Tony Bunyan: My brush with the D-Notice Committee
- Committee concerned that book "might wander unwittingly into areas of sensitivity from a security point of view"
In 1976 when I was completing the "History and practice of the Political Police in Britain" (*) (published first in hardback in 1976 by Julian Friedmann Publishers) the D-Notice Committee under Rear Admiral Kenneth Haydn Farnhill CB OBE was a shadowy body - the press could not even print stories published overseas without his say-so. At the time the 1971 D-Notice no 10: British Intelligence Services (pdf) was in force and the book dealt substantively with these "no-go" areas.
The Journalist magazine (NUJ) reported in June 1976 what happened:
"It has not been widely appreciated that books are subject to pre-publication vetting by the D-Notice Committee. The Publishers Association, for example, is not represented on the Committee.
The publication of the Political Police in Britain written by NUJ member Tony Bunyan has demonstrated that the D-Notice Committee is never reluctant to try and lean on publishers who are launching books which might embarrass the authorities.
Bunyan's book was publicised as forthcoming in the "Bookseller" and the advertisement brought an approach from Rear Admiral Farnhill followed up by a meeting with the publisher. Farnhill then wrote to Friedmann suggesting that the book:
"might wander unwittingly into areas of sensitivity from a security point of view"
and that he would be happy to give an opinion on this if the manuscript was submitted to him.
Both publisher and author felt they could do without Farnhill's opinion and the book was published without reference to him or his Committee.
When the Political Police in Britain was published in April (1976) the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) issued a press statement:
"The present D-Notice system, which covers matters of legitimate public concern, is a dangerous intrusion into publishing plans and public debate on vital subjects. The NCCL believes that publishers should not be placed under any pressure to participate in such a system."
A more insidious intervention involved my parents. Unbeknownst to me at the time a Metropolitan Police Special Branch officer Ian Hoare (later a DI) appeared unannounced at my parent's house in Pyrford, Surrey. My father answered the door and Hoare introduced himself by saying he had been at school with "Anthony" (which he had) and wondered if he could have a chat about Anthony's work which was a cause of some concern. My father did not tell me about this incident until after the book was published: "I made it clear he was not coming into the house and sent him away with a flea in his ear - hadn't they better things to do I told him".
A year after publication of the book two US citizens Philip Agee (author of the best-selling "CIA Diary") and Mark Hosenball, a journalist, were deported from the UK and the Special Branch arrested two journalists and an ex-soldier who had worked in GCHQ - the late Crispin Aubrey, Duncan Campbell and John Berry - in what became known as the "ABC trial" (general account) - the full account is given in "Who's Watching You?" (Pelican) by Crispin Aubrey. .
It should be remembered that in the early 1970s writers and journalists worked with carbon paper and tippex and that there only two copies of their work: See: Is it time to go back to the typewriter, carbon paper and Tippex? (pdf)
See: Secretary of the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (known as the D-Notice Committee, link)
(*) The paperback edition by Quartet was published in 1977 and reprinted three times. Copies can be ordered from Statewatch for £10.00 (UK inc pp) see Publications at bottom of page
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