This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: ITN 160).


Views of the C-in-C Middle East, Secretary General of the South Arabian League, Acting High Commissioner and various British civilians in Aden on the colony's future after independence.

Admiral Sir Michael Le Fanu describes the co-operation of his forces with the local police in cordon and search operations (over film of night raids and the detention of suspects) and concludes "I think we shall have an orderly rundown". Arab says the present acts of violence are not anti-British attacks but are primarily signs of an internal struggle for power; his main concern is that South Arabia should gain independence as one political entity and not become "another Vietnam". British government representative believes South Arabia will achieve a happy and viable independence provided she distinguishes between economic assistance (from Britain) and political interference (by Nasser). Civilians lounging in the sun appear remarkably unafraid of the future.



The endgame in the British Crown Colony of Aden was played out against the endlessly shifting background of interwoven regional and international interests that had long characterised South Arabian politics. By the time of the final troop withdrawals on 29 November 1967, the British administration had long lost the ability to call the tune in even the small territory of Aden itself. Although there was no let-up in attacks on the British during the last months, violent internecine struggles between rival nationalist groups over who would succeed the departing colonial power had already become the more significant point of contest (for an idea of the complexity of this phase see Dresch 2000, 108-14). The ebb tide of British rule in the ancient port exposed an enervated, cash-strapped imperial power whose final resort in the face of widespread political opposition and violent insurgency was to be nothing markedly more sophisticated than martial law.

The post-war decision to make isolated, barren Aden a redoubt of imperial strength was one of the motivating forces behind the so-called ‘forward policy’ in South Arabia during the 1950s, an extension of the old policy of treaty-making which had brought most of the sheikhdoms and tribal areas of Arabia’s south western extremity into British orbit as ‘protected states’ of one kind or another (this process had been neither complete nor without bloodshed). The central aim was to use these states – the ‘Protectorates’ – as a bulwark against both the Imams of the northern Yemen, who harboured dreams of southward expansion, and Nasser, who as well as providing nationalist inspiration had been extending Egyptian material influence into the Arabian peninsula. (Spencer Mawby has observed that the ‘forward policy’ was less a grand design than an organic development that came about through the dovetailing of ‘the natural inclination of the men on the ground to pursue a policy of imperial pacification and the instincts of Whitehall policy-makers…to maintain a significant role in Middle Eastern politics.’ Mawby 2005, 29.)  

The pursuit of this goal lead eventually to a ‘Federation of Arab Amirates of the South’ being created in 1959. In the natural absence of a friendly government with whom to negotiate for the long-term security of the Aden base, the British attempted to manufacture one from the traditional rulers they already had influence over (Halliday 2002, 171). In so doing they stored up trouble for themselves, as the ineffectual and conservative pro-British Federal rule in the Protectorates became an obvious target for the pan-Arab nationalism being spurred on by Nasser. The toppling of the Imamate state in Yemen by a nationalist coup at the end of 1962 added not only momentum to Nasserite sentiment, but also hardware: as the British and their local allies ramped up operations against rebels within the Federation, armed tribal dissent increasingly took on the cast of a proxy war between Britain and Egypt, whose presence in and support for the newly republican Yemen, and for Arab nationalists across South Arabia, was no secret.

Up to this time dissent within Aden had been based around leftist political and trade union bodies, principally the Peoples Socialist Party (PSP) and the Aden Workers’ Congress (ATUC), and had been largely peaceful, despite occasional violent incidents and swingeing responses from the authorities (mass deportations of striking workers, and similar). But Yemen’s new status and the increasing trouble in the Protectorates had made the atmosphere altogether more flammable, and late 1962 saw the foundation of a new group, the National Liberation Front for Occupied South Yemen (NLF).

