Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-6mkhv Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-06T02:28:03.836Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

“There'll Always Be an England”: Representations of Colonial Wars and Immigration, 1948–1968

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2014


“In Malaya,” the Daily Mail noted in 1953, “three and a half years of danger have given the planters time to convert their previously pleasant homes into miniature fortresses, with sandbag parapets, wire entanglements, and searchlights.” The image of the home as fortress and a juxtaposition of the domestic with menace and terror were central to British media representations of colonial wars in Malaya and Kenya in the 1950s. The repertoire of imagery deployed in the Daily Mail for the “miniature fortress” in Malaya was extended to Kenya, where the newspaper noted wire over domestic windows, guns beside wine glasses, the charming hostess in her black silk dress with “an automatic pistol hanging at her hip.” Such images of English domesticity threatened by an alien other were also central to immigration discourse in the 1950s and 1960s. In the context of the decline of British colonial rule after 1945, representations of the empire and its legacy—resistance to colonial rule in empire and “immigrants” in the metropolis—increasingly converged on a common theme: the violation of domestic sanctuaries.

Colonial wars of the late 1940s and 1950s have received little attention in literatures on national identity in early postwar Britain, but the articulation of racial difference through immigration discourse, and its significance in redefining the postimperial British national community has been widely recognized. As Chris Waters has suggested in his work on discourses of race and nation between 1947 and 1963, these years saw questions of race become central to questions of national belonging.

Research Article
Copyright © North American Conference of British Studies 2001

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Daily Mail (26 January 1953).

2 See esp. Gilroy, Paul, “There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack”: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (London, 1987)Google Scholar; Schwarz, Bill, “‘The Only White Man in There’: The Re-racialisation of England, 1956–1968,” Race and Class 38 (1996): 6578Google Scholar; Waters, Chris, “‘Dark Strangers’ in Our Midst: Discourses of Race and Nation in Britain, 1947–1963,” Journal of British Studies 36 (1997): 207–38Google Scholar; Paul, Kathleen, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Ithaca, N.Y., 1997)Google Scholar; Webster, Wendy, Imagining Home: Gender, “Race” and National Identity, 1945–64 (London, 1998)Google Scholar.

3 Waters, , “‘Dark Strangers' in Our Midst,’” p. 208Google Scholar.

4 Quoted in Wiener, Martin, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850–1980 (Cambridge, 1981), p. 60Google Scholar.

5 Light, Alison, Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism between the Wars (London, 1991)Google Scholar.

6 Waters, , “‘Dark Strangers' in Our Midst,’” p. 208Google Scholar.

7 Schwarz, Bill, “‘The Only White Man in There,’” “Black Metropolis, White England,” in Modern Times: Reflections on a Century of English Modernity, ed. Nava, Mica and O'Shea, Alan (London, 1996), pp. 182207Google Scholar, and Reveries of Race: The Closing of the Imperial Moment,” in Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945–1964, ed. Conekin, Becky, Mort, Frank, and Waters, Chris (London, 1999), pp. 189207Google Scholar.

8 Schwarz, , “‘The Only White Man in There,’” p. 73Google Scholar.

9 Segal, Lynn, “Look Back in Anger: Men in the Fifties,” in Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity, ed. Chapman, Rowena and Rutherford, Jonathan, (London, 1988), pp. 6896Google Scholar; Sinfield, Alan, Literature, Politics and Culture in Postwar Britain (Oxford, 1989)Google Scholar; Jeffreys, Sheila, Anticlimax: A Feminist Perspective on the Sexual Revolution (London, 1990)Google Scholar; Waters, Chris, “Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social: Peter Wildeblood and the Making of the Modern Homosexual,” in Moments of Modernity, ed. Mort, , and Waters, , pp. 134–51Google Scholar.

10 Hill, John, “Working-Class Realism and Sexual Reaction: Some Theses on the British ‘New Wave,’” in British Cinema History, ed. Curran, James and Porter, Vincent (London, 1983) pp. 303–11Google Scholar, and Sex, Class and Realism: British Cinema, 1956–1963 (London, 1986)Google Scholar; Wandor, Micheline, Look Back in Gender: Sexuality and the Family in Post-war British Drama (London, 1987)Google Scholar; Lovell, Terry, “Landscapes and Stories in 1960s British Realism,” Screen 31 (1990): 357–76Google Scholar.

11 But see Dyer, Richard, White (London, 1997), esp. pp. 184206Google ScholarPubMed; Webster, Imagining Home.

12 Schwarz, , “‘The Only White Man in There,’” p. 65Google Scholar.

13 Spivak, Gayatri, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York, 1993), p. 226Google Scholar.

14 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1983)Google Scholar.

15 Ryan, James, Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualisation of the British Empire (London, 1997)Google Scholar.

16 Schwarz, Bill, “Politics and Rhetoric in the Age of Mass Culture,” History Workshop Journal 46 (1998): 139Google Scholar.

17 For a discussion of this imagery, see Dawson, Graham, Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire and the Imagining of Masculinities (London, 1994), esp. pp. 5876Google Scholar.

