A Very British Coup

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Publication.png A Very British Coup Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
TypeTV series
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TV series describing how the British Deep State tries to topple an elected left-wing Labour government.

A Very British Coup is a 1988 British political serial adapted from Chris Mullin's 1982 novel A Very British Coup 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 screened in more than 30 countries.


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 NATO, 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, Perkins finds support in Joan Cook, his Home Secretary; Fred Thompson, his Press Secretary; Inspector Page, his police bodyguard; and Sir Montague Kowalski, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence.

The US Secretary of State visits London to try to persuade Perkins of his country's need of a nuclear deterrent. However, as Perkins undiplomatically rejects his pleas, severe financial pressure is applied to Britain in retaliation for his actions. The government turns to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which agrees to help, but only on condition that Perkins abandons most of his policies. While the IMF offer is being debated in Cabinet, Perkins receives a call from his Foreign Secretary Tom Newsome, who has been having meetings in Sweden, and is able to announce that the International State Bank of Moscow has agreed to lend the money without preconditions.[1] In retaliation, Newsome's affair with a woman with spurious IRA connections is reported by Fison's newspapers, resulting in his eviction from the Cabinet and his wife's suicide.

Failed negotiations between the government and labour unions to formulate an economic strategy result in a strike by the Power Workers' Union purportedly over job losses that might be caused by the adoption of alternative energy. The resultant blackouts seriously damage public opinion of the Perkins Government. After Thompson outlines the members of the conspiracy, including the moderate, politically ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Lawrence Wainwright, Perkins bluffs Wainwright into ending the strike by threatening to investigate his connections with his co-conspirators and subsequently demotes him to Northern Ireland Secretary. Cook is promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Perkins Government's policies for nuclear disarmament and neutrality, despite the live national broadcast of the disarming of a nuclear warhead, are hampered by the Chiefs of Staff fudging the figures regarding British, Allied and Warsaw Pact military capabilities, representatives of the United States Armed Forces stalling over the removal of US military bases by running out the clock until the next general election, and the covert assassination of Sir Montague staged as a road accident.

Browne presents Perkins with forged evidence of financial irregularity following a short-lived affair years previously. He suggests that Perkins should resign rather than see the story made public, the groundwork having been laid with manufactured press speculation over Perkins's health and fake opinion polls suggesting overwhelming public support for a Wainwright premiership. He agrees to make a resignation speech on live television, 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 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). The 1991 and 1992 dates can be clearly seen on several newspapers and car tax discs shown on screen.

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 while Secretary of State for Energy in a previous government. This is the most explicit parallel between Harry Perkins and Tony Benn who was in the post from 1975 to 1979. The ending was changed because "the TV people thought [Mullin] had allowed Perkins to cave in and resign too easily when he's blackmailed."[2]

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.[3]

The 2012 four-part Channel 4 series Secret State was "inspired" by the same novel.[4] It starred Gabriel Byrne and was written by Robert Jones.[5]


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