Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Reds Under the Reads Beds?

Malaysian writers worried that Special Branch might be taking a more than healthy interest in their writings, might be comforted to know that some very famous British authors also suffered close scrutiny from the authorities.

It's long been known that Animal Farm and 1984 novelist George Orwell was under MI5 surveillance, but the extent to which this was true did not come to light until yesterday when papers which included details of surveillance in the 1920's and 30's were made public at the National Archives in Kew.

The Guardian comments on the officers':
... spectacular ability to misjudge what they saw. ... The obtuseness of some exasperated their superiors.
One officer even concluded that Orwell must have communist views because:
He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours.
But, of course, Orwell wasn't the only one to attract the attention of the spooks for suspected communist activities. Another case that recently came to light when National Archives material was released was that of poet W.H. Auden (whose centenary was celebrated earlier this year). MI5 supected that Auden had links with Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, two diplomats who were recruited as spies by the KGB.

And even children's author, Arthur Ransome, was watched closely in the 1920's and 30's by MI5 as it was feared he was a traitor working for Moscow. The Swallows and Amazons author had married Trotsky's secretary and has travelled widely in the Soviet Union for British newspapers.

All were eventually cleared.

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