The UK in 1970
In 1970, the United Kingdom is trying to find its place in the post-war world order. It has surrendered its historic empire, but desperately wishes to still be seen as a great power. It retains its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and the decision not to support the US militarily in Vietnam shows that it is not just an unquestioning American poodle.
This year has seen a Conservative (centre-right) national government elected, and they hope to take the UK into the European communities: seeing the country’s economic future as being closely linked with its nearest neighbours. They have also instigated internal security measures against ‘the enemy within’ – British socialists and labour activists who are seen as potential agents or stooges for the Communist bloc.
In the field of culture, though, the UK is an undisputed world leader. The ‘soft power’ exercised by its pop musicians, fashion designers, artists, and writers over the previous decade has conquered everywhere that it’s touched. The Beatles have now split up, but Swinging London continues as party capital of the world.
Tensions between the old Britain and the new – the forces of class and tradition, versus those of freedom and innovation – bigotry and prejudice versus tolerance and openness – are felt throughout the country. And probably will continue to be so for some time yet.
The UK embassy in Norway
The United Kingdom embassy to Norway is calm, rational, and dignified, as befits this ancient monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the daughter of King Olav’s first cousin, and the two families are close friends. Famed for their understatement and reserve, the British diplomats based here are scrupulously polite and unflappable.
At least, that’s how it looks on the surface. Below the water, legs are thrashing furiously. The UK is struggling to retain relevance in a world of superpowers, when even its Scandinavian friends and neighbours no longer take it as seriously. The ambassador used to keep a tight ship and maintain a healthy discipline among the staff, but recently it’s seemed that attention has been wandering. Now, private agendas and secret connections seem to be everywhere. Some of the embassy staff are socially ‘the wrong type’: what can you expect from such people?
It has long been rumoured that some staff at the embassy may be involved in covert operations across Norway and even into neighbouring states. Here, too, the UK now struggles to hold its head up. Its agents’ skills are legendary — but they are few, and poorly resourced, compared with the behemothic US and Soviet services with whom they compete. And a succession of double-agent scandals have tarnished the brand. Just a few days ago, the first secretary of the embassy was recalled home for questioning about suspect activities; while it’s rumoured that an MI6 agent has gone missing on the Finnish–Soviet border. Is this the start of a murky new series of disgraces? Or can the old country fight its way through the fog, and come out with stiff upper lip maintained?
- Ambassador: Sir K. Sydenham-Giles (50s, M) – a veteran of the diplomatic service, who served their apprenticeship during the war in London, liaising with allied governments. Long married, with an adult child. Facing middle-age and the prospect of retirement with considerable uncertainty. Could a new relationship be a pathway to a new life? – or the road to disgrace?
- Ambassador’s spouse: Lady L. Sydenham-Giles (50s, F) – formerly a Danish diplomat, gave up their career on marriage. Has family and friends in the Danish embassy. Co-founder of the Doll’s House Brunch & Martini Club for frustrated diplomatic spouses. Resentful at being held responsible for keeping their problem child out of (further) trouble.
- Ambassador’s child: P. Sydenham-Giles (20s, N) – kicked out of university back in the UK for misbehaviour, brought to Skien for close (in theory…) parental supervision. On a single-minded mission to enjoy the delights and dangers that the temporary capital has to offer. Probably a massive security risk.
- Embassy chauffeur: O. Kollerud (30s, N) – a Norwegian citizen, who found this job via their sibling in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. It is a last chance to straighten up and achieve respectability, after a series of financial troubles and other difficulties. Recently, their money worries seem to have lifted somewhat. Delighted that diplomatic immunity means that, when using an embassy car, they can park anywhere and ignore the ticket.
- Military attaché: Major S. Brooks (50s, N) – a war veteran now responsible for liaising with the armed forces of NATO allies. Persistent rumours suggest that they have more than half an eye on military intelligence, too. Missing the days when Uncle Joe’s Soviet Union were on the same side as us – but not so much so as to let them get away with espionage shenanigans.
- Cultural attaché: A. Wilde (30s, N) – for someone whose main interest is supposedly in art and literature, they spend an awful lot of time meeting with mysterious people in obscure corners of the city. Only been here in Norway for a year, but managing to keep very busy, what with one thing and another.
- Embassy clerk: C. Black (20s, N) – a junior official, from a relatively lowly background but with maybe a long and distinguished diplomatic career ahead of them. This is their first overseas posting, after some years of training in London. Their work is mainly in assisting the attachés, but that seems to leave plenty of free time for a very active social life with the other young people of the international community.
- Ambassador’s assistant: T. Greenberg (40s, F) – a vital piece of the embassy’s mechanism, without which the ambassador could not function: but perhaps without the recognition that they deserve. Apparently ‘married to the job’, but that might not be the whole story. Wondering how they might find true fulfillment in life.
- Psychologist: R. Fredericks (any age, N) – an expert recently sent from London to ‘evaluate and improve staff morale’. Suspicion has it that they may be more than just a psychologist: and that this mission may have some connection with the sudden recall to the UK of the embassy’s first secretary, rumoured to be for reasons of compromised loyalty.