End of Empire: Iran
1985 TV Program on British Imperialism In Persia

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | February 22, 2020                     

End of Empire: Iran | Granada Television | ITV (1985)

End of Empire was a 14 chapter documentary series from Granada Television (ITV) broadcast on Channel 4 in Britain from April-July 1985. It chronicled the waning days of the British empire with segments dedicated to key Commonwealth assets throughout the world. Filmed over a five year period, each episode focused on a specific country1 and had a largely separate production team of its own. A companion hardcover book was also produced.

The Iran episode, covering the nationalization of the British-owned oil industry and the subsequent Anglo-American coup that toppled Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh remains an important historical document, despite its short length. However, some of the unused interview footage, possibly censored due to its sensitive nature, has since been resurrected in the documentary Coup 53.

Of course, even at around 12 hours long, End of Empire was far from comprehensive, so the producers selected its cases for both significance and their prototypical attributes. The sun may have set on the British empire, but England still retained some of its colonies and territories at the time (Hong Kong, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, the Virgin Islands, etc.), and remains a major global power today.

The only country featured that was never a British colony or protectorate was Iran; although the colonial nature of Abadan, coupled with the strategic importance of the British oil concession, was undeniable. Iran was chosen for the program as an example of a nation under clear British control and subjugation, minus the colony status. Executive producer and former print journalist Brian Lapping clarified their selection process in a 1985 article:2

“We decided to make one programme that is located mid-way between the Middle East and India. It is about Iran. The Empire, strictly defined, included only those territories directly ruled by a British Governor, wearing the Queen’s uniform and enforcing her laws. Yet to be constrained by this definition would mean leaving out a major part of Britain’s imperial role. Iran was, we considered, the best example of the many princely states under British sway. It contained, in the Anglo-Iranian oil company, the largest single British overseas investment; twice in the twentieth century the man who was to become its Shah was selected by the British; and the nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company by Dr. Mussadiq in 1951 produced an episode of major importance in the End of Empire story. Further, recent publications, particularly the memoirs of C.M. Woodhouse, provided the leads which would enable us to go further than any previous historians or journalists in describing British involvement in the coup that overthrew Mussadiq. Including Iran, however, meant making no programme on Britain's extraordinary relationship with the Hashemite monarchies in Iraq and Jordan. This was a finely balanced choice. We decided on Iran because the Mussadiq episode, 1951-53, provided a coherent drama of British imperial activity that, in the closing years of the Empire, the Hashemites could not match.”

Since every statesman involved in the Mossadegh saga who was interviewed has since passed on, End of Empire is a useful record. As Lapping explained at the time, the purpose behind End of Empire was to “seize an opportunity”.

“Many of the people who had crucial responsibilities aboard the Empire as it sank live quietly in retirement”, he wrote in the book’s preface. “To film them and record their contrasting versions of the events that concluded with the lowering of the British flag seemed a worthwhile task of historical evidence-gathering.”

1 Except for India, the jewel in the crown to which three episodes were devoted.

2 History Today Volume 35, April 1985. End of Empire: “The British Empire was the largest in the history of the world. Brian Lapping explains how the end of that Empire was charted for television.” The issue also included an End of Empire book review.

Lapping’s piece was reproduced by permission as “Why we left out half the Empire” in Commonwealth: The Journal of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Vol. 28, No. 1, September 1985. The journal commented separately that “it was unwise to include a whole film on the Mossadeq episode in Iran and to have nothing about the Caribbean. It was, after all, in the Caribbean, with its slaves and its sugar, that the Empire story began and the independence of countries like Guyana and Jamaica were hardly uneventful.”

End of Empire: Iran (1985)
51 minutes. Password: empire

Interview subjects:

Sir Donald Logan
Foreign Office, Iran Desk, 1951-53

Nasrollah Fatemi
Iranian Delegate to United Nations 1951-53

Abolhassan Banisadr
President of Iran, 1980
[2] Mossadegh supporter, 1951

Lady Margaret Drake
[wife of Eric Drake]

Shapour Bakhtiar
Regional Director, Ministry of Labour, Iran, 1947-49

Homa Katouzian
Tehran student

Sir Eric Drake
Gen. Manager, Abadan, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company
[2] Chairman, BP, 1969-75

Sir Sam Falle
British Embassy, Tehran, 1949-52

Sir Peter Ramsbotham
Foreign Office Secretary, Persian Oil Committee, 1951

Fouad Rouhani
Legal Adviser, National Iranian Oil Company, 1951-1954

George McGhee
Assistant Secretary of State, USA, 1949-51

Averell Harriman
Special Assistant to President Truman, 1951

Richard Cottam
Central Intelligence Agency, 1953

Sir George Middleton
Chargé D'affaires, British Embassy, Tehran, 1951-52

Julian Amery
Conservative Member of Parliament

Mehdi Tehrani
Youth Organiser, Tudeh Party, 1951-53

Alireza Saheb
Mossadegh’s aide

[Interviewees listed in order of appearance as identified on screen. Some subjects have two labels. An audio only, off the record interview with Norman Darbyshire (MI6) was also conducted, according to Granada producers. An interview with his American CIA counterpart, Stephen Meade, was filmed but not included].

Film credits:

Robin Ellis

Mark Wilkinson

Historical Advisers
John Gurney
Heda Matin-Daftari

Production Assistants
Margaret Chatfield
Dorothy Friend

Humphrey Trevelyan

Sound Recordists
Harry Brookes
Martin Kay
Alan Bale

Rostrum Cameraman
Martin Kelly

Dubbing Mixer
Andy Wyatt

Graphic Designers
Murray Cook
Peter Clark

Film Researcher
Lisa Pontecorvo

Film Editors
Roland Coburn
Peter Hallworth

Alison Rooper

Executive Producer
Brian Lapping

Mark Anderson


End of Empire | Episode List:

1. The Beginning of the End [Singapore]
2. India: Engine of War
3. India: the Muslim Card [India and Pakistan]
4. Divide and Quit [Indian Independence, Pakistan]
5. Malaya
6. Palestine
7. Iran
8. Egypt
9. Aden [Yemen]
10. Cyprus
11. The Gold Coast [Ghana]
12. Kenya
13. The Rider and the Horse [Rhodesia and Malawi]
14. Rhodesia

Norman Darbyshire’s Explosive Interview on 1953 Coup in Iran
The Darbyshire Tapes: Norman Darbyshire's Explosive Interview on the 1953 Coup in Iran (transcript)

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Related links:

British Proposal to Organize a Coup d’état in Iran (1952)

Mossadegh, Another Viewpoint | Personal Stories From Ahmadabad (VIDEO)

The First Oil Crisis | 1984 BBC Timewatch Video | Abadan, Iran

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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