Entertainment News

  • 28 February 2014, 8:02

Sir Michael Redgrave's MI5 File Revealed

Security chiefs collated a file on legendary British actor Sir Michael Redgrave for more than 20 years, after they suspected him of being a Communist sympathiser, newly released secret papers have revealed.

Spymasters kept tabs on Sir Michael during the height of the Cold War, even when he was playing in one of his most noted roles as bouncing bomb inventor Sir Barnes Wallis, in the classic black and white war film The Dambusters.

The fascinating 105-page document is one of 110 files, dating back to before the Second World War which have been released by the National Archives at Kew in southwest London.

He first came to the attention of the intelligence services in 1940 when he was working at the BBC and he signed a Communist inspired manifesto of the "People's Vigilance Committee" and over the next nine years, one Special Branch file details 21 occasions in which he came to their notice because of his suspected left-leaning views.

Sir Michael, who died in 1985 aged 77, had a career spanning almost 40 years and starred in more than 50 films as well as countless theatre appearances - including one as Hamlet in Moscow in 1958 at the height of the Cold War where he met up with British traitor Guy Burgess who passed thousands of secrets to the Russians.

The trip aroused the interest of MI5 and a memo in the file written by Sir Patrick Dean, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, dated January 9, 1959, details Sir Michael's Christmas and New Year visit to Russia with the Stratford-upon-Avon Royal Shakespeare Company.

Stamped ''Secret'' in red ink, Sir Patrick wrote: "Burgess got in touch with Michael Redgrave shortly after the latter's arrival in Moscow and invited him to lunch. I gather they knew each other at Cambridge."

He adds: "Redgrave was not communicative about the meeting and did not consult anyone at the Embassy before seeing Burgess."

It goes on to describe a party that both men attended at the Moscow flat of a British journalist, with Burgess having to be lent 100 Russian roubles to get home by one of the cast members.

The memo adds: ''We also heard that after one of the performances Burgess made his way to Redgrave's dressing room and there was sick."

Shortly after Sir Patrick made his comments, the file also reveals how MI5 recruited someone to get close to Sir Michael and question him further about his time in Moscow.

A subsequent note reads: "Source saw Michael Redgrave and there was no difficulty in working the conversation round to Redgrave's visit to Moscow and to Guy Burgess."

Intriguingly, the name of the source has been redacted by security chiefs who authorised the release of the documents - the suggestion being the person in question may have been a close relative or friend of the actor who may still be alive.

Sir Michael's file also contains a letter which Burgess wrote to his mother and which was intercepted by spy chiefs.

It details the actor's visit, and Burgess says of the performance: "... Michael's Hamlet was a triumph here ... better than (John) Gielgud, better than (Laurence) Olivier, much better than Paul Schofield."

The file on Sir Michael started in 1940 and was closed in 1961, but several times during the 21 years it was active the head of the intelligence service wrote to the Chief Constable of Hampshire where the actor lived with his wife and family asking police to keep an eye on him and report anything suspicious of interest.

Sir Michael's wife Rachel was also monitored by spy chiefs and the documents detail his children Vanessa, Corin and Lynn, with the two former going on to become left-wing political activists themselves in later years.

One of the last items in the file is a 1961 article from The Times describing a court appearance by Vanessa in which she was fined 1 after an anti-nuclear demo in London.

Sir Michael was knighted in 1959 for his services to acting and his granddaughters through Vanessa, the late Natasha Redgrave and Joely Richardson also went into acting.

Dr Stephen Twigge, head of modern records at the National Archives in Kew told Sky News: "The documents are a unique insight into the workings of the security services during the Second World War and after in the Cold War.

"The Redgrave file has that wonderful vignette of his trip to Moscow where he saw Burgess and obviously there was interest in that meeting.

"The Cambridge spy ring was still fresh and there was interest to know if there were other elements - was there a sixth man or even others in the circle.

"I think the security services wanted to ascertain just how close Redgrave was to Burgess and if he knew anything else of relevance."

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