British Information Services

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The British Information Services (BIS) was the New York based information department of the British Consulate in New York, an overseas post of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London. [1] There were also offices of the BIS in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and in Ottawa (British Information Services (Ottawa))

The BIS aimed 'to answer the questions most frequently asked in the United States about Britain and provide up-to-date government comment on current events where Britain has a role to play'[2]. It appears that its services have now been taken over by the Public Affairs Team of the British Embassy in Washington DC.[3]

Logo from the former website of the BIS


Ronald Tree was amongst those who staffed BIS in the early 1940s. A 'connection' of the Astors and part of the Cliveden Set, 'He was born and brought up here, Winchester and all... became joint master of the Pytchley Hunt, was elected to parliament in the awakening 1930s and found Ditchley Park to live in'[4]:

Tree is proof that the Astor network (miscalled the Cliveden set) had two quite opposite sides. He and his sort were as actively and resolutely against appeasement as others among their friends, relations and hangers-on were for it. He tells here ... of the birth and growth of the wartime British Information Services in the United States as neutrality shaded into alliance: Tree was midwife -- as he was of other more voluntary transatlantic ventures bringing relief and the co-operation of men with drive and pull.[5]

John Wheeler-Bennet was also at BIS:

The book brings back with startling vividness the political and social flavour of that world of wartime diplomacy and propaganda. With the vividness goes, paradoxically, an equivalent sense of remoteness. How vanished are the years when we stood alone, as well as those when we were at the apex of the grand alliance. Sir John's Anglo-American story begins almost in a Bertie Wooster world -- the New York of the Stork Club and the Ziegfeld Follies and the London of clubland; it persists into a wartime social whirl that can still talk of "cutting" a German diplomat "in public" and of the "kindness" of the Ritz; it ends on the sober note of the atom bomb and Labour's victory in 1945. With great skill Sir John adapts his style to the changing environment. We begin in the columns of the Tatler. We end with the dour prose of Sir John Anderson.
Two main stories dominate the book: first the narrative of Britain's cautious but tireless presentation of its claims to a sympathetic but apprehensive United States from 1939 to 1942; and the second the interweaving of British and American "political warfare" against the Reich which followed on Pearl Harbor. Both are told with vivid character-painting and a wealth of relevant anecdote. In the first narrative Sir John makes a notable contribution to the history still not fully told of the British Information Services in the Untied States. The second theme lends itself less well to narrative and personalisation, but for those who are interested it is just as significant a footnote to history.[6]

The British Information Services office was the British Ministry of Information's administrative offices in Rockefeller Center, New York City. It worked with British Security Coordination, also housed in Rockefeller Center.[7] According to Thomas Mahl, Wheeler-Bennet's role involved working closely with the covert work of BSC:

Although he had technically been employed by the British Information Service - whose head, Sir Gerald Campbell, worked "hand in glove" with Bill Stephenson - in Rockefeller Center in 1941, Wheeler-Bennet had this to say about British Security Co-ordination: "...S.O.E. had established an office in New York under the direction of Bill (later Sir William) Stephenson....I had known many of them from pre-war days.. [and] I had maintained a fairly close contact with them."[8][9][10]

Post 1945

After the war BIS disposed of their film collection, giving them away to collector Kent D. Eastin, then 67, whose firm Blackhawk Films, Inc., was based in Davenport, Iowa,:

In 1946, Eastin acquired 50,000 British Information Service films [of] World War II - for the cost of freight to Davenport.[11]


On his controversial appointment as ambassador Peter Jay

proposed a 50 per cent staff cut for the New York-based British Information Service - a move that stunned the BIS employees, who grumbled that it stemmed less from his stated desire to trim costs than from an attempt to concentrate control in his own hands. A British Cabinet committee rejects his recommendation, by a vote of 8 to 1.

This was described by Newsweek in 1978 as Jay's 'only setback, so far'[12] Jay was however successful in removing Laurence O'Keeffe as head of the British Information Service in New York.[13] This excited hostility in London from the conservative Party:

Conservative lawmakers Monday accused Britain's ambassador to the United States of trying to turn the government's information service in New York into a propoganda unit for his father-in-law, Prime Minister James Callaghan. A motion entitled "The Truth That is Fit To Print" was introduced in the House of Commons by a group of Tory legislators who say they plan to question Foreign Secretary David Owen about Ambassador Peter Jay's successful efforts to remove Laurence O'Keeffe as head of the British Information Service in New York... The Commons motion "deplores the removal from office of the director of the BIS New York by the prime minister's son-in-law because he O'Keeffe refuses to convert his daily digest of the British press to a pro-government propaganda medium."
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "It is not uncommon in the diplomatic service, for a variety of reasons, for people to leave their posts before completing a full tour.As to the future of the BIS itself we have recently reviewed the level of our information staff in major overseas posts . . . and this review obviously included the BIS in New York."[14]

The row also reached the pages of The Economist:

That a staff establishment of 68 for the British Information Services (BIS) in New York is too big and should be cut is uncontroversial. But a lively, and now public, row continues on by exactly how much. Mr Peter Jay, the British ambassador in Washington, who is responsible for Britain's propaganda effort in the United States, reckons by half. The foreign office inspectors, who came to New York last winter, also favour a reduction of a so far undisclosed size. And the Whitehall think-tank, in a Beeching-type report on the British diplomatic service, thought Britain could get by with a quarter as many information people as it employs overseas.
Naturally enough all this talk has gone down rather badly with those most affected: the staff of the BIS in New York, whose numbers have been thinned to 56 by attrition over the past two years. Only five of them were sent out directly from Britain. The rest were hired locally. Some of the British and Australian citizens among them will lose their right to stay in the United States if they are declared redundant. The foreign office is suspected by them of picking on them in an effort to win a reputation for cold-eyed efficiency without being beastly to any real diplomats.
The head of the BIS in New York, Mr Lawrence O'Keefe, who is the author, under the pen name of Lawrence Halley, of a psychological thriller called "Simultaneous Equations" has, after a clash of wills with Mr Jay been told he will be removed half way through what was expected to be a four-year term. He has told friends he has got the sack.
At the storm centre of his dispute with the ambassador (who has already got rid of his press attache in Washington) is the future of a BIS survey called "Today's British Papers". It carries extracts culled by the BBC overseas service from editorials in the British press and is distributed by mail by the BIS as a service to news editors in the United States. Some of the extracts are critical of British government policies. On June 26th, for example, the survey quoted from an editorial in the Daily Express that asserted the Labour government was contributing to further violence in Rhodesia by refusing to accept the internal political settlement agreed in that country...
Writers of editorials for American papers say they find this service useful. Those spoken to on major dailies - the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News, among them - said a government willing to circulate material critical of itself was more likely to be believed by journalists...
Mr Jay is apparently unconvinced. He thinks the British embassy in Washington and the BIS in New York should concentrate more attention on disseminating what is called by the embassy "primary information material": economic statistics, speeches by British ministers, extracts from official British government reports and so on...
It remains unclear whether Mr Jay merely wants to make economies, and reasonably sees the bulletin as a target, or whether he really believes that the BIS should only be putting out good news for the government - which is not always the same as good news for the British taxpayer.[15]

Blacks Britannica

Before finishing up as director general of BIS O'Keeffe had time to complain about a US TV film about racism in Britain:

British government officials and legislators said Thursday an American-made documentary movie on Britains racial problems presents a "horrific view of racism" in this country. Laurence O'Keeffe, director general of the British Information Services in New York, complained to the WGBH television station in Boston, Mass., that the documentary gives a distorted view of Britain's smoldering racial issue, government spokesmen said.
The 57-minute film, "Blacks Britannica," was commissioned by the WGBH Educational Foundation and made by independent producer David Koff of California. It was broadcast by the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service network Thursday night. Officials here said O'Keeffe, the British government's U.S. information chief, asked WGBH president David Ives for equal time on the non-commercial network to "put other points of view on race relations in Britain." The movie has been clouded in controversy since Koff finished shooting two months ago. The lanky, bearded producer was roasted by British critics at a preview-news conference in London July 11. Several accused him of giving a one-sided view of the plight of Britain's 1.9 million non-whites.
Koff said the movie was his contribution to the struggle against racism and fascism." He said the film "reflects the increasingly militant response within the black community to the continuing attacks upon it, both by organized fascist elements on the streets, and by the state itself." Koff also fought with WGBH over the final version of the movie. PBS at first refused to screen it unless he made some changes. Koff accused WGBH of censorship before the squabble was resolved Wednesday by the refusal of a court to issue a restraining order prohibiting broadcast of the edited program.
In the movie, radical non-whites charge the state is deliberately exploiting and suppressing them. One black in the version previewed in London commented: "There's a conspiracy against the colored population." The movie reflects growing racial tension in Britain, especially among an increasing badly hit by unemployment and swelling hostility from white extremists.[16]

Northern Ireland

BIS was at the forefront of British propaganda activities in relation to the conflict in Northern Ireland. In February 1979 the early manifestations of what became a full fledged propaganda war in the Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 1981 had already begun:

Britain has launched a propaganda campaign, largely aimed at the United States, to counter Northern Ireland's Irish Republican army claims that convicted guerrillas are kept in "stinking hell-holes." Some 340 IRA men in the maze prison near Belfast, Northern Ireland, are refusing to wear prison uniforms, do prison work, clean their cells or use lavatories in protest of Britain's March 1, 1976, abolition of the "political prisoner" status for convicted guerrillas. Visiting British legislators have described the Protesters' excrement-fouled cells as "revolting."
The Northern Ireland Office is distributing a four-page document that says the Protesters' plight is self-inflicted and notes that 90 of the guerrillas were convicted of murder or attempted murder and more than 100 for offenses related to explosives... A NIO spokesman said Monday that 10,000 of the documents have been printed "and we're still printing." He said the sheets have been circulated to all British information service bureaus around the world and to newspapers and elected officials in Britain and the United States. The United States is the main target because the protest has aroused sympathy among 15 million Irish-Americans.
Prime Minister James Callaghan's government fears rekindled financial support among Irish-Americans - estimated by British intelligence three years ago at $2 million a year. The flow dwindled sharply last year following appeals by British and Irish Republic Government ministers who said the money was subsidizing death and destruction. The Maze protest led at least three U.S. congressmen to visit northern Ireland to investigate conditions at Maze. One of them, Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., heads an ad hoc committee publicizing the protest in the United States. The British refused to allow the congressmen into the maze.[17]

Letter writing and propaganda themes

BIS was active writing letter to the elite press to challenges those critical of the British position. In September 1979 a letter by Peter Hall, head of British Information Services, was published in the New York Times disputing Dennis Smith's Sept 13 letter on relationship between Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Catholic community in Northern Ireland.[18]

Torture and Human rights

A further letter from P M Nixon of BIS New York was published in November 1980[19] This contained typical distortions promoted by BIS at the time. For example it states that

the European Court of Human Rights... has never found Britain guilty of torture and has never investigated nor issued a report on the Maze. However, the European Commission on Human Rights did issue a decision last June rejecting as inadmissible complaints by four protesting prisoners about their treatment and status.[20]

In fact the European Commission of Human Rights did unanimously uphold the Irish Government contention that the use of the 'Five Techniques' of coercive interrogation did constitute torture. This was downgraded to 'cruel, inhuman and degrading' treatment by the European Court of Human Rights after further representations from the British government and four of the judges involved wrote dissenting judgements disagreeing with the verdict.[21] The letter goes on to state that:

Nor has Amnesty International alleged torture in the Maze. On the contrary, its latest report states (page 145): 'Amnesty International does not support the demand for a special status for any prisoner.' P. M. NIXON British Information Services New York, Nov. 11, 1980[22]

It was true that Amnesty had not alleged systematic torture in the Maze/Long Kesh, but they has at the time alleged systematic mistreatment of and violence against suspects in the interrogation centres run by the RUC.[23]

Non-jury 'Diplock' courts

In October 1981 Patrick Niixon had a letter published in the New York Times in defence of the non-jury 'diplock' courts, now widely recognised to have been unjust.

Edmund Curry's letter (Oct. 7) shows that he knows nothing about the working of the Diplock courts in Northern Irelandwhen he charges that their purpose is to 'get a high conviction rate of Irish nationalist prisoners without adverse publicity. A sustained attack on the Diplock courts is now being mounted by the I.R.A.'s supporters in the United States, but noticeably not in Northern Ireland itself where few prisoners or their attorneys complain of unfair verdicts or use the unrestricted right of appeal to a three-judge Appeal Court.
In Northern Ireland, as in the Republic of Ireland, juries are not used in the majority of trials for terrorist offenses. Of course the terrorist groups wish a return to jury trials. They know that it would be impossible to reach a guilty verdict against anyone, since at least two of any 12 jurors (whose names and addresses are listed three weeks in advance) could be intimidated into voting on sectarian lines to produce a hung jury. Either juries would have to be drawn from the other community - obviously unfair - or they and their families would need protection indefinitely - obviously impossible.
In the present system the central principles of criminal justice are maintained: trials are held in open court and the fees of defense lawyers are paid by the taxpayers. There are special safeguards for the rights of the accused. Interestingly, republican prisoners often prefer to remain on remand for months to be represented by a particular attorney who is as likely to be a Protestant as a Catholic: they choose him for his skill, not his beliefs.
As to hoary old tales of coerced confessions, these have long been discredited. Mr. Curry should study the safeguards implemented following the inquiry of the independent Bennett Commission. These are designed to eliminate any possibility of abuse. He and other critics should read some trial transcripts to see just what it is prisoners allege when they withdraw signed statements admitting guilt, and then study the judges' ruling in each case. If there is any claim that the confession was not voluntary, then a 'trial within a trial' takes place: the onus of proving that there was no maltreatment rests squarely on the prosecution and the defense subjects the police to a rigorous cross-examination on just how the confession was obtained. The judge needs only to have a reasonable doubt that threats were used and must rule the statement inadmissible. Terrorists and their supporters, who try to make the democratic process unworkable, are hardly the ones to complain about the modifications to judicial procedures which they alone have made necessary.[24]

In response a British lawyer Richard Harvey wrote:

P. M. Nixon of the British Information Services suggests that even though there is no right of trial by jury in Northern Ireland for those charged with politically motivated offenses, the central principles of criminal justice escape unscathed. As a British barrister and author of a recent study of Northern Ireland's legal system, Diplock and the Assault on Civil Liberties (Haldane Society, London, 1981), I was intrigued to learn from Mr. Nixon that the hoary old tales of coerced confessions ... have long been discredited. Hoary old Amnesty International's painstaking documentation of inhuman treatment of suspects in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (R.U.C.) interrogation centers has been fully credited by the British Government itself.
I am an eyewitness to Mr. Nixon's 'safeguards ... designed to eliminate any possibility of abuse' of suspects by the R.U.C. They consist mainly of unrecorded and soundless TV monitors supervised by the R.U.C. and are wholly inadequate to prevent the coercion of confessions. I and other British lawyers asked the R.U.C. last year what right a suspect has to the advice of a solicitor (attorney) during the three- to seven-day interrogation period permitted under Diplock law. We were handed a printed paper bearing these instructions: Under no circumstances must the Prisoner be asked 'Do you wish to have a Solicitor?'
Mr. Nixon states: The onus of proving that there was no maltreatment rests squarely on the prosecution. This is not true. Under Section 8 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, a much lower standard of admissibility of alleged confessions is applied than that used in the courts of Britain or the United States. In reality, 86 percent of those accused will have to convince a Diplock judge that the R.U.C. more probably than not subjected them to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment in order to induce (them) to make the statement.
In his report, Lord Diplock encouraged the most sinister threats of torture (Para. 90): It would not render inadmissible statements obtained as a result of building up a psychological atmosphere in which the initial desire of the person being questioned to remain silent is replaced by an urge to confide in the questioner, or statements preceded by promises of favours or indications of the consequences which might follow if the person questioned persisted in refusing to answer.
Mr. Nixon thinks that only 'terrorists' support trial by jury. I believe that all Americans support this basic human right. It is vital that we all understand that the Diplock Court system in Northern Ireland, so praised by Mr. Nixon, would be ruled unconstitutional by any court in the United States.

RICHARD J. HARVEY, New York, Oct. 21, 1981[25]

Plastic Bullets

In 1983 the new Director of BIS Alan Huckle wrote to justify the use of plastic bullets or 'baton rounds' as Huckle prefers to call them:

Representative Mario Biaggi suggested in his Jan. 9 letter, U.S. Legislators Against Civilian and Official Ulster Violence, that the British Government is actively promoting violence in Northern Ireland. Nothing could be further from the truth. No government faced with a terrorist threat from whatever source can fail in its duty to try to protect the lives of innocent people and maintain law and order. In Northern Ireland, the aim of terrorist organizations, particularly the I.R.A., has been to maximize the level of violence and heighten sectarian tension. Our aim is precisely the opposite.
Moreover, Mr. Biaggi is factually wrong when he talks of 'indiscriminate use of plastic bullets.' There are strict controls on the use of baton rounds as a riot control weapon. They may be fired only when people's safety is at risk or when there is a threat of widespread damage to property. Each round must be accounted for, and misuse is an offense. They are fired only in response to violence, and as this declines, so does the number used (under 500 in 1982). Yet there is an inevitable risk of injury. Regrettably, 13 people have died from injuries received since 1970 - not in the last two years, as claimed by the Congressman. The last such incident occurred in April 1982. It is also wrong of Mr. Biaggi to imply that the British Government seeks a military solution. That is the I.R.A.'s strategy, not ours. The British Government has made many efforts to achieve political progress acceptable to both sides of the community, but the advocates of violence refuse to participate in this process. The New Year's appeal against the campaign of republican violence by an Irish Catholic bishop, Dr. Cahal Daly, should give pause for thought. He said: Of all the methods available for securing a solution to our problems, violence is demonstrably the only one which cannot succeed and never will succeed.' A. E. HUCKLE Executive Director British Information Service New York, Jan. 11, 1984[26]

Target for campaigners

BIS, being housed in the British Consulate in Manhattan's East Side, saw prolonged protests during the hunger strikes. According to press reports campaigners 'for months have picketed outside the consulate and staged mock funerals for each of the eight prisoners who starved themselves to death in Maze prison in Belfast.'[27]

The campaigners also reportedly succeeded in having the Union flag removed from the offices of the consulate/BIS:

Members of the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid) and other Irish groups have warned British businesses and organizations to lower their flags until Irish Republican Army prisoners in Belfast end their hunger strikes. The Union Jack no longer flies in front of the British Consulate for fear that protesters "would tear it down and probably burn it," according to Peter Beckingham, director of the British Information Service. Beckingham said hoisting the flag would be "like waving a red cloth in front of a bull. It would just cause more trouble." The Third Avenue consulate has been the scene of numerous demonstrations since prisoners at Maze prison began hunger strikes to protest conditions there. Alec Donkin, British deputy consul general, said he knew of five or six instances in which "the same group of people" visited British businesses and asked or warned them to take down their flags... Noraid spokesman Martin Galvin denied that his group had threatened violence or vandalism. He said British organizations were asked to remove their flags because "they were upset to see that flag on days when hunger strikers were dying."[28]

After the death of Bobby Sands BIS were quoted:

Elspeth Flynn, a specialist on Irish affairs at the British Information Service in New York, said she had no idea how much money was going to Northern Ireland from U.S. supporters, but said, "I would have thought it was a lot higher than $200,000 a year." She said that from the British standpoint, the big fear was the pro-IRA "propaganda," which she believes much of the money raised by Noraid and other groups is spent on. "Of course we deplore the smuggling of guns, and it has gone on. But I don't think that's where most of the money goes. It goes to propaganda," Mrs. Flynn said.[29]

Managing the News

After the visit of Prince Charles to New York in the aftermath of the death of Bobby Sands BIS was implicated in attempting to manage the statements of the Mayor Ed Koch:

Dubbing the English government a little crazy, Mayor Edward Koch said Friday a British representative ordered his press office to retract statements Koch made about Prince Charles' position on Northern Ireland. 'They must live in a different world... in the United States we have something you call freedom of the press. We don't seek to suppress them,' Koch said. 'They're a little crazy. Not the English people, the English government,' he said. Koch said that on Wednesday, upon returning to City Hall from lunch with the prince, his press secretary had received a call from a representative of the British government, later identified as Patrick Nixon of the British Information Service.'You have to call the papers and the radio stations and ask them not to use your statements,' Koch quoted Nixon as saying.
Koch had told reporters after the private lunch that the prince was 'very sympathetic' to the plight of Catholics in Northern Ireland and was hopeful the differences could be settled peacefully. At the same time, Koch said Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, not the British monarchy, should be held responsible for the policy.[30]

In August 1981 the Northern Ireland Office started to distribute its controversial single page Fact Files on the republican hunger strikers as INLA member Michael Devine, the tenth prisoner to die, approached the end:.

In apparent effort to counteract the IRA's propaganda campaign in Britain and abroad, the Northern Ireland Office has issued the first of a series of "Fact Files" on Irish nationalist inmates at the Maze prison outside Belfast. The single sheet, distributed through the British Information Service at British embassies, describes Devine's offenses and notes he was one of about 400 protesting inmates at the prison. It states that the protesters include 74 convicted of murder, 45 convicted of attempted murder, 118 imprisoned for explosives offenses, 92 for firearms offenses and 15 for robbery.[31]

The success of BIS in managing US coverage of the conflict in Ireland featured in a novel by Peter Maas.

He melded... three MI-5 officials into one career officer, Brian Forbes, whose service in Britain, in Northern Ireland and later as a liaison officer at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., gave him a comprehensive insight into the complexities of the problem. Maas uses the disenchanted Forbes to carry his personal view that the US media coverage of events in Northern Ireland is slanted in favor of the British - especially in promoting the notion that the IRA ranks are made up of mindless hooligans.
"Forbes was amazed," Maas writes, "at how adept the British Information Service, the foreign office's media arm, had been in making terrorism in Northern Ireland exclusively synoymous with the IRA, equating it with such universally detested terrorist groups as Direct Action in France, Italy's Red Brigades, and West Germany's Red Army Faction - and as far as murderous unionist paramilitary operations were concerned, presenting the picture of a stalwart British Tommy, gun naturally in hand, keeping a bunch of mad Irish religious zealots from slaughtering one another."[32]

Selling Royalty

BIS was at the forefront of attempting to sell the royals on their troops to the US as well as promoting the royal wedding of Diana Spencer and Charles Windsor in the summer of 1981:

You can wash in soap imprinted with the pictures of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. You can dress in a wedding T-shirt and slip an imitation royal-engagement ring on your finger. You can eat off a commemorative plate and take a swig from a mug featuring the ear of his royal highness for a handle... Both British-made and American-made wedding souvenirs are on the market. The British are exporting an estimated $156 million worth of memorabilia, ranging from Wedgewood commemorative plates to pencil cases, according to Judy Hyde at British Information Services in New York. One thing the British aren't making is T-shirts with pictures of Charles and Diana. The British government judges that use of the royal faces "indiscreet," Ms. Hyde explains. So the British-made T-shirt shows "an enthusiastic crowd of wedding sightseers."[33]

Television propaganda on Afghanistan

BIS was able on occasion to place propagnda materials on US television. In January 1985, for example, its film on Afghanistan was broadcast on CNN. Typically such films were constructed as if they were genuine television programmes as opposed to 'fake news' - that is, propaganda films from a British perspective:

on Sunday, a special edition of Freeman Reports examines Afghanistan, five years after the Soviet invasion. The special will feature the first American airing of a British Information Services documentary, Afghanistan -- The Fifth Year. The documentary reports in-depth on the suffering of the civilian population in Afghanistan, the corruption of the Karmal regime and the misinformation about the fighting in Afghanistan being relayed to the Soviet troops and citizens. Among those interviewed are Soviet prisoners and Afghan victims of Soviet air strikes. Following the documentary, host Sandi Freeman discusses the Afghan situation with Afghanistan Ambassador to the United Nations Farid Zarif. Afghanistan - Five Years Later airs Sunday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. (EST).[34]

The US attack on Libya 1986

The New York times reported on the US response to the support given by Margaret Thatcher] to the bombing of Libya in 1986 allegedly in retaliation for the Libyan role in the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in Berlin. It was later revealed that the evidence for this connection had been massaged by the CIA.

Alan Huckle of the British Information Service in New York has gone to work early every morning since the raids last Monday night. But he says he has got very little Government work done. 'The phone is ringing all the time,' he said, 'We get Southern accents and Western accents and one Iowa farmer called to say, "We like Britain for standing up to people like in the Falklands, and we like Britain for standing by us when we stand up to people."' Mr. Huckle has also been on radio programs in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York.
Anyone passing by the receptionist at the British Consulate in Chicago can overhear the operator, Christine Morris, answering call after call. 'Yes,' she says. 'Well, thank you very much.' 'Yes, thanks. Were you really? Well, thank you again. It's T-h-a-t-c-h-e-r. No. 10 Downing Street, London, England. Yes, thank you.' 'People have been wiring flowers to the Prime Minister,' said Caroline Cracroft, a Vice Consul, 'And a group of Vietnam veterans wants to parachute over the city carrying the Union Jack. We're, uh, still talking with them.'[35]

Good news Guide to Britain

The publication of Britain 1990: The Official guide brought criticism from the British press as well as papers from further afield. The Times noted:

There are 480 pages of almost totally good news about Britain today, published by the Central Office of Information to edify foreigners interested in our national health, wealth and way of life. Britain 1990... is the Government's official handbook and the standard work of reference used by British information services overseas. Its main message is that government initiatives are successfully combating almost everything, including Aids, drugs, smoking, food poisoning, alcoholism and animal diseases. However, the attentive foreign reader may discern that almost a quarter of Britons are born illegitimate and that the population is increasingly pagan.
The book does not put it so bluntly. [36]

The Independent was more critical:

A ROSE-TINTED image of a prosperous and cleaner Britain, designed for foreign eyes, is offered in an official government handbook published today. The guide tells the story of 'London's inner city' - the Docklands development and Chinese new Year celebrations in Soho - helped by glossy pictures, but references to social deprivation, underclasses, riots, racism, and disasters are kept to a minimum. There are pictures of the high technology education available for deaf children but no mention of pupils being sent home from schools because of teacher shortages in some areas.
The only pictorial hint that all may not be well is a photograph of the 'Thames Bubbler', a boat that pumps oxygen into the river when the fish start gasping. The book, complete with royal genealogy back to Queen Victoria, is produced by the Central Office of Information for the Foreign Office, and is used by British information services world-wide... The shortness of entries provides a good indicator of sensitivity to certain issues. For example, there are four lines on the number of housing starts in 1988, with no reference to higher levels in other years. Radioactive waste disposal is dealt with in a single paragraph, which makes no mention of public opposition to government policy. A section on air safety makes no mention of Lockerbie or the M1 crash. A soothing two paragraphs on food safety notes government action over 'the increasing incidence of food-borne illnesses, particularly from salmonella, listeria and campylobacter'. There are no figures.[37]

Glasgow's Herald thought the guide's claims had a 'hollow ring':

Its sternest critics are stopping short of calling it propaganda. What else, they ask, could you call an official handbook whose main message is "government initiatives are successfully combatting almost everything, including AIDS, drugs, smoking, food poisoning, alcoholism and animal diseases"? The subject of consternation is innocently titled Britain 1990, a 480-page tome of mostly positive news produced on behalf of Her Majesty as a work of reference for foreigners and British information services worldwide. But if the criticisms by Britain's popular press are valid, there may be more than a few misinformed foreigners and "disinformation" services in 1990.
It is not just that Britain 1990, which was released this week, may be guilty of stretching the truth while presenting the country in the very best possible light.It does it in such a way that less attentive foreign readers may not discern fact from, well, wishful thinking. [38]

Picking up the comments of the Times and Independent the Australian Advertiser noted that:

The latest issue has just come out, to an unprecedented chorus of questioning and criticism. Unprecedented, because in my 20-plus years in Britain the publication has always been accepted uncritically and used simply as a source of handy facts.[39]




  • 1940-1962 (Director from 1945) Berkeley Ormerod 'In 1940, during World War II, he was appointed financial adviser to the British Information Services in New York. Ormerod set up the office of director of public relations in the United States and became its director in 1945. He accompanied Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on their tour of the United States in 1957.'[40]
  • 1941-1945 Graham Hutton 'At the outbreak of war he was invited to the Foreign Office and in 1941 was sent by the Ministry of Information to open and direct a British Information Services office in Chicago. In what was then the bastion of American isolationism he performed miracles of explanation, persuasion and ultimately conversion. For that work, which lasted until the end of the war, he was created an OBE.[41]
  • 1940-46[42] Desmond Harmsworth 'He was part of the great newspaper dynasty of Harmsworths and Northcliffes, who still control Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail. He became the 2nd Baron Harmsworth after his father's death in 1948... 'When the Second World War began he was in Tahiti painting but moved to New York where he worked in the British Information Service.'[43]
  • 1940s Leo Hurwitz 'In World War II Mr. Hurwitz worked on films for the Office of War Information, the British Information Service and other Government agencies.'[44]
  • 1940s Richard Ford 'During the Second World War he served as films officer of the British Information Service in New York and, later in Washington, as deputy director of a British supply division. Back in London in 1944, he was put in charge of distribution for Western Europe at the Ministry of Information Films Division.'[45]
  • 1940s Chaim Raphael 'an eminent scholar in Jewish history who attended Oxford at the same time as Berlin, and served with him during World War II at the British Information Service in New York and Washington. Berlin returned to Oxford, while Raphael joined the Treasury.[46]
  • 1940s William D Clark 'during part of World War II, he headed the British Information Services office in Chicago. He later was a press attache at the British Embassy in Washington.'[47]
  • 1940s Aubrey Niel Morgan 'served as controller of British Information Services in the United States during World War II.'[48]
  • 1940s Barbara Clay 'During World War II, she worked for the British Information Service in San Francisco.'[49]
  • 1940s Charles Rolo 'At British Information Services he headed the section on U.S. press and served on Prime Minister Winston Churchill's White House liaison staff.'[50]
  • 1940s Paul Scott Rankine 'During World War II, he worked for the British Information Service in New York and Washington. In 1944, he was appointed chief of the Reuter bureau.'[51]

Post War

  • 1945-1947 John D. Miller - director of British Information Services in the midwest, with headquarters in Chicago.[52]
  • 1947 to 1952 Frank Mitchell - headed the news division of the British Information Service in New York. He then was assigned to Los Angeles. He returned to London in 1955, and the following year was transferred to Chicago.[53]
  • 1957-61 Leslie Glass 'With the Suez problem still echoing and making things difficult with the Americans, Glass was sent in 1957 to become Counsellor and Consul-General in Washington, being given charge as Director-General of the British Information Services in the US and Information Minister at the Embassy from 1959-61.[54]
  • 1958-1966[55] Michael Newton 'Newton came to the United States in 1958 as regional information officer for British Information Services in Kansas City and eventually became a naturalized American citizen.'[56]
  • 1961-64 Peter Hayman director general of British Information Services in New York.[57]


1990s to date



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  2. About BSI, Website found on of 7 december 1998, Accessed 23-Feb-2008
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  26. Alan Huckle 'BRITISH EFFORTS TO LESSEN ULSTER VIOLENCE The New York Times, January 25, 1984, Wednesday, Late City Final Edition, SECTION: Section A; Page 24, Column 5; Editorial Desk
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  28. RICK HAMPSON, Associated Press Writer, 'Irish Sympathizers Seek To Furl Union Jack In New York' The Associated Press, August 12, 1981, Wednesday, AM cycle, SECTION: Domestic News, DATELINE: NEW YORK
  29. LEE MITGANG, Associated Press Writer 'American Support For IRA May Get Boost From Sands' Death The Associated Press, May 6, 1981, Wednesday, AM cycle, SECTION: Domestic News, DATELINE: NEW YORK
  30. MOLLY CARRUTH 'Koch says English government is "a little crazy"'United Press International, June 19, 1981, Friday, AM cycle, SECTION: Domestic News, DATELINE: NEW YORK
  31. '10th Hunger Striker Near Death in Northern Ireland', The Associated Press, August 19, 1981, Wednesday, PM cycle, SECTION: International News, DATELINE: BELFAST, Northern Ireland
  32. Charles E. Claffey, Globe Staff 'SONS OF IRELAND;A new novel probes politics and filial love', The Boston Globe, March 18, 1989, Saturday, City Edition, SECTION: LIVING; Pg. 9
  33. JANE SEE WHITE, Associated Press Writer,'Royalty Buffs Buying Souvenirs, from Soap to Shirts' The Associated Press, July 27, 1981, Monday, PM cycle, SECTION: Domestic News
  34. PR Newswire, January 17, 1985, Thursday, DATELINE: ATLANTA, Jan. 17
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  36. Robin Young, 'Official handbook paints rosy picture of Britain in 1990' The Times, January 2, 1990, Tuesday, SECTION: Home news
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  51. 'Paul Scott Rankine, 74, Dies; Ex-Adviser To British Ambassadors', The Washington Post, February 14, 1983, Monday, Final EditionSECTION: Metro; B8
  52. 'John D. Miller, British Journalist', The Washington Post, May 23, 1977, Monday, Final Edition, SECTION: Metro; C4
  53. Frank Mitchell, 75, Retired Chief Of British Embassy Press Office The Washington Post, July 4, 1978, Tuesday, Final Edition SECTION: Metro; C4
  54. 'Sir Leslie Glass; Obituary', The Times (London), December 21 1988, Wednesday, SECTION: Issue 63270.
  55. JUDITH CUMMINGS, Special to the New York Times 'MICHAEL NEWTON, AN ARTS OFFICIAL', The New York Times, October 22, 1986, Wednesday, Late City Final Edition, SECTION: Section A; Page 29, Column 4; Cultural Desk, DATELINE: LOS ANGELES, Oct. 21
  56. 'First President of Music Center Performing Arts Council Dies' The Associated Press, October 21, 1986, Tuesday, AM cycle, SECTION: Domestic News, DATELINE: LOS ANGELES
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  60. Patrick Nixon 'ULSTER COURTS GET FEW COMPLAINTS', The New York Times, October 20, 1981, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition, SECTION: Section A; Page 30, Column 4; Editorial Desk
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  62. JANE SEE WHITE, Associated Press Writer'Royalty Buffs Buying Souvenirs, from Soap to Shirts' The Associated Press, July 27, 1981, Monday, PM cycle, SECTION: Domestic News
  63. BRITISH-INFORMATION; 'The United Kingom: Still Europe's favorite location for foreign investors', Business Wire, May 19, 1988, Thursday, DATELINE: NEW YORK
  64. 'Deny Report Prince Charles Will Buy N.Y. Condo', The Associated Press, August 3, 1981, Monday, AM cycle SECTION: Domestic News, DATELINE: NEW YORK
  65. RICK HAMPSON, Associated Press Writer, 'Irish Sympathizers Seek To Furl Union Jack In New York' The Associated Press, August 12, 1981, Wednesday, AM cycle, SECTION: Domestic News, DATELINE: NEW YORK
  66. Referring to activities in Hartford, Connecticut on the 11th December 1984: The Very Reverend Howard Cromie, Through Changing Scenes: Recollections of Life And Ministry in the 20th Century Chapter 12 MODERATORIAL YEAR, accessed 26 October 2009
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