Dominic Sandbrook: Cameron’s Panglossian optimist

Review: Let Us Entertain You

(TX: 9pm, BBC-2, Wednesday 04/11/2015 – 25/11/2015)

Dominic Sandbrook3

‘A band, or a brand, that was quintessentially British’.

We can start with discounting this utter nonsense about The Beatles; for Dominic, a ‘quintessentially British band’ actually formed through Scouse, German and American influences, and whose art apparently can be reduced to export figures and business jargon: ‘brand’.

Several reviews of this unaccountably BBC-promoted historian’s book and TV show spin-off have been ill-informed. No, Daisy Goodwin, Sandbrook doesn’t ‘ingeniously’ find a link between the region’s metal-work industry and the growth of heavy metal. Jeremy Dellar has previously made exactly the same link but did not use it to make a simplistic and convoluted neo-liberal argument.[1] He also, as Matthew Cooper states, uses ‘the foundries of the West Midlands to stand for all industry in the area, much of which was far lighter work’, and that of the band only Tony Iommi worked in engineering.[2]

For Julia Raeside in The Guardian, it was an ‘enjoyable gallop through Britain’s pop-cultural output’.[3] For ’Andrew Billen in The Times, it was ‘the brainiest clip show ever’.[4] For Matt Baylis, ‘Dominic does us proud’.[5] Sally Newall in The Independent said that she ‘enjoyed the focus on the business side of things’.[6] Well, that’s just as well as that is all that Sandbrook is ultimately concerned with – his materialistic analysis gives Adorno’s ‘culture industry’ thesis a positive spin.

The TV show only has a very brief segment on Catherine Cookson, which Sweet regards as the most perceptive section of the book. This inspires Sweet to say that her work ‘may one day be rediscovered, as a portrait of a world as grindingly cruel as anything experienced by Winston Smith.’[7] This should have figured much more deeply in what was a scattershot TV series. Sweet implicitly critiques Sandbrook’s focus on money being the primary driving force behind culture by using the example of electric shock-baton technology, worth £59m a year to the British economy, just £18m less than the cultural industries (£76.9m.) as was reported by the government in January.[8] Far be it from Sandbrook to face our significant export, not of Harry Potter, but of cluster bombs and arms. Cooper explains that even on Sandbrook’s stat-based terms, he is wrong to state the economic case so strongly. While creative industries have been an increased percentage of our economy and exports since 2008, they are significantly exceeded by manufacturing areas such as aircraft, machinery and pharmaceuticals, while computers, gaming and advertising are the ‘creative industries’ sector’s strength.[9]

Boyd Tonkin ruefully sees Sandbrook’s work as neglecting the Port Talbots of this world, siting it in the context of current steelworks closures.[10] Sandbrook is even criticised by Charlotte Heathcote in the UKIP-supporting Express for his parochialism: ‘Early on he suggests that France has offered nothing to “the global imagination” aside from Asterix and Le Petit Prince.’[11] He is defended by Simon Copeland of The Sun, who laps up the smug nationalism of Sandbrook’s argument: ‘there is no French equivalent of The Beatles. No Jean-Paul, George and Ringo, if you like’.[12] Heathcote, however, acidly critiques Sandbrook’s tendency to ‘measure artists’ worth by how they would stand up to the values espoused by Victorian writer Samuel Smiles’.

Sandbrook’s series does not dissect the ‘conservative anarchism’ that Alwyn W. Turner identifies as a focus of the book.[13] Indeed, the series tends to venerate a buccaneering capitalism with minimal if any focus on the more chaotic consequences of business values, and co-opts all manner of texts in the service of a docile ‘traditional’ Britishness rooted in Victorianism. Turner rightly focuses on how Sandbrook’s hatred for John Lennon leads him into a simplistic biographical reading of ‘Imagine’, not allowing for how audiences may interpret it, as with a recent pro-democracy usage of it in Hong Kong protests.

