They stand accused of having removed a key interviewee from their major TV series – at the behest of Britain’s spy agency. Now though the End of Empire strikes back.21 August 2020
The producers of the major Granada Television series End of Empire, first shown on Channel 4 in 1985, have adamantly rejected claims that they were pressured into withdrawing an interview they had filmed with an MI6 agent.
Taghi Amirani made the claims in his documentary feature film, digitally premiered this week, focusing on the British role in a coup d’etat that overthrew the prime minister of Iran in 1953. He insists that the End of Empire producers had been obliged, though an MI6 intervention, to remove MI6 spy Norman Darbyshire from the final cut of their film.
Amiriani found a transcript of an interview, and assumed it was based on a filmed interview.
However the End of Empire director Mark Anderson and researcher Alison Rooper deny they ever filmed an interview with Darbyshire. They maintain that there was only an audio-tape (and a transcript) recording an off-the-record briefing. They had later tried but failed, they say, to get Darbyshire to go on camera.
The only known picture of Darbyshire (above, centre) in a foreign location.
In a coup of its own, Amirani persuaded the famous British actor Ralph Fiennes (currently playing spy chief M in a James Bond movie) to be filmed declaiming some of the lines in the Darbyshire transcipt.
“The mystery Taghi [Amirani] seems to be concocting is that the government censored Granada and Channel 4 in 1985. This is simply not true,” Rooper told correspondent.world.
“It’s admirable that Taghi has made a new version of the story with more time and money and documents than we had. But he needs to get his facts right.”
For his part, Anderson is angry that Coup53 implies he and Rooper were failing to tell the truth. “We feel we may have been traduced,” said Anderson.
In the documentary’s trailer Amirani claims his revelations in the film will turn history “inside out”.
He also made the same allegations of a “mysterious” missing film in a wide range of pre-publicity for his film.
But after reviewing the film on August 2 the Observer had to backtrack. It had seemed to accept Amirani’s claims of censorship as fact, but later published a “clarification” on the guardian.co.uk website and a letter from the End of Empire: Iran team.
However Amirani found a witness who says the End of Empire producers told him an MI6 agent had asked or demanded that he be cut out.
Interviewed by correspondent.world, the grandson of the deposed Iranian premier admitted his memory of the supposed MI6 intervention 35 years ago was flawed.
“I may not have been there. It was a long time ago,” Heda Matin Daftari, 85, who had been an adviser on the End of Empire film, said by Whatsapp from his Paris home.
The End of Empire cameraman Humphry Trevelyan, shown in Coup53, appears to remember filming a British operative among several other people at London’s Savoy Hotel, but does not clearly state he was aware of the names of any of the interviewees. The producers say he had actually filmed a different British diplomat.
Ironically, Coup53 uses extensive chunks of nine interviews originally conducted by End of Empire and obtained from ITV’s Archives.
Darbyshire himself died in 1993.
Amirani in a grab from his film Coup53.
Despite Rooper’s denials in 2018 to Amirani that there was a filmed interview, he persists with the allegation right to the end of Coup53. Its last caption states: “The location or existence of the original film of the Darbyshire interview is still unknown at this time.”
Amirani has declined to withdraw his claims. He told correspondent.world this week that the whereabouts of the supposed Darbyshire film remained a “mystery”. He declined to elaborate.
Subsequent to correspondent.world publishing this story, and the previous, much longer one, the End of Empire: Iran film-makers issued a swingeing statement:
Press Release – August 20th 2020
- Coup 53, which was digitally screened yesterday, is a good watch, a well made and gripping film with an important story to tell. The film makes the most of the scholarship that has taken place over the 35 years and the documentary evidence that is now in the public domain.
- At the heart of Coup 53 is an episode on Iran of the 1985 Granada series End of Empire. The programme revealed that the 1953 coup in Iran was engineered by MI6 and carried out with the help of the CIA. The programme interviewed embassy officials Sam Falle and charge d’affaires George Middleton and others involved at the time who clearly told the story. The way worked was to conduct sound only research interviews on a totally off the record basis. These were used to compile the scenario we wanted to film. We then went back to our contributors to persuade them to say the important bits on camera. 95 per cent agreed. One of them, MI6 agent Norman Darbyshire, refused, wanting to preserve his identity. This was a pity but not a complete loss. We used the information he told us to inform our questions to Tehran embassy official Sam Falle and others. The crucial story that MI6 masterminded the coup was clearly stated in our progamme.
