“Spying on Spies” Day 2a: Of eurospy, the GDR and sensational, implausible narratives

This is the second in a series of four pieces written summarising and reflecting on the talks I witnessed at the Spying on Spies conference of September 2015.

My first panel of the long, good – but not Docklands-set – Friday – was chaired by the President of the European Language Council, Maurizio Viezzi. This panel covered a range of European Cold War films and television shows and representations of Europe.

Lorenzo Medici (Universita degli Studi di Perugia, Italy) focused on Italian spy movies in the late-1960s, with a decorous power-point that incorporated a vast array of amusing and bizarre film posters. He identified 170 Italian movies in this genre of ‘Eurospy’ – which is marked by its usually ‘incomprehensible’ plots. The genre’s heroes included: ‘Agente 077’, ‘008’, ‘Upper-7’, ‘OSS-077’ and ‘James Tont’ – ‘tonto’ being Italian for stupid! One film was entitled O.K. Connery (1967), and featured Neil Connery – Sean’s brother. From Russia With Love’s Daniela Bianchi was cast alongside These films sounded silly, lurid and surely would be entertaining, containing such tantalising signifiers as ‘booby bombs’, ‘a thermo-nuclear navel’, ‘rich colour’ and ‘Pop Art’. While, seemingly, they lacked the considered satirical intent of a Modesty Blaise (1966), who wouldn’t want to see a Eurospy film called Goldginger (1965), where action is situated at a Ginger Ale factory!?

Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (dir. Mario Bava, ITA/USA, 1966)

Medici pinpointed La Guerra Segreta (1965) – starring Henry Fonda and Annie Girardot – as a ‘strange film’. Secret Agent Fireball (1965) – set in Beirut, unlike the film version of The Ipcress File (1965), which excises the novel’s Beirut sequence.

Any direct mention of Communism was avoided, due to the strength of the Italian Communist party – and indeed, in the late-1960s détente had enabled these films to portray the Soviets and Americans as allies. The focus in the Eurospy genre was on Chinese villains, not Soviets. In the Q&A, Medici disavowed any sense that these films might be seen as part of the NATO or Atlanticist Cold War ‘effort’, arguing that this was an economically booming country trying to maintain a frivolous distance. In the 1960s, Italians had more leisure, which was said to be mirrored in the films’ technology, foreign locations and action sequences. Italians had money and did travel. There’s at least one 1960s episode of Steptoe and Son where Harold yearns for Fellini’s Italy – ‘Sunday for Seven Days’ (TX: 04/02/1964) – and Italian food and fashions were coveted by urban connoisseurs like Harry Palmer (unnamed in the novel) in The Ipcress File. Medici closed with a precis of the ingredients of this filmic sub-genre: ‘funny’, ‘lust’, ‘troubles’, ‘mystery’.

The forceful Rui Lopes (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) explored US filmic portrayals of espionage in Lisbon in the reign of fascist dictator Salazar, who ruled Portugal from 1933-74. Greene and Fleming had both cited Lisbon as an inspiration for certain of their writings. In Casablanca (1942), Lisbon is the gateway to freedom. The West, as ever selective with its adherence to democracy, backed Salazar and he aligned with the West, though Portugal was neutral in WW2. US films were accepted; foreign markets were deemed necessary. Lopes mentioned numerous films with Lisbon signifying a safe haven, or path to America. These included The Lady Has Plans (1942), which depicts the said lady having secret plans tattooed to her body. There was intriguing mention of Alfredson referring to espionage as the feminine version of war, foregrounding intuition and persuasion.


Lopes commented that the dictatorship, if portrayed at all, is seen as saviour, not, as many Portuguese would have seen them, as torturer and persecutor. The Conspirators (1944) was seen as a key film – not just featuring Hedy Lamarr, the “little man” (Peter Lorre) and the “fat man” (Sydney Greenstreet), but with the Dutch Resistance hiding out with the Portuguese fishing community, and a rallying anti-Nazi speech that implied there is no parallel between Nazism and the Salazar regime. In several 1950s and 1960s films, the pattern continued: of avoiding comment on the Salazar regime in favour of Lisbon as site of ‘romantic allure’, seen through the prism of espionage. As Lopes comments in the programme: ’Hollywood’s formulaic narratives – in some cases combined with Washington’s propaganda strategies – resulted in a depiction of Portugal that ultimately dissociated Salazar’s dictatorship from its fascist origins and practices.’


Then, Sebastian Haller (Danube University Krems) was the first of two conference speakers who addressed Das unsichtbare Visier (1973-79), an espionage TV series from the GDR. This was a story of the Stasi, over sixteen episodes, covering the period of the late-1940s to the end of the 1960s. Episodes 1-9 focused on one agent (‘an East German James Bond’), before a more ideologically apt focus on a collective of agents from episodes 10-16! It featured its Stasi agent heroes in a fictional world which encompassed far-flung locations as various as West Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Italy and South Africa.