The NLF’s tactics were of a different order. Committed to armed struggle and to the political awakening of  Aden’s South Yemeni hinterland, their first success was in organising the 1963 tribal insurrection in the rugged Radfan district. The British were drawn into a brutal guerrilla war in the mountains, and violence spread through several other districts in the Protectorates during the succeeding months and years (ibid., 195-99). In Aden, stifling emergency regulations were brought in after an unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of the High Commissioner, Sir Gerald Kennedy Trevaskis, in December 1963. This attack had been executed by a militant PSP cell, but from 1964 NLF operations within the colony – whether bombs, shootings, or bazooka or grenade attacks – increased dramatically year on year. The 36 violent incidents recorded in 1964 multiplied exponentially: 1967 would log a staggering 2900 (Paget 1969, 264; ‘By October 1967,’ Paget writes, ‘the situation was so confused due to inter-factional fighting between the NLF and FLOSY, that it was impossible to define incidents, and no further statistics were kept’).The security forces responded with strong-arm tactics; torture during interrogation and casual brutality became routine. The colony became a turbulent, dangerous pressure cooker.

The true beginning of the end came in February 1966, with the unexpected declaration by the British Government, in a Defence White Paper, that South Arabia would be independent by 1968 and the Aden base would be abandoned. Any remaining shreds of British legitimacy were thrown to the wind. The NLF, sensing victory, broke from the Nasserite coalition FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen, convened in 1965) and turned their guns on their erstwhile comrades. The final months in British Aden were an unpleasant combination of vicious factional street-fighting, terrorist attacks, and ruthless repression. ‘The British,’ writes Gavin, ‘could in no way control this whirlwind of nationalist revolution or influence the choice of their successors. The best they could do was conduct a fighting retreat’ (Gavin 1975, 349). The People’s Republic of South Yemen came into being at midnight on the 29th November 1967 when the NLF, victorious over FLOSY, assumed complete control. By Brendon’s account, the last British official to board the final plane out of the 130-year old British colony ‘climbed the steps backwards, holding a Walther PPK pistol in his hand.’ (Brendon 2007, 509. Brendon doesn’t provide a reference for this assertion, and Paget suggests that the last Briton to leave Aden was in fact Lt.-Colonel Dai Morgan of 42 Commando, who left by helicopter at 1500hrs on the 29th [Paget op. cit., 256-8]. Nevertheless, the image is perfectly fitting to the situation.) 



Independent Television News’ first half-hour long current affairs programme, Roving Report, was inaugurated in the spring of 1957. The forerunner of ITN’s flagship News at 10, into which it was eventually absorbed, it initially operated on a shoestring budget with a brief to cover foreign affairs on the ground (Cox 1983, 102-7). In July 1967, News at 10would have its breakthrough moment in Aden with reporter Alan Hart’s frontline coverage of Lt.-Colonel Colin Mitchell’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the notorious operation to retake the Crater district from the NLF and FLOSY (ibid., 209-10). ‘Mad Mitch’ and his Argylls had only arrived in Aden a few weeks prior to the Crater action, but Hart was on familiar ground: Roving Report had already posted several despatches from the colony in the preceding years (See IWM cat. nos. ITN 126, ITN 130).

Roving Report no. 32 is devoted wholly to the situation in Aden during the summer of 1966; more specifically, given the February statement that South Arabia would be free by 1968, its focus is on what Aden’s prospects are when British rule ends.

The programme does not play down the seriousness of the situation, opening with a close-up of the bloodied, besmirched face of a NLF suspect, arrested by soldiers and being held down in the dust – he is ‘the face of Aden in 1966’ the narrator informs us, and later we see him and an accomplice being roughly manhandled by troops (narrator: ‘in these circumstances, kid gloves are not worn’). If anything the drama and danger of the moment is played up by the report. An air of tension and foreboding suffuses the film, and there are many scenes of the intense and wholesale nature of the security crackdown: door-to-door house searches, car checkpoints, night raids by heavily armed soldiers, men and boys detained and searched in the street, etc. The overall tone indicates the situation is chaotic, and suggests a larger disaster is imminent. 