- Coup 53 retells this story in much details but their story is wrapped round a completely false narrative – that End of Empire filmed Norman Darbyshire and that the interview was cut out of an early version of the film at MI6’s or the British Government’s request. It also contains a clear inference that even today neither of the programme’s film makers will admit to this. We categorically refute this.
- This is achieved by some clever editing. Alison Rooper was invited to the editing suite and shown some of her research documents she’d last seen 35 years ago. Her conversation with Taghi Amirani, director of Coup 53 ,filmed in 2018 is grossly unfair. She clearly states that End of Empire didn’t film an interview with Norman Darbyshire. She is then asked the question “Was there ever a version of the film with Norman Darbyshire in it?” She answers “I don’t remember that” (meaning she didn’t remember that there ever was ) and, as is reasonable for something that happened 35 years ago “we have to check”. The impact of this editing leaves the viewer with the sense that she is being evasive or hiding something.
- As “evidence” that she is not telling the truth, Coup 53 came up with an ingenious device. They invite the cameraman to the Savoy hotel where several British officials were filmed, to view a re-enactment of what they told him was based on a transcript a filmed interview with Darbyshire. In fact this was a transcript of the only interview with Darbyshire which ever took place, the off the record one. The cameraman, not surprisingly after an interval of 35 years, was confused. He was in fact remembering the interview with Foreign Office official Sam Falle.
- The film then interviews an End of Empire consultant (Mossadegh’s grandson) to say that he was told by us that an MI6 agent came to a screening, was unhappy with his contribution and wanted it removed from the film at the request of The British Government. He has misremembered this.
- The film states that our filmed interview with CIA agent Stephen Meade was “also cut” from the End of Empire programme. We in fact used only 16 of 22 filmed interviews in the programme. Stephen Meade was one of six interviews not used.
- By way of further “evidence” Coup53 also explores an Observer article, published the day before End of Empire:Iran’s transmission on 27th May 1985. It fails to point out that the article made clear that the MI6 man would not be named or appear in the film because he wanted his identity protected. Amirani calls the Observer reporter Nigel Hawkes on camera to remind him of the piece he wrote 35 years ago and informs him that the agent didn’t in fact appear in the film. The reporter had no memory of writing the article and couldn’t confirm any details. He comments “That’s very odd” .
- At the end of Coup 53 viewers are left thinking there is a still a mystery about “who leaked” the words of the MI6 agent to the Observer preview of 1985 and where, or if, Darbyshire was filmed. Two final captions state: “the film makers still do not know who leaked the Darbyshire transcript to the Observer newspaper” and “the location or existence of the film of the original Darbyshire interview is also unknown at this time”.
- In conclusion the viewer is left with the strong feeling that we, the makers of End of Empire: Iran are trying to hide the existence of a filmed Darbyshire interview – the inference being we’re covering up government censorship of Granada.
- Coup 53’s filmmakers have failed to show us a cut of the film since it was completed in 2019, despite several requests. If they had done so we could have easily provided them with the evidence that Darbyshire never agreed to be filmed; that the cameraman is misremembering the identity of the official who spoke very openly; that Mossadegh’s grandson is muddling Darbyshire with Sam Falle; and that Granada itself shared the Darbyshire interview with the Observer as pre publicity for our programme.
- Coup 53 contains clips from at least 9 of the 22 interviews Mark Anderson and I conducted and filmed for End of Empire:Iran but gives no onscreen credit to any of them. They form a large part of the witness evidence in Coup53. We note that Coup 53 uses very little of our End of Empire interview with Sam Falle who was very open about the British involvement in the coup.
- Consequently the impression is given that none of what we were told in our off-the-record interview with Norman Darbyshire was included in our programme and that therefore Coup53 is the first to reveal the story. Our interviews were hugely informed by what he told us and our programme made it crystal clear that MI6 had masterminded the coup against Mossadegh and roped in the CIA to help – though, full credit to Coup 53, it is certainly the first film to identify the agent Norman Darbyshire and to quote directly from his words.
Alison Rooper – researcher of End of Empire: Iran
Mark Anderson – producer director of End of Empire: Iran
Norma Percy – producer on End of Empire