MI5 spied on writer Doris Lessing for 20 years, new documents released today (21st August) by the National Archives show.
Lessing had her movements monitored, her phone tapped and her mail opened by the British security agency, the documents, which have been classified up to now, reveal.
Lessing first came to MI5’s notice in the early 1940s when she lived in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and married her second husband Gottfried Lessing, who was associated with a number of left wing groups in southern Africa. She moved to Britain in 1949, with MI5 remaining interested in her until the early 1960s.
She joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) by 1953 “at the latest” and was involved with its Writers' Group and in 1954 was the Daily Worker's drama critic.
In 1956 she visited the Central African Federation for several weeks, making a report to the CPGB. Later the same year she resigned from the party following the Soviet invasion of Hungary, but remained active in the Movement for Colonial Freedom.
The files on Lessing include reports on her movements and transcripts of telephone calls, as well as newspaper cuttings about her and correspondence between the security agency in the UK and the police in South Africa.
In one document from the file Special Branch described Lessing as “of plump build” and said that her flat was “frequently visited by persons of various nationality”, leading them to believe it was “possible that the flat is being used for immoral purposes”.
Later Special Branch quashed the suggestion, reported the Guardian, and said she had become a supporter of the “European Gathering of Young Women for Peace and Happiness."
The last document in Lessing’s file dates from 1962, six years after she left the Communist party, with an MI5 officer writing: “She is known to have retained extreme leftwing views and she takes an interest in African affairs as an avowed opponent of racial discrimination. In more recent years, she has associated herself with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”
Picture of Lessing: Francesco Guidicini