Arts > Strange Days: Cold War Britain

14 November 2013 | by John Morrish

Strange Days: Cold War Britain


Dominic Sandbrook’s new series (12 November), began at Chelsea Football Club, which in 1945 hosted the first match of a goodwill tour by Moscow Dynamo. There, the KGB team taught the home side a lesson in skill, strength and dedication, before arriving at a diplomatic 3-3 draw. Off the pitch, there was less camaraderie.

“Sport is an unfailing cause of ill will,” George Orwell wrote, in his usual oracular manner. He had identified the threat from the East and coined the term “Cold War” as early as 1945. Winston Churchill, a year later, created the other key metaphor of the period: the “Iron Curtain”.

This was a programme full of interest and insight. I had never heard of Hewlett Johnson, the “Red Dean” of Canterbury Cathedral, a churchman who somehow came to the conclusion that Communist Russia was heaven on earth. He stuck to that opinion even when news of the purges and show trials reached the West, and said of Stalin that there was “no cruelty in his face, just geniality”. The Anglican Church left him to his own devices: he was a man of faith, after all.

Meanwhile, Orwell was about to publish Nineteen Eighty-Four. A book about life under Stalinism, it was widely read as an attack on the benign but paternalistic Attlee Government. Orwell resisted that interpretation, while warning about younger, more ideological socialists and handing a list of names to the authorities. Attlee himself was busily building homes, setting up the NHS and pumping out public information films about social security. The welfare state, Sandbrook argued, was designed to undercut the appeal of doctrinaire Soviet-style socialism, so seductive on the Continent in this period.

But then there was another war. “The fire that’s been started in distant Korea”, said Attlee, may burn down your house. We were committed to it by the “special relationship” that Churchill had identified in his Fulton speech. And then came the British bomb, a nuclear weapon with “a bloody Union Jack on top of it”, in the words of Ernie Bevin, Attlee’s Foreign Secretary. It would cost £100 million, spent in secret, but when the Soviets flattened Hungary in 1956, we were tied up in Egypt, and our transatlantic relationship was proving not to be so special after all.

This was a glorious programme, perfect November viewing, especially for those of us who lived for years within the blast-zone of the Soviet SS-20s.

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User Comments (3)

Comment by: MargaretMC
Posted: 25/10/2015 14:31:43

"Yet this development of theology - ... - is unnerving to some who cannot countenance any development."

I worshipped with the Lutherans today, Reformation Sunday in their calendar.

The sermon was about the continual need for reform, as individuals, as a (Lutheran) church, as a Christian community (all churches) - that we may become more Christ-like.

The Catholic Church refused to budge when challenged by Luther all those centuries ago and look how well that turned out.

It's a pity and a scandal that there are some who still want to stay on that same "no change" path.

Comment by: secular franciscan order
Posted: 22/10/2015 06:37:55

He has an unfortunate surname. Is his uncle Karl?

Comment by: Mktingguy
Posted: 21/10/2015 21:12:31

Ok, Cardinal Marx, but tell me about doctrine that changed specific instructions from Jesus.

I understand how tradition can evolve, but not the words of Jesus.

Marriage is indissoluble and homosexuality is not a "Jesus approved" practice - said in an attempt to avoid "instrinsically disordered"


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