The Secret Twenties | Granta

The Secret Twenties

Timothy Phillips

Espionage and counter-espionage between the Soviets and the British during London’s Roaring Twenties

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 not only set the rules of engagement for Russia and Britain for decades to come, but also sent shockwaves through the British establishment, bringing down a government and ending careers.

Drawing on a wealth of recently declassified and previously unseen material, Timothy Phillips uncovers a world of suspicion and extremism, bureaucracy and betrayal set against the sparkling backdrop of cocktail-era London. The Secret Twenties shines fresh light on a glamorous decade, and offers a gripping account of the lives of the first Soviet spies, the British Secret Services that pursued them and the double agents in their midst.

  • Published: 07/06/2018
  • Paperback
  • ISBN: 9781847083289
  • 129x20mm, 320 pages

A welcome and fascinating study of a pivotal yet under-explored aspect of history. Using previously unseen files, Phillips illuminates the growing role of espionage as suspicions grew about the threat from the new Soviet state - all set against the glamour of 1920s London. It is an intoxicating combination

Martin Pearce, author of Spymaster

The Author

Timothy Phillips is the author of 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. His latest book is The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age (Granta, September 2017).

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From the Same Author

Beslan

Tim Phillips’ book tells the human story of the siege – of the terrible toll that thirst, hunger and sleeplessness took on the hostages, of the bravery of those who dealt with the terrorists, such as the elderly headmistress of the school and the doctor who tried to relieve the suffering of the young children. Phillips also looks at the authorities’ response to the siege and finds it severely wanting. He has spent time in Beslan researching the book, talking to those involved and those affected, listening to the conspiracy theories, and trying to set the events of September 2004 in their wider context of centuries of conflict and enmity in the Caucasus.

Timothy Phillips on Granta.com

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Getting Away With It

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A case of Russian espionage from Tim Phillips' book The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians, and the Jazz Age.