31 March 2017

Media Review - Spy! - Episode 2: Camp 020 - 1980

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
BBC - Spy! Episode 2: Camp 020 (1980)

Original Air Date - 20 January 1980
TV Series - Spy!

Duration - 47:00 minutes

Director - John Bird



A few years ago, I read snippets from Christopher Andrew's authorized history of MI5 (The Defence of the Realm). At the time, I was digging into background information on Lt. Colonel Robin William George Stephens.  Andrews noted that:

Screenshot from Spy! Episodee 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 The Major receives a call from the Commandant in the Officer's Mess.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
The Major receives a call from the Commandant in
the Officer's Mess.
"In 1980, ten former members of the secretarial staff at Camp 020 (some of whom had worked there from its opening in July 1940 to its closure at the end of the war) made a "vigorous' public protest at the BBC's portrayal of Tin-Eye Stephens of MI5 as a violent bully:

 'In fact the Commandant, though of terrifying aspect, was a skilled interrogator who obtained results without recourse to assault and battery. Indeed, the very basis of Camp 020 procedure was that nobody raised a hand against a prisoner. ... In sum, the Commandant's behaviour towards his officers, secretarial staff, guard troops and prisoners was, in our experience, always scrupulously correct.' "

Screenshot from Spy! Episodee 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Hans Hansen (Wulf Schmidt) undergoes his first interrogation at Camp 020 by Lt. Duthie.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt undergoes his first interrogation
at Camp 020 by Lt. Duthie.
I was rather intrigued to hear of this BBC show and some digging revealed it was most likely a TV Series entitled Spy! which broadcast in 1980. Episode 2 of the series dealt with Camp 020 but, given that the series aired over 37 years ago, trying to track down a copy seemed like a wild goose chase.

However, recently I was able to lay my hands on a copy of the episode in question and watched all 47 minutes with interest. In brief, the episode tells the story of Wulf Schmidt, a Danish national who landed in England via parachute in September 1940. He had been recruited by the German Abwehr but was captured rather quickly and brought to Camp 020 for interrogation.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Wulf Schmidt tries the patience of The Commandant
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt tries the patience of The Commandant
Eventually, Wulf Schmidt was turned and became a double-agent, one who would broadcast mostly false information to the Germans right up until the end of the war. He was Britain's famous agent TATE.

Given that the show aired in 1980, before any of the MI5 records had been declassified, I was intrigued to see that Nigel West was credited with the research. West knew both Agent TATE and Major Thomas Argyll Robertson who ran the double-cross system. It would seem that much of the episode's material is based on the personal recollections of these two men.

There are, naturally, some inaccuracies, as with many personal recollections. The most glaring, and the one which the Camp 020 secretaries took such offense to, was the portrayal of Lt. Col. Stephens.


Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Wulf Schmidt being roughed up by the Commandant.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt being roughed up by the Commandant.
In the episode, Stephens barges in during Lt. Duthie's interrogation of Schmidt. Stephens ejects Duthie and the female secretary and then manhandles the stubborn Schmidt, punching him in the mouth. Based on what we know about Camp 020 and what took place there, this was more likely an altercation that took place between Schmidt and Colonel Scotland, Commandant of the infamous London Cage. Scotland was subsequently banned from Camp 020 interrogations for roughing up Schmidt.

Unfortunately, in the Spy! episode, the Commandant of Camp 020 seems to be a blend of Scotland and Stephens.

While Stephens did like to use the "blow hot, blow cold" method (essentially, good cop-bad cop), he was very much again physical beatings. At least at Camp 020.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Dr. Harold Dearden - mastermind behind Camp 020's
interrogation techniques.
I also found it interesting that while several different Abwehr officers were mentioned by their correct names, only one of the Camp 020 staff were identified by their correct names: Dr. Harold Dearden. The Commandant has no name. The Major is likely meant to be T.A. Robertson. Lt. Duthie and Lt. Pringle are pseudonyms for other Camp 020 officers, identities unknown. Although, if we dug in the TATE files from the National Archives, we could probably identify the officers involved in Schmidt's initial interrogations.

While the episode does have some historical inaccuracies, it is fascinating to watch as it is one of the few pieces of film media that deal with Camp 020 and the double-cross system. I thoroughly enjoyed it and... if anyone else wants to see it, let me know via email.

References
IMDb - entry for Spy! Camp 020.
BBC Genome - entry for Spy! Camp 020.
Christopher Andrew - Defend the Realm - The Authorized History of MI5, 2009.

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