18 Two Thousand Women (Launder, Frank, 1944)Google Scholar; The Captive Heart (Dearden, Basil, 1946)Google Scholar.

19 See Richards, Jeffrey, Films and British National Identity: From Dickens to Dad's Army (Manchester, 1997), pp. 97104Google Scholar. Richards, records that This England (1941)Google Scholar was retitled Our Heritage for its Scottish release (p. 97).

20 Millions Like Us (Launder, Frank and Gilliat, Sidney, 1943)Google Scholar; The Gentle Sex (Howard, Leslie and Elvey, Maurice, 1943)Google Scholar; A Canterbury Tale (Powell, Michael and Pressburger, Emeric, 1944)Google Scholar. For a discussion of the image of the mobile woman in wartime British cinema see Lant, Antonia, Blackout: Reinventing Women for Wartime British Cinema (Princeton, N.J., 1991), esp. chap. 2Google Scholar.

21 A Diary for Timothy (Jennings, Humphrey, 1945)Google Scholar.

22 In Frieda (Dearden, Basil, 1947)Google Scholar, return is represented as more problematic. In this film, a peaceful rural English home and community is disrupted by the return of fighter pilot Bob Dawson (David Fairer) accompanied by the German nurse Frieda (Mai Zetterling) who has helped him to escape. But the film resolves the problem posed by Frieda's presence as she is shown increasingly accepted and incorporated into the community, reinforcing the idea of English tolerance.

23 Landy, Marcia, British Genres: Cinema and Society, 1930–1960 (Princeton, N.J., 1991), p. 178Google Scholar.

24 Odette (Wilcox, Herbert, 1950)Google Scholar; Carve Her Name with Pride (Lewis Gilbert, 1958)Google Scholar.

25 Ramsden, John, “Refocusing ‘The People's War’: British War Films of the 1950s,” Journal of Contemporary History 33 (1998): 57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Landy, , British Genres, p. 176Google Scholar.

27 See Medhurst, Andy, “1950s War Films,” in National Fictions, ed. Hurd, Geoff (London, 1984), pp. 3539Google Scholar; Pronay, Nicholas, “The British Post-bellum Cinema: A Survey of the Films Relating to World War II Made in Britain between 1945 and 1960,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 8 (1988): 3954Google Scholar; Rattigan, Neil, “The Last Gasp of the Middle Class: British War Films of the 1950s,” in Reviewing British Cinema, 1900–1992, ed. Dixon, Wheeler (New York, 1994), pp. 143–52Google Scholar; Ramsden, “Re-focusing ‘The People's War.‘” Ramsden notes a dearth of studies of British postwar films about the war of 1939–45, by comparison with films made during the war.

28 The Planter's Wife (Annakin, Ken, 1952)Google Scholar; Simba (Hurst, Brian Desmond, 1955)Google Scholar. There is discussion of Simba in Dyer, Richard, “White,” Screen 29 (1988): 4464Google Scholar; Webster, , Imagining Home pp. 5255Google Scholar.

29 See Carruthers, Susan, Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media and Colonial Counter-Insurgency, 1944–1960 (London, 1995), pp. 167–68Google Scholar.

30 Ibid., p. 112.

31 See Spicer, Andrew, “Male Stars, Masculinity and British Cinema, 1945–1960,” in The British Cinema Book, ed. Murphy, Robert (London, 1997), pp. 144–53Google Scholar. Dirk Bogarde also starred in The High Bright Sun (Thomas, Ralph, 1965)Google Scholar, a colonial war film, set in Cyprus. The Planter's Wife was one of Rank's biggest box-office successes in 1952. See Porter, Vincent, “Methodism versus the Market Place: The Rank Organisation and British Cinema,” in The British Cinema Book, ed. Murphy, , p. 126Google Scholar.

32 The Drum (Korda, Zoltan, 1938)Google Scholar. There are discussions of pre-1939 imperial films in Richards, Jeffrey, “Boy's Own Empire: Feature Films and Imperialism in the 1930s,” in Imperialism and Popular Culture, ed. MacKenzie, John (Manchester, 1986), pp. 140–64Google Scholar; Landy, , British Genres, pp. 101–10Google Scholar; Young, Lola, Fear of the Dark: ‘Race,’ Gender and Sexuality in the Cinema (London, 1996), pp. 5583Google Scholar; Richards, , Films and British National Identity, pp. 31—81Google Scholar.

33 Daily Mail (16 August 1948).

34 Daily Mail (5 January 1953).

35 Daily Express (7 January 1953).

36 Daily Express (24 November 1952).

37 Daily Express (7 January 1953).

38 Newsinger, John, “The Military Memoir in British Imperial Culture: The Case of Malaya,” Race and Class 35 (1994): 48CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Daily Express (3 January 1953); Daily Express (26 January 1952).

