The unmasking of a number of Soviet spies in 1950s America led to an outbreak of panic often referred to as “Reds under the Bed” which, in turn, led to millions of Americans sawing the legs off their beds or simply sleeping on the floor. A more disturbing upshot were the witch-hunts of the Senator Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which black-listed hundreds of innocents tainted by association with trades unions, socialist organisations or the moderate wing of the Klan. So virulent did this inquisition become that it was unnecessary to be found guilty of an offense, and merely exercising their Fifth Amendment right to silence was enough to condemn many. Thousands became instantly unemployable, many more were driven to insanity and subsequently committed suicide or fled to Canada.
In Europe reaction to supposed Soviet influence was less severe. In the east of the continent membership of the Communist party ensured a well-paid job and access to all the borscht one could eat. In the West, democratic governments were confident that redistribution of wealth according to need would not appeal to populations by tradition violently suspicious of outsiders, people who lived on the opposite side of the valley and the left-handed.
In Britain the reaction was mixed. There was no panic about reds under the bed since few working class British homes had inside-plumbing, and the steaming chamber-pots beneath their beds were thought enough to discourage even the most die-hard Soviet spies. At the same time, for upper class Englishmen spying for the Russians after graduating from Cambridge was a respected and well-paid career.
Nevertheless, the House of Commons did institute the Lord Privy Seal’s Standing-Committee of the Star Chamber for the Prevention of the Spread of Repulsive Un-British Activities and Beastly Foreign Filth. LPSSCSCPSRUBABFF (known to the general public as BFF) investigated Britons believed to be under the sway of malevolent alien powers, often coming under its scrutiny for sporting an inappropriately continental moustache, whistling in church or wearing sandals in public without socks.
The chief prosecutor of BFF's hearings was noted anthropologist and MP for East Fife, The Right Honourable Josiah MacFarquharson. MacFarquharson was known for his bullish attitude and determination to leave no stone unturned in his search for Soviet Agents. Despite earning fame for his incisive questioning, the celebrated film “Good Night and Toodle-Pip” exposed MacFarquharson as dangerously obsessive and the tide of public opinion began to turn against him. By the end of the 1950s BFF was slowly abandoned and MacFarquharson hanged himself in 1975 when it became widely accepted that mankind had evolved in Africa rather than Surrey as he had always supposed.
Francis Disraeli, great nephew of former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, was one of the highest profile victims of MacFarquharson’s inquisition. On the 29th March, 1952 he became the eighteenth person interviewed by BFF, the first to be convicted of an offense and the ninth sentenced to death. His interview made up a pivotal scene of "Good Night and Toodle-Pip", a transcript of which is reproduced below.
MacFarquharson: Now you didn’t grow up in Britain, did you, Mr Disraeli?
Disraeli: No, sir. My father was British consul in Strasbourg before the war and I grew up there.
MacFarquharson: But you chose to stay there until 1941?
Disraeli: We fled the Nazis in 1939 but couldn’t get back to Britain during the fall of France. The family split up and I was lucky – a brave French farmer hid me until I found a way to get to Switzerland. My father was tortured and killed by the Gestapo who knew of our Jewish background, as were seven other members of the family....
MacFarquharson: We don’t need to hear your sob-story, Disraeli. If you could stick to yes and no in future…
Disraeli: Of course.
MacFarquharson: No. Yes or no.
Disraeli: I see.
MacFarquharson: I won’t tell you again!
MacFarquharson: Very well, you may qualify your answers - but none of your disgusting French tricks, d'you hear? Now, would it surprise you to know that you were tailed by Military Intelligence for three days last week?
Disraeli: It would certainly explain the armoured personnel carrier that kept following me along Cricklewood High Street.
MacFarquharson: And would it surprise you to know that you were observed to act in an Un-British manner on no less than seven occasions during that three day period? Not least among the lamentable list of Un-British actions listed here is failing to offer your seat to a lady on the Clapham omnibus and repeatedly displaying emotion in public. Our operative was so sickened by the sight of your upper-lip losing its proper British stiffness he was forced to apply for sick-leave! Furthermore, you consorted with a Frenchman, compounded the offense by failing to speak to him without raising your voice, and then invited him to drink Pimms with before 4pm.
