True Spies (leftwing edit)

30 August 2016 | BBC


This three-part BBC documentary series was broadcast in 2002. It reveals how the British Secret State spied on so-called “subversives” in the media, trade unions and political organisations. Through the use of surveillance, infiltration and informants, MI5 and Special Branch worked together to disrupt legitimate political action.

The versions featured on this page have been re-edited to remove most of the rightwing bias found in the original broadcast versions, and therefore have shorter running times.

Episode 1 — Subversive My Arse

Investigates how the British “Secret State” has spied on its citizens, including actor Ricky Tomlinson, for decades. MI5 and Special Branch began to spy systematically on the likes of the Marxist Tariq Ali and the young Peter Hain, then anti-apartheid campaigner.

Subversive My Arse features a remarkably candid interview with the Special Branch officer who had the file on Ricky Tomlinson and with Tomlinson himself who had no idea that he was being spied on. A clearly shocked Ricky Tomlinson told the programme: “I'm totally gobsmacked. If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone.”

The programme also scrutinises the issue of vetting, both at the BBC and elsewhere; and it looks at the extraordinary lengths to which the police would go to in order to secure access to intelligence.

Episode 2 — Something Better Change

Reveals how MI5 and Special Branch infiltrated leftwing groups and spied on union leaders Arthur Scargill and Derek “Red Robbo” Robinson. Now, for the first time, top Special Branch agent handlers — and their agents — describe how they responded to the so-called “subversive” threat by infiltrating groups such as the Workers Revolutionary Party.

The spies tell with astonishing candour how it felt to live with the constant fear of compromise and their victims respond, often with horror, when told of the extent to which they were being spied upon.

Something Better Change reveals startling new evidence to show how the Secret State, with Mrs Thatcher at the helm, dealt with the perceived bogeymen of the day.

Targets included Red Robbo, a shop steward at British Leyland's troubled Longbridge car works, Derek Hatton and his fellow supporters of the Militant Tendency and last, but most comprehensively of all, Arthur Scargill and the miners during the strike of 1984–5.