Klingender Francis

Francis Klingender

Born in 1907, Francis Donald Klingender became a Marxist when at the London School of Economics. Associated with Student Vanguard from 1932-3, he was certainly a member the St Pancras branch of the CP from 1933. MI5 then began a surveillance operation on him that did not end until the day he died. The use of the name Fred, to diminish the upper class sound of his real name, and of Miller as a second name, to diminish the German sound, was thought suspicious but it was innocently motivated, in truth.

The German origin of his name created suspicion in the Machine Tool Control where he worked for the Home Defence (Security) Executive.  This department, which had offices at Princes Risborough, where Klingender was working with the crystallographer and Marxist, J D Bernal. It seems this department was confused by security forces with another department of even greater sensitivity, this being associated with the handling of strong security measures within the UK including internment of enemy aliens and members of subversive organisations

Renamed the Ministry of Home Security Research Group, the group collected information on the effectiveness of Allied bombing on German and European cities, with both Klingender and Bernal unaware of the investigations on them.

Working as a senior assistant clerk, he was active in Artists International, then lectured with ABCA, the army education bureau. In 1944, he was associate editor of Our Time. In 1946, he was prevented from continuing his lectures to troops on the history of art. After a protest, which involved his local MP, "the authorities executed a graceful climb down". In post war years, he became a noted art historian and academic

His leaving Britain in June and return from Yugoslavia in August 1947 was noted on special branch police files merely since he was known to be a Party member.  Is having been placed on a list of CP speakers, with his given specialism being history, security forces once again began a full surveillance. When, in early 1951, he was fined for riding his bike on a footpath, he was once again investigated for security purposes, this time by PC 90, Herbert Woodward.  In January 1951, he was described by a spy within the Left who had known him for 15 years (who was himself presumably dead by 2005) as "one of the most fanatical, bitter, and unpleasant Communists ever encountered". 

Pics: left: Mi5 obtained this copy of Klingender's passport photo by taking the simple step of using an early photostat machine at customs and generating a short bureaucratic delay to cover their actions.

Right: MI5 obtained this shot taken inside a pub in 1942 of Klingender at a `brains trust', or questions forum.

Some months later, in July, he was described as an "open Communist". In July 1952 he was noted by san investigator as being "regarded by students as a Communist sympathiser". Yet despite this openness, the active interest of the secret service started up again. Interest in contacts of Guy Burgess, such as himself, being high, Klingender’s very loose connections with him and a slightly stronger friendship with Anthony Blunt were the focus of an ongoing investigation that lasted until the end of 1954, within only months of his death, and involved the British embassy in Washington and the special branch in Hull.

Retrospective speculation about Klingender has sought to talk up his interest in the Yugoslavian model of socialism as somehow suggesting he was effectively distancing himself from the Party. But this seems as much to do with the distance of Hull from London and the isolation of university life then from the town.  

In late 1954, a letter from the secretary of the Communist Party's Historians Group was intercepted and a note placed on Klingender's files place to the effect that he had not got around to paying his subscription that year.

When attempts were being made by some MI5 officers to link him to larger current events, finally, more senior officers dismissed the notion that he had ever been or was likely to become a spy, though he was not to know this when he died on 7th July 1955.  So fresh was the secret service interest in Klingender that within four days of his death, the Chief Constable of Hull had formally compiled a report on this for MI5.

MI5 could not leave well alone. Klingender's surveillance files were accessed well over 70 times between 1969 and 1977. Speculation, however, about Klingender, mainly due to his foreign origins, has never quite gone away.  In June 2005 a number of documents were derestricted by MI5, which allowed a researcher, Grant Pooke to view files before they were released to the public. Klingender’s contribution to the understanding of the history of art has even been contested in a retrospective assessment:  “Francis Klingender 1907-1955: A Marxist Art Historian Out of Time” by Grant Pooke. A text book for art students written by Pooke with Diana Newall, `Art History – the basics' [Routledge, 2008], reveals a basic political premise. The `achievements’ of the west from the 1950s and 60s are "compared to the systemic failures" of the Soviet Union, with liberal freedoms of the former "contrasted to the diktats and privations faced by those within the Eastern Bloc".  [p81]

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