Disraeli: That would be Thursday, I believe since I was using the omnibus that morning to get to Clapham junction where I met the Frenchman your operative mentioned.
MacFarquharson: So, you admit it…
Disraeli: Certainly, he is my brother and no more French than I am. He was caught by the Germans in '42 and had to pretend to be Pierre Desault for three years to avoid the gas-chamber. Unfortunately, they imprisoned him in Auschwitz anyway as the real Pierre Desault was considered a dangerously avant garde Jazz-flautist. He has only recently recovered his wits enough to recall his true identity. We met for the first time since ‘39 last week. I didn’t feel the need to shout at him, since his English is perfect. I may have briefly expressed my pleasure in seeing him again – the rest of my family having been wiped out during the Holocaust - and my upper lip may have briefly trembled, for which I will be eternally ashamed. It's also true that we drank Pimms in the early afternoon but only because the slatternly lady publican of the "George and Dragon" had allowed her beer to get cold. It would have seemed grotesquely unpatriotic to welcome Peter back to the country with a pint of ale chilled to the point that you could scarcely taste the yeast and toe-nails floating in it.
Disraeli: As for the lady on the omnibus, I’m afraid I didn’t offer my seat to her as she was a 16 stone Scotsman in ceremonial kilt on his way to Burn’s night.
MacFarquharson: Be that as it may, Mr Disraeli. Our operative also reports that the following day you took your “brother” to breakfast at the Dorchester before attending the Ashes Test Match at Lords. Is that correct?
Disraeli: Is that not sufficiently British behaviour?
MacFarquharson: You were both observed to boo the opposition at a point where Australia were winning by a mere innings and 724 runs!
Disraeli: I protest, sir. I booed the umpire when he insisted the Australian captain, Richie Benaud, retire hurt when he had merely broken one of his arms and wished to play on.
MacFarquharson: A likely story! And yet it doesn't account for you failing to warm your tea-cup at the Dorchester prior to pouring the tea BEFORE ADDING THE MILK!
MacFarquharson: And then, sir, you buttered your breakfast muffin from right to left. I put it to you, sir, that you are a foreign agent. A sleeper, if you will, left over from wartime and yet not quite able after all these years to disguise your caddish alien behaviour!
Disraeli: It’s a fair cop, guvnor. You got me bang to rights – stitched myself up like a kipper right and proper, I did.
MacFarquharson: Marshall of the Guard, kindly escort Mr Disraeli to the Tower.
Disraeli was later tried and convicted of outraging public decency. He was subsequently hanged at Tyburn, and again at Tilbury three days later. His body was cremated and the remains scattered in unconsecrated ground.
Mr Andrew Pipkin:
At the height of MacFarquharson’s power, one of the most tragic victims was Mr Andrew Pipkin , a sixty year old former train-driver and decorated war-hero originally from Herby City, Berkshire.
MacFarquharson: Mr Pipkin, you are, or were, a train driver. Is that correct?
Pipkin: That is correct, sir. I drove diesel electric locomotives for London Transport for thirty years, right through the Blitz, sir. They gave me the George Cross for bravery, sir.
MacFarquharson: Yes, so I see. But it’s not very seemly to show off, now, is it?
Pipkin: No, sir.
MacFarquharson: And yet despite your patriotic record of service you came under suspicion from MI5 from 1936 onwards. Does that surprise you?
Pipkin: A little, sir.
MacFarquharson: But you didn’t seem fit to stand for the national anthem at the start of this hearing…
Pipkin: I’m a paraplegic, sir. Hence the wheelchair.
MacFarquharson: Don't make excuses, Pipkin! It says here that from 1934 to the outbreak of war your trains never once arrived at a station more than three hours late! Hardly the actions of a truly British train driver!
