I’m not impressed with GCHQ

I am not impressed with GCHQ. I dare say Britain’s main intelligence-gathering centre doesn’t feel the need to impress the likes of me (or probably you), but it could have been more helpful nevertheless.

I emailed GCHQ a few weeks ago about a colleague, Neville Bealing, who died recently aged 83. I was going to say a few words at his funeral in a week’s time, so I asked them politely and somewhat hesitantly if they could confirm that Neville had worked for GCHQ (or its predecessor) about 50 years ago.

He had mentioned to a colleague that he had worked for GCHQ, and it must have been as long ago as the late 1940s or early 50s as he worked for the company I work for as a translator for an amazing 50 years. He retired (reluctantly) only a year or two before his death.

I didn’t expect GCHQ to tell me much; just confirmation that he had worked there would have been enough.

But they didn’t even reply. Not so much as an acknowledgment, not even a computer-generated one. This doesn’t surprise me hugely but it does make me a bit angry. I don’t like being ignored when I ask a polite, reasonable question.

And you would think, or hope, that in this day and age GCHQ would be a bit concerned about PR and regard responding to questions like mine about pretty ancient history as a way of showing a friendly public face.

GCHQ does in fact have a reasonably informative website which gives an email for their Press Office/Public Affairs. So why do they have such an office if they don’t deign to reply to emails sent by the public?

Their website divulges the fact that they employ 5,500 people in a “multi million pound building, provided under PFI [private finance initiative] arrangements, provides state of the art facilities to deliver our essential work.” Not only that, but the building hosts “a range of facilities including a shop, restaurant, deli bar and coffee shops and gymnasium.”

And listen to this: “The shell of each office chair is made from 36 recycled plastic 2 litre pop bottles. Desks and table surfaces are made from 90% recycled wood and all steel products are made from 30% recycled metal.”

So I am not at all clear what reason can there be for refusing to confirm that somebody worked there 50 years ago, or even for saying that for whatever reason they do not wish to confirm or deny…

I can’t help feeling if Neville had worked for the CIA, for example, I would at least have received a reply, and probably a reasonably helpful one at that. The CIA says in its document Strategic Intent 2007-2011 that “the American people…expect us to keep secrecy but not to have anything to hide.” Very healthy. Its website even has a Library and a Freedom on Information Act Electronic Reading Room. Hard to imagine any British intelligence agency having anything like that.

In fact the British security services are exempt from our very own Freedom of Information Act, as MI5’s website makes clear.

MI5, unlike GCHQ (in theory), does not have a press office and directs journalists to the Home Office.

Freedom of information has a lot more meaning in the US, I’m sure, while here, despite a Freedom of Information Act, there is still an obsession with secrecy.

Well, I’m sure GCHQ monitors the blogosphere, so maybe they will take note of my comments.

Oh, as a tribute to Neville I would like to mention his other main claim to fame. He sat on Thomas Hardy‘s knee as a baby. His father was a photographer in Shaftesbury, Dorset, so he must surely have taken a photograph of this great event, but Neville told me had never seen a copy.

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13 thoughts on “I’m not impressed with GCHQ

  1. Do you mean the most amazing linguist and charming human being I have had the pleasure of working with, knowing and calling a friend? Though I only knew him in his twilight it was a pleasure and the more frequent hospital visits did become a sad journey as his health declined.
    His funeral I was sadly unable to attend but plan on visiting the grave as soon as I am back in London.
    Regards and RIP

    • Unfortunately I did not know of the existence of Neville until he had passed away. Augustus Bealing, the photographer at Shaftesbury was my Great Uncle, and as I am a keen amateur photographer as well as being in the throes of researching the family tree. I would dearly loved to have known Neville and chatted to him about the family and to look at any photographs he might have had.

      • Veronica Rice –
        This is not a joke – we are related! My grandfather was Augustus Bealing, the photographer in Shaftesbury. He married Kathleen Bealing in 1932 (or thereabouts), and died in 1977. My mom was their daughter. His father was also named Augustus Bealing – sounds like he was your great uncle.
        I have a brother and a sister who live in Wisconsin. We should get in contact!

      • Excuse me, I should have said my brother and sister live in Illinois. Was typing too fast!

      • Hi
        Noticed the thread…..
        Augustus Bealing senior was married to Emma Gray…..
        My Great Grandfather’s sister
        Many of my Grandfather’s photographs are signed Bealings of Shaftesbury
        Best Regards
        John Gray

      • Hi John
        My Grandfather was William Bealing, who was Augustus Bealing’s brother. William was married to Charlotte Emily and their graves are in Redlynch Cemetery. We trawled round Shaftesbury a couple of years back looking for photos and by chance came across Augustus’ camera in the museum and many photos by him in the Town Hall, but nothing of his family.
        Do you happen to have any photographs of William (Augustus used to call him Bill) and also of Charlotte or the family. I would love copies if you have.
        I would have loved to have seen Augustus Bealing Senior’s photographic studio in Shaftesbury, but too young in those days. I gather he was a very prominent gentlemen in Shaftesbury in those days.
        Very best wishes
        Veronica Rice

  2. I am typing this sitting in what used to be the Bealing’s studio at 25 Salisbury Street Shaftesbury which I own and live in (been here 3 years )
    As a volunteer at the Gold Hill Museum I am researching some of our exhibits; a few of which are short of information. This morning I started work looking for background on the Bealings – father and son and the camera we have on display . Poking about on the internet (as one does ! ) I was delighted to find this thread and would welcome an opportunity to share data with you or your contributors
    Gordon Ewart-Dean

    • Gordon –
      My grandparents were Gus and Kathleen Bealing, and lived at 25 Salisbury Street. That was the home where my mother grew up. My grandfather died in early 1977, and my grandmother sold the place and moved to the States. When I visited there in 1994, it was a French restaurant. I would be delighted to get in contact with you!

      • Thank you Stephen
        I will be glad to keep in touch with you in due course. First I have to assemble all the
        information available in the museum’s collection (there are lots of photos and negatives
        many of which unattributed.)
        The Fleur de Lis restaurant moved to larger premises in another part of the town and is still
        an excellent restaurant but the place they left here fell on hard times became an unsuccessful Chinese restaurant sadly neglected and derelict for many years. Bought by someone who completely gutted the place destroying most of the 18th and 19th century features . So I bought it as an uninhabitable ruin which I am slowly trying to bring back to life but not for commercial purposes but just to live in.

  3. Stephen
    I have unearthed several pages of information including a family tree provided in 2011 by Pam Holdsworth (nee Blooomfield .She was born in 1928 and was a daughter of Rose Lillian Dorothea Bealing . Perhaps Ms Veronica Rice would also like to share information ? I haven’t figured out a way to get these pages of data to you !

    • You send them as an attachment to my email address. How should I provide my email address? If I write my address here, it could easily be Google searched.

      • I did not receive the email attachment. Let’s try it this way. To get my direct email address, start with: cuttsessbcglobalnet. Before “cuttses”, add “the”. After “cuttses” and before “sbc”, you need to put in the at sign “@”. Between “global” and “net”, you need to put a dot.

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