The Chester Chronicle exclusive interview with Ricky Tomlinson in which he claimed the late Countdown presenter Richard Whiteley was an MI5 spy has been picked up by media across the country.
Ricky made the revelation after opening the new-look Bull and Stirrup on Tuesday which has been rebranded as a Wetherspoon’s hotel.
It was at the very same pub that, as an unknown plasterer, Ricky and his comrades helped organise the first ever national building workers’ strike back in 1972, which led to him and five of his pals being jailed after picketing in Shrewsbury.
Ricky’s shock claim is that Whiteley was working for MI5 when he helped make an anti-union TV programme which aired as the jury went out to consider its verdict. And The Royle Family star, who is fighting to clear the names of all the Shrewsbury Pickets, says the clear aim was: to persuade jurors to bring a guilty verdict.
The story is so bizarre in nature that it was picked up by our sister paper the Daily Mirror on its front page along with other national titles and chief reporter David Holmes was this morning interviewed by national BBC radio.
However, the brick bats have been flying.
Whiteley’s former partner Kathryn Apanowicz told The Mirror: “He couldn’t even keep a secret, how would he be good in MI5?
“I knew everything about Richard and this is nonsense. He could hardly work his mobile phone, never mind gadgets, he’d have been hopeless.
“I’m slightly annoyed because it’s easy to cast aspersions on somebody who has died, because you can’t libel the dead.”
Former Countdown co-host Carol Vorderman , who was in Chester the other week visiting family, was intrigued.
She said: “Whiters was a mystery and he was amazing and charming and very bright – which he managed to hide well a lot of the time on Countdown! Ha.
“I’d be fascinated to see Ricky’s evidence. However, if he was a spy then he never mentioned it to me or gave any of us reason to believe he was one.
“But then again, if he was a spook, he wouldn’t exactly shout about it.”
And former Chester Tory MP Gyles Brandreth, who was a regular on Countdown’s Dictionary Corner during the years Mr Whiteley hosted the show, told the Daily Mail: “Well, he was at Cambridge...but if he was a spy, then he was the best in the business.
‘I knew him for 40 years and talked to him for hours — often late into the night and when he was in his cups — and he gave no hint of any kind that he had ever been approached by, or was involved with, the secret services.”
Meanwhile, Scouser Ricky, who also played trade unionist Bobby Grant in Channel 4 soap Brookside, said he appeared alongside Whiteley on Countdown several times with no clue as to the host’s background.
He told The Mirror: “The security services use media people as part of the intelligence services. I must have done Countdown four or five times.
“I didn’t know at the time, I wish I had known, I’d have strangled him. There’s all sorts of people involved. It was a carve up right from the go.”