Richard Whiteley MI5 spy claim: 'I knew Twice Nightly and he was no spook'

Jon Craig, Chief Political Correspondent

When I used to appear on Yorkshire Television political programmes, Richard Whiteley would introduce me as "Wetherby High School old boy Jon Craig".

Well, it's true and I've been called worse. (I was once described as a "seasoned political journalist", to which one wag retorted: "Pickled, more like").

So when I read that the Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson had claimed that Richard, best known for presenting Countdown, was a spy, I guffawed with laughter.

The only thing Richard, who very sadly died in 2005, could spy was a wine waiter at 100 paces!

My wife Caroline, who also knew Richard pretty well, also laughed out loud at Tomlinson's claim when she read it, and said: "Richard was hopeless with gadgets!"

:: Richard Whiteley's wife denies claims Countdown host worked for MI5

As well as Countdown, the Channel 4 game show he always claimed was a favourite of the Queen and Queen Mother, Richard also presented YTV's evening news programme, Calendar.

That earned him the nickname "Twice Nightly Whiteley".

But he also presented a weekly political show for YTV and political programmes from the party conferences, both of which I appeared on in my days as a national newspaper political editor.

At conferences, Richard and his gang - fellow presenter Geoff Druett and producer Charlotte Milligan - would take me for dinner after the programme. Great fun! Never a dull moment!

I've never met Ricky Tomlinson, but he's a cult hero for lefties as a result of being one of the "Shrewsbury Two" pickets jailed in 1973.

He made his extraordinary claim about Richard as he opened a Wetherspoon's pub in Chester (yes, apparently), declaring that "Richard Whiteley was a member of the intelligence services".

He bases this on the fact that "Twice Nightly" co-presented an ITV documentary, "Red Under the Bed", broadcast on the day the jurors in his trial retired to consider their verdict.

He claims the film was "designed, written, made and paid for by the security services" and was "so anti-trade union that two of the jury changed their mind and brought a majority verdict in of 10-2 guilty".

I have to say, though, that in my experience, the "reds" Richard Whiteley was more interested in were rioja, merlot, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, medoc and st emilion. Not necessarily in that order.

This, after all, is a man whose hilarious autobiography, "Himoff!" (Himoff the telly, of course!) includes two priceless chapters about his escapades at party conferences.

In a chapter headed "Party Animal", he wrote: "The highlight of the political year is the party conference season, so called for a very straightforward reason: one big party.

"Nowadays, it is perfectly possible to party all day at other people's expense.

"The simple trick is to be room rooted.

"This involves merely staying put in one room and then letting the various parties happen all round you.

"The pin board in the foyer of the conference hotel is a God given guide to the gatecrasher eager for a freebie."

Now Ricky Tomlinson, because of his trade union background, has his cheerleaders among political journalists, not least the veteran Daily Mirror columnist Paul Routledge. And I'm sure he's a very fine man.

But I'm afraid the actor's claim that the late Richard Whiteley was a spook is a leftie conspiracy theory too far.

As Tomlinson's Jim Royle character would say: "My ****!"

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