MI5’s Official Secrets

In 1985 Bill Heine sought to screen a banned documentary entitled MI5’s Official Secrets, in which a former intelligence officer alleged widespread bugging of telephones by MI5 of political figure and civil liberties groups.

You mentioned was the cinema political? And I suppose there was a particular time when it was particularly political. And this happened when a production company called 2020 vision did a TV film called MI5’s Official Secrets.

This was a pretty explosive film… And it was in 1985… And it was all about the headquarters at cheltenham… the, what’s the… Mi5 or whatever headquarters at cheltenham.

They had been monitoring the telephone calls of people like arthur scargill and as a matter of fact they’ve been… And Tony Benn, they’ve been monitoring a lot of telephone calls of a lot of people. And one of the, one of the employees at GCHQ Was called Cathy Massiter and she decided to blow the whistle.

She said “Look, I’m not going to go along with this. I know that we’re doing things
that are really what they do in a police state.”

And so she talked to the producers at 2020 vision. Well it was amazing stuff. And uh, it was going to be shown on the BBC [in fact it was intended to be screened on Channel 4].

Cathy Massiter
Cathy Massiter

Then the independent broadcasting standards agency was called in and they use the Official Secrets Act to squash the screening on the bbc.

And I thought that there were several people who had already seen the film, namely MPs— because there was a special screening for some MPsand I thought that the public should be enabled to see this.

And I thought if we showed it at a cinema that would break this barrier, because they could keep the lid on it provided it wasn’t in the public domain. And I thought we should put it in the public domain.

So I called a particular MP at parliament. It was Anne Clwyd. She was the one who actually had a copy of this film.

And I told her what I wanted to do. And she said, “Oh yes that’s fine, come on down to the central lobby and I’ll give it to you.”

So I go into the central lobby, well to get in there, you have to walk past about 25 policemen and women and they search you. We went through all of that. I go into the central lobby and Anne Clwyd it comes out. She’s got this little paper bag with this video inside. And we have a brief chat. She hands me the bag—this piece of dynamite—And then I just simply walked past all these 25 cops with something that has been banned because of the Official Secrets Act.

I walked out, I walked home and made arrangements to show it and I it was very open about and I told all the press and then I got a telephone call and it was the next day and it was the director general of the BBC saying “We own the copyrights don’t show that please.” And I said “Well I do know that you have the copyright but I think that it should be shown and I intend to do that. I hope you don’t mind too much.” He said “Well we do mind, and if you show it we will get a court order to stop you, now please don’t make us go through that rigmarole.”

I said “Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to.” So we showed the film because they didn’t give us the court order in time. And the BBC instructed a solicitor, a barrister, to get this court order from a judge. The judge then gave it to a courier who got on a motorbike came up to oxford and when he arrived at the cinema he was told that the film was already being shown. So he said oh that’s okay, I’ll wait until it’s finished. So he waits outside. And at the end of the performance he comes in and he hands me this court order that says thou shalt not present this film from the time you get the court order until midnight tonight. That was all right because I wasn’t planning to show it again that night. Of course the next night and the next night and the next night.

So the BBC got it all wrong. They had to go back to court to get another court order. That would be effective. And that’s when my solicitor started negotiating with the BBC and they said um eventually that I had been a naughty boy and I proved my point. And would I hand over the tape to them and they’d forget about it.

That’s that story.