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Last Updated: Monday, 16 October 2006, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Suez: A Very British Crisis
The Suez crisis in the 1950s signalled the end of Britain's history as a power that could act alone on the world stage.

A new BBC Two series tells the story of Suez using dramatic reconstructions and interviews with participants and witnesses to the crisis.


The Suez Canal in Egypt was a symbol of western dominance.

Soldiers at Suez during the crisis in 1956
Mondays from 16 October
BBC Two, 2100 BST

France and Britain were the major shareholders in the company that ran the canal and British troops occupied its banks.

When Gamal Abdul Nasser came to power in 1954, his main objective was to remove the British from Egypt.

The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, did not understand that the world had changed.

In the first programme, friends and intimates of both Nasser and Eden recall the events that put them on a collision path.

For Eden, Nasser was a threat to peace in the Middle East. For Nasser, Eden was standing in the way of securing his country's future.

When Britain and America refused to help Nasser to finance his ambitious project to build the Aswan Dam, it was the last straw.

In a bold move of defiance, he nationalised the Suez Canal Company to pay for the construction of the dam.


When Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal, Anthony Eden was appalled.

He regarded Nasser as a dictator whose claim to represent all Arabs was a direct threat to British interests in the Middle East.

Anthony Eden
Conspiracy: Monday, 23 October, BBC One, 2100 BST

He was determined to make Nasser reverse his decision by force if necessary.

Programme two explains how Britain plotted with France and Israel to gain back control of the canal.

The plan was for Israel to invade Egypt, its neighbour, allowing Britain and France to issue an ultimatum to each side to stop fighting or they would intervene to "save" the canal.

The programme hears from members of the secret conference that hatched the plan including Douglas Hurd - then private secretary to the British ambassador to the UN - who describes the nightmare of having to sell Eden's cover story for the plot.

And it reveals how an MP discovered what Eden was really up to and attempted to expose him in the House of Commons.


In the final episode, Anthony Eden takes the country to war in Suez.

The invasion took place as planned. But Eden had not informed the Americans.

Gamal Abdul Nasser
War: Monday, 30 October, BBC One, 2100 BST

When they found out, they were concerned about wider relations with the Arab world and refused to back the operation.

Desperately short of funds and without financial support from the Americans, the British were forced to pull out of Suez by December 1956.

As rumours mounted that Eden had colluded with Israel and France, he lied to the House of Commons.

He left office shortly afterwards.

Eden's widow, the Countess of Avon, recalls the pressures her husband faced. His private secretary remembers how regime change was always part of the agenda.

And Michael Parkinson describes how, as a young captain, he nearly came to grief at the hands of angry Egyptian civilians.

Map showing Suez Canal

Suez: A Very British Crisis will be broadcast on Mondays at 2100 BST on BBC Two, starting on 16 October 2006.

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