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CIA mind-control trials revealed as secret inspiration behind 'A Clockwork Orange'

By James Morrison Arts and Media Correspondent
13 October 2002
Anthony Burgess was inspired to write his most famous novel A Clockwork Orange by his real-life involvement in CIA-run mind-control experiments, a new biography claims.

The revelations, published next month, come as the controversial film version gets its first mainstream British television screening.

The new biography claims A Clockwork Orange's central theme -- the use of brainwashing to quell evil impulses in the criminal mind -- arose from Burgess's involvement with the British secret service and the CIA experiments.

It argues that many of the novel's other trademarks, including Nadsat, the fictional slang in which it is written, stem from the author's dealings with secret agents.

Burgess, a curmudgeonly interviewee, always refused to be drawn in any detail on his inspiration for A Clockwork Orange. When asked about the famous scene in which government scientists pump images of torture into the mind of its delinquent antihero, Alex, to rid him of violent thoughts, he dismissed it as an idea that came to him in a dream.

Now, a decade after Burgess's death, respected biographer Roger Lewis believes he may have uncovered the truth, thanks to a mysterious retired British intelligence agent.

According to the anonymous source, Burgess became involved with the CIA while working as a Colonial Service education officer in Malaya in the 1950s.

There he became a party to trials for a mind-control process designed to trigger emotional responses in the brain using pain and pleasure -- the inspiration, it is claimed, for the chilling Ludovico Technique in A Clockwork Orange.

The ex-spy's most compelling claim was that a sequence of capital letters seen on Alex's bedroom wall in Chapter 3 of the novel and supposedly lifted from Alex's school trophies is actually an encryption for the location of a US military base where "psychotronic warfare" experiments took place. The coded wording reads: "SOUTH 4; METRO COR-SKOL BLUE DIVISION; THE BOYS OF ALPHA."

According to the spy, the figure 4 refers to the conjunction of four US states, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. To the south of this is a military reservation, based in a metropolitan location. The base is a training school (skol in Russian), initially supervised by the US Navy's Blue Division, which experimented with the Alpha waves of the human unconsciousness. Its name was Fort Bliss; the word "bliss" appears repeatedly in the chapter.

Another clue, Mr Lewis argues in Anthony Burgess, is the novelist's use of Americanisms in A Clockwork Orange. Amid the Russian-inflected flow of Nadsat are scattered words like pretzel and liquor, yet Burgess had not visited the US before the novel's publication in 1962.

He adds that linguistic analysis of the writings of Burgess's alleged collaborator, the former CIA officer Howard Roman, suggests the latter may have even worded large chunks of the novel himself.

When Mr Lewis asked the CIA for access to files pertaining to Burgess, he was turned down with the words,"By this action, we are neither confirming nor denying the existence or nonexistence of such records ..."

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