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on 31 August 2012
I found this a very enjoyable and engaging novel. I was also intrigued to see how prophetic it was in many ways. It was written in 1982, some three years into Mrs Thatcher's first term in office, and is set in the year or so following a general election in 1989 at which the Labour party secured an unexpected landslide victory.
As the novel opens we are given the reactions of various Establishment stalwarts, including press barons, bankers, industrialists and several Civil Service mandarins, all of whom are appalled at the prospect of a genuinely socialist government assuming power. While they seethe with rage and fear we learn something of Perkins's background.
As a young man Harry Perkins had followed his father into employment in a Sheffield steel mill. Once there he became involved in the trade union movement and quickly rose through the local ranks. Spotted as a potential high flier he was awarded a union scholarship to Ruskin College in Oxford, and continued his rapid progress through the part machinery until he was selected as an MP for his home town. Following a spell as an energetic and diligent back bencher he enters what is clearly the Wilson/Callaghan Government of 1974 to 1979 (though neither of those two leaders is specifically named), eventually rising to Cabinet level with responsibility for maintaining the national grid. In this capacity, despite obstructions posed by officials in his own department, he awards a contract for a nuclear power station to British Industrial Fuels, and they duly build an installation by.
When the Conservatives return to power under Mrs Thatcher following ntheir own landslide victory in 1979 Perkins surprises everyone (perhaps including himself) by eventually becoming leader of the Labour Party. An election is called in 1989
Perkins certainly has a radical suite of policies and is eager to commence the withdrawal of the UK from NATO and the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal. He also threatens to dissolve the prevailing newspaper monopolies. As we have already read, the Establishment is appalled, and starts to fight back using its own range of weapons. Sir George Fison owns many of the most popular press titles and uses his papers to mount a concerted effort to undermine the new administration. Meanwhile the military Chiefs of Staff mobilise their own machinery, undertaking almost treasonous activities with Western Allies to circumvent the Government's planned reductions. The various Whitehall Permanent Secretaries work together to confound the administrative process wherever possible. These mandarins are steely, ruthless characters - very far from the popular perception of Sir Humphrey, but with all of his determination to have their own way.
The author, Chris Mullin, would subsequently become a Labour MP and would even serve in Government himself, though at the time that he wrote this novel he was an investigative journalist fighting high profile alleged miscarriages of justice. However, his understanding of the Whitehall machinery is very clear, and he paints a very plausible picture of the relationship between Ministers and senior officials. The novel is always entirely credible, and often very humorous.
The novel is also rather alarming as it displays the relative ease with which the combined forces of the banks, the press and senior officialdom can confound the aims of government, regardless of the size of the electoral mandate. One thinks of the persistent rumours, fuelled by memoirs from the likes of Peter Wright, of concerted campaigns by the intelligence community to undermine the Wilson government in the 1970s.
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on 2 April 2005
A Very British Coup is one of the landmark political dramas. Gripping from the outset. The election of a truly left-wing government and Prime Minister, who are intent on driving through their left-wing (and popular) agenda, scares the establishment into increasingly desperate machinations to discredit the elected representatives and regain control. What makes this drama so compulsive is the plausibility. I have an uneasy feeling that the situation this film portrays is more prophesy than entertainment.
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on 6 November 2012
This is not a follow up to Chris Mullin's book 'A Very British Coup' - this IS Chris Mullin's book 'A Very British Coup' under a new title because of a TV tie-in. A new version of the TV series is being shown under a new title and so the book is retitled too. Amazon do not make this clear (I wonder if they even realise it) but if, like me, you have the original DO NOT buy this book. If you do NOT have the original and you remember the 70's and the dark rumours concerning Harold Wilson and the secret service of the day then you will enjoy this I am sure.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 March 2016
This is a great TV movie from the mid-80's. The story is told in a highly realist way, and poses an interesting problem: what would happen if a genuinely left-wing (radical socialist) political party was democratically elected? Yes, it would have popular support. But the Establishment would be fearful ... and seek to both contain the pressure for reform and do away with the reformists.

This movie is based on the novel (of the same name), only told in a slightly different manner (with a better ending). It's well acted, and suggests a sense of realism.

Given what happened in Spain in 1936 and in Chile in 1972, the premise for this story is sound. The powers that be would do all they could to curtail the efforts of this sort of government. Only the continued support of the masses would ensure the government a chance of survival.

