The Persian Oil Crisis

ON the day the Princess Royal opened the Exhibition, it was reported that the Iranian premier, Dr Mossadeq, had given Anglo-American oil industry technicians 32 hours to decide whether they would join the Iranian National Oil Company. Earlier that month, Dr Mossadeq had sent a committee to the province of Khuzestan to implement the country’s recently approved nationalisation law and take control of the Abadan oil installations from Anglo-Iranian (now known as B.P.).

Dr Mossadeq. Time magazine. 4 June 1951.

In response, Anglo-American threatened to withdraw its employees from the country. The British government, concerned that the loss of Iranian oil would set back economic recovery, imposed economic sanctions on Iran. In September, Anglo-American withdrew its employees and closed down its oil installations. Mossadeq held onto power in elections held in 1952 that some allege were rigged. In August 1953, Mossadeq was arrested in a U.S. Backed coup, and the Shah took power.

The disappearance of Burgess and Maclean

THE Festival student rag procession through Leeds on the 23rd June 1951 had 30 lorries with tableaux representing a cannibal island, a Festival cake, a fire engine and a rocket. Also included was one which made fun of the fact that the Foreign Office had lost two of its diplomats, Burgess and Maclean. At the time, it still wasn’t publicly known that MI5 suspected they were spies. Two weeks earlier, on the 11th June, the BBC Home Service had broadcast a news report giving details of Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison’s statement to the House of Commons on the issue.

Maclean had been due to be interrogated by MI5 on the 28th May 1951. Three days before this, he and Burgess left Maclean’s home in Kent, and drove to Southampton where they took the ferry to St Malo and then trains to Paris and Moscow. It was five years before Krushchev admitted that the two were in Moscow.

Burgess and Maclean


Burgess and Maclean were recruited to the KGB along with Kim Philby at Cambridge, by Anthony Blunt.

The Korean War

At the time of the Festival, British troops were fighting in Korea in a war that had begun when communist North Korea invaded the South on the 25th June 1950. The invasion took place not long after all the states of Eastern Europe had fallen under Soviet influence as a result of communist led coups. The North’s invasion led to UN intervention in Korea and a British re-armament programme that lasted from 1950 to 1953. Concern was expressed at the time that at a time of rationing, the programme was diverting vital resources away from the consumer economy, and that it would slow the speed of post-war recovery.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Defense.

In the Battle of the Imjin River, the Gloucestershire Regiment was surrounded by Chinese forces on Hill 235. Their last stand has become an important part of British military history and tradition, and is the subject of the 1956 film “A Hill in Korea.” The battle took place from the 22nd April to the 25th April 1951, shortly before the opening of the Festival by the King on the 3rd May.

Although hostilities were halted by an armistice signed on 27th July 1953, technically, the two Koreas are still at war. The armistice stabilised the border just north of the South Korean capital Seoul, at its location prior to the invasion by the North.

Celebrations across Leeds

THE opening of the Exhibition marked the start of three weeks of celebrations across the city. These included road safety and BEA exhibitions on Woodhouse Moor; demonstrations of tanks being loaded onto tank transporters on Woodhouse Moor, a Lancaster bomber and Vampire bomber on Woodhouse Moor, and a funfair also on the Moor. In addition, there was a firework display in Roundhay Park and demonstrations of parachute jumping from a balloon, also in Roundhay Park. There were outdoor plays and ballet held at Kirkstall Abbey and Temple Newsam; and a series of concerts of British music held at the Town Hall. In the shops in town there was a spotting competition with 766 prizes.

What else was going on
at the time

ON the day that the Princess Royal opened the Exhibition on Woodhouse Moor, the Persian Prime Minister, Dr Mossadeq, had given British oil technicians working in Persia, 32 hours to join the Persian National Oil Company. British troops were fighting Communist Chinese forces in Korea. And in France, two Foreign Office diplomats had recently disappeared. Their names were Burgess and Maclean