Page last updated at 23:52 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 00:52 UK

Sam Wanamaker 'monitored by MI5'

By Michael Buchanan
BBC News

Sam Wanamaker
Sam Wanamaker was a respected American actor and producer

Distinguished American actor and producer Sam Wanamaker was watched by MI5 for several years for his alleged communist sympathies, it has emerged.

Files released by the National Archives show Mr Wanamaker, father of actress Zoe, would have been interned had the UK been attacked in the mid-1950s.

Mr Wanamaker moved to Britain in 1951 when he had been blacklisted in the US.

He went on to become the key architect in the rebuilding of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

His US blacklisting took place during the anti-Communist purges led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Earlier this year Zoe Wanamaker travelled to the US for an episode of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are and discovered that the FBI had a file on her father.

It can now be revealed that for several years in the 1950s, MI5 also kept an eye on the American actor.

You must understand that being an American in Britain one must tread with careful precision on matters involving peace, which have now become a highly political and controversial subject
Sam Wanamaker

They initially became aware of him as they were bugging the conversations of British communists who began talking excitedly about his arrival in Britain.

But the US authorities also asked to be kept informed of his activities, as he had been a member of the American Communist Party in the mid-1940s.

MI5 were willing to oblige, and even got permission to intercept his mail.

The MI5 files include a letter Mr Wanamaker sent in May 1952 to a friend, who had asked him to help organise a party supporting peace.

Mr Wanamaker wrote: "You must understand that being an American in Britain one must tread with careful precision on matters involving peace which have now become a highly political and controversial subject.

"Therefore you see I must be extremely careful about… not doing anything which will give them cause, just or not, for any action."

'Marked man'

The cautious tone of the letter appears throughout the files, according to Howard Davies from the National Archives.

"We see in the files that he's taking the utmost pains while he's living in the United Kingdom not to do anything that would worsen his position with the American authorities and indeed the British authorities.

"He's aware that he's a marked man and everything he does is going to be watched closely."

Despite Mr Wanamaker's care, and the lack of any obvious communist-related activities relayed by MI5, another file includes a note on what to do with him if Britain is attacked.

"Miss Coates (Home Office) rang on 10 November to ask whether we were going to make a recommendation for internment or restrictions for Sam Wanamaker. I rang on 11 November and said it would be for internment."

The Globe theatre
Wanamaker was instrumental in the building of the replica Globe theatre

Much attention was paid by the security services to his role in setting up the New Shakespeare Club in Liverpool in 1957, with investigations taking place into who was funding the project and who Mr Wanamaker was working with.

The files even contain programmes of early events at the club.

"There is little doubt that this Theatre and Club is intended to be used as a vehicle for disseminating extreme left-wing political propaganda under the guise of culture and progressive education, and if successful, will be a great asset to the Communist Party," concludes one report.

The files do, however, acknowledge his talent, describing him as "a genuinely successful actor and producer" and "unlike most US visitors of the theatrical world in that the majority of his projects do materialise".

Mr Wanamaker never was a threat to Britain's security and went on to become an honorary CBE for his contribution to Anglo-American relations, as well as for his work in rebuilding the Globe.

Historical context

Historian Professor Christopher Andrews said his MI5 file had to be seen in the context of Britain in the 1950s, where every communist or suspected communist had to be investigated.

"They (MI5) were discovering at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s that a tiny minority of communists had given away the biggest secrets in British history - Klaus Fuchs had given away the plans of the first atomic bomb - and they didn't know how bad it was going to get.

"It was therefore government policy to draw up a list of all members of the Communist Party."

In a separate file also released, it has been revealed that Sir Francis Meynell, an early editor of the Communist newspaper, smuggled Soviet diamonds into England in a box of chocolates.

The report, dated 29 December 1920, says "he (Meynell) purchased a box of chocolates, extracted the cream contents, and filled them in with diamonds".

The smuggled jewels are believed to have been used to help fund the Communist Party of Great Britain.

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