Tuesday, 7th May, 2015
The Daily Mail has been running a smear campaign against Ed Miliband during the last few months in an attempt to destroy his attempt to become prime minister. I suppose we should not be too surprised that Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere, is not a supporter of the Labour Party. He has an estimated wealth of about £950 million. He also has non-domicile tax status (something that Miliband promises to remove) and owns his media businesses through a complex structure of offshore holdings and trusts which entail him paying almost no UK tax on his income, investments or wealth.
The Daily Mail has a long history of supporting right-wing parties, including the fascists in the 1930s. The Harmsworth family have owned the newspaper since it was established by Alfred Harmsworth in 1896. It was the first newspaper in Britain that catered for a new reading public that needed something simpler, shorter and more readable than those that had previously been available. One new innovation was the banner headline that went right across the page. Considerable space was given to sport and human interest stories. It was also the first newspaper to include a woman's section that dealt with issues such as fashions and cookery.
The Daily Mail was an immediate success and circulation quickly achieved 500,000. With the strong interest in the Boer War in 1899 sales went to over a million. Harmsworth, who held right-wing political views, encouraged people to buy the newspaper for nationalistic reasons making it clear to his readers that his newspaper stood "for the power, the supremacy and the greatness of the British Empire".
Harmsworth was offered a knighthood but turned it down saying he wanted to become a baronet. This he received on 23rd June, 1904. The following year he became the youngest ever peer of the realm when he took the title Lord Northcliffe. As he had once said that "when I want a peerage I will buy one" his enemies accused him of corruptly purchasing the honour.
Harmsworth was accused of being a war-monger. Soon after the outbreak of the First World War the editor of The Star newspaper claimed that: "Next to the Kaiser, Lord Northcliffe has done more than any living man to bring about the war." During the early stages of the conflict Northcliffe created a great deal of controversy by advocating conscription and criticizing Lord Kitchener. When he heard he had been killed he remarked: "The British Empire has just had the greatest stroke of luck in its history."
After the death of Kitchener he concentrated on having Herbert Asquith removed as prime minister. Not only did he criticise Asquith as a man of inaction but claimed that Germany was afraid that David Lloyd George would become prime minister. When Asquith resigned in December, 1916, the new prime minister decided that it was be safer to have Northcliffe in his government. However, Northcliffe refused an offer of a place in Lloyd George's cabinet as he knew it would undermine his ability to criticise the government.
Lloyd George had offered Northcliffe a cabinet position because he was scared that he would use the Daily Mail to bring down his government. In a confidential letter to his Parliamentary Private Secretary he wrote at the time he claimed that: "Northcliffe is one of the biggest intriguers and most unscrupulous people in the country."
Lord Northcliffe died in August, 1922. His brother, Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere, became the new owner of the Daily Mail. He also ran the Daily Mirror, the Evening News, the Sunday Pictorial and the Sunday Dispatch. He was now one of the most powerful men in Britain. He used this power to force his political ideology on the British public.
In the 1923 General Election, the Labour Party won 191 seats. Although the Conservatives had 258, Ramsay MacDonald agreed to head a minority government, and therefore became the first member of the party to become Prime Minister. As MacDonald had to rely on the support of the Liberal Party, he was unable to get any socialist legislation passed by the House of Commons. The only significant measure was the Wheatley Housing Act which began a building programme of 500,000 homes for rent to working-class families.
Members of establishment were appalled by the idea of a Prime Minister who was a socialist. As Gill Bennett pointed out: "It was not just the intelligence community, but more precisely the community of an elite - senior officials in government departments, men in "the City", men in politics, men who controlled the Press - which was narrow, interconnected (sometimes intermarried) and mutually supportive. Many of these men... had been to the same schools and universities, and belonged to the same clubs. Feeling themselves part of a special and closed community, they exchanged confidences secure in the knowledge, as they thought, that they were protected by that community from indiscretion." This was definitely true of Lord Rothermere who announced his anti-socialist views.
In September 1924 MI5 intercepted a letter signed by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union, and Arthur McManus, the British representative on the committee. In the letter British communists were urged to promote revolution through acts of sedition. Hugh Sinclair, head of MI6, provided "five very good reasons" why he believed the letter was genuine. However, one of these reasons, that the letter came "direct from an agent in Moscow for a long time in our service, and of proved reliability" was incorrect.
