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True Spies Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Watching 'subversives'
Ricky Tomlinson had no idea Special Branch had kept a file on him
True Spies: Subversive My Arse was broadcast on BBC Two on Sunday, 27 October, 2002.


To watch an extended interview with actor Ricky Tomlinson, select the link:   56k  

To watch an interview with former Special Branch Officer Tony Robinson, select the link:   56k  


As street protest turned into full-scale violence at the end of the 1960s, the British Secret State - MI5 and Special Branch - was caught off guard.

MI5 and Special Branch quickly realised intelligence was the key to tackling what they saw as subversion.

They began to spy systematically on the likes of the Marxist Tariq Ali and the young Peter Hain, then anti-apartheid campaigner, now government minister.

Subversive My Arse features a remarkably candid interview with the Special Branch officer who had the file on Ricky Tomlinson and with Tomlinson himself who had no idea that he was being spied on.

A clearly shocked Ricky Tomlinson told the programme: "I'm totally gobsmacked. If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone."

The programme also scrutinises the issue of vetting, both at the BBC and elsewhere; and it looks at the extraordinary lengths to which the police would go to in order to secure access to vital intelligence.

Reporter: Peter Taylor
Associate Producer: Julia Hannis
Assistant Producer: Sarah Hann
Production Co-ordinator: Ginny Williams
Series Producer: Sam Collyns

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