Urgent BBC explanation needed for pulling Panorama on army undercover squad ( Now updated with BBC explanation)


 My old colleague John Ware of Panorama has rung to say he’s waiting for some new information in order to complete the programme. So conspiracy theorists can stand down.

Thanks to Galloglaigh for getting  this reply from Panorama earlier

Apologies for any confusion caused, but we do need to change planned programmes on short notice from time to time owing to various editorial issues.

Best wishes for the Christmas season.

The Panorama Team


This has been a perfect example of the BBC underestimating public reaction and the needs of courtesy to the expectant audience. At the very least the BBC should issue a statement if the billed programme has to change. Billings should add the rider similar to that for sporting events and concerts that can overrun. They could say something like: “because of the nature  of  the highly topical stories the programme covers, the subject of Panorama may be different from the billed programme”.


Is there a faint echo here of the BBC handling of the Jimmy Savile affair, already noted in Slugger comment?

My Radio Times listed the following Panorama programme for transmission last night ( Monday 17 December)

For nearly two years in the early 1970s, the British Army ran an undercover squad that operated outside the law, hunting down enemies of the state – with orders to shoot known terrorists on sight. For the first time in 40 years, three former members of this secret operation talk candidly about their role in Northern Ireland, which they believe saved lives. But reporter John Ware uncovers evidence that the unit may also have killed innocent civilians, fabricated statements and covered up its deeds.

But by yesterday morning the one hour programme had disappeared  from  my Evening Standard  listings. Instead a My Family Christmas Special was to be shown at 8.30pm followed by an hour long episode of the New Tricks light detective drama.

But that wasn’t the end of it. During the day, Roy Greenslade’s  blog in the Guardian told me I was going to see instead a Panorama on the tax affairs of the secretive and litigious Barclay Brothers,  the owners of the Daily Telegraph and much else besides. The BBC webpages  flagged up both programmes  ( and still does, a day later)   but gave a transmission time and later, an iPlayer link for the Barclay Brothers film only. Sure enough, up came the Barclay Brothers at 8.30  on BBC1 followed by my Family at 9.

I have searched the BBC website and the press for an explanation, including the BBC media centre and editor’s blogs.

Not a dickey bird that I can find.

Following the great Savile imbroglio which claimed the scalp of a brand new director general,  you don’t need an extra special suspicious mind to wonder what’s going on.  The more paranoid might ask: days after the de Silva report on collusion over the Finucane murder, has the BBC got cold feet over interviews with an army undercover squad?  How can the BBC fail to realise that in the present climate a proper explanation is needed? It may be entirely straighforward. But it was a disastrous  failure to explain accurately and then take three weeks to correct an editor’s blog on the reasons not to proceed with Newsnight’s own Saville expose that  was the last straw that did for the unfortunate DG George Entwistle.

I hazard a wild guess that it may have thought prudent to rush out the Barclay Brothers film quickly to avoid the risk of an injunction. The nugget in the otherwise unremarkable programme was the allegation that the Barclay’s Ritz hotel company had paid no corporation tax.  The more suspcious might suspect that the BBC might have had second thoughts and rushed out some sort of Panorama in order to soften the glaring impression of  a pull. Better a half hour Panorama they could get ready in time,  than no Panorama at all.

Sensitive Panoramas need sensitive presentation as well as editorial handling. To shuffle the BBC1 schedule twice without apparent explanation suggests that competence is still lacking somewhere in the chain of production, transmission and public accountability.  The Barclay Brothers half hour Panorama replaced an hour long  John Ware film at  fairly short notice, it seems.  All attention seems to have been given to the schedule rejig and not to the editorial reasons behind it. Not my bag guv, someone may have thought – again.

Can it  be that even now the BBC haven’t learned all the lessons of Savillegate? To set minds at rest, will the BBC offer an explanation even now for pulling the Panorama on the army undercover squad?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Banjaxed

    I posted this on a related thread last night but no one picked it up. So, thank you, Mick, for putting it on a dedicated posting.

