Secret Society

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Publication.png Secret Society
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Secret Society.jpg
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Bought by the BBC, but at least one episode was never broadcast. This TV series lead to the Zircon Affair.

Not to be confused with the concept, Secret society.

Secret Society was a BBC TV series which lead to the Zircon Affair.


In November 1985 the Scottish investigative journalist Duncan Campbell was commissioned by BBC Scotland to present and research a six part, half-hour documentary series called Secret Society, produced by Brian Barr.[1]

Zircon Affair

Campbell had planned to use an episode of Secret Society to reveal the existence of Zircon, but found while researching the programme in the summer of 1986 that the head of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Robert Sheldon, knew nothing of the project.[2] The Public Accounts Committee is a select committee of the House of Commons, responsible for overseeing government expenditures.[3] It had been agreed between Parliament and the British government that expensive military projects should be subject to scrutiny by the committee, and Campbell felt that Sheldon's ignorance of the Zircon project was evidence of the violation of this agreement.[3][4] The concealment of Zircon from the committee mirrored the parliamentary secrecy over a previous defence project, the Chevaline programme to enhance the Polaris nuclear missile.[2] The previous head of the PAC, Lord Barnett, had been recently appointed the BBC Vice-Chairman.[3] Barnett had withdrawn from a planned interview with Campbell for the programme after his BBC appointment, upset at the nature of the questioning that Sheldon had faced, who had accused Campbell of setting him up.[3] The Zircon affair was publicly revealed by The Observer on 18 January 1987, with the headline "BBC Gag on £500m Defence secret".[5] An injunction was obtained by the Attorney General on January 21 restraining Campbell from talking or writing about the contents of the episode.[6]


At least one episode, about Margaret Thatcher's secret committees, was never broadcast.[7]

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  2. a b Aldrich, 2011, pape 459}}
  3. a b c d
  5. Nicholas John Wilkinson, Secrecy and the Media: The Official History of the United Kingdom's D-Notice System -, ISBN 978-1-134-05254-7
  6. A.W. Bradley, Constitutional and Administrative Law, 1997, publisher: Addison Wesley Longman, page 652