Right-sided spooks

April 18, 2013

I thank Matthew Feldman for his generally positive review of my book British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930-1960 (Books, 4 April), but certain areas require correction. For one, he is inaccurate with the basic details concerning Ezra Pound’s MI5 file (the National Archives catalogue references should be KV 2/875 and KV 2/876, for example). Unfortunately, such inaccuracy extends into Feldman’s wider version of MI5’s history.

It is simply wrong to state that MI5 was “as interested in the far right as in the far left”. As Christopher Andrew’s The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) amply demonstrates, the intelligence service consistently downplayed the inter-war far right threat, initially believing that the British Union of Fascists was motivated by “genuine, if wrong-headed, patriotism” before “reassuring” Whitehall that the BUF was a spent force.

And while an “online search of files” at the National Archives might indeed turn up the modest roll of Pound, P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Gordon- Canning as right-wing authors with MI5 files, further research might suggest that this list is dwarfed by the range of files that were opened on the significant left-wing authors, actors, editors, dramatists, magazines, film societies and theatres of the era.

James Smith
Durham University

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