Ekow Eshun notes Sandbrook’s avoidance of more ‘serious, popular and contentious’ currents in British culture – from Nick Drake to Peter Greenaway to Pop Art to Brutalism to rave to Madchester – along with an ignoring of black and Asian creative figures.[14] Eshun identifies Sandbrook’s privileging of a bland, exclusive culture: ‘It’s a picture of Britain the Victorians would surely approve of’. He also tellingly chides Sandbrook’s price of everything, value of nothing attitude: ‘The impact of the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ is dismissed because it was outsold by Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ in the summer of 1977, as if chart position is the inviolate marker of cultural influence’.

Erstwhile Euston Manifesto signatory Nick Cohen mounts a persuasive critique of Sandbrook’s neglect to mention the dearth of quality theatre today: ‘The post-war generation produced three great playwrights in John Osborne, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard. Now, Britain has no great playwrights.’[15] He also criticises Sandbrook as ‘he does not explain why the hunger has disappeared from so much of television or worry that we are becoming mediocre and predictable.’ Sandbrook is indeed Panglossian in his populist optimism, with Cohen pointing out that of Sandbrook’s ‘success stories’, only J.K. Rowling is contemporary and producing original work.

Dominic Sandbrook1

In LUEY, a vast range of examples is shoe-horned into a banal, wrong-headed argument: from J. Arthur Rank to Twiggy to Chris Blackwell to T.H.White to McGoohan’s The Prisoner to Monica Ali to that purveyor of an ‘outstandingly pessimistic view of human nature’, Agatha Christie. All are pressed into the service of The Argument. Fictional characters from Billy Bunter to Billy Fisher are cajoled into daft concert, into discordant tune. Indeed, schoolboys Brown, Bunter, Jennings and Potter are all conflated, as if there is basically little difference between them. Episode 2 doesn’t even have an argument, just a fawning admiration for the public school and country house in British culture. There is much to be said on the entrenched conservatism of British intellectual culture, 1945 onwards, with Waugh, Smedley, Hayek and others keeping alive the old Conservatism or forging new Liberal Right tendencies. But Sandbrook doesn’t say it. You may just want to consult Robert Hewison or Dick Hebidge on such issues, as DS simply shows a fan’s adulation for the Granada Brideshead Revisited.

He entirely glosses over the serious tensions there have been between Burkean, nationalistic conservatism and the sort of free market, anarchistic capitalism unleashed by Thatcher. There is no focus on conservative anarchism, beyond a weak reprise near the end of episode 2 of Jonathan Coe’s arguments in the LRB about satire.[16] Thatcher-favoured historian Martin J. Wiener’s arguments around the loss of the technological and industrial spirit from 1850-1980 are neglected, other than a reference to Tolkein’s negative portrayal of factories corrupting the Shire at the end of Lord of the Rings: “their [the Hobbits’] pastoral Eden has gone”.[17] David Edgerton’s counter-argument that we were technologically advancing, but only in the direction of a bloated, militaristic ‘Warfare State’, are ignored to an even greater extent.[18]

He misses the vast debates this country has seen over Americanisation. His examples of British success stories, the games Grand Theft Auto and Elite, are, as Cooper has noted, far from being culturally British, unless that it is to say that British has been Americanised. Another major shadow cast is the influence of Europe, which may as well have had no impact in terms of food and fashion; for example, no reference to the Beatles as wearing German or, indeed, American fashions.

Dominic Sandbrook2 - THE BEATLES

No, for Sandbrook, it’s all ‘quintessentially British’. He does not face the impact of Suez, or of Britain’s becoming a country uneasily adapting to its status as a de facto satellite of the USA, with war debts not to be paid off until 2006.

Sometimes, he does focus on significant moments; he rightly hones in on the Rolling Stones’ landed gentry aspirations and business acumen. And he highlights the 2002 Jubilee event at Buckingham Palace, where the likes of Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams and Madness in effect genuflected before monarchy. He rightly identifies that this was not monarchy debasing itself but pop neutering itself. However, typically, Sandbrook celebrates this ‘triumph of privilege over pop’. It is a fitting he does, such is his fetishizing of data and blandness; such is his utter neglect not just of global contexts but also of the less comfortable, edgier nature of British culture. He simplifies what he likes; he ignores what he doesn’t.

