How MI5 raided a bank to get pictures of Princess Margaret
The Evening Standard
In the heady days of the 1960s and 70s, the Caribbean island of Mustique was the exotic playground where Princess Margaret held court.
It was on its shores that she was famously pictured with her lover Roddy Llewellyn.
And, it seems, it could also have been the scene of an even more intriguing photographic scandal, kept firmly under wraps.
A film purporting to be based on fact will suggest that sexually compromising photographs of the princess taken on the island were at the centre of a bank robbery in 1971.
It will claim that the £500,000 raid on Lloyds Bank in Baker Street, London, was, in fact, aimed at securing the steamy snaps.
The Bank Job, clips of which were shown at the Cannes Festival last week, has the photographs being placed in the bank for safe-keeping by Michael X, a well-known criminal originally from the Caribbean.
The £500,000 raid – worth £5million in today’s money – made the headlines in September 1971.
It became known as the ‘walkie-talkie bank job’ because of a fluke tip-off from a member of the public who overheard the robbers talking on a two-way radio.
But then mysteriously a government gagging order, a D notice, was imposed to prevent further coverage.
Four men were jailed in 1973 for the raid and Michael X was hanged for murder in Trinidad in 1975.
The film, written by Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais, will claim it was the non-monetary contents of the safety deposit boxes which spurred the raid.
“What happens in the film is that the raid on Lloyds is set up by MI5,” said producer Steven Chasman.
“They knew that a box owned by Michael X with those photographs was inside the bank vaults,” he told the Sunday Times.
Figures from the security services are said to have called on minor gangland contacts to initiate the raid, who in turn tipped off criminals who knew the bank would be easy to break into.
The writers of the film claim to have spoken to figures who were directly involved with the robbery, who separately claimed that it was aimed at getting hold of the photographs.
And while the film does not detail what is exactly in the pictures and Princess Margaret is not referred to directly, Mr Chasman said: “We are pretty clear who we are talking about.”
Whether there ever were ‘incriminating’ photographs of the princess is of course open to conjecture.
Margaret adored Mustique, the sub-tropical paradise where she could let her hair down away from prying eyes and cameras.
Her love affair with the island began in 1960 when she was given a plot of land as a wedding present by her former escort Colin Tennant, later Lord Glenconner.
By the time of the raid, her marriage to Lord Snowdon was in its final rocky stages and she retreated to the island with Llewellyn, a landscape gardener 17 years her junior. The wild parties on the island, also home to Margaret’s photographer cousin, Lord Lichfield were the stuff of legend.
Story has it that once Llewellyn, Colin Tennant and Nicholas Courtney all stripped naked on the beach to be photographed by Margaret. As for whether she allowed risque pictures to be taken of herself, it is unclear.
Asked whether he thought pictures might have existed, Lord Snowdon said: “I would have thought it unlikely.”
He added he had never heard of the bank robbery-MI5 ‘plot’.
Rumours about Margaret’s ‘colourful’ life have long abounded. She was rumoured to have had affairs with lovers including Peter Sellers and, more improbably, Dusty Springfield.
It has also been suggested she had an affair with late tough-guy actor and gangster John Bindon, boyfriend of baronet’s daughter Vicki Hodge, an actress and model.
He was a favourite of the princess and once boasted that he impressed her with his party trick of balancing five half-pint beer mugs on his manhood.
One recent book suggested that they conducted a six-month affair which had the authorities so concerned that MI5 was brought in to keep it under wraps.