British English caused an international mess and it is now made into a movie

  • 'You've caused an international incident': how my work mistake came back to haunt me

    It was the Observer’s big scoop of 2003, and as a young journalist, I was asked to type up a top-secret memo. Now my mess-up has made it to the big screen

    Aged 24 and having held only junior positions at women’s magazines, I applied for the role of foreign desk assistant in late 2002.


    Towards the end of my second week, I was handed a printout of an email by Martin Bright (then the Observer’s home affairs editor, played in Official Secrets by Matt Smith) and Peter Beaumont (the foreign affairs editor – played by Matthew Goode). Could I type it up and save it into the system? I wasn’t given any other information. Their only instruction: “Don’t make any mistakes.” And so I set to painstakingly typing in each sentence.


    Importance HIGH

    Top Secret


    As you’ve likely heard by now, the Agency is mounting a surge…

    … We’d appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts who might have similar, more in-direct access to valuable information from accesses in your product lines.

    It took about 10 minutes. I double-checked it, sent it through, moved on to my next task.


    Fastidiously typing in the memo, and not knowing what the document was or its origins, I’d changed all the American spelling “mistakes” to British English. “Recognize” became recognise, and “emphasize” emphasise. “Favorable” was amended to favourable. I thought I was being helpful. Instead, it was a disaster.

  • serafina

    Changed the title of the thread from “British English caused an international mass and it is now made into a movie” to “British English caused an international mess and it is now made into a movie”.