Portrayers of a coup in Iran were accused of inserting a false narrative. Now the film has been withdrawn. But the plot thickens.

13 October 2020 By Paul Martin

The first hour of Amirani’s film had centred around claims that — at the behest of the British Government — the series had removed a filmed interview with MI6 agent Norman Darbyshire, the chief plotter of the 1953 coup.

The End of Empire producers say that if they had been able to interview Darbyshire on camera they certainly would not have yielded to any pressure to remove it from their programme.

He had declined to be filmed, they say, but his off-record remarks were audio-recorded and helped inform their film.  They had used his account of events to persuade other British officials to admit their role in the British-inspired coup.  

Mark Anderson and Alison Rooper, producers of the Iran episode of End of Empire made by Granada Television and broadcast on Channel 4 and ITV in 1985, expressed their anger about the false narrative of Coup 53 in an exclusive interview last month for correspondent.world and the Press Gazette. 

They had become increasinly suspicious when – despite enlisting their help and using twelve of their interviews — Amirani had avoided showing his film to the End of Empire team before it was released.

Later, famed narrative documentary-makers Norma Percy and Brian Lapping signed a letter of protest sent to Amirani, insisting on major cuts in Coup 53.  Amirani did not reply by the deadline they set.

Instead, he announced on 16 September he was withdrawing the film, citing unexplained “archive copyright” reasons. Puzzlingly, though, a tweet reveals him photographed on stage [second left] after a showing of Coup 53 to a live audience in Germany in the past two weeks.

Coup 53 told the story (first highlighted by End of Empire) of the British spy agency’s involvement in the overthrow of the country’s populist leader Mohammed Mossadegh, who had nationalised British oil-drilling assets.

Amirani sought to back up his assertion that a filmed interview with Darbyshire was censored in 1985, by interviewing End of Empire’s cameraman Humphry Trevelyan.  When prompted by Amirani, he recalled filming a British agent at London’s Savoy Hotel. 

Trevelyan has told correspondent.world and the Press Gazette that he had “misremembered” the name of the person he filmed, after Amirani incorrectly informed him that it was Darbyshire.

In fact he now believes the person he had filmed was a former British diplomat Sam Falle, who was also involved in the coup, and who did appear in the End of Empire programme.

Trevelyan says Amirani had been “extremely persistent and desperate to prove his thesis”, though he does not think Amirani deliberately tried to deceive him.  Trevelyan admits he had been inclined not to contradict Amirani’s claims because he was a huge admirer of Coup 53’s co-producer, the legendary film editor Walter Murch.  “He was like a god in our industry,” Trevelyan recalls. 

Trevelyan says he was brought to London from Manchester, and paid for a day’s ‘research’, apparently to add authenticity to the way actor Ralph Fiennes portrayed Darbyshire. Currently playing the British spy chief M in a new James Bond movie, Fiennes was hired by Coup 53 to read out extracts from a real ex-MI6 agent’s transcript.  

Amirani attracted extended publicity in the UK at the time of Coup 53’s digital-only worldwide ‘premiere’ in August this year.  That included interviews with The Observer, and reviews in The Times, the Financial Times and the Guardian — as well as a long interview on Channel 4 News with Jon Snow.

Snow subsequently acted as an enthusiastic advocate for the film’s authenticity and importance when he chaired a Question and Answer session with Amirani, Murch and Fiennes online.

It took place four days after the Observer had published a critical letter from the End of Empire producers.   Digital viewers paid between ten and twelve pounds to watch the film and the Q and A.

Correspondent.world and Press Gazette have obtained what appears to be the text of an email that Snow has sent to the End of Empire team. In it he admits he did “not research the background enough” and offers a “sincere apology”.  He says he hopes that an “appropriate rectification will be achieved”. 

Asked to comment, Snow has sent an email to correspondent.world and the Press Gazette. In it he avoids mention of any lack of research or of rectification, but says he understands a prominent British barrister is seeking to mediate between Amirani and the End of Empire producers.

Amirani had earlier told correspondent.world and the Press Gazette that the supposedly missing film was “a mystery within an enigma”.  He declined to elaborate, and has not spoken publicly — even though Private Eye has also exposed the debacle.

An Iranian who came to the UK in his early 20s, Amirani had been planning to submit his two-hour film for various festival awards. 

The End of Empire producers say they have no objection to him entering Coup 53 for these awards, provided he has first cut out the substantial sections devoted to his incorrect thesis. 

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