Socialist Unity Party and GDR leader from 1971-89, Erich Honecker, was quoted in terms of how the series depicted nationhood in terms of class. It represents West Germans as an out-group, and their country as associated with an unemployment crisis, in contrast with the stability and security offered by the GDR. The series’ rhetoric was said to incorporate anti-imperialism and anti-fascism and depicts a peace-loving state. A bit of a contrast, then, to its British contemporary, Brian Clemens’ The Professionals (1978-82)! West German NATO membership and reinstatement of former Nazis is critiqued; the building of the Berlin Wall is commended and contextualised. This was all in response to the late-1960s, early-1970s rapprochement and Ostpolitik, with both Germanys moving away from the policies of reunification: an easing of tensions but also a need to establish distinct identities. To end a particularly fascinating paper, Haller referred to the series as ‘popular culture’s contribution to the establishment of a Socialist nation’.



When asked, Medici scotched any question of their being significant residual fascism in post-WW2 Italy, and restating his point that the country didn’t really want to be involved in the Cold War. Lopes referred to Italian director Sergio Corbucci as being an outspoken leftist, and Medici accepted that most in Italian cinema held communist or socialist beliefs, but these views did not shape the content of the films. Sergio Grieco was mentioned as another Italian Communist, who had made films in the Soviet Union, working as assistant to Vsevolod Pudovkin. There was discussion of how Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953) was edited for West German and Italian release, to remove communism from its plots, to avoid losing a large section of the audience with communist sympathies; Medici referred to the Communist Party’s regular 30% support in the polls. Haller made the point that the 1970s was the one time where the GDR could plausibly present itself to be on the right side – with Portuguese and Spanish fascist regimes collapsing and anti-imperialist movements growing in Angola and Mozambique. Haller also stated that most people in the GDR would have known Bond, and that it would have been perceived as an imperialist fairy tale – in effect, James Bond fuels wars, the Stasi spy in the series ends them.

As a curious complement to the Eurospy films, Lopes discussed maritime imagery in Mexico-set films made in Portugal, and made droll reference to a sardine cannery featuring as a villains’ HQ in one WW2 era film. There was reference to transnationalism in the sense of co-productions, which made me think of Hammer and how much of British horror wasn’t quite so pure in its ‘Englishness’ as is supposed, in production and funding contexts, at least. I was curious what the audience sizes were, for both the Italian Euro-spy thrillers and the GDR’s Cold War epic narrative, but didn’t get the time to ask.

A line from this marvelous panel that stayed with me as encapsulating the self-image of Italians was Medici’s quote – “I’m neutral. I’m Italian!” – from a scene of a Europsy thriller, when an Italian ‘hero’ character is menaced by a Chinese spy.

James Chapman

Experienced popular culture academic James Chapman (University of Leicester)’s Keynote Lecture focused on the neglected spy films of Alfred Hitchcock, who made more in the genre than many others. He placed the twelve films – 5 UK, 7 US-made – into ideological and historical context, while also providing notable points on recent archival research at the Margaret Herrick Library, California. He quoted Peter Wollen on Hitchcock’s films being about a ‘disruption of the surface normality by forces of anarchy and chaos that lurk beneath that thin crust, that thin protection of civilisation’, which Wollen had misquoted from John Buchan’s The Powerhouse (1913).

Chapman placed Hitchcock’s British films in the context of the 1927 Cinematograph Act, a protectionist measure which required a quota of British films, alluding to ground fascinating covered by Steve Chibnall and Matthew Sweet among others: the “quota quickie”, a type of film cheaper than historical epics or the like. Regarding 1930s British cinema, he made the salient point that Edgar Wallace was the most adapted author, not the more ‘important’ figures such as A.J. Cronin or J.B. Priestley. 350 British crime films were made in the 1930s, Chapman reported, with about 10-12 spy films per year. The BBFC was very against “American style gangsterism” with its tommy guns, and the spy film grew as a result. The W Plan (1930), a WW1 spy film, and the contemporary Rome Express (1932) started the cycle and 1936-9 saw the peak in the numbers of British espionage films, and he situated Hitchcock’s films in context of the rise of fascism and appeasement. He begins with discussing The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) as a concise, fast-paced spy thriller about an ‘anarchist threat’, suggesting to me certain Conrad and Chesterton texts.

The Thirty-Nine Steps’ (1935) political meeting scene is highlighted, along with a reference to Michael Denning’s analysis of Hannay’s navigation of the class system by assuming different guises. Secret Agent (1936), a Maugham adaptation was referred to briefly as a somewhat denigrated film and not one of the most interesting. Sabotage (1936) – confusingly, the adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) – is placed in Denning’s lineage of the ‘existential thriller’. He is said to combine and move between the Buchan-James Bond and Graham Greene-John le Carré schools of spy story.


