The former Zircon satellite assembly plant in Portsmouth. (Photo credit: Matt Fowler)

In 1987, BBC Scotland commissioned Duncan to produce a six-part series called Secret Society. One of it's episodes exposed secret government plans for a British spy satellite code-named, ZIRCON. Before the programme was broadcast, however, the BBC notified Whitehall about the nature of the investigations. The retaliation was incisive: Special branch raided broadcaster's Scottish offices and Duncan's home, seizing the tapes. Four of the six episodes were returned, but two, 'Zircon' and 'Secret cabinet committees,' were initially banned, and a political row ensued.


Duncan published his investigation in the New Statesman. His stories can be found below, as well as the original Zircon programme, which was eventually returned and broadcast. You can read more about the Secret Society and the Zircon Affair here, and watch the original Secret Society series here.


Zircon Challenge

Duncan offered a trophy and a large cash prize for anyone who could explain how the BBC program could have damaged security. Read more...

The parliamentary bypass operation

The government has failed to account to Parliament for expenditure of half a billion pounds on a secret 'spy' satellite. In doing so, it has flagrantly breached a solemn promise to inform Parliament, through its public Accounts Committee, of all major defence expenditure

23 January, 1987

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How Zircon was launched

The government has handed back material from the five Secret Society films seized from BBC Scotland in January. The Special Branch are now settling down  to a long investigation of how the BBC2 Zircon programme was made.

13 February, 1987

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The cost of Zircon

A 'get-out' clause now supposedly allows the government to keep Parliament in the dark about projects like Zircon. Duncan Campbell explains why the get-out doesn't work.

27 February, 1987

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Filing Cabinet

The banned Zircon programme in the series "Secret Society" will finally be shown by the BBC next month. Another in the series-about election dirty tricks-will not.

26 August, 1988

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Debate stifled on Zircon

BBC's decision to broadcast the Secret Society episode, 'Zircon,' has been marred by allegations that the broadcaster attempted to influence the programme-makers to stifle the discussions.

30 September, 1988

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Spy in the sky

Zircon, the controversial British spy satellite, may now be spying on the Soviet Union.

22 December, 1989

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Secret Society: Zircon

Click here for the Secret Society broadcasting page, where you find the rest of the series.

Or read more about the Zircon Affair.