Spartacus Blog

History of how the Tory Party controls the BBC

Monday, 1st February, 2016

John Simkin

On 20th October, 1947, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) opened its hearings concerning communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. This began what was later to be called McCarthyism (named after the most anti-communist member of Congress, Joseph McCarthy).

Waldron Smithers, the Conservative MP for Orpington, asked Clement Attlee, the prime minister, if he intended to create a similar House of Commons committee to investigate communist sympathizers working for the BBC. Attlee understandably rejected the idea.

This is all in the public record. However, a recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that Smithers continued with his campaign. The story is contained in a file released recently by the National Archives. On the front of the brown card cover is a note that the file must be closed "indefinitely".

Inside the file is papers that show that in June 1952, Smithers wrote to Winston Churchill, the prime minister at the time, about the possible infiltration of left-wing elements working for the BBC. Smithers told Churchill "we have traitors in our midst" and that he suggested he set up a "committee presided over by an English judge or QC… who could make an extensive enquiry into communist activities and report to you".

Smithers was particularly worried about communist sympathizers in the BBC: "In the event of war or a major crisis… these fellow travelers, with their intimate knowledge of the mechanisms of broadcasting, could in half an hour cut wires and damage equipment seriously to hamper broadcasting." He included a list of BBC employees who he understood were communists, or sympathizers, including Anatol Goldberg, the head of the BBC Russian service.

Apparently, Smithers did not like the tone of Goldberg. Peter Fraenkel, who worked with Goldberg at the BBC, claims that Goldberg's approach was more subtle - to listen to people, and then ask them questions like: "The revolution was supposed to deliver this and this this… has it done so?" As a propaganda technique this was very successful, as BBC Russian service was believed to be more popular and more trusted than its US-sponsored rivals.

Churchill was concerned enough to send Smithers's letter to MI5. They wrote back saying the prime minister should not be worried. "In the considered view of the Security Service, communist influence in the BBC is very slight and does not constitute a serious security danger." It was pointed out that MI5 had been monitoring the staff of the BBC for many years. They believed there were only 147 left-wingers out of a staff of 12,200. It was argued that a major inquiry, like that suggested by Smithers, "might cause much embarrassment without serving any useful purpose".

The file includes other letters concerning the possible left-wing infiltration of the BBC. In 1953 it was reported that there had been a sharp drop in the number of "communist sympathizers" on the BBC staff. There were now less than a 100 and most of those were in junior positions. The Director General Sir Ian Jacob was aware of the "risks" that they'd try to influence the content of broadcasts, but that "he is certainly on the watch for any signs of this - he is of course helped by knowing precisely who the suspects are and what positions they hold". Jacob was a former political adviser to Churchill and was later a Tory councillor in Suffolk.

Jacob does not appear to have been asked to keep a watch out for "right-wing" Conservatives who might be trying to influence the political content of BBC programmes. Of course that does not appear to be a problem at the BBC. Otherwise, why would they have employed Nick Robinson as chief political correspondent. In 1985 he was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association and caused considerable embarrassment with his right-wing extremist views.

Robinson's senior editor, Thea Rogers, was also a strong supporter of the Conservative Party. In 2012 she left the BBC to become special advisor to the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne. In July, 2015 the chancellor told thousands of teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and civil servants that they would face another four years of having pay rises limited to 1% a year. At the same time he gave Rogers a 42% pay increase and she now receives £98,000 a year.

Then there is Robbie Gibb, the current editor of all BBC TV’s political programmes. Before he joined the BBC he was a vice-chairman of the extreme right wing Federation of Conservative Students and went on to become chief of staff to the senior Tory MP Francis Maude.

Andrew Neil, is the presenter of five hours of television a week including This Week, the Daily Politics and Sunday Politics. He is another with a right-wing background. He is a former Rupert Murdoch editor, was a researcher for the Conservative party and is chairman of the Conservative-supporting Spectator magazine. He also argued his free market views at the Hayek lecture at the rightwing Institute of Economic Affairs in November 2005.

It is interesting to note that David Cameron replaced his previous press secretary, Andy Coulson, with the then editor of BBC News, Craig Oliver. Soon afterwards, London mayor Boris Johnson recruited BBC political correspondent Guto Harri, to head his media team. When Harri moved on to work for the Murdoch empire he was replaced by Will Walden, a BBC news editor at Westminster.

