The Royle Family star has accused the broadcaster of being an Mi5 spy who helped put him and other striking workers behind bars in the 70s
Richard Whiteley is best remembered as the jovial host of Countdown, but Ricky Tomlinson has claimed there was a darker side to the popular presenter.
The Royle Family star has accused the broadcaster of being an Mi5 spy who helped put him and other striking workers behind bars in the 70s.
And he said had he know of his alleged involvement in the plot when he appeared on Countdown he would have throttled him.
Whiteley fronted a documentary called Red Under The Bed that showed unions in a bad light and was screened as the jury in Ricky’s trial was out deliberating. The presenter’s partner Kathryn Apanowicz laughed off suggestions her husband was a spy as “nonsense”.
But Ricky claimed: “Richard was a member of the security services, people didn’t know that, obviously.”The security services paid to have the programme made, so they had to use someone of their own ilk to be the chairperson. It was common knowledge. “The security services use media people as part of the intelligence services. I must have done Countdown four or five times.
“I didn’t know at the time, I wish I had known, I’d have strangled him. There’s all sorts of people involved. It was a carve up right from the go.”
Ricky, 77, claims he has leaked, confidential documents which link then-PM Ted Heath and politician Woodrow Wyatt to the documentary, which he believes swayed the jury into convicting him of conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray
But asked where the papers came from, he added: “I can’t reveal my sources, we’d be hung, drawn and quartered. People would lose their jobs.”
Ricky took part in a 12 week building workers’ walkout in 1972, demanding better wages and safety regimes.
Months after the dispute ended, he was one of 24 strikers held over picket line clashes. Six went on trial the following year at Shrewsbury crown court and he was jailed for two years, serving 16 months.
Ricky believes the documentary prompted two jurors to change their original verdicts to guilty.
The hour-long film was followed by a 30-minute studio discussion, chaired by Whiteley.
But radio presenter Kathryn, who was his partner from 1994 until his death at the age of 61, branded the claims a “load of tripe”.
She added: “He couldn’t even keep a secret, how would he be good in MI5?
“I knew everything about Richard and this is nonsense. He could hardly work his mobile phone, never mind gadgets, he’d have been hopeless.
“I’m slightly annoyed because it’s easy to cast aspersions on somebody who has died, because you can’t libel the dead.
“It’s nice that Ricky is managing to get a lot of publicity from somebody who can’t defend himself.”
But she insisted Whiteley had a sense of humour and would be “looking down, laughing his head off” at the claims
Kathryn added: “A friend said, ‘Did you realise you were a spy’s mole?’ Maybe I could have a new career? Please tell Daniel Craig I’m available.”
Ricky has for many years been trying to clear the names of the strikers, known as the Shrewsbury 24. In 2002, it was revealed Mi5 had been monitoring him.
Ricky said he plans to reveal the small amount of documents he has. He added: “There will be a few more things coming to light in the next few weeks.”
Meanwhile Countdown co-host Carol Vorderman reveals she’s undecided about Ricky’s claims.
She told the Mirror: “Whiters was a mystery and he was amazing and charming and very bright – which he managed to hide well a lot of the time on Countdown! Ha.
I’d be fascinated to see Ricky’s evidence. However, if he was a spy then he never mentioned it to me or gave any of us reason to believe he was one.
“But then again, if he was a spook, he wouldn’t exactly shout about it.
“He was, as I would often call him, a complete cult. Now, perhaps, he has become an enigma of a certain variation…With love, Mata Hari.”
Richard Whiteley’s wife denies claims Countdown host worked for MI5
Actor Ricky Tomlinson claims he has evidence that the presenter collaborated in a secret plot to get him jailed.
The wife of late broadcaster Richard Whiteley has denied “ridiculous” claims that her husband worked for MI5.
Kathryn Apanowicz said Whiteley’s asthma and poor grasp of technology and maths meant there was no chance he could have coped with a secret career in espionage.
It comes after actor and union activist Ricky Tomlinson accused the former Countdown host of conspiring with the Government and orchestrating a plot to have him and a group known as the Shrewsbury 24 jailed.
Tomlinson said a documentary presented by Whiteley, entitled Red Under The Bed, was propaganda designed to influence a jury that went on to convict him for offences linked to the 1972 builders’ strike.
The Royle Family star said he has classified documents which show the then prime minister, Sir Edward Heath, and Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt were involved in the conspiracy.
“We found out this week that the film was designed, written, made and paid for by the security services,” Tomlinson told the Chester Chronicle.
“Woodrow Wyatt was a member of the security services and, unbelievably, so was Richard Whiteley, who hosted the show.”
Apanowicz, who was married to Whiteley for 11 years, branded the claims “ridiculous” and said the family had been in “hysterics”.
“Really and truly, Ricky Tomlinson should take a long, hard look at himself and stop casting such stupid aspersions because it’s nonsense, he’s made himself look a bloody fool,” she said.
The actress said Whiteley, who died in 2005 after undergoing heart surgery, “was the most indiscreet person” she knew, and “could not keep a secret for toffee”.
“Number one, he had an asthma inhaler so running around and escaping from whoever was chasing after him, he wouldn’t be able to do that,” she said.
“He couldn’t work technology, it’s nonsense. In those days, he didn’t have an Aston Martin, he had a brown Ford Escort,” she added.
“He couldn’t do maths – he used to struggle with the Conundrum.”
