An Englishman Abroad

An Englishman Abroad is a 1983 BBC television drama film, based on the true story of a chance meeting of actress Coral Browne, with Guy Burgess (Alan Bates), a member of the Cambridge spy ring who spied for the Soviet Union while an officer at MI6. The production was written by Alan Bennett and directed by John Schlesinger; Browne stars as herself.

An Englishman Abroad
Written byAlan Bennett
Directed byJohn Schlesinger
StarringAlan Bates
Coral Browne
Charles Gray
Composer(s)George Fenton
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Innes Lloyd
Running time60 min.
Production company(s)BBC
Original networkBBC 1
Original release29 November 1983 (1983-11-29)


The film is set in Moscow in 1958, after Burgess had defected to the Soviet Union in 1951 with Donald Maclean when it became apparent that Maclean was about to be investigated by British intelligence. Burgess barges into Browne's dressing room in the interval of a touring Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (which became one of the bases of the Royal Shakespeare Company) production of Hamlet, in which she portrayed Gertrude, and charms her. Later on she is invited to his Moscow flat, finding it with some difficulty, to measure him for a suit that he would like ordered from his London tailor.

Film cast



Rather than film in the Soviet Union, Schlesinger used several locations in Scotland. The Caird Hall and Whitehall Theatre in Dundee stood in for the Moscow theatre, and the grand marble staircase of Glasgow City Chambers played the part of the British Embassy.[3][4] Additional filming was done at Glasgow's St. Andrew's Suspension Bridge ("luckily, in a snowstorm" Bennett later wrote)[4] and the Moss Heights flats in Cardonald, which represented Burgess' Moscow apartment.[3]


Several plot changes were made from the true story told by Browne to Bennett. Burgess in fact threw up in the dressing room of Michael Redgrave, who asked for Browne's help. Redgrave documented the incident in his autobiography without mentioning Browne’s involvement with the incident.[5] Browne addressed some press speculation that she had in fact plagiarized Redgrave's story in various interviews to promote the film's first broadcast, explaining Bennett's dramatic changes.[6] The play also contained scenes in Moscow's British Embassy and in London shops where Browne encountered resistance to helping Burgess, none of which happened in reality.[7]

Bennett gives the date of Browne's meeting with Burgess as 1958 in the introduction to his Single Spies, which contains the text of An Englishman Abroad in the stage play version and the text of A Question of Attribution about Anthony Blunt.

The play was also adapted for radio on the BBC World Service in 1994 starring Michael Gambon as Burgess and Penelope Wilton as Coral Browne. It was subsequently re-broadcast on BBC Radio 7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra, most recently in 2013 as part of BBC Radio 4 Extra's Cambridge Spies season.


Both Browne and Bates were winners of the BAFTA awards for acting for their roles in the production.

On the BFI TV 100, a list compiled in 2000 by the British Film Institute (BFI), chosen by a poll of industry professionals, to determine what were the greatest British television programmes of any genre ever to have been screened, An Englishman Abroad was listed at number 30.

The U. S. film critic Pauline Kael wrote in 1985 that An Englishman Abroad "is probably the finest hour of television I've ever seen."[8]


  1. "An Englishman Abroad". BBC Two. British Broadcasting Company. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  2. "An Englishman Abroad (1983)". BFI Film Forever. British Film Institute. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  3. Andrew Young (1 February 1983). "An Englishman Abroad in Glasgow". Glasgow Herald.
  4. "John Schlesinger - obituary". The Scotsman. 28 July 2003.
  5. Redgrave, Michael. In My Mind's I: An Actor's Autobiography. Viking Press (1983) ISBN 0-670-14233-6
  6. Collis, Rose. Coral Browne: This Effing Lady. Oberon Books Ltd 2007. ISBN 978-1840027648
  7. Bennett, Alan. Writing Home. Faber Books 1994. ISBN 978-0312422578
  8. Kael, Pauline. "Schoolboys." The New Yorker (Feb. 11, 1985)

See also

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