By contrast, interviews with Admiral Sir Michael Le Fanu, (Commander-in-Chief, Middle East Command) and the acting High Commissioner Tom Oates seem to reveal them in rather sanguine mood. Le Fanu concedes that there has been some busy ‘trade’ (‘guns…all this jazz’), but that it is all ‘rather tedious’ and the picture is not as black as it has been painted. As film of soldiers on night raids in an Aden shanty-town rolls, he assures the interviewer that life in the colony is ‘really terribly normal,’ noting that there are nevertheless ‘precautions’ (none of which sound ‘terribly normal’ at all: curfews, out –of-bounds areas, various other restrictions, and so on).  However, like everyone in Aden, not least the NLF, Le Fanu is looking toward the end. As a military official, his concern is the practical nature of the exit, that is, how and when – ‘I think we will have an orderly rundown when the time comes, but that time is by no means yet.’ 

Oates too looks toward the future, but with a political eye: South Arabia will no doubt achieve a ‘happy and viable’ independence and have a ‘happy future’, providing it receives ‘assistance from other more developed countries’ without ‘political interference from outside’ (his coded reference is first to Egypt, and beyond Egypt, to the USSR). If at this stage he imagined that the victorious nationalist party in a savage civil war would be looking for help from Britain after independence, this shows a wild misjudgement of the nature of the insurgents and the aim of their struggle; more likely though, like Le Fanu’s ‘terribly normal’ comment, this is probably just face-saving rhetoric for the benefit of the cameras, spoken with an eye to the home audience.

Even more relaxed are the cocktail-sipping, sunbathing British ex-pats who are interviewed on the beach. With an air of detachment that appears less like the famed British stoicism than like a series of bizarre disavowals, they proclaim themselves indifferent to recent events. One woman even looks forward to the Army leaving, hoping that their departure might end all the trouble. All want to stay on in Aden (even unto ‘the bitter end’, as one ex-Kenyan settler puts it, indicating that she is aware that no doubt there would be such a thing, as indeed there was).

The most accurate and eloquent assessment of the situation is found in an interview with Sheikhan al-Habashi, here billed as Secretary General of the South Arabian League. A lawyer from the Hadramaut, al-Habashi was of the first wave of South Arabian nationalists, and as with other educated Hadramautis he had been politically awakened in Indonesia. He was a founder member of the first Adeni nationalist grouping, the Aden Association (founded 1950), and had been a member of the Indonesian Communist party, and the United National Front of Yemen (Halliday op. cit. 179, 222). Al-Habashi’s assessment is probably closest to the truth: confessing to feelings of both happiness and caution regarding the coming independence of South Arabia, he suggests that most of the violence is factional, and that the central problem will be maintaining unity in a severely divided polity with multiple armed factions. A ‘Vietnam’ in South Arabia is the great risk, he asserts, thereby nodding to the possibility of continued interest in the area from both sets of Cold War belligerents. (By the time of the interview he, and the South Arabian League he led, were already footnotes: SAL had left the nascent group that would become FLOSY when the NLF became involved, and were no longer a force of any note. Ibid: 210-1, 215.)

However, al-Habashi’s concern about a ‘Vietnam’ is important. For as the interview with Oates subsequently makes clear, unstemmable violence and the prospect of an ignominious British retreat is not the impending disaster that haunts the broadcast. It is, rather, the ‘explosion prophesied for South Arabia after 1968’, after the British leave. Thus the programme, with admirably ostrich-like loyalty to the official post-war vision of empire as a system which must tutor new countries to independence, sticks closely to the official and blinkered script here: Aden’s problem in 1966 was apparently that the British were leaving.

Francis Gooding 


Works Cited


Brendon, Piers The Decline and Fall of the British Empire1781-1997(London: Jonathan Cape 2007).

Geoffrey Cox Seeing It Happen: The Making of ITN (London: Bodley Head, 1983).

Dresch, Paul A History of Modern Yemen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Gavin, R. J. Aden Under British Rule 1839-1967 (London: C. Hurst 1975).

Halliday, Fred Arabia Without Sultans (London: Saqi 2002 [1974]).

Mawby, Spencer British policy in Aden and the Protectorates 1955-67  (London: Routledge 2005).

Paget, Julian  Last Post: Aden 1964-67 (London: Faber and Faber 1969).



  • ROVING REPORT NO 32 (Other)

Technical Data

Running Time:
24 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
886 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Production company
Independent Television News