REVEALED: How the BBC hired a bodyguard for Michael Aspel amid fears anarchists had hatched a plot to abduct him during a live broadcast
- Documents in the BBC archives highlighted how Michael Apsel faced threats
- The Miss World contest had been threatened by anarchists and feminists
- Anarchist group anarchist Angry Brigade
He was dubbed the luckiest man on television for hosting Miss World for 14 years – but BBC bosses once hired a bodyguard for Michael Aspel amid fears that anarchists had hatched a plot to abduct him during a live broadcast.
Documents discovered in the BBC archives reveal how Corporation chiefs feared for the safety of their star presenter at the 1970 Miss World contest, which saw protests from anarchists and the newly established Women’s Liberation movement.
Details of the security scare emerged with the release of Misbehaviour, a film starring Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley and Keeley Hawes. The movie explores events surrounding the competition which was broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall on November 20, 1970.
Michael Aspel, pictured leaning against a 1973 Alfa Romeo GTV was once described as the luckiest man in television, however BBC bosses once had to hire him a bodyguard over threats against him
Aspel, pictured interviewing the United Kingdom entry to Miss World Veronica Ann Cross, right, had been threatened by anarchists and the Women’s Liberation Movement
In an internal memo, BBC outside broadcast boss Derek Burrell-Davis highlighted the need for extra protection for both Aspel and the show’s producer, Phil Lewis, just hours after members of the anarchist Angry Brigade had exploded a bomb under a BBC truck parked outside the venue.
Writing on the morning of the competition, he warned another executive: ‘Following on the bomb explosion… you will recollect that you telephoned me expressing some concern about the safety of both Phil Lewis and Michael Aspel. You felt that if either was abducted from the scene of operations, this could successfully ruin the broadcast.
‘We both agreed that the bomb explosion was evidence of a determination to stop the broadcast and under these circumstances it would be best for Lewis and Aspel to have someone at the Royal Albert Hall to watch their movements and keep them within sight at all times.’
In the light of protests directed against the event, BBC bosses also looked again at the security arrangements for the judges, who included actress Joan Collins. A memo dated November 19, 1970, stated: ‘As in the previous year, the judges of Miss World were supplied with safety helmets in case any rioting or such should occur during the competition.’
In the event, Aspel and the judges were left unscathed, even though the event was targeted by protesters. Members of the Women’s Liberation movement interrupted proceedings during a speech by Aspel’s co-host, Bob Hope, and pelted the stage with flour bombs and leaflets. The demonstration almost overshadowed the win by Grenada’s Jennifer Hosten, who became the first black contestant to be crowned Miss World.
In the highly charged atmosphere created by the protests, even the result came in for criticism, with some making unfounded claims that Hosten had only won because her country’s prime minister was on the six-strong judging panel.
In a BBC documentary to be broadcast tomorrow, Hosten defends the contest and expresses her disappointment that feminists did not come to her defence when she faced allegations of a fix.
She says: ‘There is nothing wrong with beauty contests. If feminism is all about choice, surely we had a choice of entering a contest and of using the contest as a stepping stone to anything else.’
Hosten, who later became a diplomat, claims the media had whipped up the fix claims because it couldn’t cope with the fact that two black contestants – her and South Africa’s Pearl Jansen – had been named winner and runner-up.
She says: ‘They thought that couldn’t happen. It had to be fixed. The Women’s Liberation movement did not address that issue.’