The New Left and Official Secrets: the curious case of Paul Thompson and William Miller
This is a wonderful reminder of one of Britain's less well known Official Secrets trials. It's from 1958 - the height of the Cold War. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had just been established, and the first Aldermaston march against nuclear weapons took place in April that year.
This pamphlet - well, more a leaflet - was published (at one remove) by one of the main titles of the emerging New Left, Universities & Left Review. It reprinted an article from the Oxford student magazine Isis of February 1958 which revealed the dubious tactics that Britain's armed forces used against the Soviet bloc and to ensure the effectiveness of their signals intelligence.
The article makes interesting reading -
The leaflet was published by the ULR Club, and the address given appears to be that of Raphael Samuel, one of the founders of Universities & Left Review.
A pencilled note on the leaflet reads: 'Postgraduate students were jailed for this.' And that seems to be true - two students were indeed locked up.
The picture agency Shutterstock has online a photo taken on 21st May 1958 with the caption: 'Paul Richard Thompson (l) And William Miller (r) - Two Oxford Undergraduates Charged Under The Official Secrets Act With Communicating Secret Information Following An Article In The Undergraduate Magazine "Isis".'' Another photo of the pair dates from two months later.
According to an obituary of William Miller - who went on to become a successful editor, publisher and literary agent - the two men were sentenced to three months in jail with the specific proviso that this should be served in a low security open jail. In other words, the judge reckoned that while there had been a breach of the Official Secrets Act, it was a nuisance rather than a threat to national security.
The other defendant, Paul Thompson, appears to be the distinguished sociologist and oral historian of that name. He was certainly a student at Oxford at the time and - more tellingly - had studied Russian in the navy during his National Service.
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