Online Imperial War Museum exhibition explores Cold War memories

By Culture24 Staff | 09 November 2009
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screenshot of website with a soldier in a gas mask

The IWM's latest exhibition is an online exploration of the Cold War

The Imperial War Museum is marking the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall with an online exhibition exploring the British experiences of the Cold War.

Created as part of the Their Past Your Future programme, the website, called What Lies Beneath is an attempt to give new perspectives to a conflict that was played out through arms races, proxy wars, the "space race" and technological and cultural rivalry.

A series of thematic overviews on the site including Ideology, Nuclear Threat, Science, Hot Wars, Cold War Espionage, the Iron Curtain and Culture are explored through photographs, narratives and personal stories from a variety of men and women who lived through the Cold War.

a photo of a camera and plans

(Above) The "Robot Star" camera and lens given to Mason Redfearn by Commander Brookes for his surveillance activities. Mason Redfearn

The thoughts and experiences of a range of characters taking in peace activists, Marxist comedians, soldiers and spies are presented alongside key documents and artworks from the Imperial War Museum collection.

"War drives people to bear witness to their experiences, expressing for many of us events that are indescribable," said Diane Lees, Director General of the Imperial War Museum.

"The opening of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War are significant moments in modern history and through the personal stories in What Lies Beneath we hope that visitors will be able to discover more about what it was like for the British men, women and children who lived through these momentous events."

a screenshot of a website with the words iron curtain

The site contains personal reminiscences, films and documents

On the site Tim Lambon, Assistant Foreign Editor for Channel 4 News, recalls his role as a Military Intelligence Officer in the pre-Zimbabwe Rhodesian Security Force. Mason Redfearn, a trawler skipper, goes on to recount his recruitment by British Naval Intelligence in 1963 to photograph Soviet warships while fishing in the Barents Sea.

Comedian Alexei Sayle recalls how, as a result of his father's involvement in left-wing politics, he went on family visits to countries behind the Iron Curtain, and Sir Kenneth Adam, the set designer for a number of the early James Bond films, revisits the inspiration for his iconic set designs in Doctor Strangelove.

a drawing of a long futuristic control room with central table

(Above) Extended sketch of the "War Room" from Dr Strangelove, released in 1964. Sir Kenneth Adam (personal collection)

The film archives on the site also throw up a few treats. In one, a group of Royal Marines take LSD while on exercise at Porton Down in 1964, and a film produced for the Royal Navy in 1984, called A Spy for All Seasons, features four case studies of circumstances in which individuals would decide to spy for the Soviet Union.

Find out more at What Lies Beneath.

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