It Happened Here

Episodes

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01Admiralty House2010050220110105

In the first of three programmes showing how places have influenced political events, the leading historian of post-war Britain, Peter Hennessy visits Admiralty House in London.

The government building at the north end of Whitehall, close to Trafalgar Square, has frequently been the office and home of post-war prime ministers when 10 Downing Street has needed refurbishment.

Peter first recalls the momentous events of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and reveals that it was from Admiralty House that the dramatic order was given by prime minister Harold Macmillan for Britain's nuclear weapons to be put on standby for imminent launch.

He also discusses the remarkable "Night of the Long Knives" that summer when Macmillan notoriously sacked a third of his Cabinet.

Thirty years later, during John Major's premiership, Peter shows how Admiralty House once again became the focus of worldwide political and public attention as the place where the United Kingdom's membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (the ERM) finally collapsed in ignominy, causing lasting damage to the reputation and credibility of the recently-elected government.

Producer: Simon Coates.

Peter Hennessy shows how places shape political events, starting at Admiralty House.

In the first of three programmes showing how places have influenced political events, Peter Hennessy visits Admiralty House in London.

Peter recalls the momentous events of 1962 when Harold Macmillan sacked a third of his Cabinet in 1962 at Admiralty House in the notorious Night of the Long Knives".

He also discusses Britain's role in the Cuban missile crisis of that year and reveals that it was from Admiralty House that the dramatic order was given for Britain's nuclear weapons to be put on standby for imminent launch.

Thirty years later, during John Major's premiership, Admiralty House once again became the focus of worldwide political and public attention as it was the place where the United Kingdom's membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (the ERM) finally collapsed in ignominy, causing lasting damage to the reputation and credibility of the recently-elected government.

Peter Hennessy visits Admiralty House."

02House Of Commons2010050920110112

Continuing his series about how places have shaped political events, Peter Hennessy, the leading historian of post-war Britain, visits the Office of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons which has been a little-known cockpit of war planning since 1950.

He first discusses what is special about the Office and why it has been so important to successive prime ministers on defence issues.

He then considers how prime minister Clement Attlee and his Cabinet decided to handle Anglo-American tensions over the Korean War in 1950 that had been heightened by provocative remarks made by the US general, Douglas MacArthur, on the use of nuclear weapons.

Peter goes on to reveal the significance of the Office in the history of Britain's decision to develop the hydrogen bomb and then describes its pivotal role in the 1956 Suez Crisis and the abortive premiership of Conservative leader, Sir Anthony Eden.

Finally, we learn about the part played by the Office in the dramatic events of the spring of 1982 as prime minister Margaret Thatcher evaluated with her closest advisers the prospects for re-taking the Falkland Islands following the Argentine invasion.

Producer: Simon Coates.

Peter Hennessy visits the Office of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.

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Continuing his series that discovers how places have shaped major political events, Peter Hennessy visits the Office of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons which has been the little-known cockpit of war planning since 1950.

The Prime Minister's Office is a compact, little-known feature of the Palace of Westminster.

But its seemingly anonymous character and modest furnishings belie its centrality to British military deployments across the post-war decades.

After sketching the Office's history and layout, Peter Hennessy recalls first the events of late 1950 when Clement Attlee's Labour Government, which had recently committed troops to the costly Korean War, was faced with a fresh crisis in the east Asian conflict.

In Washington, US President Harry Truman appeared to suggest that nuclear weapons might be used in Korea.

The alarm this off-the-cuff statement generated in London led to a hastily-convened Cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister's Office and the decision that Attlee should travel immediately to Washington for urgent talks.

The next episode Peter Hennessy considers took place during the 1956 Suez crisis.

Specifically, he recalls a Cabinet meeting that November when the Conservative premier, Sir Anthony Eden, and his colleagues, had to face up to the immense financial and political pressure being put upon them by the Eisenhower administration in Washington to withdraw from the Suez Canal.

It proved to be a fateful meeting.

Finally, Peter Hennessy turns his attention to the role of the Office in the Falklands War of 1982.

It was in this room that the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was persuaded that a task force could - and should - be assembled to retake the islands from the Argentinians.

03 LASTLancaster House2010051620110119

In the concluding programme of his series showing how key political events have been shaped by where they took place, Peter Hennessy, the leading historian of post-war Britain, visits Lancaster House in central London.

This imposing town house overlooking Green Park has been the venue for successful talks on a range of post-imperial problems, most notably the agreement leading to black majority rule in Rhodesia and the subsequent creation of the independent state of Zimbabwe.

But it has also been important in the modern history of Northern Ireland and in the continuing conflict in Afghanistan.

The programme traces the history of the Lancaster House Agreement on Rhodesia in 1979 involving in particular Lord Carrington, then British foreign secretary; Ian Smith, then Rhodesian prime minister; and the joint leaders of the Patriotic Front fighting against white minority rule - Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU and later elected Zimbabwean president - and Joshua Nkomo, founder of ZAPU.

Peter Hennessy shows how Lancaster House itself played a decisive part in the final agreement, paving the way for elections in 1980, and how its association with these successful negotiations ensured that it played a part in international diplomacy in subsequent decades.

Producer: Simon Coates.

Peter Hennessy visits Lancaster House, the location of deals on Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.

In the last of his series looking at how key political events have been decisively influenced by where they took place, Peter Hennessy visits Lancaster House near Buckingham Palace in London.

It was the grand location for international deals on the creation of Zimbabwe thirty years ago and, most recently, for discussing the future of Afghanistan.

Most celebrated, Peter Hennessy argues, as the House for Imperial Disposals", Lancaster House was the location in the 1950s and 1960s for a number of independence deals over former British colonies.

But it came into its own as the venue for talks in 1979 that finally ended the bitter dispute over the independence of the African country then known as Rhodesia.

Its white supremacist government, led by Ian Smith, had unilaterally declared independence from Britain in the 1960s.

But following international sanctions and pressure from the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Rhodesian authorities had finally agreed to discuss ending their rebellion.

Peter Hennessy charts the course of the often tortuous negotiations over independence and the move to black majority rule in Rhodesia.

He describes the way in which the layout and rooms of Lancaster House helped to facilitate a settlement.

And he explains how the atmosphere of the building has proved attractive to many other government delegations from abroad, including those attending the conference on the future of Afghanistan held there earlier this year.