Vernon Kell, the head of MI5 showed the letter to Ramsay MacDonald. It was agreed that the letter should be kept secret but someone leaked the letter to the Daily Mail. Four days before the 1924 General Election Rothermere decided to publish what became known as the Zinoviev Letter and contributed to the defeat of MacDonald and the Labour Party. In a speech he made on 24th October, MacDonald suggested he had been a victim of a political conspiracy: "I am also informed that the Conservative Headquarters had been spreading abroad for some days that... a mine was going to be sprung under our feet, and that the name of Zinoviev was to be associated with mine. Another Guy Fawkes - a new Gunpowder Plot... The letter might have originated anywhere. The staff of the Foreign Office up to the end of the week thought it was authentic... I have not seen the evidence yet. All I say is this, that it is a most suspicious circumstance that a certain newspaper and the headquarters of the Conservative Association seem to have had copies of it at the same time as the Foreign Office, and if that is true how can I avoid the suspicion - I will not say the conclusion - that the whole thing is a political plot?"
After the election it was claimed that two of MI5's agents, Sidney Reilly and Arthur Maundy Gregory, had forged the letter. According to Christopher Andrew, the author of Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community (1985): "Reilly played an active part in ensuring that the letter was publicised. A copy of the Russian version of the letter has been discovered in what appears to be Reilly's handwriting, and there can scarcely have been another past or present SIS agent with so few scruples about exploiting it in the anti-Bolshevik cause."
It later became clear that Major George Joseph Ball (1885-1961), a MI5 officer, played an important role in leaking it to the press. In 1927 Ball went to work for the Conservative Central Office where he pioneered the idea of spin-doctoring. Later, Desmond Morton, who worked under Hugh Sinclair, at MI6 claimed that it was Stewart Menzies who sent the Zinoviev letter to the Daily Mail.
Rotheremere's newspapers continued to increase their circulation. By 1926 the daily sales of the Daily Mail had reached 2,000,000. Lord Rothermere personal wealth was now £25 million and he was estimated to be the third richest man in Britain. Rothermere became increasingly nationalistic in his political views and in 1929 joined with Lord Beaverbrook to form the United Empire Party. Rothermere urged the Conservative Party to remove its leader, Stanley Baldwin, and replace him with Beaverbrook. He also argued for a reform of the House of Lords to make it possible for peers to be elected to the House of Commons. This dispute divided conservative voters and this enabled the Labour Party to win the 1929 General Election.
Lord Rothermere considered the Conservative Party to be too left-wing and became attracted to the fascist parties in Europe. James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979) points out: "Shortly after the Nazis' sweeping victory in the election of September 14, 1930, Rothermere went to Munich to have a long talk with Hitler, and ten days after the election wrote an article discussing the significance of the National Socialists' triumph. The article drew attention throughout England and the Continent because it urged acceptance of the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism... Rothermere continued to say that if it were not for the Nazis, the Communists might have gained the majority in the Reichstag." According to Louis P. Lochner, the author of Tycoons and Tyrant: German Industry from Hitler to Adenauer (1954) Rothermere provided funds to Adolf Hitler via Ernst Hanfstaengel in the 1930s.
Lord Rothermere disposed of his shares in the Daily Mirror in 1931. He now concentrated on The Daily Mail. When Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Rothermere produced a series of articles acclaiming the new regime. The most famous of these was on the 10th July when he told readers that he "confidently expected" great things of the Nazi regime. He also criticised other newspapers for "its obsession with Nazi violence and racialism", and assured his readers that any such deeds would be "submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing on Germany."
Rothermere now began a campaign in favour of the Nazi Party. The Daily Mail criticized "the old women of both sexes" who filled British newspapers with rabid reports of Nazi "excesses." Instead, the newspaper claimed, Hitler had saved Germany from "Israelites of international attachments" and the "minor misdeeds of individual Nazis will be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany."
Lord Rothermere also had several meetings with Adolf Hitler and argued that the Nazi leader desired peace. In one article written in March, 1934 he called for Hitler to be given back land in Africa that had been taken as a result of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler acknowledged this help by writing to Rothermere: "I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial public support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the enduring pacification of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war. I am convinced that no one who fought in the front trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict."
