A story involving an alleged coup attempt in 1968 against the then prime minister, Harold Wilson, is just one of the subjects covered by the latest release of classified files from the National Archives at Kew in London.
The Crown ‘coup’
Reports of an alleged government coup attempt in 1968, recreated for the Netflix series The Crown, had “no foundation in fact”, according to one of the high-profile men accused years later over the plot.
The publishing supremo Cecil King wrote in 1981 to the then cabinet secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong, after international newspaper reports that, along with Lord Mountbatten and Lord Cudlipp, he had plotted to overthrow Wilson’s ailing Labour government more than a decade earlier.
Nothing materialised of the plot and King, the chairman of International Publishing Corporation (IPC), which counted the Daily Mirror among its titles, described the story as “nonsense”.
He accused Wilson, who was legitimately ousted by Ted Heath’s Conservatives at the 1970 general election, of feeding the coup allegation to the press in 1981, and of being influential in his removal from the IPC board.
King told Armstrong that the Mirror had simply “cooled” towards the Wilson premiership owing to the fact he “was no prime minister”.
In his 1981 letter, King wrote: “As you must have noticed, I have recently been accused in some newspapers of planning a coup – perhaps military, perhaps not – to overthrow this government in 1968 … Unlike most newspaper stories this one had no foundation in fact.”
The coup claim was subsequently published in the Times newspaper and prompted the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to address the issue in the Commons.
UK ‘attractive destination’ for asylum seekers
New Labour’s attempts to tackle immigration were partly thwarted by a UN protocol that meant the UK was fundamentally deemed an “attractive destination” for asylum seekers, internal memos suggest.
The Home Office permanent secretary from 1997 to 2000, Sir David Omand, said the 1951 refugee convention – which says refugees should not be sent back to a country where they face serious threats to their safety – and the “generous reception” given to people from the former Yugoslavia were partly to blame.
His concern was contained in a memo to the then cabinet secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, in March 2000. Home Office figures at the time showed there were 6,680 asylum applications that month, up from 6,110 the previous month.
In his memo, contained within the latest tranche of declassified cabinet files released by the National Archives in Kew, Omand wrote: “The intake of asylum seekers is now running at double the rate when we published our plans and targets in 1998.
“It was not our political intent but we have a situation where the UK is an attractive destination for asylum seekers … The message went back that the UK was a civilised place and that has spread across much of eastern Europe. Modifying this message is hard.”
The then prime minister, Tony Blair, replied: “Yes, but we have to deal with the root causes of this explosion in number and it will need tough action to do it.”
Composer’s secret drug request
A British composer beloved by the royal family secretly sought state help to supply him with illegal quantities of controlled drugs, previously classified papers reveal.
Sir William Walton, whose well-known composition Crown Imperial was used in the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and the platinum jubilee celebrations this year, was said to be “very dependent” on Ritalin, commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Records show Susana Walton, the composer’s wife, asked a police inspector in 1982 to help send a year’s supply to his home on the island of Ischia, near Naples in Italy, despite it having recently become illegal to do so in such high volumes.
The officer then contacted Armstrong, who was still cabinet secretary, to ask for his advice.
Correspondence suggested Lady Walton was aware of the change to drug rules before they came into force, but it was said that she “rather lives with her head in the clouds”, and nothing was done.
The Italian embassy said Ritalin was available in small quantities but it would not sanction a year’s supply – reckoned to be about 2,000 tablets.
July 19, 2022 at 10:45AM PA Media