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The Government’s official history series is intended to provide: “authoritative histories in their own right; a reliable secondary source for historians until all the records are available in the National Archives; and a ‘fund of experience’ for future government use”. Work on official histories began in 1908 with an initial focus on naval and military history but in 1966, Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that the range of official history was to be “extended to include selected periods or episodes of peacetime history.

In 2008, the Government commissioned Sir Joe Pilling, a retired civil servant, to review whether and in what form the programme should continue, and Bill Hamilton, a literary agent, to review the publishing arrangements. Sir Joe Pilling recommended that the programme should continue, but under the title ‘The Public History Programme’, and that a fresh statement of the purpose of the programme should be developed, agreed and made known. The reviews also proposed changes to raise the profile and relevance of the programme, including an increase in the involvement of sponsor departments and outside bodies, a revamping of the publishing arrangements and an enhancement to its governance procedures.

In 2011, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, then Government Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, said that in light of the advice in the Pilling and Hamilton reviews, it had been decided to continue with the existing programme of official histories, but “in view of public spending constraints, not to commission any new histories until the existing programme is nearing completion”. Speaking in 2013, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, then Lords’ Whip for the Ministry of Justice, said that “given the current economic constraints”, the Government did not plan to implement the changes proposed by the Pilling and Hamilton reviews “at the current time”. However, he explained that the Government was “moving forward with the completion of the existing programme”, which would conclude with the publication of The Official History of the Joint Intelligence Committee: Volume 2 in 2016. He hoped that work on this volume would be completed by the end of 2015, after which point “the recommendations will be revisited”.


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