Zhivago of the FO, the 'agent' who never was

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The Independent Online

British intelligence operatives charged with repelling Communist influence during the Cold War believed they had hit upon the perfect weapon to expose the reality of the Soviet State – Dr Zhivago.

The romantic epic by Boris Pasternak with its references to Bolshevik armies and the extremism of revolutionary Russia was seen by the Foreign Office's shadowy Information Research Department as an ideal propaganda tool.

Amid waning British influence in the Middle East after the Suez crisis in 1956, the Foreign Office believed that disseminating anti-Communist literature to local populations from Iran to Egypt might help to revive support for a fading colonial power.

According to documents, released at the Public Record Office, officials in the IRD considered printing 20,000 copies of an abridged version of the novel in Persian to be sent to Iran, after attempts by the CIA to print political texts favourable to the West in Arabic did not generate significant sales. IRD officials believed a successful trial of their Persian edition should be followed by a sales push into Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and India.