Mossadegh’s grandson Heda Matine-Daftary in Paris. In 2014 when Taghi Amirani was researching COUP 53, she handed him a copy of the Darbyshire transcript so that he could use it in his film as he saw fit. He hired Ralph Fiennes to re-enact the role of Darbyshire, using our sound-only interview as his ‘script’.
In 2016 amongst the research notes left in Paris Amirani found an identical copy of the Darbyshire transcript with chunks of transcript cut out of it – part a “cut and paste” exercise Alison conducted with our research transcripts to help us decide who we wanted to film. In COUP 53 this cut up copy of the transcript is shown as “evidence” that the transcript was from a filmed interview.
Our filmed interviews were sent to a typing pool to be transcribed and, unlike this research transcript which is single spaced, were typed verbatim with double spacing, showing slate numbers and roll numbers. Film transcripts rarely name the interviewees, labelling speakers “man” and “woman” instead.
We had no idea that Amirani would also fabricate a totally fallacious storyline, claiming that we had in fact secretly filmed Darbyshire, and then succumbed to pressure from MI6 to cut that from our film. All poppycock! So, in the interests of transparency – and the truth – we have decided to release our Darbyshire transcript publicly so that it’s available to COUP 53 viewers, Iran scholars and the public generally.
Research Interview Transcript