As Richard Griffiths, the author of Fellow Travellers of the Right (1979) has pointed out: "Rothermere visited Hitler on a number of occasions, and corresponded with him. As we have seen, Hitler's first major dinner party for foreigners, on 19th December 1934, had as its guests of honour Rothermere, his son Esmond Harmsworth, and Ward Price, together with Ernest Tennant. Rothermere's subsequent article in the Daily Mail was violently enthusiastic about what Hitler had done for Germany. Hitler wrote a number of important letters to Rothermere in 1933 and 1934, but the most interesting of them, because of its subsequent fate, was the one written on 3 May 1935 in which he advocated Anglo-German understanding as a firm combination for peace. Rothermere circulated this to many politicians, convinced that his personal contact with Hitler had produced a real breakthrough."
Lord Rothermere also gave full support to Oswald Mosley and the National Union of Fascists. He wrote an article, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, on 22nd January, 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine". Rothermere added: "Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps. Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power. As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party. Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W."
The Daily Mail continued to give its support to the fascists. George Ward Price wrote about anti-fascist demonstrators at a meeting of the National Union of Fascists on 8th June, 1934: "If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it. They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting."
In July, 1934 Lord Rothermere suddenly withdrew his support for Oswald Mosley. The historian, James Pool, argues: "The rumor on Fleet Street was that the Daily Mail's Jewish advertisers had threatened to place their adds in a different paper if Rothermere continued the pro-fascist campaign." Pool points out that sometime after this, Rothermere met with Hitler at the Berghof and told how the "Jews cut off his complete revenue from advertising" and compelled him to "toe the line." Hitler later recalled Rothermere telling him that it was "quite impossible at short notice to take any effective countermeasures."
Lord Rothermere continued to support Hitler but tried to keep it secret from the general public. It later emerged that Rothermere was paying a retainer of £5,000 per year (£200,000 in today's money) to Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, a close confidante of Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and Joachim von Ribbentrop. According to The Daily Telegraph: "In 1933, the year that Hitler gained power, MI6 circulated a report stating that the French secret service had discovered documents in the princess's flat in Paris ordering her to persuade Rothermere to campaign for the return to Germany of territory ceded to Poland at the end of First World War. She was to receive £300,000 – equal to £13 million today if she succeeded."
Lord Rothermere, George Ward Price and Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe were invited to spend time with Hitler at his holiday retreat, The Eagle's Nest, in the mountains above Berchtesgaden. Also invited was Joseph Goebbels. He wrote in his diary: "Rothermere pays me great compliments... Enquires in detail about German press policy. Strongly anti-Jewish. The princess is very pushy. After lunch we retire for a chat. Question of Spain comes up. Führer won't tolerate a hot-bed of communism in Europe any longer. Is ready to prevent any more pro-Republican volunteers from going there. His proposal on controls seem to astonish Rothermere. German prestige is thus restored. Franco will win anyway... Rothermere believes British government also pro-Franco."
Adolf Hitler was kept informed about what British newspapers were saying about him. He was usually very pleased by what appeared in The Daily Mail. On 20th May 1937 he wrote to Lord Rothermere: "Your leading articles published within the last few weeks, which I read with great interest, contain everything that corresponds to my own thoughts as well." Hitler told George Ward Price: "He (Lord Rothermere) is the only Englishman who sees clearly the magnitude of this Bolshevist danger. His paper is doing an immense amount of good."
In 1937 George Ward Price, of The Daily Mail, published his book, I Know These Dictators. It was full of praise of Hitler: "Behind the forceful character which he displays in public he had a human, pleasant personality... He had the artistic, visionary tendencies of the South German type... and there was a strong strain of sadness and tenderness in his disposition... Hitler had... a fondness for children and dogs... His personality and prestige were so strong that without any effort on his part, he is surrounded by much awe on the part of his entourage... Hitler is a widely read man... familiar with the works of the leading German philosophers who had mastered the history, geography and social and economic conditions of the chief European countries."
