chapter  5
32 Pages

Winds of Change: Colonial Space and Clandestinity

The preceding chapters of this book have explored how spy fiction authors of the post-war period such as Greene, Fleming, Deighton, and le Carré wrote and published in differing social and political circumstances. Despite their differences in execution, their novels are unified by a context of decolonisation and the consistent post-war decline of British international fortunes. These chapters have all illustrated in different ways how these writers were witness to and, to various degrees, influenced by the post-war end of Empire. Identifying the definitive end-date of the British Empire, however, is not as straightforward a task as might be expected. Officially, the British Empire became the Commonwealth in February of 1952, bringing over 400 years of imperial endeavour to a close, and supposedly precipitating a reappraisal of the British relationship with its now former colonies and subjects.1 However, despite this process of territorial re-branding, millions of people the world over remained under British authority for decades afterwards. Moreover, given the size, influence, and cultural portrayal of the empire during the 1920s and 1930s at events such as the Empire Exhibitions in London of 1924-25 and Edinburgh in 1938, as well as the significant manpower contribution of the colonies to the Second World War, the post-war adult generation of Britons could be forgiven for believing the structure of empire to be perhaps frayed but still solid fundamentally. The perceived political and territorial strength of the empire in the inter-war years and during the Second World War itself created an irony in that a declining empire appeared more important on the world stage than at any previous point in its history, all through means of effective propaganda.2 Such was the success of this marketing campaign that despite the sudden post-war dissolution of empire, the ‘empire mentality’ failed to dissolve with it. Even with the ‘loss’ of India in 1947, and both Burmese independence and the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948, the attitudes of empire would nonetheless persist in British actions conducted in Malaya, Kenya, and Aden throughout the decades to follow. Rather than accept the re-ordered geopolitical hierarchy of the post-war world, one in which the United States and the Soviet Union were now pre-eminent, British foreign policy would continue to possess a distinctly imperial character even in the turbulent 1970s, a period of intense national and international crisis.