This year's festival looks back on Britain's imperial retreat from the colonies, which began over 50 years ago and heralded great changes for our national identity.
If India's midnight on 14 August 1947 marked the beginning of the end for 300 years of the British Empire, the same hour in Hong Kong on 30 June 1997 rang down the curtain on its final act. Jonathan Dimbleby's talk about his book on Chris Patten, The Last Governor, is just one of several Cheltenham events that search for the significance of our long imperial retreat.

In the "End of Empire" debate, historians John Keay, Trevor Royle and Frank McLynn will join the Indian publisher Urvashi Butalia to discuss the impact of decolonisation. Harry Ritchie reveals the highs and lows of his comic journey around "The Last Pink Bits" in the atlas to Independent travel editor Simon Calder. The lively cultural mix that marks one of the first lands to leave imperial control - Australia - will be reflected in "Wizards of Oz", an event that unites writers Robert Drewe, Fontini Epanomotis and Sam Watson. Meanwhile, the celebrated heavyweight bard of Australian life, Les Murray, reads his verse and talks about his career with poet and Independent writer Ruth Padel.

Withdrawal from the colonies had far-reaching effects on British society as well. Three gifted young novelists and critics who have specialised in the changing forms of British identity - D J Taylor, Jonathan Coe and Michael Bracewell - discuss the condition of the nation with Country Life editor Clive Aslet in "Anyone for England". And writer Hanif Kureishi will talk about his films and fiction, which give striking voices to the new post-imperial Britain.

The question of whether Britain's future lies across the Channel rather than over the oceans will be explored in a keynote "European lecture" by Profesor Norman Davies, whose virtuoso history of our continent has proved to be a sensational success. But Europhobics and Little Englanders can take comfort from a session of play devoted to the most indestructible of national cults: cricket. England wicketkeeper Jack Russell and legendary umpire Harold "Dickie" Bird will pore over "The State of Play" with journalist (and club cricketer) Robert Winder.

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