Ward Price defended Hitler's treatment of Jews, trade unionists and socialists in Nazi Germany: "To law-abiding citizens the Nazi Government brought public order, political peace, better living-conditions, and the promise, some fulfilled, to make Germany once more a great nation... Upon the people who opposed, or looked like opposing, its plans, it laid a heavy hand... The jockey who pats his horse in the paddock may lash him in a hard finish. The rulers of Germany were stern because they believed the fate of their country was at stake. If they failed, the gates would be open wide to Bolshevism - the same bloodthirsty Bolshevism which had ravaged and liquidated in Russia, tortured and massacred in Hungary.... The tolerant attitude of the average Anglo-Saxon... toward Jews, Communists, and those deluded intellectuals indulgently termed 'parlour-Bolshevists' appears in Nazi eyes as stupid apathy in the presence of real danger."
According to Richard Griffiths, the author of Fellow Travellers of the Right (1979): "Rothermere and Ward Price, then, used the Daily Mail, up to 1938, as an instrument of Nazi propaganda. As Franklin Gannon points out, there was little news coverage of Germany in that paper (compared with the extensive coverage in other papers), and opinions on Germany were expressed mainly through editorials and reports of Ward Price's interviews. As the thirties wore on, the paper's main concern turned gradually from positive praise of Nazism to a concern to avoid Continental obligations."
Rothermere and his newspapers supported Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement. When Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia in March 1938 he sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler saying: "My dear Fuhrer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher."
Scott Newton, the author of Profits of Peace: The Political Economy of Anglo-German Appeasement (1997) has argued that Lord Rothermere was a member of a group that included Lord Halifax, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 8th Duke of Buccleuch, Charles McLaren, 3rd Baron Aberconway and Henry Betterton, 1st Baron Rushcliffe. "All its members shared a profound fear that the domestic and international order which had sustained liberal-imperialist Britain was about to be irrevocably changed... With some justification it was believed that total war meant the socialization of Britain and a ruinous conflict in the heart of Europe from which only the Soviet Union could benefit."
Meanwhile, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe announced she was to sue Lord Rothermere for what she alleged was breach of contract. She hired one of the most fashionable law firms in London, Theodore Goddard & Partners; the solicitors who, in 1936, had handled the divorce case of her friend, Wallis Simpson. MI5 began to take a close interest in the case. One report said: "Princess Hohenlohe has given us a great deal of work owing to the fact that she is frequently the subject of denunciation to the effect that she is, or has been, a trusted political agent and personal friend of Herr Hitler; that she is a German political spy of a very high order; and that she was given the Scloss Leopoldskron by Herr Hitler for signal services rendered for him." (PRO-KV2/1696)
MI6 continued to investigate Stephanie von Hohenlohe. In March 1939 the MI6 passport control officer at Victoria Station arrested her Hungarian lawyer, Erno Wittman. The arresting officer reported what he discovered that Wittman was carrying: "This was astonishing; it appeared to be copies of documents and letters which passed between Lord Rothermere, Lady Snowden, Princess Stephanie, Herr Hitler and others. In the main, the letters referred to the possible restoration of the throne in Hungary and shed a good deal of light on the character and activities of the princess." It was decided to pass on this information to MI5. Amongst the documents were several letters from Lord Rothermere to Adolf Hitler. This included a "a very indiscreet letter to the Fuhrer congratulating him on his walk into Prague". The letter urged Hitler to follow up his coup with the invasion of Romania.
It seems that Adolf Hitler had given Princess Stephanie photocopies of the letters Lord Rothermere had been sending him. As Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011) has pointed out: "These letters were secretly circulated within the intelligence services and senior civil servants in key government ministries... Nothing could be more revealing of the press baron's continued support of the Nazi Führer as the inevitable conflict drew closer, but it appears MI5 shied away from actually taking action against the press baron. Certainly there is nothing in the derestricted files to indicate whether Rothermere was warned to cease his correspondence with Berlin, though some information in the files still remains undisclosed.... The MI5 makes it clear that the secret service had warned the government that copies of this correspondence would be produced in open court, which would embarrass not only Rothermere but also a number of other notable members of the British aristocracy, and that these disclosures would shock the British public."
On 4th September, 1939, the morning after the outbreak of the Second World War, Rothermere's Daily Mail had a powerful patriotic leader: "No statesman, no man with any decency could think of sitting at the same table with Hitler or his henchman the trickster von Ribbentrop, or any other of the gang. We fight against the blackest tyranny that has ever held men in bondage. We fight to defend and to restore freedom and justice on earth."
