Revealed: why MI5’s Spycatchers thought two ITV bosses were Communists with KGB links

Newly released Security Service files from the 1960s show that MI5 officers suspected that two senior executives in the ITV network had been secret supporters of the Communist Party with links to Soviet Intelligence. Previously secret documents now in the National Archives show their inquiries into possible Communist connections inside ITV ended with no conclusive evidence of a KGB link and the suicide of one of the men.

The investigations had started in the wake of the defections to Moscow of three Cambridge graduates Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. MI5 were trying to find out if there had been an equivalent recruiting network at Oxford University in the 1930s. Bernard Floud, son of a leading civil servant Sir Francis Floud, came under suspicion partly because of his friendship with one of the Cambridge recruiters, James Klugman. ‘The case for suspecting that Floud may have worked for the Russians as a talent-spotter rest on his early association with James Klugman. It seems highly possible that what Klugman was doing at Cambridge was echoed by Floud at Oxford’. Floud and Klugman had both been at school with Donald Maclean and had travelled to China in 1938 to meet leading Communist Chou En-Lai. MI5 tracked this visit and because of Floud’s Communist activities at Oxford monitored his subsequent career in the wartime Intelligence Corps and Ministry of Information and post-war Board of Trade. In 1951 when he was an Assistant Secretary MI5 got a report that ‘he is a fanatical Communist. It must be assumed he is still a Communist partisan, the more dangerous because of his concealment’

Despite this shadow over his civil service career Floud was progressing up the ranks when suddenly in 1951 he resigned to become a farmer. In an equally sudden career shift five years later he became one of the first employees of Granada Television, which had won the ITV franchise for the North of England. Floud was put in charge of personnel and he represented Granada at network meetings becoming the chair of the Labour Relations Committee, in effect the ITV employers’ lead negotiator with the TV  unions. From 1959-1964 he was also Granada’s man on the board of Independent Television News (ITN) and unusually for a director of ITN he once reported on air. In 1967 Floud happened to be in Northern Nigeria, where Granada had a stake in a TV station, when the regional Premier and his wife were shot by rebel troops.His eye-witness report is still in the ITN Archive.

MI5’s interest in Floud was rekindled when they learned that while at Oxford he ‘had been concerned in recruiting CP members of the University for long-term undercover penetration of the Civil Service. In one known case, that of Jenifer Fischer-Williams, later Hart, he nurtured the student’s development as a Communist at Oxford, advised her to join a department of the Civil Service from which information of value could be made available to the CPGB and gave her guidance on the question of concealing her Party membership’.

MI5 wanted to know what exactly Floud was doing at Granada and wrote to I.R.D. the secret anti-Communist propaganda arm of the Foreign Office which often paid professional journalists to work for them. The letter said ‘I am in need of a reliable contact in Granada Television network in London to whom I could entrust a somewhat delicate enquiry. I wonder whether by any chance you can suggest anyone suitable for this purpose’. They linked their enquiries into Floud with the name of the man at the very top of the ITV company: ‘It is worth remembering that Sidney Bernstein, the head of Granada, has an extremely interesting file which you may like to consult. It may not be fortuitous that Floud obtained a position with this firm’.

In a later file MI5 officers put on record that Bernstein ‘has been considered, by reason of his great wealth and influential positions’, a potential source of support for the Communist powers, both financially and in the sphere of propaganda’. While conceding that they had no hard proof Bernstein had ever been a formal party member they recorded that ‘two independent sources who are believed to be reliable reported-in 1936 and again in 1955 – that he was a secret member of the Party’. Bernstein was, they noted, a friend of Ivor Montagu, a film-maker and Communist activist and a referee for Cedric Belfrage, who would later be revealed as an important Soviet agent.

Bernard Floud’s career had taken a further twist when this civil servant turned farmer turned TV executive started a fourth career and it was one which he developed simultaneously with his TV work. In 1964, at his third attempt he was elected as a Labour MP, representing Acton in London. Two years later MI5 noted ‘It may be postulated that as a member of parliament, although as yet only a backbencher, Floud has potential as an agent of influence. His value to the Russians as an executive of Granada Television and a director of Independent Television News is more immediately apparent. Proof or disproof of these suspicions is yet wanting’. MI5 officers, prominent among them Peter Wright who wrote in ‘Spycatcher’ about the Floud case, set about finding out more. Floud told them he ‘got into television through an introduction from an MP who was a friend of Sidney Bernstein. And he had been there ever since.’

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The search for evidence against him became particularly relevant when it became known that the Prime Minister Harold Wilson was considering promoting Floud to Ministerial rank. With the agreement of the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, Floud was interviewed by MI5 on five occasions between August 1966 and March 1967. In the MI5 files the notes by Peter Wright and his team on the Floud interrogation make fascinating reading. There are accounts of how Floud ‘prevaricated’, was ‘less than candid’ admitting ‘conspiratorial Communist activity’ but denying any knowledge of Russian Intelligence connections.
After the final interrogation in March 1967 Wright wrote; ‘At the end I could only conclude that Floud has been less than frank with me, since under pressure he has shifted his ground on many issues’. The typed document ends ‘I felt that I had been dealing with a dedicated Communist’. Wright seems to have had second thoughts about that line because he crossed out the words ‘a dedicated’ and in his own handwriting changed it to ‘dealing with someone who was using the techniques of a Communist’.
Another entry in the file says ‘we have not so far been able to break this case by interview, partly because we have had to handle Floud with care as an MP’. MI5 never did ‘break the case’ but by the end of it Floud was a broken man. He had a long-term depressive illness and  his wife, to whom he had been devoted, had died during the interrogation process. Wilson never did make him a minister, he went back to work at the Commons and at Granada but told colleagues he was ‘unable to go on’. He committed suicide in his home in October 1967 by a combination of alcohol, barbiturates and coal gas.
In the official history of MI5, Professor Christopher Andrew concluded that ‘There was – and is – no evidence that he had any Communist contacts after 1952. His pre-war contacts with Soviet intelligence are also unlikely to have been of great significance’. As for Sidney Bernstein MI5 concluded ‘there is no firm evidence to show where Bernstein’s political loyalties now lie’ and he was never questioned or challenged by MI5 during his illustrious career in television.

(The story of Bernstein’s later encounters with the UK’s TV regulators is told in ‘When Reporters Cross the Line’,written with Jeff Hulbert)

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