A Very British Coup
Cover of the first edition
A Very British Coup is a 1982 novel by British politician Chris Mullin. The novel has twice been adapted for television. The first version, also titled A Very British Coup, was adapted in 1988 by screenwriter Alan Plater and director Mick Jackson. Starring Ray McAnally, the series was first screened on Channel 4 and won Bafta and Emmy awards, and was syndicated to more than 30 countries.
Plot (TV version)
Harry Perkins, an unassuming, working class, very left-wing Leader of the Labour Party and Member of Parliament for Sheffield Central, becomes Prime Minister in March 1991. The priorities of the Perkins Government include dissolving all newspaper monopolies, withdrawal from the North Atlantic Alliance, removing all American military bases on UK soil, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and true open government. Newspaper magnate Sir George Fison, with allies within British political and civil service circles, moves immediately to discredit him, with the United States the key, but covert, conspirator. The most effective of the Prime Minister's domestic enemies is the aristocratic Sir Percy Browne, Head of MI5, whose ancestors "unto the Middle Ages" have exercised subtle power behind the scenes. However Harry finds support in Joan Cook, a loyal Member of Parliament (MP) and Home Secretary; and Thompson, Perkins' Press Secretary; Inspector Page, his Head of Security and Sir Montague Kowalski, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. It provides an intimate view of the machinations of a particularly British political conspiracy.
The series is set in 1991 and 1992, which was then the near future from when it was made (1988), with a King as the British monarch (the royal cypher on one of the Prime Minister's red boxes is shown as "C III R," suggesting that the monarch is Charles III, the current Prince of Wales), multiple cable and satellite television channels, and other similar details. The 1991 and 1992 dates can be clearly seen on several newspapers and car tax discs shown on screen.
- Harry Perkins MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party – played by Ray McAnally
- Sir Percy Browne, Head of MI5, head conspirator – played by Alan MacNaughtan
- Frederick Thompson, former reporter and Perkins' Press Secretary – played by Keith Allen
- Lawrence Wainwright MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, later Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, conspirator – played by Geoffrey Beevers
- Joan Cook MP, Home Secretary, later Chancellor of the Exchequer – played by Marjorie Yates
- Tom Newsome MP, Foreign Secretary, resigns over affair – played by Jim Carter
- Sir George Fison, owner of a consortium of newspapers, conspirator – played by Philip Madoc
- Alford, Director of the BBC, conspirator – played by Jeremy Young
- Fiennes, assistant to Browne – played by Tim McInnerny
- Marcus Morgan, US Secretary of State – played by Shane Rimmer
- Thomas Andrews MP, Leader of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister before Harry Perkins – played by Roger Brierley
- Inspector Page, Head of Security for the Prime Minister – played by Bernard Kay
- Sir Montague Kowalski, Government Chief Scientific Adviser – played by Oscar Quitak
- Sir Horace Tweed, Prime Minister's aide – played by Oliver Ford Davies
- Sir James Robertson, Cabinet Secretary – played by David McKail
- Helen Jarvis, former lover of Perkins – played by Kika Markham
- Official bomb examiner – played by Andy Croft
The book was written in 1981, at a time when Tony Benn looked likely to become deputy leader of the Labour Party which at the time was strongly challenging the government of Margaret Thatcher in the opinion polls. It also has strong echoes of the persistent rumours that have circulated over the years about attempts by members of the British security services, and other wings of the British Establishment, to undermine and depose Harold Wilson's Labour government of the mid-1970s. This first became widespread public knowledge around 1986 with the controversy over Spycatcher, after the publication of the novel but before the broadcast of the TV version. The story also has echoes of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis in which there was alleged CIA involvement to remove a government proposing to close US military bases on Australian soil.
Differences between novel and TV
The endings of the novel and the television version are significantly different. In the novel the Prime Minister is forced from office following a catastrophic nuclear accident at an experimental nuclear plant that he had pushed for during his role as Secretary of State for Energy during a previous government (the most explicit parallel between Harry Perkins and Tony Benn in the novel).
In the TV version, the Prime Minister is presented with forged evidence of financial irregularity following a short-lived affair years previously, with the suggestion that he should resign rather than see the story made public. He agrees to make a resignation speech on live TV, but instead announces the attempted blackmail and calls for a new election. Senior army officers and security service officials watch in silence. The final sequence, on the morning of the election, is deliberately ambiguous, but implies that a military coup has begun.
The TV series of A Very British Coup was released in the UK on DVD (region 2) in September 2011.
The TV version of A Very British Coup won four Bafta Awards in 1989 – for Best Actor (Ray McAnally), Best Drama Series, Best Film Editor (Don Fairservice) and Best Film Sound – and a 1988 International Emmy Award for Best Drama.
- Politics in fiction
- List of fictional revolutions and coups
- Harold Wilson conspiracy theories
- Clockwork Orange (plot)
- Seven Days in May
- Mullin, Chris (5 November 2012). "Secret State: I played the vicar in the TV version of my novel". guardian.co.uk (Guardian News and Media).
- Conlan, Tara (24 January 2012). "Gabriel Byrne returns to UK television in Channel 4's Coup". guardian.co.uk (Guardian News and Media).
- Chris Mullin: When the threat of a coup seemed more than fiction The Guardian, 7 March 2006
- "Review: A Very British Coup DVD". Total Politics. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
- Awards for "A Very British Coup" (1988) Internet Movie Database
- A Very British Coup at the Internet Movie Database
- A Very British Coup at the BFI's Screenonline
- A Very British Coup 4oD (Video on Demand – UK only)
- A Very British Coup indeed YouTube – Chris Mullin discusses the background to the novel
|British Academy Television Awards
Best Drama Series or Serial