Behind the scenes, Rothermere was expressing different views. On 24th September 1939 Lord Rothermere had his close colleague and "ghost", Collin Brooks, draft a letter to Neville Chamberlain urging the futility of trying to save Poland and warning that "whether victorious or not, Britain will emerge from such a conflict with her social and economic fabric destroyed", which could mean "a revolution of the Left in these islands, which might be more deadly than the war itself". According to Rothermere's biographer, D. George Boyce: "But the letter was never sent (despite Rothermere's fear that Britain was ‘finished’), because of the ‘national mood and temper’, a nice example of the would-be opinion leader and press baron being led by the public itself."
Three weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War Rothermere's lawyers attempted to have the legal action stopped. A member of his law firm went to the Home Office and denounced Princess Stephanie as a German agent and suggested that she should be deported. If the case reached open court it would receive huge publicity and would undermine public morale. However, the Home Office came to the conclusion that it would be improper to intervene.
The case reached the High Court on 8th November, 1939. Princess Stephanie's case was that in 1932, when Rothermere had promised to engage her as his European political representative on an annual salary of £5,000, she had understood the engagement was ongoing. She made it clear to the judge that if she lost the case she would not hesitate to publish her memoirs in America. This story would reveal Lord Rothermere's relationship with Hitler and his "numerous, often indiscreet, liaisons with women".
Sir William Jowitt asked Princess Stephanie if she had used the services of Fritz Wiedemann to put pressure on Lord Rothermere. She replied: "I have not." Then a letter from Wiedemann to Lord Rothermere was read out in court. It included the following passage: "You know that the Führer greatly appreciates the work the princess did to straighten relations between our countries... it was her groundwork which made the Munich agreement possible." However, the judge would not allow Princess Stephanie to read out the letters exchanged by Lord Rothermere and Hitler.
Lord Rothermere, who had engaged a legal team of seventeen to mount his defence, told the judge, it was preposterous that he had agreed to support Princess Stephanie "for the rest of her life". He admitted that between 1932 and 1938 he had paid her considerably more than £51,000 (almost £2 million in today's money). He added that she was always "pestering and badgering me" for money. That is why he sent her away to Berlin to be with Hitler.
Jowitt told the court that Princess Stephanie had his client's letters photocopied behind his back by the Special Photographic Bureau of the Department of the German Chancellor. He also defended Rothermere's right to enter into negotiations with Hitler in an effort to prevent a war between the two countries. "Who can say whether if Lord Rothermere had succeeded in the endeavours which he made, we might not be in the position in which we are today?"
After six days of legal argument Justice Tucker ruled against Princess Stephanie. Soon after the trial finished, Lord Rothermere used Lady Ethel Snowden as an intermediary and sent Stephanie a message to say he would meet all her legal costs if she undertook to get out of the country. This she agreed to do but he thought she was going back to Europe instead of going to the United States to publish her account of her relationship with Rothermere. However, he was able to use his considerable power to make sure her memoirs were never published. A MI5 officer recorded that Lord Rothermere had probably "offered her a considerable sum to leave the country".
The court case revealed that Lord Rothermere had been involved in secret negotiations with Adolf Hitler. One newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, raised serious questions about this issue: "The danger of these negotiations was two-fold. There was first the danger that Lord Rothermere might unwittingly give the Nazis a misleading impression of the state of opinion in this country; and there was also the danger that Lord Rothermere might - again unwittingly - allow himself to be used as a vehicle for the extremely subtle manoeuvres of Nazi propaganda.... discussions with heads of foreign governments are best left of persons whose status is on both sides clearly understood. A newspaper owner has great responsibilities towards the public of his own country; he should be particularly chary of placing himself in situations liable to misinterpretation, or abuse abroad."
In the House of Commons the Liberal Party MP, Geoffrey Le Mesurier Mander, asked the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, why Princess Stephanie, a "notorious member of the Hitler spy organisation" was being allowed to leave the country. Morrison replied that he needed notice of the question but in any case she had been granted only a "no return" permit and there were no circumstances in which she would be allowed to return to Britain. Princess Stephanie went to live in San Francisco. Tipped off by MI6, the FBI put her under surveillance. A memo to President Franklin D. Roosevelt described her as a spy "more dangerous than ten thousand men".
Lord Rothermere was now aware that MI5 had copies of his letters to Adolf Hitler. Fearing that he might be arrested for treason and decided to go and live in Bermuda where he died on 26th November 1940.
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