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The Special Relationship

The links of sentiment and interest between Britain and the United States, though frequently subject to prophesies of continental drift, remain tenacious. Esmond Wright offers a personal perspective on the events and individuals that have forged the alliance over the past century.

No doubt the editors of History Today see their first number as marking the beginning of their own special relationship with the US, since from the start they looked to an American clientele as well as a British. Being arrogant, I date it – for myself – to June 5th, 1940, when on a glorious summer's day I got my Master's degree at the University of Virginia, (where I had held a two-year Commonwealth Fund Fellowship) from the President of the USA, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was there not to honour me but his own son, Franklin, Junior, who was receiving a Law Degree. Since, however, the American practise is to cite the recipient's place of origin, the words 'From Newcastle-on-Tyne and the University of Durham, England,' evoked more vehement applause for my humble self than for anyone else – Italy had entered the War that morning, and FDR singled out Churchill for praise for his stand. When I bowed to acknowledge the applause, a White House guard, standing vigilantly just behind me, was moved to shake my hand and say, too loudly, 'Say, bud, congratulations, and give my good wishes to Winston Churchill!'. I was told later by Franklin, Junior, that his father sent me a reminder that I'd got my degree 'from the President and not from a policeman'.

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