Civil unrest, corrupt police and porn: Why the 1970s were no different from today

Unseen TV footage from a turbulent decade shows Britain grappling with contemporary problems, says Ian Burrell

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The Independent Online

Unseen footage of military plans for crushing left-wing subversion in the 1970s are included in a BBC documentary that draws remarkable comparisons between that unsettled decade and modern-day Britain.

The documentary maker Michael Cockerell has uncovered previously unseen Tyne Tees footage featuring the controversial British General Sir Walter Walker, who was later to attempt to recruit a private army to safeguard Britain from what he saw as a Communist threat.

The original film, A Day in the Life of a General, shows General Walker in his role as commander-in-chief of Nato's northern forces taking the cameras into a Norwegian bunker where preparations were being made for a possible Russian-inspired uprising in western Europe. The Ministry of Defence banned the documentary because of fears that it would inflame tensions but footage will be included in The Lost World of the Seventies, which will be shown on BBC2 tomorrow evening.

"The MoD thought that General Walker was too candid in his views on our lack of preparedness," said Mr Cockerell.

He has used the film archives to trace parallels between the 70s and today, showing the concerns over rising civil unrest, the growth of pornography, police corruption, and the role of the media. "It's a place that seems distant in some ways but curiously familiar in other ways," he told The Independent.

Other footage of General Walker shows him at his home, gathering recruits for a private army. The general wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph in which he spoke of "the Communist Trojan horse in our midst, with its fellow travellers wriggling their maggoty way inside its belly".

Thousands of readers rallied to his flag. Walker is seen reading letters of support from retired intelligence officers in Wales, and an amateur flying club in Sunderland that pledged 25 trained pilots to his cause. Equally shocking is a clip from a Panorama documentary that Mr Cockerell made at Sandhurst in 1975, showing officer cadets taking part in an exercise in which the Wiltshire village of Ogbourne St George is torn between the far-left "lower classes" and the "Ogbourne Loyalist Front" led by Sandhurst lecturer Keith Simpson (now a Tory MP).

The BBC2 film also highlights Lord Longford's opposition to the 1970s sex industry, a theme which chimes with the Daily Mail's current campaign against internet pornography. The film-maker shows the man the tabloids called "Lord Porn" heading off to the global sex capital of Copenhagen in 1971.

We hear how Lord Longford's gleaming pate became the focus of the action in a live sex show, causing the peer to storm out.

The timely issue of corruption inside the Metropolitan Police, highlighted by the phone-hacking scandal, is mirrored in Mr Cockerell's use of his 1975 BBC footage of former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Robert Mark. It was the first time documentary cameras had been inside Scotland Yard.He managed to bypass the PR department and secure permission to film directly from the Commissioner, who was trying to rid the force of corrupt detectives 40 years before Operation Weeting.

He persuaded members of the Flying Squad to take him out on the town – on camera. Mr Cockerell said: "They would relax at the end of the evening with a sing song in this really dodgy Soho pub – 'You get a lot of information here Michael'.

After that, because the pubs closed at 11pm, we went to various Chinese gambling dens and strip joints. These rather attractive women in various states of undress and colour would be very nice to me just because I was with the Flying Squad."

The detectives allowed him to film them gathered around the piano in a drinking den, singing "Tom Dooley". "It ended up at 5am, we were driving at 90mph down the King's Road, straight through the red lights in a plain car with no siren and the Flying Squad driver says 'Here Michael, what I want you to do in that film is just show that we are ordinary blokes like everyone else.'"

If Mr Cockerell managed to outflank Seventies PRs in a way that would be unthinkable today, the final subject of his film, businessman Sir James Goldsmith, gave an early master class in media rebuttal in a live interview with The Money Programme where he ambushed the questioner, made his point and ripped out his microphone before storming out of the studio.

Mr Goldsmith is shown trying to use the courts to close down Private Eye, which had criticised his business methods. The footage has added resonance at the end of a week when a new Defamation Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech following fears that London had become the libel capital of the world.

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