    In the light of recent disclosures I think it is a very important question as to who pulled the programme and yet another appalling sign that there are still those in power, or with access to them, who control every single item of what THEY think we are entitled to know about THEIR activities carried out in OUR names.

    “I was looking up the TV schedule for tonight in the Guardian Guide when I noticed that Panorama appeared to have been shifted to the 9:00pm slot rather than its usual 8:30 one. Then I saw the title, ”Britain’s Secret Terror Squad’ and was about a British Army anti-terrorist squad in NI in the early 70s.

    An attached blurb expanded on the content of the programme as to how three former members of the undercover unit were going to discuss why they thought it had saved lives. However, it went on to say that John Ware (not Peter Taylor, as another correspondent noted) was to report that innocent civilians were killed and that evidence also existed of false statements and cover-ups. I said to my wife, ‘Things are changing. This would have been binned in the 70s and 80s.’

    Lo and behold, some stupid comedy was substituted with a simple statement, ‘We have a change of programme’. No excuse, no information, nada.

    They haven’t gone away, you know….”

  • galloglaigh
  • galloglaigh

    Send them an email:


  • Brian, the detail has been stored in Google cache but the BBC webpage is no longer accessible. The Dick Spring briefing was pulled in July 1996 after one morning broadcast on BBC NI. Are we witnessing here two examples of ‘political broadcasting’?

  • JR

    There is a piece in the Irish News on this saying the BBC say this has been re-scheduled to the new year because it is unfinished.

  • galloglaigh


    I wonder does not finished mean not watered down?

  • BarneyT

    I know the BBC is not what it used to be, but surely they are more professional than that and dont rely on brinkmanship to fill their programme schedules…sounds like a political decision to me (your kidding)…not necessarily connected with the current fleg issues.

  • sonofstrongbow

    The programme is being re-edited to include a comprehensive report on the De Silva findings.

    It would be a little unprofessional not to reference a contemporary report that touches on similar issues the programme has focused on.

    But hey float the Machiavelli option. It so much more the Irish nationalist way to go. 🙂

  • Banjaxed

    Apols, Brian – misreading error in thanking Mick. Thank you for flagging it.

  • BarneyT

    Fair enough SOSB if that is the case…but ye cant beat a good conspiracy 🙂 Lets hope the re-edit adds and does not detract.

  • Brian Walker


    Trying reading the piece before jerking off a smear. I made it clear that it was to prevent conspiracy theory that the BBC should have made a statement about postponing the Ware programme -. and as a courtesy to the audience.

    Well done Irish News for I assume getting a BBC statement that should have been issued generally.

  • BarneyT

    pump the breaks….have I just been smeared! 🙂

    Not sure about the nationalist bit!

  • galloglaigh

    I just got an email from Panorama:

    Dear Mr (galloglaigh),

    Many thanks for your interest in Panorama.

    We now expect that the billed programme Britain’s Secret Terror Squad will now be broadcast in the new year.

    Apologies for any confusion caused, but we do need to change planned programmes on short notice from time to time owing to various editorial issues.

    Best wishes for the Christmas season.

    The Panorama Team

  • BarneyT

    or even brakes…oh well

  • sonofstrongbow

    Brian Walker

    Calm down dear! You’re way too precious for this type of forum.

    The way things work is that commentators are free to address the original article and/or any subsequent posts.

    Perhaps you should have read some of the conspiracy-flavoured commentary before mine before reaching your own vinegar stroke.

  • DoppiaVu

    I must admit that my first thoughts on finding the show had been postponed were: i) legal issues rising from de Silva; or ii) BBC updating the show as some aspects were now superseded by de Silva.

    Disappointed to see people jumping straight to the conspiracy theory when there are other reasons, more obvious and more mundane, as for why this could have happened.

    And as for comparisons to Jimmy Savile – that’s just stupid. Joe public typical BBC watcher feels betrayed by the BBC about the whole Savile thing. However, typical BBC watcher doesn’t give a flying one about what happened during the troubles.

  • Framer

    The BBC knew the de Silva report’s publication date weeks ago so it can’t be the reason.
    By the way what about the TV programme on Belfast and Israel that BBC NI pulled at a moment’s notice a few weeks ago?
    Will it never be broadcast as it offended certain parties?

