UK spy probe targeted Swedish actress

The late Swedish actress Mai Zetterling and a world famous US photographer were both trailed by British spy services for fear that the two were communist sympathizers, according to secret files released on Tuesday.

UK spy probe targeted Swedish actress
Vale Film Productions/British Lion Film Corporation

MI5 and police Special Branch raked over the private lives of Vogue photographer Lee Miller and actress Mai Zetterling, who starred opposite Peter Sellers in “Only Two Can Play” (1962), and the 1990 film “The Witches”.

The pair were both tailed in the 1940s and 1950s and had their friends watched, while Miller’s post was intercepted.

A colleague said Miller was a “strong communist”, according to one anonymous note released by the National Archives.

A 1941 Special Branch report said Miller was “regarded as an intellectual communist and theoretical political student” and was “eccentric and indulges in queer foods and queer clothes etc. She is violently anti-Nazi.”

The general opinion of Miller was that “her communism is more a mental outlook than anything and I have obtained no information that she is associated with any particular subversive organization,” the note said.

She aroused suspicion because her second husband Roland Penrose was deemed to be a communist sympathizer.

Besides her fashion photography, Miller was a US Army-accredited war journalist, who pictured prisoners of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps.

She befriended prominent artists like Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Henry Moore.

“What is not sufficiently realized is that her career was absolutely unique in British history,” said professor Chris Andrew, the official historian of MI5.

“There had never been anybody like her before, there’s no reason to think there will be anyone like her again. She was extremely talented, she was extremely beautiful.”

Miller died in southern England in 1977 aged 70.

Zetterling lived in a commune south of London, which MI5 called a “Marxist study group” suspected of being a cover for recruiting people to the Communist Party.

Attendance at its meetings signified “that the participant is at least regarded by certain members as sympathetically inclined to communism, and as a potential convert,” said a 1953 report.

Spooks studied her showbusiness friends and how much communist literature she was reading.

Zetterling, who died in London in 1994 aged 68, was also a pioneering film director.

Also released from the archives was a letter to the Home Office from a man begging for help in getting his wife to stop seeing a Romanian immigrant, whom MI5 considered having as a potential double agent.

Another story was that of a British soldier who was a member of the British Union of Fascists, but was nonetheless sent to fight in World War II — in the hope of exposing other sympathizers.

The dramatic arrest of a German spy plucked from his ship to stop him following a vital British World War II fleet was also revealed.