The Hitler Diaries – the farce of the century

The Observer Magazine cover shows Alexei Sayle as the Hitler diaries forger in the 1991 TV series Selling Hitler

The Observer Magazine cover shows Alexei Sayle as the Hitler diaries forger in the 1991 TV series Selling Hitler

I mentioned the farce of the Hitler diaries the other day, and how in 1983 the German news magazine Stern, Newsweek in the US and the Sunday Times were duped into paying a fortune for the rights to publish what was supposed to be the find of the century – Adolf Hitler’s personal diaries. The Observer, a rival Sunday paper, must have great fun running this cover on its supplement about the 1991 TV series – Selling Hitler – made about the fiasco.

The cover shows Alexei Sayle as Hitler fanatic Konrad Kujau, the forger who called himself Peter Fischer; Alan Bennett as Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre), who authenticated the diaries for the Sunday Times, and Barry Humphries (best known as Dame Edna Everadge) as Rupert Murdoch. The choice of such comic-leaning actors shows how the programme took a mocking line.

The series was based on Robert Harris’s book Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries. This is a brilliant exposé of how Kujau touted the diaries to veteran Stern reporter Gert Heideman (played by Jonathan Pryce), who believes he has stumbled on the literary find of the century. The managers at Stern try to pull off a scoop – paying $5 million in secret over months for the 60 volumes of diaries, which Kujau can hardly make up fast enough. However, they ignore tell-tale pointers that the diaries are crude forgeries because they are blinded by greed.

The scandal has become a Fleet Street legend and made the Sunday Times and Times the butt of many a joke in the 1980s and since. It is often referred to – as in the example below. During the bitter battle between Robert Maxwell and Private Eye magazine in 1986, the thieving newspaper owner bought out a spoof satirical magazine showing Hitler with Eye editor Richard Ingrams as Göring.  Note the strapline: ‘Definitely authentic’ – Lord Dacre.

Maxwell's Not Private Eye: note the strap 'Definitely authentic' - Lord Dacre'

Maxwell’s Not Private Eye. Note the strap: ‘Definitely authentic – Lord Dacre’

See more on: UK newspapers

Not Private Eye

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