For over twenty-five years Jeremy Paxman presented Newsnight. It was only after he left the show that he admitted that he had been a long-time supporter of the Conservative Party and in the past had been approached to become the Tory candidate as London mayor. He was replaced by Evan Davis, who in 1998, published a book, Public Spending, where he argued for the privatization of public services.

Although the BBC only seems to employ Conservative supporting presenters. As soon as Melvyn Bragg became a Labour peer, he was immediately banned from appearing on any BBC programmes that might have any political content.

Previous Posts

Right-wing infiltration of the BBC (1st February, 2016)

Bert Trautmann, a committed Nazi who became a British hero (13th January, 2016)

Frank Foley, a Christian worth remembering at Christmas (24th December, 2015)

How did governments react to the Jewish Migration Crisis in December, 1938? (17th December, 2015)

Does going to war help the careers of politicians? (2nd December, 2015)

Art and Politics: The Work of John Heartfield (18th November, 2015)

The People we should be remembering on Remembrance Sunday (7th November, 2015)

Why Suffragette is a reactionary movie (21st October, 2015)

Volkswagen and Nazi Germany (1st October, 2015)

David Cameron's Trade Union Act and fascism in Europe (23rd September, 2015)

The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary (17th September, 2015)

Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England (12th September, 2015)

Jeremy Corbyn, the new Harold Wilson? (5th September, 2015)

Anne Boleyn in the history classroom (29th August, 2015)

Why the BBC and the Daily Mail ran a false story on anti-fascist campaigner, Cedric Belfrage (22nd August, 2015)

Women and Politics during the Reign of Henry VIII (14th July, 2015)

The Politics of Austerity (16th June, 2015)

Was Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, murdered? (31st May, 2015)

The long history of the Daily Mail campaigning against the interests of working people (7th May, 2015)

Nigel Farage would have been hung, drawn and quartered if he lived during the reign of Henry VIII (5th May, 2015)

Was social mobility greater under Henry VIII than it is under David Cameron? (29th April, 2015)

Why it is important to study the life and death of Margaret Cheyney in the history classroom (15th April, 2015)

Is Sir Thomas More one of the 10 worst Britons in History? (6th March, 2015)

Was Henry VIII as bad as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin? (12th February, 2015)

The History of Freedom of Speech (13th January, 2015)

The Christmas Truce Football Game in 1914 (24th December, 2014)

The Anglocentric and Sexist misrepresentation of historical facts in The Imitation Game (2nd December, 2014)

The Secret Files of James Jesus Angleton (12th November, 2014)

Ben Bradlee and the Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer (29th October, 2014)

Yuri Nosenko and the Warren Report (15th October, 2014)

The KGB and Martin Luther King (2nd October, 2014)

The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)

Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)

The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)

West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)

The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)

Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)

Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)

The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)

Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)

Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)

Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)

Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)

The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)

Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)


(1) Brian Glanville, The Guardian (19th July, 2013)

(2) Alan Rowlands, Trautmann: The Biography (2011) page 61

(3) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) pages 198-199

(4) Ivan Ponting, The Independent (19th July, 2013)

(5) Alan Rowlands, Trautmann: The Biography (2011) pages 88-89

(6) Alan Rowlands, Trautmann: The Biography (2011) page 91

(7) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) pages 274-276

(8) Louise Taylor, The Guardian (11th April 2010)

(9) Alan Rowlands, Trautmann: The Biography (2011) page 93

(10) Alan Rowlands, Trautmann: The Biography (2011) page 148

(11) Frank Swift, News of the World (6th May, 1956)

(12) Brian Glanville, The Guardian (19th July, 2013)

(13) The Daily Mirror (7th May, 1956)

(14) Eric Thornton, Manchester Evening News (7th May, 1956)

(15) Ivan Ponting, The Independent (19th July, 2013)

(16) The Daily Telegraph (19th July, 2013)

(17) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) page 303

(18) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) pages 274-276

(19) The Daily Telegraph (19th July, 2013)

(20) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) pages 25-26

(21) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) page 50

(22) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) page 78

(23) Alan Rowlands, Trautmann: The Biography (2011) page 41

(24) Louise Taylor, The Guardian (11th April 2010)

(25) Louise Taylor, The Guardian (11th April 2010)

(26) Catrine Clay, Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend (2010) pages 206-208

(27) White Rose leaflet (June, 1942)