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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 17:28 GMT
MI5 sex secrets of 1920s star
Eton College
Once-secret papers allege Eton covered up sex scandal
American actress Tallulah Bankhead was investigated by MI5 amid rumours she was corrupting pupils at Eton, declassified papers reveal.

The star had, it was said, seduced up to half a dozen public schoolboys into taking part in "indecent and unnatural" acts, sending shockwaves through the 1920s British establishment.

Ms Bankhead
No evidence supported claims against Ms Bankhead
But the investigation by the British Aliens and Immigration Department foundered in the face of a determined cover-up by Eton's headmaster, Dr CA Alington, documents show.

The controversy surrounding Ms Bankhead is just one of a series of revelations to emerge from hitherto secret Home Office papers released to the Public Record Office in Kew, London.

Further records reveal how Britain refused to give asylum to the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky for fear of offending his arch rival Josef Stalin.

King George VI intervened personally to secure British citizenship for relatives of the murdered Russian Tsar Nicholas II, it has also emerged.

And MI5 tried to stop the black American singer and actor Paul Robeson entering Britain on the grounds that he was a security risk, according to the papers.


The interest taken by the Home Office and MI5 in Ms Bankhead - who died in 1968 - bordered on the feverish.

The headmaster is obviously not prepared to assist HO by revealing what he knows of her exploits with some of the boys

Investigator 'FHM'
The dossier, assembled when she was 32, contains allegations that while in Britain the actress:

  • performed indecent acts with under-age boys from Eton College

  • was a lesbian who was also promiscuous with men

  • was thrown out of her home by her father because of immoral conduct

  • moved in a social circle which was a centre of vice.
The allegations - based purely on gossip and word of mouth - seem to have been assembled by MI5, at the urgings of a Home Office minister.

In the whole of the file there was no credible evidence that Miss Bankhead had any abnormal sexual tendencies, or that any ground existed to keep her out of Britain.

The report that a group of Eton boys took part in a sex session with her at an hotel in Berkshire was discreetly investigated by police and the headmaster was interviewed.

It turned up nothing except that a couple of boys had been dismissed for breaking school rules on riding in a car.

But the investigator - known only as FHM, wrote: "The headmaster is obviously not prepared to assist HO by revealing what he knows of her exploits with some of the boys, ie. he wants to do everything possible to keep Eton out of the scandal."

Trotsky given cold shoulder

Exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky's immigration file reveals how his hopes of finding refuge in Britain were dashed as the Labour government, elected in 1929, sought to stay onside with Stalin.

Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky: Refused asylum
Home Secretary JR Clynes wrote to the Cabinet: "The admission of Trotsky to this country might be regarded as an unfriendly act by the Soviet government, and they might allege that the British Government has given hospitality to Trotsky for political reasons and was using him as a means of weakening the existing government in Russia."

Records also show how King George VI intervened to help Russian royals secure British citizenship.

Lord Wigram, a senior member of the royal household, wrote to the Home Office on 21 June 1938 urging officials to expedite the naturalisation applications of Grand Duchess Xenia Romanoff and her three relatives.

Fear of Communism

And files show that black American singer and actor Paul Robeson was regarded as a "nuisance" by the Security Service because of his outspoken left-wing views and support for black civil rights.

Paul Robeson may be a communist but he is also a great artist and a world figure

Home Office official
Although he had visited Britain in 1949 and again the following year - when his movements were tracked by MI5 - for much of the 1950s Robeson was prevented from travelling abroad after the US authorities withdrew his passport.

MI5 repeatedly advised that if he did regain his passport he should still not be admitted as the British Communist Party would "do all in its power to exploit the visit for propaganda purposes".

But in 1958 Robeson was granted a visa to visit Britain and allowed to perform concerts, despite MI5's warnings.

A Home Office official noted: "Paul Robeson may be a Communist but he is also a great artist and a world figure. To turn him out of the country or to refuse him entry would create a major crisis."

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