Regional, class or gender identities are all neglected in favour of Sandbrook’s adherence to the myth of the mighty, autonomous individual. You could have a drinking game based on how many references there are to Richard Arkwright and Samuel Smiles. You could also do serious damage to your health by taking a drink every time he brings up a tenuous connection or misses the point entirely about a cultural item: to say the Beatles saw things entirely in business or monetary terms is idiocy, to discuss Bob Marley’s music without reference to ideology is grotesque.

There is no sense of the idiosyncrasies of different eras – there’s a somewhat Marxist sense of historical inevitability about his narrative of us as a nation perennially defined by popular culture and hard graft, with any uncomfortable contrasts kept out of the story. He misses the richness of British culture. For Sandbrook, subcultures may well never have existed. You will wait in vain for the following: pre-1910 music hall, post-punk, the music print culture around Melody Maker and the NME, early Channel 4, Play for Today, social realism on TV and film, besides tokenistic reference to Billy Elliot and Trainspotting (both used in service of The Argument). Art schools are tellingly downplayed by their only mention in a critical broadside against his bête noire, John Lennon. There is no sense that we might have produced artifacts as interesting as The Ipcress File, 7-Up or Rock Follies.


Sandbrook absurdly associates Kate Bush with the BRIT school; the soundtrack crassly uses Nick Drake over footage of the country house and public school ‘ideal’. He claims that 1970s audiences preferred Upstairs, Downstairs to the 3 Day Week, without analysing why this latter political event occurred, or acknowledging that LWT’s period drama is a lot more nuanced and complex than the traditionalist Toryism he takes it as embodying. This was a series which took in the bleakness of WW1, as well as issues like the General Strike in its final 1920s-set series. Its heart is closer to Hampstead liberalism than Grantham conservatism, yet Sandbrook seems to assume that it is more Hudson’s story than Rose Buck’s story, which is simply not the case. The preferred reading is increasingly critical of Hudson as the series develops and is not uncritically supportive of social hierarchies.

He takes Doctor Who and the Doctor to represent ‘liberal interventionism’, as if the mercurial Patrick Troughton or the often countercultural Sylvester McCoy can be so easily pigeonholed… Even Jon Pertwee’s Doctor is rather more a haughty, clubbable conservative than a Tony Blair-style crusader-come-shyster… The Third Doctor’s preaching is more varied than DS allows; he knows Mao Zedong as well as Francis Drake and an overarching tendency to moan about bureaucracy in that very 1970s way. Philip Sandifer has identified the 1977 Tom Baker serial ‘The Sunmakers’ as ’punk’; heaven forbid that Sandbrook considers fringe or subcultural influences![19]

And, oh, is Sandbrook proud of his ‘facts’; he would have done better to focus his study of British culture on the very obsession with empiricism and mistrust of ideas he shows. Yes, one third of the population visit a country house; however, unlike a Perry Anderson or Raphael Samuel, he doesn’t go on to interrogate the myths or quite why there is such a cult of the old in the UK. LUEY isn’t so much the ‘history of great men’ or ‘history from below’, as history from the wallet. Or, from the noggin of Thomas Gradgrind.

He relishes phrases like ‘like all good populists’ and ‘missionary spirit’ and contestable assertions such as ‘we make stories better than anyone else’. While only offering that we have one basic story that is grindingly banal: social aspiration and hard work pays off for the individual. Mantra-like, this Daily Mail narrative pervades not just Conservative party neuro-linguistic propaganda but four full hours of BBC TV ‘history’ here. This programme may as well, as David Lichfield has said, been commissioned by David Cameron. For an organisation that has Adam Curtis, Jonathan Meades and Matthew Sweet at its disposal to allow this is genuinely saddening. It is a long way from Ways of Seeing (1972) and The Shock of the New (1980) to here.

