Magazine article The Spectator

Television Curse You, Sandbrook

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Curse You, Sandbrook

Article excerpt

Gosh it isn't half irksome when someone who went to the same school as you but is considerably younger than you ends up doing dramatically better than you. But hats off to Dominic Sandbrook: his new series Cold War Britain (BBC2, Tuesday) is an absolute delight.

Sandbrook has that rare gift of making things you thought you knew pretty well already seem startling and fresh. Take Churchill's Fulton, Missouri speech. 'Ah, ' I said expertly to the Fawn, a good five minutes before the programme reproduced the famous recording, 'From Stettin in the Baltic . . . ' But what Sandbrook does is both put it in context and give it a human dimension that brings the whole business alive.

So we start on a train journey with Churchill knocking back the whiskies and gambling with a mystery companion who turns out to be Harry S. Truman. Churchill is elderly and played out, past his political prime - with a socialist running the country - and the Nazi threat that he made his name beating is now ancient history. But the wily and prescient politician has one final trump card up his sleeve and he's about to play it at a deceptively innocuous honorary degree ceremony at a minor university - Westminster College - in a town with a population of 7,000 . . .

What Churchill is about to do is to say the previously unsayable. Up until this point, everyone has been politely pretending that the Soviets are pretty decent fellows on the whole, what with their having sacrificed 10 million or so citizens in the great struggle against Herr Hitler. Churchill isn't having this nonsense - and, despite assurances to Attlee that he's not going to say anything too controversial, out he comes with his declaration of a new war, this time against the Red peril.

This is the beginning of the 'Cold War' - a term invented (shamefully I didn't know this) by George Orwell, with Churchill the other great hero of the moment. While the Old Harrovian set out the geopolitical terms of the conflict, the Old Etonian established its spiritual and moral dimensions by clarifying in the public imagination the nature of the new totalitarian threat - shortly before his death - in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

And by crikey did this need doing, what with fellow travellers like Hewlett Johnson - the Red Dean - spewing pro-Soviet propaganda from his pulpit at Canterbury Cathedral. You can see why people might have warmed to Johnson: the craggy Old Testament/High Victorian mien; his evident concern for the plight of the poor. …

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