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British Diplomatic Oral History Programme

Reference Code: GBR/0014/DOHP

Scope and Contents

The programme comprises transcripts of interviews with senior diplomats.


  • 1995 - 2021

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Material in this collection is open to researchers unless otherwise marked in the catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

The British Diplomatic Oral History Programme (BDOHP) established with the approval and co-operation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) creates a valuable new body of research material for the study of British diplomatic history.

This material, which is being preserved and conserved at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, offers unparalleled insights into how British diplomats function and what really happened at crucial moments in their careers. It affords a unique account of important, and often unrecorded, events in international relations. It is increasingly recognised as a source of raw material by scholars, writers, journalists and researchers.

The BDOHP interviews former diplomats or other officials who have played a significant role in events bearing on international relations. The tendency towards greater openness in government has strengthened in recent years. Interviewees are encouraged by their interviewers to be candid and not to allow their instinctive respect for confidentiality to inhibit a frank description of what it is they have contributed to British diplomacy. They are however assured that what they say will not be published or put into the public domain without their permission or prior FCO clearance.

To strengthen the confidence of interviewees in the BDOHP, the interviewers are also retired diplomats or their wives. These interviewers understand the desirability of obtaining a first hand account covering the ground fairly and illuminating the atmosphere of a broad spectrum of posts around the world during the conduct of international relations. Transcripts of the interviews provide valuable details and insights into the daily workings of diplomacy and of Whitehall which may not otherwise be available to outside observers and commentators. Many such details, taken for granted in contemporary documents, are often omitted from the official records when these are eventually released into the public domain.

The BDOHP receives no official funding and is run on a voluntary basis. There have been some small but essential financial contributions from charitable trusts to meet the costs of transcribing the tapes as well as the costs of travel to interviews, postage, and equipment. Financial aid of this kind continues to be needed. For the creation of this unique body of evidence is not only an important academic undertaking, it is also a vital national interest.

The Churchill Archives Centre is part of Churchill College, Cambridge, itself the National and Commonwealth memorial to Britain's celebrated wartime Prime Minister. The Centre houses the papers of Sir Winston Churchill, Lady Thatcher, and some 600 other prominent individuals of the Churchill era and beyond. It is one of the leading repositories for the study of politics, diplomacy and grand strategy in the twentieth century. Though it receives no direct public funding, and relies on private donation, the Centre has a long tradition of working with the Cabinet Office and the FCO and has been inspected and approved by the Historical Manuscripts Commission.


208 file(s) : paper

Language of Materials



Each interview counts as one separate file.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The BDOHP was originally established in 1995 as the result of an approach by Charles Stuart Kennedy in Washington to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1991. Mr Kennedy, a retired US Foreign Service officer, was at that time Director of the Foreign Affairs Oral History Program at the Lauinger Library at Georgetown University. He thought the British Diplomatic Service should know about the United States program and the advantages to scholarship and training to be derived from it, and might wish to consider developing a programme on similar lines.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office thought the idea was a good one but was not willing to take it forward itself for budgetary reasons. The FCO passed the challenge to Malcolm McBain, a retired Diplomatic Service officer, to take up in a private, unsubsidised capacity. Stuart Kennedy provided unstinting encouragement and advice and the unofficial link between the American and the British oral history programmes still flourishes today.

The BDOHP received further practical help and encouragement from the Department of Politics at Leicester University from 1995 to 1997 when the programme was transferred to its present home at the Churchill Archives Centre.

Related Materials

See also the British Oral Archive of Political and Administrative History (BOAPAH) at the Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science, the American Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) at and and also recorded interviews with Cabinet Secretaries at


This collection (fonds) level description and catalogue were prepared by Katharine Thomson at Churchill Archives Centre, from an existing catalogue.


British Diplomatic Oral History Programme
2002-03-12 12:02:20+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087

The UK Archival Thesaurus has been integrated with our catalogue, thanks to Kings College London and the AIM25 project for their support with this.