At one stage in episode 4, he raises a salient point – ‘the growing power of individualism has come at a cost’ – but then doesn’t go on to say any more on the matter, like the Torian he is. For this historian equivalent of Cameron in politics and Cowell in entertainment, it always returns to the theme of a ‘land of opportunity’, British culture represented as a Smilesian Opportunity Knocks.


[1] Goodwin, D. (2015) ‘Britain’s got talent – How the ‘workshop of the world’ turned into its most successful purveyor of popular culture’, The Sunday Times, 4th October

[2] Cooper, M. (2015) ‘Telling Stories? Popular culture as the new British Empire’, We Need to Talk About Dominic, 10th November [online] [accessed: 20/12/15]

[3] Raeside, J. (2015) ‘Dominic Sandbrook: Let Us Entertain You review’, The Guardian, 5th November, p.21

[4] Billen, A. (2015) ‘For popular culture, Britain’s the cat’s whiskers’, The Times, 5th November, p.10

[5] Baylis, M. (2015) ‘Dominic does us proud – Matt Baylis on last night’s TV’, The Express, 12th November, p.43

[6] Newall, S. (2015) ‘Sandbrook’s social history went beyond the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll clichés’, The Independent, 5th November, p.41

[7] Sweet, M. (2015) ‘The Great British Dream Factory by Dominic Sandbrook review – intellectual snobs beware’, The Guardian, 14th October

[8] Department for Culture, Media & Sport and The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP (2015) ‘Creative Industries worth £8.8 million an hour to UK economy’, Gov.UK, 13th January [online] [accessed: 20/12/15]

[9] Cooper, M. (2015) ibid.

[10] Tonkin, B. (2015) ‘As old jobs die, the march of the makers of dreams goes on’, The Independent, 24th October

[11] Heathcote, C. (2015) ‘Downing of the culture vulture’, The Express, 25th September

[12] Goodwin, S. (2015) ‘The Great British Dream Factory: Review’, The Sun, 5th December

[13] Turner, A.W. (2015) ‘God save the anarchists’, The Daily Telegraph, 14th October

[14] Eshun, E. (2015) ‘A Case of Mistaken Identity’, The Independent, 3rd October

[15] Cohen, N. (2015) ‘The Great British Dream Factory: The Strange History of Our National Imagination by Dominic Sandbrook – review’, The Guardian, 23rd September

[16] Coe, J. (2013) ‘Sinking Giggling into the Sea’, London Review of Books, (35)14, 18th July [accessed: 20/12/15]

[17] Wiener, M.J. (1981) English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[18] Edgerton, D. (2005) Warfare State: Britain 1920-1970. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[19] Sandifer, P. (2014) Tardis Eruditorium: An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who, Volume V: Tom Baker and the Williams Years. Eruditorium Press, pp.34-44

Opening Negotiations: introductions and backgrounds to British Cold War Culture


‘The cold war, in Gaddis’s account, was both inevitable and necessary. The Soviet empire and its allies could not be rolled back, but they had to be contained […] In the end – thanks to greater resources, a vastly more attractive political and economic model, and the initiative of a few good men (and one good woman) – the right side won.’[1]

While many writers have questioned the hegemonic, J.L. Gaddis-formed ‘common sense’ about the Cold War, few conflicting views are sanctioned in popular discourse on the subject. In Britain, the Gaddis-inspired Niall Ferguson and Dominic Sandbrook have held sway. Sandbrook was given a BBC-2 platform; in Strange Days: Cold War Britain (2013), he argued that the Cold War was about a victory for libertarian ideology – representing ‘sex-choice-freedom’ – over a presumed conformist collectivism. In the posited binary, the individual defeats the faceless ‘mass’. Personal choice overwhelms social determinism.

