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Fascinating Insight into the Cold War

Monday, 03 November 2014

Bolton School students, teachers and friends of the School were delighted to join members of the Bolton branch of the Historical Association at an evening with one of the most acclaimed academics and journalists of our time, Professor Lord Peter Hennessy. Blending wisdom, insight, personal experience and humour he delivered a captivating lecture on “Cold War Whitehall: Writing About the Secret State”. 

Professor Hennessy, who is Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary University, London and a crossbench member of the House of Lords, opened his presentation by paying tribute to William Waldegrave as a historian and scholar and commended him and John Major for ensuring the release into the public domain of Cold War files. He told how so far over 200,000 files have been made public and that their continuing release allows historians to demystify the past and to play “catch up history”. He referred to his own generation as the “children of the Uranium age” and evoked memories of a time when people lived under the very real threat of nuclear destruction.

He considered several of the most sensitive of Whitehall's secrets that could not be declassified until the Cold War was over, including the transition drill to a third world war, nuclear release procedures for the V Bombers and the Polaris submarines and how the state apparatus would have been devolved into bunkers just before a nuclear attack. He then went on to offer a range of intelligence assessments of Soviet intentions and capabilities. He told the audience how there are as many Russian agents operating in London today as there was during the 1980s and that oil and gas revenues were helping Putin rebuild Russian strength. The question remained as to whether the recent invasion of Crimea was a one-off event or the beginning of something new. He pointed out how a lot of retired intelligence experts on Russia had been re-employed in the past few years.

Professor Hennessy also spoke of how Britain was good at intelligence in terms of per £ spent and per person. He stressed the importance of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK; a group which still meets weekly. He also pointed out that the numbers involved in intelligence and counter-intelligence have doubled since 7/11.

The evening was brought to a close by Chairman Michael Shipley, a former Old Boy of the School, who during his opening address recalled attending Historical Association meetings at the School when he was in the Sixth Form. The Bolton branch has had long connections with the School; Richard Poskitt, the Branch President for 33 years, from 1933 to 1966, was also Headmaster of Bolton School Boys' Division. 

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Sixth Form students Charlotte Bodger and Myles Blackwell welcome Lord Hennessy to Bolton School

Sixth Form students Charlotte Bodger and Myles Blackwell welcome Lord Hennessy to Bolton School

Professor Hennessy delivered a fascinating insight into the Cold War

Professor Hennessy delivered a fascinating insight into the Cold War

The evening was chaired by Old Boy, Michael Shipley