40 Guns at Batasi (Guillermin, John, 1964)Google Scholar.

41 See Webster, Imagining Home, chap. 4.

42 The Times (19 September 1952).

43 Pronay, , “The British Post-bellum Cinema,” p. 39Google Scholar.

44 The Ship That Died of Shame (Dearden, Basil, 1955)Google Scholar.

45 Quoted in Cohen, Steve, “Anti-semitism, Immigration Controls and the Welfare State,” Critical Social Policy 13 (1985): 74Google Scholar.

46 Light, , Forever England, esp. pp. 119Google Scholar.

47 Ibid., p. 8.

48 Priestley, J. B., Postscripts (London, 1940), pp. 14Google Scholar.

49 This image had particular currency in Hollywood “British” empire films, such as Gunga Din (Stevens, George, 1939)Google Scholar, which focused on the northwest frontier and the soldier hero. It was also a common image in British imperial films such as The Drum.

50 Daily Express (5 January 1953).

51 See, e.g., Daily Express (5 January 1953); Daily Mail (5 January 1953); Illustrated London News (17 January 1953).

52 See, e.g., Patterson, Sheila, Dark Strangers: A Sociological Study of the Absorption of a Recent West Indian Migrant Group in Brixton, South London (London, 1963), pp. 198–99Google Scholar.

53 Daily Express (7 January 1953).

54 Daily Mail (5 January 1953). Some newspapers reported that Raynes-Simson was South African, but this did not disrupt the connections made between images of a peaceful home and garden and Englishness.

55 Patterson, , Dark Strangers, pp. 198–99Google Scholar.

56 Huxley, Elspeth, Back Street New Worlds: A Look at Immigrants in Britain (London, 1964), pp. 4647Google Scholar.

57 For a discussion of the way this image was deployed in representations of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, see Dawson, , Soldier Heroes, p. 91Google Scholar.

58 Dyer, , “White,” p. 49Google ScholarPubMed.

59 A newspaper headline in 1906—“tainting the race”—referred to the employment of Chinese seamen and resulting settlement of Chinese communities in London and other ports, and spoke of the results of interracial mixing between Chinese men and English women as “swarms of half-bred children to be seen in the district.” See Gabriel, John, Whitewash: Racialized Politics and the Media (London, 1998), p. 58Google Scholar. The chief constable of Cardiff's proposal of a legal ban on “miscegenation” in 1929 referred to the employment of African and Indian seamen, and resulting settlement in ports like Cardiff and Liverpool. See Rich, Paul, Race and Empire in British Politics (Cambridge, 1990), p. 130Google Scholar. Although interracial sex was never made illegal, fears of “tainting the race” were extended during the Second World War as black British and American soldiers served in Britain. See Sherwood, Marika, Many Struggles: West Indian Workers and Service Personnel in Britain (London, 1985)Google Scholar; Bousquet, Ben and Douglas, Colin, West Indian Women at War: British Racism in World War II (London, 1991)Google Scholar; Rose, Sonya, “Sex, Citizenship, and the Nation in World War II Britain,” American Historical Review 103 (1998): 1147–76Google Scholar.

60 Philpott, Trevor, “Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Negro?Picture Post (30 October 1954)Google Scholar; MacInnes, Colin, “A Short Guide for Jumbles to the Life of Their Coloured Brethren in England,” in his England: Half English (London, 1961), p. 25 (originally published in 1956)Google Scholar; Daily Express (18 July 1956).

61 Flame in the Streets (Baker, Roy, 1961)Google Scholar. This film is discussed in Young, Fear of the Dark, chap. 4; Webster, Imagining Home, chap. 3.

62 The Times (19 September 1952).

63 For a discussion of this imagery see Stoler, Ann, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, N.C., 1995), chap. 4Google Scholar.

64 See McClintock, Anne, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London, 1995), pp. 118–22Google Scholar.

65 Patterson, , Dark Strangers, p. 98Google Scholar; Huxley, , Back Street, p. 47Google Scholar. While Patterson calls “our ways” those of “residents,” Huxley calls them those of “Brixtonians.”

66 Quoted in Stoler, , Race and the Education of Desire, p. 128Google Scholar. For a discussion of this imagery, see Baucom, Ian, Out of Place: Englishness, Empire and the Locations of Identity (Princeton, N.J., 1999), pp 5562Google Scholar.

67 Pool of London (Basil Dearden, 1950)Google Scholar; A Taste of Honey (Richardson, Tony, 1961)Google Scholar.

68 The Sunday Times (6 November 1966).

69 See Schwarz, “‘The Only White Man In There.’”

70 Powell, J. Enoch, “Myth and Reality,” in Freedom and Reality, ed. Wood, John (London, 1969), p. 243Google Scholar.

71 Quoted in Heffer, Simon, Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell (London, 1998), p. 115Google Scholar.

72 Quoted in Berkeley, Humphrey, The Odyssey of Enoch: A Political Memoir (London, 1977), p. 52Google Scholar; Heffer, , Like the Roman, p. 169Google Scholar.

73 Powell, J. Enoch, “Myth and Reality,” pp. 245–50Google Scholar.

74 Ibid., p. 255.

75 Powell, J. Enoch, “Immigration,” in Wood, , ed., Freedom and Reality, pp. 213–19Google Scholar.