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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Staff

Academic Staff

Publication details for Professor James Smith

Smith, J. (2015). 'The MacDonald Discussion Group: A Communist Conspiracy in Britain’s Cold War Film and Theatre Industry—Or MI5’s Honey-Pot?'. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 35(3): 454-472.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

During the cold war, the British entertainment industry escaped the extent of the anti-communist sentiments that gripped America, but recently released files from MI5 (Britain’s domestic security-intelligence agency) indicate that British intelligence authorities were nonetheless concerned about possible covert communist activity at work in the industry in Britain. This article presents the case of the MacDonald Discussion Group, a private left-wing discussion group operating in London in the early 1950s, designed to appeal to professionals in the film, theatre and architecture industries, attended by actors such as Mai Zetterling, Herbert Lom and Ferdy Mayne. Penetrated from its earliest meetings by MI5, it was viewed with increasing concern as a site of communist indoctrination and potentially of Soviet espionage, and those who attended the group were investigated as potential communist sympathisers by MI5. Despite these investigations, the group's activity never resulted in the sort of influence or growth that MI5 feared, to the extent that it appears that it was actually MI5’s agent who propped-up the group beyond the point when it would have otherwise collapsed. This article therefore analyses MI5’s surveillance of the group, and asks what implications this sort of attention might have had for the careers of those industry figures linked to the group.

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