Monday, 30 November -0001

Radio Review: 24 April

Spooky goings on revealed in Radio 4 documentary

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176Room 101 in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was inspired by a dull meeting room in Broadcasting House, but what was it about Room 105 that had BBC Chairman Marmaduke Hussey ‘choking on his smoked salmon’ when MP Chris Mullin asked about it at a lunch in the 1980s?

The answer is that it was the office of the BBC’s ‘Security Liaison Advisor’, Brigadier Ronnie Stonham, whose duty was to vet BBC staff to make sure they weren’t dangerous subversives.

Outside the BBC, Communist Party of Great Britain members like historian Eric Hobsbawm were spied upon by MI 5, the subject of a highly diverting documentary by Frances Stonor Saunders. Hobsbawm knew it was going on. In those days, post arriving late was unusual, so the delay could only have been for it to be steamed open, photographed and resealed. The question was why members of a legitimate political party, albeit one with close links to Moscow, should be treated in this way, but Peter Hennessy pointed out that ‘in a nasty world, you need forewarning; we were immensely vulnerable’.

The result was that the spooks had to dredge through a lot of mundanity just in case anything significant turned up. Hobsbawm’s widow Marlene said that it became just something they dealt with, having ‘nothing to hide’.

The great sadness is that Hobsbawm tried to gain access to the file all through his life, but it was only released after his death. We heard little from Hobsbawm’s MI 5 file, presumably because the contents were so ordinary. It was good to be reminded that James Bond is not representative of most spies and that the job involves an awful lot of filing.

The Hobsbawm File, BBC Radio 4, is available on iPlayer.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

Forgot your password?
Click to read our digital edition

Boarders Dormitory Master-Mistress
We are looking to appoint a Dormitory Mistress/Master for 5 nights per week, weekday evenings and nights only, term time. (35 weeks). [...]


Housekeeper to Headmaster
We have an opportunity for an experienced live-out housekeeper. You will provide a cleaning and hospitality service for the Headmaster and his guests and help to ensure the household runs efficiently. [...]


Full Time Housekeeper, Nanny
We are looking for a full time, live-out housekeeper/nanny. We are a relaxed young couple living in a large country house, and will have one newborn baby. [...]


Experienced Carer, Companion, Housekeeper needed
Our elderly mother needs a live in carer/companion on a part time basis. Must be warm hearted, calm & compassionate, with a good sense of humour. [...]


Cook, Housekeeper wanted
Good cooking skills required to cater for light meals for the Principal and a small staff, as well as occasional lunch/dinner parties. [...]




What the stars have in store for you this week.2017

Capricorn Aquarius Pisces Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter