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George Orwell was closely watched by British secret services: secret notes show he “dressed in bohemian fashion” and was, perhaps, “a communist”

Posted by gasweek on 18 September, 2007

George Orwell, the author who coined the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” was himself closely watched by the British secret services, according to documents just declassified. The creator of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which envisages a day when every person’s move­ments are scrutinised by a totalitarian state, was closely watched amid concerns that he was a prominent member of the communist movement, reported The Age, (5/9/2007), p. 12.

Scotland Yard was paying close attention: Files released by the National Archives reveal that in 1942 Scotland Yard was paying close attention to Orwell, then working at the BBC. A report on January 20 by a Sergeant Ewing, of Special Branch, charted the career of Eric Blair — Orwell’s real name — from 1927, the year he resigned from the Burma police. He drifted to Paris and London and has written a few books on his experiences, under the name of Orwell. Sergeant Ewing said Orwell “was practically penni­less when he found work with the BBC.” As his political views swung towards socialism in the 1930s, Orwell was commissioned by the publisher Victor Gollancz to write a book about the condi­tions of the working classes in the north of England.

Working for the BBC during the war: According to police, when Orwell reached Wigan, in Lancashire, the local Commu­nist Party helped to find him accommodation. Before “The Road to Wigan Pier” was published, the author enlisted to fight against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Working for the BBC during the war, Orwell was placed in charge of the Indian section of the Middle East Department.

Internal debate over Orwell: Sergeant Ewing wrote: “This man has advanced communist views … He dresses in bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours.” The report was treated with scorn by the Security Service. The minute of a phone call in February 1942 shows an officer, W. Ogilvie, challenging the Special Branch report and highlighting inconsistencies with Orwell’s published views: It is evident from his recent writings … that he does not hold with the Communist Party, nor they with him.”

The Age, 5/9/2007, p. 12

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