‘Individual choice’ constitutes an attractive, open model which displaces social organisation and – most importantly for Sandbrook and Ferguson – makes ‘us’ more economically prosperous in GNP terms. This is how they judge various ideologies – and they give too little focus to the distinctions between welfare-capitalism, social-democracy and neo-liberalism. Democratic socialism is viewed as an insignificant adjunct to official communism, rather than a crucial player in the Cold War “victory” in the West. What Sandbrook is good at is identifying striking historical moments – Stamford Bridge, 13th November 1945 and Manchester, 12th July 1961 – and he admittedly doesn’t ignore certain important film and television texts like The War Game (1965) and High Treason (1951).

In contrast to Sandbrook’s awed worship of our progression towards shopping mall Britain, Selina Todd has recently written about the downsides of neo-liberal thinking: working-class people internalising competitive ideology and seeing themselves as failures, with incidences of depression and despair taking the place of organised fightback or the ability to see themselves in the context of wider social forces.

In her 2014 lecture at Newcastle University, Todd told the story of her ex-classmate, Jackie, from Heaton Manor Comprehensive: “She left school at 18 and set out to ‘show what hard work and a big smile can do’. She got on in a labour market where personality counts for more than qualifications and where you’ve got to be flexible and adaptable. She worked her way up to a very important, senior customer service […] position. And then she was sacked – because her boss found her dispensable, for whatever reason. And Jackie had a breakdown as a result of that at age 30, he blamed her personality for it; she blamed her body for it. Not for her the picket line, with a load of others, to demand more control over work […] In a liberal world, she blamed number one.”[2]

Todd spoke of Jackie as embodying a lot of others’ experiences in neo-liberal Britain. Hope was to be held out in how these same ‘individuals’ refused to see their partners or kids in the same way: ‘They were not prepared to believe that those they loved were too lazy or stupid to ‘make it’ in the modern world. In seeking an explanation for why a hard-working husband or healthy children lacked financial security, they began to frame their experiences in class terms.’[3]

Sandbrook does not address such problematic issues – which are intrinsic to the consideration of Cold War ideologies; he gives no quarter to the discontents of ‘freedom’. He ambles smugly around shopping centres or public squares in an ushanka.


The Cold War era has a vast context but it can be broadly delineated into these periods:

1: The Pre-Cold War (1917-47)

2: The First Cold War (1947-69)

3: Détente (1969-79)

4: The Second Cold War (1979-85)

5: Glasnost, perestroika and endgame (1986-91)

Orwell coined the term ‘cold war’ in his essay for Tribune, ‘You and the Atom Bomb’, published 19th October 1945, four years before he hypocritically gave the IRD his infamous list of suspected Stalinist ‘fellow travellers’. In this essay, he discusses the bomb in terms of its costs and impact on power relations; he sets up a binary: fears of annihilation and barbarism vs. hopes for benevolent, liberal world government. ‘If, as seems to be the case, it [the bomb] is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a peace that is no peace’.[4]

Orwell states that the bomb will lead to ‘horribly stable’ states, akin to the slave empires of old, and is fearful of ‘the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbours.’ He made a very prescient point about the bomb leading to power being ‘concentrated in still fewer hands and that the outlook for subject peoples and oppressed classes is still more hopeless.’ This was dreadfully prescient for the peoples of Vietnam and Czechoslovakia – among many other examples of proxy interventions by the big powers. Martin Shaw – not the reluctant player of that ludicrous bubble-permed masculine ideal Bodie – argued in 1984 that too much Cold War study has focused on the long peace between the major powers since 1945. Certainly, the liberal idealist Steven Pinker makes a persuasive case in The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) for humanity having ‘civilized’ and become tangibly less violent, based on statistical data across epochs. That doesn’t invalidate concern for the people of third-world countries that became distant pawns in a damnable global contest.

An overview of the field; what is this blog’s remit?

What has been written; what might be written?

