The BBC has been engulfed in a fresh documentary row after a former friend of Francis Bacon blamed them for inadvertently leading thieves to his multi-million painting by the artist.

The deception surrounding Martin Bashir’s BBC interview with Princess Diana has prompted Barry Joule to claim he too was deceived by the corporation in agreeing to be interviewed for a documentary.

He accuses programme-makers of filming both the distinctive exterior of his 15th-century Normandy home and a painting by Bacon inside – even though he says he specifically asked them not to do so for security reasons.

Barry Joule with Francis Bacon in London in July 1978

Credit: Barry Joule

He believes it is no coincidence that, shortly after the documentary was aired, he suffered a highly-professional burglary in which that painting was stolen.

Mr Joule, who was Bacon’s friend from 1978 until the artist’s death in 1992, told The Telegraph: “The BBC have ruined my life.”

Having lived next-door to Bacon in London, he now resides in France. In allowing the film-makers to visit his Normandy farmhouse, he claims that he had told them that its exterior could not be filmed as its distinctive Normandy style and “very strange” chimney would make it easily identifiable.

He also says he insisted that they were not to film his Bacon painting, one of the iconic Pope pictures from the early 1950s – only to discover that they did just that.

Pope (1950): The stolen painting by Francis Bacon: 

Credit: Barry Joule

When the BBC agreed to show him the documentary before it was aired, he was horrified to see footage of both the house exterior and the Bacon painting.

He recalls his “strenuous objections” and claims senior BBC executives assuring him they would be deleted, only – he says – to discover that they did not keep their promise before the one-hour documentary, titled The Strange World of Barry Who?, was shown on BBC4 in 2002. A BBC spokesperson stressed "recollections differ".

The BBC’s blurb for the programme states: “A friend and confidante to the stars, Barry Joule is said to have inherited money, paintings or property from artist Francis Bacon, dancer Rudolf Nureyev and model Toto Koopman. But how did this little-known man become one of the greatest arts networkers of all time?”

In agreeing to be interviewed, Mr Joule had been told that this would be a portrait of “an important figure in the arts world” but claimed the show made him “look fairly suspicious”.

Recalling the screening at the BBC’s White City offices, he said: “There’s about 15 or 20 executives there… I was horrified to see that they had filmed the Bacon Pope and identifying features on my house… I said, ‘you have to take [those out]’. They said, ‘yes, yes, we’ll do it’. They didn’t… They lied to me…

“Months later, there’s a highly-professional robbery in my house and only the painting is stolen, cut out of its frame. Bacon had given me the painting after I saved his life…pumping his chest, giving him oxygen on 18 January 1992 after a minor heart-attack.”

Barry Joule claims a painting was stolen from him after the BBC showed the location of his house in a Francis Bacon documentary


He added: “The police did a huge investigation. They think that the painting’s in Moscow, with a gangster collector because people have…seen it.

“That’s what the BBC did to me, leading burglars to my French home, though I must admit I have no proof.”

The robbery was so professional that the thieves had put a tap on his telephone line and knew exactly when he would be out.

What is all the more painful is that the painting was not insured. It was worth about £8m. He assumed it was safe because only his closest friends knew that he owned it and he had good security: “The insurance was extremely high, so I was going to sell it or put it in a safety deposit.”

He added: “The painful memories have come flooding back in reading about what happened to Diana and how the BBC treated her, and the paranoia that she suffered afterwards – exactly what happened to me.”

A BBC spokesman said: “When people raise concerns of this kind about programmes, we of course look into them. This is a programme made nearly two decades ago and it is clear that recollections differ… If Mr Joule has concerns about the film, we welcome the opportunity to speak to him directly.”

A BBC source denied there was sufficient information in the film to enable a viewer to work out where Mr Joule lived, describing the house exterior as “not a long lingering shot”. They added that Joule had given the crew a tour of the house.

But Joule argues that the house is a “distinctly” Normandy style and he was known to have a home there.

Of the burglars, he said: “They were a highly professional bunch of crooks… Searching for details, they would certainly find it. No question about it… If they’re focussed on stealing a very expensive painting, they would pick up on any clues.”