At the height of the hedonistic Jazz Age, many in British society became convinced that they were under attack from the new Soviet state. Still reeling from the Russian revolution of 1917, disturbed by the development of militant workers movements at home, and deeply paranoid about the recent wave of Russian immigration to the UK, the British government tasked the intelligence services to look for evidence of espionage. Over the next decade, as the political pressure mounted, the spooks began to cast their net of suspicion wider, to include not only suspect Russians, but British aristocrats, Bloomsbury artists, ordinary workers, and even members of parliament.  It was the biggest spying operation in British Intelligence’s peacetime history to date, undertaken with enthusiastic support from anti-Red crusaders like Winston Churchill, and its ramifications were profound. On the strength of the evidence uncovered, Britain deported hundreds of Russians and broke off diplomatic links with Moscow for more than two years. This was the first Cold War, and it would set the rules of engagement for Russia and Britain for decades to come.

 Timothy Phillips will describe his work in the declassified archives of MI5 and the pictures of 1920s Russia and Britain that emerge from it. What were the lives of Soviet diplomats and secret agents in London like? What orders did they have from Moscow ? And how did events in Russia make themselves felt in Britain?

Timothy Phillips is the author of The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age (Granta, 2017) and Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1 (Granta 2008). He grew up in Northern Ireland and now lives in London. He holds a doctorate in Russian from Oxford University and has written and spoken widely on British and Russian history.



  • Date: 26 September 2017
  • Time: 19.30 - 21.00
  • Tickets: £7, £5 concessions