Bertie Beauchamp's memoirs, Last one over the top is a rotten ... , were seized by MI5 in early 1964. Bertie, along with many other veterans of the conflict, had been invited to contribute an interview for the landmark BBC TV documentary series The Great War. The producers of the series soon realised that they did not have enough tape to record everything that Bertie wanted to say, because in prison parlance, he "sang like a birdie." Everything came out: secrets that the British Government had hoped buried for ever; the quirks and foibles of the many of the figures of the British Establishment, including royalty (that King George, for a start ...); confidential military plans, some of which were to be successful, others ... less so.
MI5 realised immediately that this material could not get into the public domain, and so served the Official Secrets Act on the then Director-General of the BBC. They seized all tapes, transcripts and film material that had been recorded, as well as the draft manuscript of Bertie's memoirs; and locked them away in vaults deep within the Ministry for Defence under the Ninety-Nine Year Rule. This rule blocked the release into the public domain of any politically embarrassing material until 99 years after the onset of the First World War. The National Archives began to publish some of the elements from the Beauchamp Archives in 2013, with the remaining material released in a series of tranches over the next two years.
Bertie's memoirs are remarkably fresh, even after the passage of a century. They cast a new light on well-known figures such as David Lloyd George, Sir Douglas Haig and King George V; and on less well-known individuals such as Paul Cambon and Prince Lichnowsky, respectively the French and German ambassadors to London; and on Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, the British general air-brushed from history because he did the right thing. Bertie's outlook is surprisingly modern: he has no great desire to fight for King and Country, and while he has a certain degree of patriotism, it is not the kind that would cause him to miss his dinner or get his feet wet were it to be challenged by a foreign power. For example, the first words he learned in German were "I surrender."
Some of the original - unedited - pages from Last one over the top ... are included on this website. The Accidental Spy contains transcripts from the tapes of the interviews that Bertie gave to the BBC