Secret papers: Mistrust of au pairs and diarists

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The Independent Online
Perhaps all governments get paranoid but Harold Wilson's 1964- 70 administration seems to have been fixated on questions of loyalty and conspiracy.

According to the official papers, the Cabinet met several times to discuss whether ministers could keep diaries (three of them - we now know - were furiously scribbling notes for their own subsequently published diaries even as the discussion proceeded). The Prime Minister received MI5 reports on the reading habits of one of his closest colleagues on the train, ministers were told to check who they employed as au pairs, and precious Cabinet time was taken up discussing whether living people - ie the Prime Minister - could legitimately be represented on the theatre stage.

Meanwhile, London was a focus of genuine spies. But the one case featured in the papers now open did not, despite the Cold War, involve the Communists. The South African Intelligence Service - later to haunt Harold Wilson in the Seventies, if the accounts of renegade MI5 officer Peter Wright are to be believed - recruited a Treasury typist in a reverse "honey trap". A good looking young man started taking her out, then paid her to filch secret reports on the Rhodesian situation.

Richard Crossman - Lord President of the Council and author of famous diaries providing intimate detail of the Wilson era - was the subject of several Security Service reports. He was seen reading in the dining car of a train and (according to MI5) "an observer was able to read the titles of some of the files and papers". They were classified documents.

Wilson dispatched Sir Burke Trend, the Cabinet Secretary and an MI5 agent to read him the riot act.

Meanwhile, Whitehall was convulsed by the Great Au Pair Hunt. "The number of au pair girls and domestics arriving in the UK from Communist countries is increasing", read a letter dispatched from No 10 to ministers' offices. "It is felt that the presence of such a person in a household could be used by an intelligence service in ways which could be inimical to the interests of security in this country."

But after the trawl, it was discovered that only the wife of junior minister Peter Shore - the Euro rebel who retired from Parliament last year - employed a nanny from eastern Europe. The girl, a Yugoslav called Veona Pastourie, was investigated by MI5 but they had to conclude she was squeaky clean and besides "the Jugoslav intelligence service does not operate here".

Mrs Shore was none the less told to get rid of her quickly.

Wilson's dislike of political satire showed up in anguished debates in Cabinet about the ending of the role of the Lord Chamberlain in censoring performances on the live stage. He resisted the abolition of censorship and with good reason, since the long-running play Mrs Wilson's Diary, a satire based on a column in the magazine Private Eye, had been the subject of the Lord Chamberlain's blue pencil.

The records show the then Lord Chamberlain, Lord Cobbold, even sent the already-censored script to Downing Street to see if further cuts were favoured.

On 18 May, a letter was sent from Downing Street to the Lord Chamberlain's office, saying: "The script has been seen by Mrs Wilson, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer [James Callaghan] and Mrs Callaghan, and Colonel Wigg [the Paymaster General and Wilson's security hatchet man]."

As well as the Foreign Secretary's requested cuts, Mrs Callaghan had also asked for two marked passages to be deleted, the letter said.

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