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The End of the British Empire, 1945-1968

5. The Winds of Change

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About this Lecture


In this module, we consider the period 1960-73, in which Britain withdraws from almost all of its colonial obligations, focusing in particular on: (i) Harold Macmillan's Wind of Change speech (3 February 1960); (ii) the importance of the Cold War in Britain's decision to decolonise – "Will [the peoples of Asia and Africa] be drawn into the Communist camp? Or will they come down in favour of freedom and order and justice?"; (iii) Macmillan's implied criticism of the South African system of Apartheid; (iv) the appointment of Iain Macleod as Colonial Secretary in 1959; (v) the creation of colonial federations, including the Central African Federation (1953-63), West Indies Federation (1958-62), and the establishment of Nigeria as a federal state; (vi) the tightening of British citizenship, from the relatively generous British Nationality Act 1948 to the more restrictive Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962 and Immigration Act 1972; (vii) the reasons for this change, including the increase in migration from the colonies in the years following the Second World War; (viii) Britain's attempts to join to the European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1960s and its entry in 1973; (ix) the impact of Britain's entry into the EEC on the colonies, especially Canada, Australia and New Zealand; and (x) the idea that the period 1960-73 was one in which Britain declared itself independent of its colonies, rather than the other way round.


In this course, Dr Simon Potter (University of Bristol) explores the final decades of the British Empire, from the end of the Second World War in 1945 to Britain’s withdrawal of troops “East of Suez”, announced by Harold Wilson in 1968. As we move through the course, we think about the impact of the Second World War, the withdrawal of India and Burma from the Empire in the late 1940s, the Suez Crisis of 1956, Harold Macmillan’s now famous ‘Wind of Change’ speech, delivered in Cape Town in 1960.


Simon Potter is Reader in Modern History at Bristol University. His early research examined the role played by newspapers and news agencies in linking up the component parts of the ‘British world’ (Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More recently, he has written on the role of the BBC in building and strengthening imperial connections since 1922, and its response to the decline of the British world after the Second World War. He is also interested in the broader history of the British world, and in the historiography of the British empire.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Potter, S. (2018, August 15). The End of the British Empire, 1945-1968 - The Winds of Change [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Potter, S. "The End of the British Empire, 1945-1968 – The Winds of Change." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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