Wednesday 27 July 2011, 12:30

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

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As we wait to see whether Rupert Murdoch will fall from power and lose control of News International, I thought I would tell the extraordinary and forgotten story of the dramatic downfall of the newspaper mogul who used to dominate Britain before Rupert Murdoch arrived.

Cecil King ran the Daily Mirror - along with over two hundred other papers and magazines - and was as powerful and influential in 1960s Britain as Murdoch would become in the 1980s. The Daily Mirror dominated Fleet Street - and politicians bowed down to its power and influence.

But in 1968 Cecil King became convinced that Britain was heading for disaster - and he decided to engineer what in effect would be a political coup. He was going to use the Daily Mirror to try and bring down the Labour government.

Many in the Labour Party have believed ever since that Cecil King was conspiring with members of MI5 to destroy the democratically elected government, but there appears to be no hard evidence for this.

The truth is that King was in league with more familiar "rogue elements" - senior City of London bankers, including the Governor of the Bank of England, who wanted to force the Labour government to slash the financial deficit. But the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was refusing to bow to their demands.

At the same time as this was happening, many of the journalists in Fleet Street were filled with a terrible doom about the future of newspapers. As a result the BBC got excited and went and made all sorts of films about newspapers - recording Fleet Street before it died. Some of the material they filmed is just wonderful - it is full of both touching and silly moments of an old world of journalism.

It also forms a fascinating backdrop to the strange story of Cecil King because much of the BBC material was shot inside the newsrooms of the Mirror, the Express, and the Times at the very moment King was planning his coup. So I decided to make a documentary film which both told the King story and also let some of the archive run longer than normal because it is so fascinating.

I have no idea who most of the journalists are who appear - but I'd love to find out.

Here it is. It's still a rough cut. As well as all the BBC stuff there is also a wonderful bit from the brilliant ITN Source archive - they kept the camera running as Harold Wilson rehearsed an address to the nation.

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    Comment number 1.

    Great piece of work. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Was Mountbatten innocent after all ? I think we should be told.... ;-)

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    Comment number 2.

    According to Cecil King's entry in the DNB, Mountbatten agreed with Zuckerman.

    Cromer was in effect sacked by Wilson at the end of 1966 when his term as Bank of England Governor came to an end; before then Wilson had briefly considered him a potential ally. One of Wilson's defects was a tendency to misjudge which establishment figures he could bring on board, as for instance when he praised the courage of Rhodesian Chief Justice Sir Hugh Beadle in avoiding UDI. It made not one difference to Ian Smith and after Smith declared UDI, Beadle declared it legal.

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    Comment number 3.

    Looks like a young Jeremy -Paxman in there just before the section about Lord Cromer

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    Comment number 4.

    Wonderful film, especially the ending music choice - very good!

    Interesting for two reason over and above the overall narrative; firstly, seeing the Bank so antagonistic makes the decision to make it independent much more understandable. If it couldn't be controlled, better make a virtue of the lack of control and give it a remit to follow to better control it from a distance?

    Secondly, interesting to see Tom Tullett in there. He used to be a CID Detective before beaming a crime correspondent; the permeable membrane between the press and the police has a long, long history.

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    Comment number 5.

    At 11.15 mins is Len Greener who was picture editor of the mirror even in the late 1980s. He's featured several times and also in a later show the BBC did in 1987 called In at the Deep End which followed presenter Chris Searle as he learned to become a press photographer at the Daily Mirror. great stuff.


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