The mystery over Richard Whiteley’s alleged links to MI5 has taken a new twist after it emerged the Countdown star went to Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
Mr Whiteley was part of a group of space enthusiasts visiting the Soviet Union in 1974 under the guidance of eccentric astronomer Patrick Moore.
The news will fuel rumours of the presenter’s links to the world of spycraft, which were started by actor Ricky Tomlinson but dismissed as ‘nonsense’ by former friends.
Mr Whiteley was one of ’20 or 30′ people on the trip who were ‘all space geeks’, a woman who took part told Sean O’Neill of The Times.
She said of Mr Whiteley, who presented a current affairs show for Yorkshire Television at the time: ‘I don’t know why he was on tour, no idea where he was there.’
However, the lady – now an academic – said that ‘not at one moment’ did she think he was a spy.
Mr Tomlinson, 77, made the startling claim that Whiteley worked for MI5 in an interview as he opened a relaunched Wetherspoons pub in Chester.
But Whiteley’s girlfriend when he died, Kathryn Apanowicz, 56, a presenter with BBC Radio York, said: ‘It is absolute bloody nonsense, there is no truth in it whatsoever.
‘If Richard was a member of the secret service then maybe Ken Dodd was in charge of MI5.
‘He couldn’t keep a secret to save his life and he certainly wasn’t a spy; in the Seventies he was driving around in a Ford Escort.’
Mr Whiteley was a student at Cambridge University between 1962 and 1965, graduating with a third-class degree in English from Christ’s College.
The university is known to be a recruiting ground for the secret services and was attended by the notorious double agents Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt.
But Gyles Brandreth, who was a regular on Countdown’s Dictionary Corner, said he had known Whiteley for 40 years and never got any hint he was a spy.
And former Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken, who knew Whiteley, called the claims ‘pretty good baloney’.
Mr Tomlinson, a socialist activist, claims Mr Whiteley influenced the jury when he was jailed in 1973 for conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray.
Along with his ‘Shrewsbury Two’ partner Des Warren, the actor had helped to organise the first national building workers’ strike in the upstairs room of the same Wetherspoons pub where he first aired the claims, The Bull & Stirrup.
He believes that the jury’s decision to convict him may have been swayed by an ITV documentary which featured the defendants that was aired on the day they retired to deliver their verdict – and which was fronted by Mr Whiteley.
He alleges the secret services wrote, produced and funded the documentary.
He told the Chester Chronicle: ‘I’ve got documents at home, which are printed “confidential”, “strictly confidential”, “not to be seen”, but it involves the likes of Ted Heath, Woodrow Wyatt.
‘And we’ve just discovered that they made a film which went out on television the night the jury were out considering the verdict called Red Under the Bed and it was so anti-trade union that two of the jury changed their mind and brought a majority verdict in of 10-2 guilty.’
He added: ‘We found out this week that the film was designed, written, made and paid for by the security services.
‘Woodrow Wyatt was a member of the security services and unbelievably so was Richard Whiteley who hosted the show.’
The 12-week strike took place after UK building contractors imposed what trade unionists called ‘bogus self-employment’ rules on their workforce.
The 1973 trial was seen at the time as an attempt to shackle militant, rank-and-file trade unionism.
Mr Tomlinson, who appeared alongside Caroline Aherne in Royle Family, said the union meetings were held in The Bull & Stirrup where all the decisions were made.
In December 2015, former shadow home secretary Andy Burnham released documents showing that former prime minister Edward Heath’s cabinet and the security services influenced the Red Under the Bed documentary.
The Shrewsbury 24 campaign is calling for the convictions to be overturned by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Mr Tomlinson, who also played Bobby Grant in Brookside, claimed his friend Warren, who died aged 66 in 2004, had effectively served a life sentence, because drugs given to him in prison brought on Parkinson’s Disease.
He said: ‘It killed him, didn’t it? We know of four sedatives that were used on him. We also have certain evidence about a doctor that followed him into jail giving him injections.’
THE ACTIVIST TURNED ACTOR WHO WAS MONITORED BY MI5
Ricky Tomlinson was born as Eric Tomlinson in Blackpool, Lancashire, after his mother Peggy was evacuated there during the Liverpool Blitz in World War II.
A qualified plasterer by trade, he worked on various building sites for many years becoming actively involved in politics – firstly with the far-right, then more predominantly with the far-left.
In 1968, Mr Tomlinson joined the National Front in support of less immigration after Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech.
His views gradually changed over time and, in 1972, he joined the flying pickets in a building workers’ dispute in Shrewsbury.
The following year, Mr Tomlinson was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of ‘conspiracy to intimidate’ as one of the so-called Shrewsbury Two, alongside his partner Des Warren.
He was released in 1975, he disrupted the TUC conference by shouting from the wings after he had been prevented from speaking from the stage. It was revealed in 2002 that MI5 had monitored him during the 1970s.
Whiteley died in 2005. Before Cambridge, he had attended the prestigious Giggleswick School in Yorkshire, where he was taught by TV presenter Russell Harty.
He joined Yorkshire Television in July 1968. In 1982, the channel started to produce Countdown and Whiteley was chosen as host. He remained on the show for 23 years.
For 11 years, he was in a relationship with actress and radio presenter Kathryn Apanowicz until 2005.
Whiteley had a son, James, with fashion journalist and television presenter Lesley Ebbetts who born in 1987.
He also dated Jeni Cropper for 15 years to him in the 1970s and 80s. He also had a brief relationship with Carry On film actress Angela Grant.