Pipkin: I worked on the London Underground, sir, the stations are only two minutes apart…
MacFarquharson: Don’t try to get clever with me, Pipkin, are you suggesting that a true Englishman would report to work every single work-day for thirty years, even when forced to get there through two inch snow-drifts, and still maintain this lamentable record of timeliness?
Pipkin: But I live across the road from the engine-yard, sir. I could hardly avoid going to work, and snow doesn’t generally affect the underground – what with it being under the ground, sir.
MacFarquharson: So you say. But what happened to you in 1948, Mr Pipkin?
Pipkin: I was run over by a taxi in Belgravia, sir. The American ambassador pulled me out from under the wheels but I’d broken my spine just above the pelvis. I haven’t been able to walk since.
MacFarquharson: Yes, I have the Police report here, including the Ambassador’s statement in which he praises your bravery.
Pipkin: Thank you, sir.
MacFarquharson: The inspector in charge of your case immediately flagged up concerns about your revolting lack of condescension to this… colonial.Pipkin: I know I should have been more aloof, sir. But it’s hard to look down your nose at somebody when they're giving you the kiss of life.
MacFarquharson: That does not explain why you chose to spend the compensation you received on taking a “cruise” around the Mediterranean when Blackpool is known to be perfectly exotic enough for millions of your patriotic brethren.
Pipkin: It was the wife’s idea, sir.
MacFarquharson: And I suppose that she was responsible for your writing the following postcard to your brother, Lou. I quote “Discovered a charming beach in southern Tuscany. Not another soul for miles and sand as white as snow.”
Pipkin: No, sir. I wrote that. Was that wrong, sir?
MacFarquharson: I think any true Briton knows that the correct action when one discovers a deserted foreign beach is to plant a flag in it and claim it for Queen and country!
Pipkin: Yes, sir. You’re quite right. I don’t know what I was thinking – I think the balance of my mind had been scrambled by my accident.
MacFarquharson: Really. Tell me, Pipkin. When your wife insisted on your taking a cruise, did she also plan your disgusting diet whilst on the ship?
MacFarquharson: You were observed to apply true English marmalade to a… I can hardly say this… you applied marmalade to a croissant!
Pipkin: Is that what is was, sir. I thought the cook had made a mess of the bacon rolls.
MacFarquharson: That does not account for you ordering so-called “Carpaccio”.
Pipkin: Carpaccio, sir? Was that during the international food festival.
MacFarquharson: It may have been, Pipkin. It may have been. However, surely you’re not suggesting that a patriotic Englishman would eat fish raw!
Pipkin: I did ask them to take it away and cook it.
MacFarquharson: You complained? In a restaurant?
Pipkin: Yes, sir. I told them I couldn’t possibly eat foreign muck like that, and could I have it fried in batter with some nice chips.
MacFarquharson: Marshall of the Guard, remove this disgusting traitor. Convicted with the words of his own mouth – complaining about service, indeed. If we don’t put a stop to this sort of thing we’ll have people bartering in shops like… like a bunch of Turks!
Other notable victims
Regular trials stopped in 1962 but people came under suspicion and were investigated periodically until 1968. At the height of his powers in 1964, MacFarquharson summoned Sir Winston Churchill, wartime Prime Minister, and successfully convicted him of having an American mother - an offense that saw Churchill pay an annual £1000 fine towards the National Debt until his death.
Other notable successes of BFF saw the 1965 trial of Mr James Maugham who was arrested and convicted for failing to wear a monocle in the presence of a duchess. In 1967 a Mrs L. Trellis was suspected of knowing the date of St George's Day. Armed police raided her home in Llandudno, burning it to the ground to avoid contamination of the neighbouring area. Mrs Trellis was arrested and sentenced to thirty years imprisonment. She subsequently attempted to escape from Pentonville prison but was recaptured, re-tried and sentenced to hang for panicking in the face of certain death.
Periodically, tabloid hysteria over perceived declines in the standard of Britishness prompts calls to re-instigate BFF. The most recent outbreak in 2009 saw the debate reach Parliament where a motion to impeach Andy Murray following his shameless winning of a tennis tournament was only narrowly defeated.