Frost meets Castro: the show they silenced

Magnus Bernhardsen magnus.bernhardsen at
Wed Jan 3 13:01:31 MST 2001,2763,417257,00.html

Frost meets Castro: the show they silenced

Special report: freedom of information

Alan Travis, home affairs editor

Wednesday January   3, 2001

The Foreign Office effectively blocked a 1969 television interview that David Frost
wanted to carry out with Fidel Castro because it feared it might prove "an inspiration
to the revolting students" in Britain at the time.
Confidential Foreign Office papers released yesterday at the public record office show
that Whitehall civil servants were even prepared to tell David Frost that he could put
an end to any career plans he had to work in the United States if he went ahead with
the interview.
The idea had been secretly initiated by Lord Stokes, the chairman of British Leyland,
after a visit to Cuba in May 1969. Castro had bought a large consignment of British
Leyland buses, one of the few big export orders ever won by the state car company.
Lord Stokes returned from Havana and claimed that Castro had become a reformed
character and the chances of a rapprochement with the west and the United States had
improved. He believed a Frost interview would be a useful device to help Castro to
"continue to improve his image".
Lord Stokes had written to the British ambassador in Havana to tell him that he had
suggested the idea to David Frost, whom he said he knew well, and the television
interviewer had "responded enthusiastically".
The Foreign Office was less enthusiastic. "An exercise involving David Frost and Fidel
Castro would put us in a highly unpopular light in the rest of Latin America and the
United States," said one confidential Foreign Office minute.
The civil servants were also worried that if Frost conducted an aggressive and hostile
interview it could prove counter-productive: "Frost's interviews being unpredictable,
the result might be a detraction from Fidel Castro's public image, which would have an
adverse impact on Anglo-Cuban relations."
They thought they might suggest to Frost that he could "easily jeopardise his chances
of finding further work in the United States."
But the crucial factor, according to the confidential Foreign Office file, was that
they did not want to encourage "student devotees of Che Guevara in this country".
"There seems a danger that David Frost might, in interviewing Castro, concentrate more
on the mythology of Castro (an inspiration to the revolting students) than on the
reality," minuted one Foreign Office civil servant. The file concludes by saying that
Frost should be officially discouraged. It seems from the file that this was enough to
prevent the interview going ahead, although there is no evidence it was directly

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