And what does the Cold War mean personally? Well, watching When the Wind Blows (1986) on a battered VHS cassette – recorded off-air by my parents – at fifteen years of age left a mark. It contributed to the sort of dark humorous outlook and melancholy that is part of my mental landscape, my way of seeing. I was too young to have seen Threads first hand, and my parents didn’t encourage me to watch it or read Raymond Briggs’ original, but I was always going to come to it eventually. I’d been getting into Pink Floyd at the time, and had read Nineteen Eighty Four around the same time – typical enough for any fairly bookish teenage lad, but I have taken the conscious decision to go further and explore why British people felt such artifacts as When the Wind Blows had to be made… I was also asked by Joe Brooker in 2013 to contribute a paper on ‘John le le Carré in TV History’ to a symposium which marked the 50th anniversary of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’s first publication. This thought-provoking event was a springboard for me to read and think about many wider areas of the Cold War.

This blog will look at: television, film, theatre, poetry, prose, music and art. Boundaries and canons are to be analysed themselves, not obeyed. Culture also is to include ‘the way of life’, so advertising and varied everyday practices should be considered; the human spirit may be perceived in a t-shirt, providing that cultural product is placed in wider contexts. A guiding spirit is Raymond Williams: everything can matter; nothing can be entirely divorced from the society it originates within.

Analysis of domestic political history may be matched by a focus on doctrines of International Relations. As well as considering debates concerning idealism/realism and NATO/non alignment. How did the British perceive themselves, Western and Eastern European nations and alliances and people outside of Europe? As well, of course, as how ‘we’ perceived the Soviet Union and the United States – and some attention should be paid to how ‘we’ ourselves were perceived.

As Joseph Oldham has argued, spy fiction is ‘perhaps uniquely effective as a popular genre for providing an alternative lens onto the broader cultural and geopolitical shifts over the last hundred years or so.’[5] James Chapman has incisively analysed how the James Bond film series mirrors such shifts; for example, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) as emblematic of détente, reflecting the thawed relations between the USA and the USSR.[6] Popular music will be examined; it has been a contested subject: in 2013, Sandbrook tried to claim the Beatles for the dominant Western consumerism, while in 1969 Richard Gott said of the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park: ‘this was a free concert, an event that seemed to be taking place in a Socialist society in the distant future. The participants, almost all born since the Second World War, had a classless air, and they were less disciplined, less puritanical than the middle-class protestors of earlier days.’[7] Sandbrook pays necessary attention to ‘Two Tribes’, but to little else. He wrongly stereotypes Play for Today as a predominantly “very left-wing” series. He is hagiographical towards Thatcher, a 1970s development not predicted by Gott – inflating her Cold War significance in the third episode of his series, gushing: “The Iron Lady was Britain’s ultimate Cold War weapon!”[8]

Alan Sinfield and Robert Hewison have conducted valuable studies of the broader cultural and developments, giving attention to fringe, underground activities, from Wesker’s Centre 42 to CND. Tony Judt may have been correct that there was ‘no McCarthyism’ in Western Europe – Britain included – however, vast expenses were spent by this country’s government on an ever-larger ‘secret state’ that spied on citizens with even the slightest connection to ‘subversive’ ideologies.[9] Bernard Porter and Peter Hennessy have written entertainingly and polemically on the secret state – their writings respectively represent a useful dichotomy of anti-establishment and mandarin outlooks. Their brief detours into textual study will be worth following up: The Sixth Column, The Chilian Club and a PG Wodehouse “Bingo” Little short-story featuring the bomb!

Durham University’s James Smith has provided the most up-to-date analysis of secret service surveillance of writers and artists from the Thirties Generation to the Theatre Workshop, adding to Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor’s important Blacklist: Inside Story of Political Vetting (1985). Tony Shaw has written several important books and articles on British cinema, ideology and propaganda, and usefully focuses on the end of Empire alongside discussions of containment and apocalyptic fictions. I have been informed by his analysis of neglected films like The Demi-Paradise (1943) and His Excellency (1952).

While there’ve been crucial passages in Raymond Durgnat’s A Mirror for England (1970) and Alice Ferrebe’s Literature of the 1950s: Good, Brave Causes, my favourite single work of Cold War cultural analysis is Andrew Hammond’s British Fiction and the Cold War (2013), focusing on literature in cultural context. This work of vast scholarship, forensic detail and contextual sweep, highlights key areas for future research – I hope to work on such areas, and not just with literary texts.

