Was a Military Coup Attempted in the UK in the 1970s?

I suppose some 0.05 percent of Americans are familiar with the Wall Street coup attempt against FDR, so why would we know about a military coup plot in the UK just because it happened in our own lifetimes? Still, I was a little surprised to read Francis Wheen in “Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies” mention that

“Even Sir Michael Henley, the head of MI5 in the mid 1970s, was later obliged to admit to [Harold] Wilson that some members of the security service had been ‘behaving oddly.’

“Who wasn’t? David Bowie and Eric Clapton begged their audiences to give white supremacy a chance. Retired generals and SAS men started recruiting private armies to ‘restore order’. Captains of industry demanded a ‘national government’ led by capable patriotic tycoons such as themselves. Two Fleet Street journalists of my acquaintance, Bruce Page of The Sunday Times and Mike Molloy of the Mirror, were invited to dinner in 1975 by Sir Val Duncan, chairman of Rio Tinto Zinc, to hear his plans for taking over the country. ‘When anarchy comes,’ Sir Val explained, ‘we are going to provide a lot of essential generators to keep electricity going, and we invited you, the editors, to tell us if you can maintain communications to people. Then the Army will play its proper role.’ Like so many conspirators of the time who spoke of the need for ‘efficient administration’, Sir Val was hopelessly inefficient: Page and Molloy, his chosen propagandists [playing the role of Smedley Butler], were both paid-up members of the Labour Party. But the really astonishing thing about this story is that neither of them bothered to report it in his newspaper. An attempted putsch by rich reactionaries was, apparently, too humdrum to merit a paragraph. The only mention was a tiny item in the Daily Telegraph a few days later, which commented cryptically that Rio Tinto Zinc was ‘in a position to furnish a coalition government should one be required.’

“Actually, a coalition was not required. What these schemers wanted was a right-wing junta on the South American model. The managing director of Cunard, John Mitchell, was approached by ‘army and secret service people’ who were preparing a military coup; they asked if he would lend them the QE2 as a ‘floating prison for the cabinet.’ The demented former press baron Cecil King toddled down to Sandhurst and urged the top brass to march on Downing Street. ‘I had no doubt,’ said one of those present, the military historian John Keegan, ‘that I was listening to a treasonable attempt to subborn the loyalty of the Queen’s officers.’ Tony Benn learned from the Commander of the National Defence College, Major General Bate, that ‘there was a movement called PFP – [Prince] Philip for President. The paras were supposed to be involved, and some movement of troops in Northern Ireland was contemplated.’ Brian Crozier, a British right-winger financed by the CIA [who drafted a new Constitution for Pinochet in Chile], revealed in his memoirs that ‘during this critical period of 1975-8, I was invited seceral times, by different Army establishments, to lecture on current problems. These invitations were not, to my knowledge, concerted. But the fact that they came from different places during that period did suggest some kind of malaise within our armed forces.’ And, of course, he was only too glad to spread the virus. After a lecture to the Army Staff College at Camberley, in which he discussed the possibility of military intervention against ‘the enemy’ — meaning the government — Crozier had an eye-opening letter from the Commandant, General Sir Hugh Beach. ‘Action which armed forces might be justified in taking, in certain circumstances, is in the forefront of my mind at the moment,’ Beach confessed, ‘and I do hope we may have the chance of carrying the debate a stage further.'”

The same author touches on the same story again here.

But does anyone else?

Does everyone know about this already?

Apparently so. Here’s The Mirror.

As with the Wall Street plot in the 1930s, covered by the BBC in recent years, there is a BBC documentary on this one.

There is even a wikileaks page complete with links to pop culture references.

2 thoughts on “Was a Military Coup Attempted in the UK in the 1970s?”

  1. Pingback: Jeremy Thorpe and the military coup - Radix

  2. Pingback: Jeremy Thorpe and the military coup - Radix Think Tank

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