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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Britain's 'secret war'
Images of British soldiers in N Ireland
For the first time undercover agents of the British state reveal the hidden secrets behind the "war" they waged against the IRA for 30 years.

Award-winning journalist Peter Taylor tells the remarkable story in a three part BBC Two series Brits. Those on the front line - undercover soldiers, Special Branch officers and an MI6 agent - step out from the shadows and, along with the Whitehall mandarins who helped shape policy from across the water, speak for the first time about their covert operations.

Here Peter Taylor explains the difficulties he and his production team came up against.

Brits reporter Peter Taylor
Peter Taylor on the making of 'Brits'

Brits examines how the British state fought the "secret war" against the IRA that in the end brought the republican movement to the negotiating table.

These sensitive and dangerous undercover operations made the vital difference in the British counter-insurgency campaign.

In the course of its three episodes the programme re-examines many of the most controversial incidents and issues of the past 30 years including: the army's covert Four Square Laundry operation; the IRA's bugging of army headquarters; the government's secret talks with the IRA in the mid-seventies and early nineties - with an exclusive interview with the M16 officer Michael Oatley; the hunger strike; the attempted assassination of Bernadette McAliskey/Devlin by Loyalist killers; the SAS and Loughgall; Stalker and the killing at the hayshed; allegations of 'shoot to kill'; allegations of collusion and the activities of the controversial British agent, Brian Nelson.


Telling the story was a monumental challenge since it meant finding and interviewing people who theoretically do not exist.

Series Producer, Sam Collyns, and I met them all over the country, many of them in secret, and spent long hours working out how we were going to make such a programme and get it on the air.

Many of those we met did not want to be interviewed but the insights they gave us were invaluable in building up the picture of the workings of the secret state.

British troops in South Armagh
A British Army patrol in 'bandit country'

To our relief, however, a good number were prepared to talk because they wanted their story to be told. It's an astonishing cast of men and even more astonishing women.

The problem in most cases was how to film the interviews since most wished to have their identities concealed for reasons of personal security.

Camera shy

The irony is that the "terrorists" were interviewed full face whilst most of the undercover "Brits" were not.

Sam Collyns has overcome the problem brilliantly by filming a combination of backs of heads and close-ups of lips and eyes which give viewers the impression they're listening to a composite person.

Before recording each interview we would show the interviewee the shot to make sure they were happy. The team has succeeded in creating the mood of the secret world in which our interviewees have lived, worked and risked their lives.

Exploring the conflict

British soldier on patrol
The trilogy of the Troubles - Provos, Loyalists and now Brits - has been a massive undertaking.

We didn't set out to make a conventional history of the Troubles but wanted to explore, in the political context of the time, the actions and psyche of those at the sharp end of the conflict - the Republicans, Loyalists and Brits who did the killing and the dying.

The timing of the three series that make up the trilogy was no accident.

Provos was transmitted in September 1997 at the historic moment when Sinn Fein entered all-party talks: Loyalists in February 1999 when the new Northern Ireland Executive was due to be set up; and 'Brits' as the 22 May deadline approaches for decommissioning and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

As Brits is being transmitted, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, will be trying to shore up a compromise on decommissioning that they hope will put the peace process back on track.

We hope viewers will find Brits as revealing as Provos and Loyalists and that the complete trilogy will provide a unique insight into the conflict that is not yet over.

'Brits' starts on Wednesday, 17 May, on BBC Two, at 2130 BST, 2030 GMT

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