Real story behind Hollywood’s Argo

April 4, 2013: Real story behind Hollywood’s Argo donated to Turnbull Library

A document throwing light on the dramatic, real-life story of how New Zealand diplomats helped save the American hostages featured in Oscar-winning Hollywood movie Argo has been donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library.

The personal notebook-diary was kept by Richard Sewell, a diplomat at the New Zealand Embassy in Tehran in 1979. It details the efforts he and Ambassador Chris Beeby made to save six US hostages who had escaped after Iranian militants had earlier stormed the US Embassy.

The diary completely contradicts the movie’s version of events, in which New Zealand diplomats refuse to help the hostages escape Iran.

Richard Sewell died in 1989 and his partner, Grant Allen, who inherited the personal diary, only realised its significance recently, amidst all the publicity over the hit movie’s version of events.

“I’ve decided to donate the notebook to the Turnbull because it’s a story that should be out in the public domain,” said Grant Allen. “The Turnbull’s the most respected institution in the country for things like this and was the obvious choice for a home.”

The Alexander Turnbull Library is part of the National Library, within the Department of Internal Affairs, and the Manuscripts Collection of the Library holds a large and varied range of personal papers kept by New Zealanders. Although there are sometimes restrictions on viewing papers relating to living people, most can be seen by researchers and the general public at the Library’s newly-refurbished headquarters in Molesworth Street, Wellington.

“The Manuscripts Collection is a very rich source for stories from our past,” said Manuscripts Curator, David Colquhoun. “There are diaries and letters ranging from the first European explorers to events of the very recent past. There are the papers of our famous writers, politicians, soldiers, scientists, sportspeople, and much more, as well as the writings of very ordinary New Zealanders documenting everyday life.”

While the Turnbull contains the personal archives of our history, much of the official record of New Zealand and New Zealanders is securely housed elsewhere in the Department of Internal Affairs, including government records maintained by Archives New Zealand and identity records in Births, Deaths and Marriages and in the Passport Office.

The Library had discussed the donation with Archives NZ and both institutions agreed that the Turnbull was the appropriate home for it.


Get in touch for more information, and high-resolution images. Allen Walley, Department of Internal Affairs, phone 04 495 9351 or 027 384 3009.