This political drama is well worth a watch.
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on 14 November 2004
From what I gather from the interview on the DVD, the book was written at a time when politics was polarised and the different parties had very little in the way of common ground. Like "Yes, Minister" it takes the idea that the Civil Service has its own policies and agenda and runs with it.
The story is that a Socialist Labour Party is elected. That automatically puts the party on the wrong side of the press (especially a barely-disguised Murdoch like figure), the "Establishment" and, with their nuclear disarmament policy, the US.
As other reviewers have commented, the plot is that the above 3 disaffected parties launch their own, clandestine, campaign to unseat the current Prime Minister.
The film asks whether the electorate chooses the Goverment or the Establisment chooses the electorate. The film is plausible and is, consequently, scary.
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on 14 December 2010
This is a fantastic DVD . Magnificently acted ( A fitting tribute to Ray McAnally ) As someone who was involved in the political scene of that time I found the characters frighteningly real. A great political thriller and superb read. The political analysis is spot on. Would give it six stars if I could
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on 18 October 2001
Based on a 1970s novel this TV movie shows the son of a steelwoker Harry Perkins as Britain's first Radical, Pro-Communist, Labour Prime Minister. He has to deal with party factions, difficult unions and media moghals as well as a conspiracy of government officals and secret agents who seek his downfall. A very British coup, no blood, no revolution, just constant pressure and obstruction to force his resignation. Slickly made with excellent acting from Ray McAnally as the blunt spoken Perkins who is more devious than he seems. I remember this well from Thatcherite '88 when a socialist goverment was truly in the realms of fiction.
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on 8 November 2012
So this book was published on 12 October 2012, yet has reviews here going back 20 months?

But as a previous reviewer said, this is NOT the book of the new Channel 4 series, which was written by Robert Jones and not Chris Mullin. This is the book of A Very British Coup, itself a great book and a memorable TV series in the 1980s. And Amazon have added to this confusion by taking their customer reviews for the old book and attributing them to the new.

A work that is 'inspired' by another does not turn into it. West Side Story is not Romeo and Juliet with music and My Fair Lady is not Pygmalion. A similar misreprentation occurred with Bouquet of Barbed Wire, where the 1969 book was republished with the cover of the 2010 adaptation, despite the substantial changes to the story.

To protect themselves, the publishers have stated the true position in small letters on the top of the cover. But it remains highly misleading and ought to be withdrawn and not published under this title.
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on 3 September 2010
"Although published in 1982 at a time when Labour were still struggling to combat the fledgling SDP let alone defeat Margaret Thatcher's Tory Party, A Very British Coup remains one of the classic British political thrillers of the late 20th Century. One does not have to share Mullin's leftist political perspective to agree with the central tenet of his argument that it is fundamentally undemocratic for a government to be thrown off course by oppositionist forces in society, be they in the media, secret services or military. The novel visualises the aftermath of a surprise Labour election landslide - a remote prospect in 1982 - led by socialist former Sheffield steelworker Harry Perkins (not Harry Mullins as the Amazon synopsis bizarrely states at the moment). Slowly but surely the reader is able to observe the government's ultimately fatal undermining by malevolent reactionary forces beyond its control. 'A Very British Coup' indeed. Mullin - now better known as the Labour MP who helped lead the campaign to free the Birmingham Six - seems to be implying at times that this story has already happened - that working class hero Perkins is in fact Harold Wilson who gave way unexpectedly to a more conservative successor (Jim Callaghan) in 1976. Although never as left wing as Perkins is (Perkins' Government favours withdrawing from NATO and full nuclear disarmament), Wilson was, of course, harassed by elements in MI5 during his time of office and the two even have similar names. Even ignoring this, the book is still a powerful warning against complacency on the Left and is at times surprisingly prescient: Perkins' party defeats a coalition government ran by the Tories and SDP, for example, a set up not a million miles away from the situation in 2010. Political junkies should relish this regardless of their own ideologies once they have adapted themselves to the novel's pre-Falklands War perspective."
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on 10 March 2009
Expecting this to be an interesting historical piece (even in the 80s a lot of the source material was based on the experience of leftist governments in the 70s) there was so much to enjoy that is as relevant as ever. The reference early on to jailing city bankers who had messed up the economy raised a smile. The compliant pro-American free market Labour politicians, who plotted against Perkins we know only too well. Harry Perkins is still the British left's Jed Bartlett, the best fictional leader we never had
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