Strange Days: Cold War Britain. A Sneering.
Strange Days: Cold War Britain is a three part series shown on BBC.
The second section was broadcast last night.
The BBC describes it as follows, “Dominic looks at the front line of the conflict as a newly prosperous Britain of consumerism was pitched against the Soviet ideal of communism.”
Historian Dominic Sandbrook, the presenter, is a master of supercilious superficiality.
The Great Contest (Isaac Deutscher) was played out in the UK in the late fifties and sixties between the ‘Guardian reading’ CND – all solemn and po-faced – and the threat of imminent nuclear war.
Britain’s main contribution to fighting the Cold War was pop culture (the Beatles) of, and there were some missiles somewhere. There was James Bond to help us, and John le Carré (whose name Sandbrook managed the hard task of pronouncing ‘la‘ Carré) to muddy the waters.
Strange Days had some serious real-life stuff, with the Soviet blackmailing of British Navel Attaché John Vassall for his gay sexuality.
Strident left-wingers presented Play for the Day, which were little more than class war rants. Joining the Communist Party of Great Britain, one clip was reeled out to show, was a serious commitment, not far of becoming a Jesuit.
Come 1968 and the ‘seventies and Communism turned groovy.
We had the evidence of Rising Damp’s Alan Guy Moore (Richard Beckinsale) to demonstrate it.
In the battle between the Ideal Home exhibition and Nikita Khrushchev capitalist consumerism had the edge.
Who needed left-wing politics when you had white goods?
Now there are reasons to think that some of Sandbrook’s underlying arguments tilt in the right direction.
Sandbrook is, if the word is appropriate for somebody I’ve only just heard of, well-known for arguing that the 1960s far from being a decade of Revolution were conservative.
In the New Statesman (2005) he stated,
…anywhere you look you can find evidence that belies the myths of permissiveness and revolution. Was there really a cultural revolution? A million people rushed out every Saturday to buy the latest hit singles; but two million men and boys went in pursuit of fish, and a staggering 19 million people pottered about the garden.
It is indeed striking that you can meet people (Coatesy writes as somebody who actually was part of the counter-cultural left in the early 1970s) and who, on the basis of a few trips to the Roundhouse think they were part of this ‘cultural revolution’.
Those of us who were (and I know some of them as well) were acutely aware of how much a minority the ‘counter-cultural left’ was at the time. We had only to see the reactions of other people in pubs to tell us.
But that’s as far as it goes.
Sandbrook has apparently never heard of the New Left, anti-Stalinists and a lot more.
Despite these (and many other) gaps Strange Days tries to be too clever for its own good.
Sandbrook has faced charges of plagiarism in the more recent past.
Strange Days is just pastiche politics.