More reading is to be done, to gather “what has been said” on this vast subject. There are books and ideas to engage with and respond to – from, seemingly, an all too male field that includes: Wright, Webb, Elsom, Hebdige, Caute, Spufford, Beckett, Vinen, Edgerton, Judt and Lynskey.

I will tackle some of these significant themes I have often encountered in my research: deterrence, the various bombs, civil defence, containment, espionage and foreign policy. There is also the seemingly distinct but intimately Cold War-connected area of national service. Due attention will be paid to tellingly neglected areas, such as British involvement in the affairs of Greece, Australia and Indonesia. Despite the avowedly British scope, I hope in this blog to discuss areas such as neutrality, euro-communism and Eastern Europe more than the feted, but America-centric Gaddis: ‘In a work of 333 pages, Tito’s break with Stalin gets just one paragraph; the Hungarian revolution of 1956 merits a mere twenty-seven lines (whereas page after page is devoted to Watergate).’[10]

This blog may appraise any new television or radio programmes that come under the umbrella of ‘British culture in the Cold War’. Obvious but crucial texts (Threads, Nineteen Eighty Four, Darkness at Noon) may be discussed, alongside obscurer works that communicate less familiar viewpoints, myths and representations.

Key figures will be analysed: what do these people mean in the context of the Cold War and British identity: Winston Churchill, Ernest Bevin, Doris Lessing, Patrick Allen, John Le Mesurier, John Berger…?


There are significant national myths to be dissected; it will be my contention that tickets to top tables, world roles, ‘Blitz spirit’ rediscovery and colossal defence spending represented delusional folly. The myth of national decline post-WW2 maintains its power – but this really depends what aspect of Britain you examine, and whose perspective one takes: the median working person or those with wealth and power. Lawrence Black and Andy Beckett have rightly challenged the ‘1970s as utterly bleak and hopeless’ myth, one originally fostered by Levins, Larkins, Bookers and so on. Similar to injudicious ‘Island Story’ tellers – as old and unfamiliar as Henrietta Marshall and sadly at all too familiar as Michael Gove – the likes of Sandbrook present too simple and triumphalist a story of the Cold War: ‘It was shopping wot won it’.[11]

The history has not ended: Thatcher-inspired neo-liberalism has not delivered a glorious present; vainglorious states still attempt to meddle in the others of smaller ones. Bond and Smiley are still appearing on cinema screens. British culture in the Cold War was as richly complex in its multiplicity: parochial, internationalist; left-wing, right-wing; communalist, individualist.

In contrast to complacent or dogmatic Cold Warrior poets of ‘The Movement’, Ted Hughes spoke about “opening negotiations”, with “whatever is out there”. This blog is an attempt to do just that.

[1] Judt, T. (2009) Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century. London: Vintage Books, pp.368-9

[2] Todd, S. (2014) ‘The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010’, INSIGHTS public lecture, Newcastle University, 18th November

[3] Todd, S. (2015) The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class. London: John Murray, p.402

[4] Orwell, G. (1970) The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: Volume 4 – In Front of Your Nose. Harmondsworth: Penguin, p.26

[5] Oldham, J. (2015) ‘Interview with Joseph Oldham’, Literary 007 [accessed: 22/08/15]

[6] Chapman, J. (1999) Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films. London: I.B. Tauris, pp.178-200.

[7] Gott, R. (1969) ‘A glimpse in Hyde Park of Britain in 10 years’, The Guardian, 7th July, p.16

[8] Sandbrook, D. (2013) ‘3. Two Tribes’, Strange Days: Cold War Britain, BBC-2, 27th November

[9] Judt, T. (2009) p.375

[10] Judt, T. (2009) p.374

[11] Colley, L. (2014) ‘2. Islands’, Acts of Union and Disunion, BBC Radio 4, 7th January