Of the British films, The Lady Vanishes (1938) received deepest analysis, Chapman describing it as ‘the most English of Hitchcock’s films’. He made amusing reference to there being a paper waiting to written on the mythical landscapes of central Europe: he theorised that The Prisoner of Zenda’s Ruritania becomes Bandrika in TLV, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Vosnia in the post-WW2 State Secret (1950), also by Launder and Gilliat. He analysed the key scene where, following a blunt critique of pacifism on the train, Mr Todhunter (Cecil Parker) gets out of the train, raises a handkerchief in the air and is shot and killed; critics have described this as an allusion to appeasement. Chapman explained that the film was in the can before the Munich conference, though it was in British cinemas by September 1938, so definitely had cultural topicality that affected its reception.

Hitchcock’s American films were glossier; Foreign Correspondent (1940) cost four times that of The Thirty-Nine Steps, Chapman stated. He noted that Hitchcock was equally against the grain in 1940 America with FC’s pro-interventionism stance as he had been in 1938 Britain with TLV’s anti-appeasement stance. Reflecting on research from the Margaret Herrick archive, he discussed a minor character portrayed by George Sanders: “In the first draft, he’s not called Scott Foley…” He paused for several seconds. “He’s called Ian Fleming” – a pay-off that elicited much amusement. A likeness he then analysed with Foley being a journalist with an effete manner and sporting of suede shoes…

Saboteur (1942) was discussed as a somewhat overlooked, interesting film, containing a post-Pearl Harbour speech and an ‘enemy within’ threat; Notorious (1946) was not analysed in depth but was described as a precursor of the moral ambiguity of the Cold War spy films. Hitchcock went on to make four Cold War films. There was discussion of the ‘genre upscaling’ of the more ‘leisurely’ US The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).


North by Northwest (1959) is referred to as an ‘exemplary paranoia thriller’ and the best instance of Hitchcock’s distinctive combination of the sensational thriller with the moral ambiguous Cold War drama. He dissected its sense of absurd masquerade, impersonation and fluidity of identity. Chapman entertainingly reeled off a litany of the film’s ‘bizarre and dangerous predicaments’:

“He’s mistaken for a spy… A spy who it turns doesn’t exist. He’s kidnapped in broad daylight in a crowded hotel lobby. He’s forcibly plied with alcohol and put behind the wheel of a car. He’s suspected of murdering a diplomat at the United Nations. He’s lured out to the middle of a prairie and attacked by a crop-dusting plane. Now, at the end of the film, he finds himself scrambling over the Presidential monuments at Mount Rushmore, clutching a blonde in one arm and an Amazonian statuette containing a secret microfilm in the other. This is a sensational, adventure, implausible narrative!”

Developing on Notorious’ narrative, Eva Marie Saint’s heroine has to prostitute herself in the supposed service of her country. Cary Grant is given the line to US secret service types: “If that’s the kind of tactic you guys use, then maybe you ought to try losing a few Cold Wars…” Chapman reflected that there couldn’t have been a piece of dialogue like that five years earlier, amid McCarthyism.

He discussed the influence of NBNW – a spy parody in itself –on Bond films, with the crop-duster scene as ‘far superior’ to the rip-off in Dr No (1962). Hitchcock was interested in directing the James Bond with the Secret Service film, scripted by Fleming, yet it didn’t happen as Fleming and others wanted to retain control. Hitchcock is said to have admired The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), the key film of the more ambiguous school along with the Deighton adaptations.

Defector story Torn Curtain (1966) was described as ‘perfectly passable’ and ‘underrated’, but one that fell between stools and did not match the seriousness of TSWCIFTC or the wild excesses of a spoof like the same year’s Modesty Blaise. Pauline Kael is quoted on his final spy film, the so-so Topaz (1969): ‘the same damn spy movie that he’s been making since the thirties, but it’s getting longer and duller’. Chapman concludes with describing Hitchcock’s spy films as a paradigm of the genre, displaying the full range of narrative types open to the spy film.


When asked further about the ideologies, he said that Ivor Montagu may have had much to do with some of the anti-fascism of Hitchcock’s films. Post-war, ideologically, he was said to lean perhaps towards JFK and the Democrats, due to his wife’s influence. The original script to the 1956 TMWKTM is said to very specifically include references to the Russians, written out at a later stage.


In the British TMWKTM, he identified a ‘marvellous ambiguity’ in Frank Vosper as Ramon, the Spanish-sounding assassin and the none-more-sinister European Peter Lorre playing a character with the Abbott, a traditional English surname. This is in the context of the film’s anarchists – with “our cause” – being international and not rooted. In NBNW, he makes it clear there’s no specific Soviet villainy – more a generic Eastern European one, and vague references to “over there”.

When asked regarding spy-craft and Hitchcock’s ’amateur’ spies, Chapman contrasts this tendency with Topaz – a ‘flawed film’ – is said to be the most focused on ‘realistic’ spy-craft, and there is a sequence set in Cuba including bugging techniques. Other questions elicited interesting responses: on how Sabotage shows much fidelity to Conrad and how the 1979 version of The Lady Vanishes was ‘far better’ than often credited but that the recent BBC TV was much closer to the book but that ‘just wasn’t as good!’

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 http://literary007.com/2015/07/15/interview-with-joseph-oldham-spying-on-spies-conference/ [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