  • BarneyT

    Whilst there may be mundane reasons for the pulling, revising and rescheduling of the show, it’s natural to show a level of mistrust or scepticism. As long as you are prepared to fess up when you are wrong , I see no harm in jumping to conclusions. The BBC actively encourages balance do they not 

    We can judge the BBC when the show finally emerges however I suspect many of us doubters expect some sort of doctoring..sorry editing… to occur.

  • Brian Walker

    Barney T and others

    Some people seem to have difficulty in reading what’s written. I jumped to no sinister conclusions.

    I wrote:

    “How can the BBC fail to realise that in the present climate a proper explanation is needed? It may be entirely straighforward..”

    As a BBC insider of 30 years including acting managing editor of current affairs TV including Panorama I doubted the cold feet theory but I could see it coming.

    I was making a point about BBC presentation and accountablity, particularly inn the present climate.

    You’ll note that the reporter Johjn Ware, contacted me himself on request from management, no doubt to add extra conviction to the reply But in its own interests as well as the licence fee payers’ the BBC should be proactive in offering well circulated and archived explanations when there are sudden changes to the scheduling of Panorama and not discourteously leave the audience wondering.

  • “I have searched the BBC website and the press for an explanation, including the BBC media centre and editor’s blogs.

    Not a dickey bird that I can find.”

    Brian, as a ‘BBC insider of 30 years’, I presumed you would have sought an answer from one of your contacts before publishing this thread.

  • BarneyT

    Its fair to say that this thread directly provoked many to consider the negative or suspicious….irrespective of their reading difficulties Brian

  • Banjaxed

    Brian, as I was one of the first contributors to voice, I suppose, ‘conspiracy’ behind the withdrawal, at the last moment, of this programme, I would be quite happy to park my scepticism until the truth emerged. But there was no information whatever other than the bald statement ‘We have had a change of programme’. Now, as I’ve already said, in view of recent disclosures on actions by our security forces, re Finnucane, Bloody Sunday, Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, et al, with lies, evasions and cover-ups, you would have thought that, in the present climate of suspicion, the BBC would have been more upfront as to the reasons for cancellation. Given an increasingly disbelieving audience/electorate, it seems at times that events like this just get curiouser and curiouser. Again, in view of the Savile debacle you would again have thought that all t’s and i’s had been crossed and dotted before the programme had been scheduled for broadcasting. And as you yourself admitted, you had to to a fair bit of digging to get any information at all.

    I am old enough to have lived throughout all our period of upheaval and have witnessed countless cancellations by BBC of programmes on the ‘Troubles’. Therefore, until fresh evidence is available on this particular withdrawal, I think I’ll keep my scepticism on simmer.

  • Some of us expected the BBC to cancel their Christmas eulogy of Jimmy Saville, sadly our expectations were not lived up to as instead they canceled a Newsnight Saville exposure.

    Although we did get a whacking great report which told us diddly squat. Patten would have been more use if he had whacked certain people around the head with it, starting with himself, but sadly it was not to be.

    Given what we now know about this great British institution, one would have to be brain dead to rely on a low level bureaucrat who uses the words:

    ‘We now expect that the billed programme Britain’s Secret Terror Squad will now be broadcast in the new year’

    Then again me thinks, it might not? Time will tell, but if it is broadcast the urgency of the moment will have passed

    What this brouhaha shows yet again, is the BBC’s complete contempt for it’s license payers. This program is about an issue which has had a high news profile in the last weeks, to cancel it without explanation, so soon after the Savile stuff, speaks volumes about Pattens ‘root and branch inquiry.’

    Hear no evil, speak no evil, being the corporation managements watchword.

    The rot at the Beeb starts at the top with the Trust, about as unrepresentative bunch as it is possible to get. I doubt most even watch TV or listen to UK radio

  • Brian Walker

    no nevin, to have rung up one of my old colleagues would have missed the point. That was, that the BBC had failed to inform the audience of the reason for the change without being prompted. And that means you, nevin. I did it for you.