The price of a slice of the truth

Nearly 350 years ago William Prynne, a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, found himself in a dank and dirty corner of the Tower of London.
It was a place where soldiers and civil servants refused to work ‘for fear of fouling their fingers, spoyling their cloathes, endangering their eyesight and healths by the cankerous dust and evil scent.’
Prynne was King Charles II’s new keeper of the National Archives.
And he was no stranger to the Tower. He had been jailed for life, had his cheeks branded with the letters SL – for seditious libel – and his ears chopped off, for a pamphlet attacking actresses and, by implication, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.
A report of  the trial of William Prynne Esq, in the Star Chamber, for writing and publishing 'A Scourge for Stage-Players,' can be found in the Archives. Subsequent keepers have been less harshly treated.
Prynne wrote: ‘In raking up this dung heap I found many rare antient precious pearls and golden records &c.’
It is a sentiment echoed every day in the modern National Archives building at Kew, where researchers request 600,000 document files a year and millions of documents are viewed online.
These are just some of the gems from my researches, many of them published for the first time, but none of them worth losing an ear for.

© These pages and their content are copyright of Peter Day 2014.

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Singer's war hero father was under surveillance by MI5

Singer Marianne Faithfull’s father was suspected of being a Communist double agent in the 1950s.
MI5 had him under surveillance after spotting him attending clandestine meetings with fellow left wingers.Reports, by a mole inside the group, have been declassified by the National Archives at Kew.
The Security Service feared that Russian intelligence was trying to recruit show business stars who attended meetings in Knightsbridge, London and a commune in Kent.
They kept a personal file on Marianne’s father, Glynn, who died in 1996, even though they knew he had worked for MI6 during the Second World War.
He had been parachuted behind enemy lines to fight with the Communist backed partisans in Yugoslavia and promoted to the rank of major.
Fellow resistance fighter Alex Sacher-Masoch asked him to take a message to his sister in war torn Vienna and that was how he met Marianne’s mother Eva, an Austrian baroness.
In her autobiography the singer wrote: ‘Glynn rang the doorbell and Eva answered the door. He delivered a message from Alex, and Eva being so good looking and lovely and my father being a handsome, daring spy they fell in love on the spot. Eva became his connection in Vienna.’
In 1951 he joined the communist group run by Duncan MacDonald, a Russian-born former RAF group captain.
It was intended ‘to afford the opportunity for Communist discussion and education to sympathisers whose open adherence to the party might jeopardise their employment.’
MI5 believed he was engaging in undercover intelligence operations or acting as a talent spotter or go-between for the KGB.
Under Major Faithfull’s name they noted:  ‘Wife is Austrian by origin. Brother-in-law is a member of the Austrian Communist Party. Ex-employee of MI6. Case needs further documentation.’
But after three years of scrutiny MI5 realized the plotters were more likely to raise a laugh than the red flag of revolution.
They included actor-director Sam Wanamaker, whose daughter Zoe stars in My Family, Swedish actress Mai Zetterling, who appeared with Peter Sellers in the comedy Only Two Can Play, and her lover Herbert Lom - Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films.
MacDonald’s wife was actress Pat Burke, who starred West End pantomimes. Other adherents were Owen Cornelius, director of the Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico, and Ken Annakin, director of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.



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