Portillo's Hidden History of Britain

Orford Ness: Defence of the Realm

Series 1 - Episode 2 Orford Ness: Defence of the Realm



The former Secretary of State for Defence invades Orford Ness in Suffolk to explore the mysterious, formerly top-secret buildings that loom, like sinister sentries, over the local population. Cobra Mist, for instance, looks (and sounds) like a set from the 1960s incarnation of The Avengers.

Michael looks in his element as he explores the austere, windowless building by flashlight, thumbing through “classified” documents. Tales of death rays, espionage and a character called “the Lone Wolf of Fleet Street” make for an intriguing exposé. With Daniel Craig on his way out, perhaps this is Mr Portillo’s way of auditioning for Bond. Can you imagine?


On the Suffolk coast lie some of Britain's most mysterious ruins - concrete bunkers, rusting radar towers and crumpled military hardware. For almost a century, Orford Ness was owned by the Ministry of Defence, and when it closed in 1993, its buildings were still shrouded in secrecy. Michael Portillo explores a 90,000 sq ft windowless box code-named Cobra Mist, a joint UK-US venture built in 1968 that purportedly housed a huge aerial array to spy on Russian missile launches. He also examines Orford's apparent role as a testing centre for atomic weapons, including the first British atom bomb.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Michael Portillo
Executive Producer Jazz Gowans
Series Director Ruairi Fallon
Series Producer Ruairi Fallon
Documentary History