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Strange Days: Cold War Britain

Tue Nov 19, 9-10pm, BBC2

Episode two
Yuri Gagarin v the Beatles. CND v the CIA. The Ideal Home exhibition v the idle boasting of Nikita Khrushchev. Essentially, suggests Dominic Sandbrook, the Cold War was a battle of positioning, of branding, of the imagination.

In the second episode of this series, Sandbrook looks briefly and touchingly at the Cuban Missile Crisis, partly through the eyes of a father who decided to keep his kids home from school so that the family could enjoy their last few hours together. But mainly, he explores the Cold War as it was really fought: a battle of philosophical attrition. Viewed from the modern-day vantage point of a society misleadingly imagining itself to be post-ideological, there’s a certain bleak glamour to all this – the stakes were high and there were sides to be on. But, even if there’s occasionally the sense that there’s less to his analysis than meets the eye, Sandbrook does a good job of evoking the essential grimness of those years.

He never jests, probes or juxtaposes with the intuitive facility of someone like Adam Curtis, but he’s good at locating the personal within the political and making us all part of history’s grand narrative. His conclusions reinforce rather than challenge received wisdom, but then that appears to be the BBC’s role these days.