Diary proves Argo film wrong

  • 04/04/2013

A notebook belonging to a New Zealand diplomat in Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis has been discovered, proving once and for all that Ben Affleck's film Argo is wrong.

Diplomat Richard Sewell worked with Ambassador Chris Beeby during the hostage crisis and he kept the notebook as a diary of what happened.

It was gifted to the Alexandra Turnbull Library today by Mr Sewell's partner Grant Allen who found it in an old box. Mr Allen inherited the notebook after Mr Sewell's death in 1989.

The entries in the book show Mr Sewell and Mr Beeby made efforts to help six US diplomats leave the country using Canadian passports. 

Mr Sewell drove one of the US men to the airport to flee Iran on a flight to Switzerland.

In his diary, Mr Sewell says that diplomat was Kevin Harkins - whose real name was Tony Mendez, a CIA agent played by Affleck in Argo.

When Mr Sewell went to fetch 'Kevin' from the hotel on the morning of the escape, 'Kevin' was still asleep and had to be woken by a phone call.

"He said 'Jesus, is it time to go already? I'm still asleep. I've only just got back'," the diary entry reads.

The duo were 30 minutes late for the flight and 'Kevin' told him, "For God's sake don't mention this to anyone."

"We laughed and laughed as we both thought out loud about the folk back in Washington, at Langley, in Ottawa who no doubt were already biting their nails, counting the minutes, following our progress by remote control, worrying and waiting for Argo to run its course," writes Mr Sewell.

"Now comes the hard part. The escape. Would we make it? Were we all making a big mistake? Did [name omitted] have enough guts to go through with it?"

Mr Beeby had also rented out a safe house in case the US diplomats were discovered at the Canadian Embassy, where they were hiding before the flight.

The 2012 film Argo portrays New Zealand as unwilling to help at all - an inaccuracy Prime Minister John Key says is disappointing and one Parliament unanimously voted to correct.

The hostage crisis began in November 1979 after a group of militants and students took over the US embassy, holding 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.

Failed negotiations and a failed rescue mission ensued the following year before a deal was reached in January 1981 and the hostages were released.

Mr Sewell's notebook will be housed in the library's manuscripts collection.

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