London's monument to Yuri Gagarin

London has a new monument to Yuri Gagarin. The statue was just unveiled this summer, and when I was in town last week, some friends were kind enough to take me around to see it. Personally, I feel like you can't just stand in front of an epic Socialist Realism-style statue with a pleasant smile and your hands folded neatly at your waist.

What's particularly interesting about this statue to me, as an American, is that it commemorates Gagarin's triumphant visit to London, post-space flight. I'm so used to the American textbook version of modern history, that it honestly had not occurred to me that Gagarin would have visited other, non-Soviet countries after his trip to space. The way that story is presented to us, it's all about how terrified all the free people of the world were by the Russian lead in the space race. It's interesting to run across this different perspective where Londoners—even ones who wouldn't have been particularly pleased with the Soviet Union itself—could still celebrate the achievement of the first space flight with more excitement than fear.


  1. I remember Yuri Gagarin coming to the UK – in fact he actually came to the UK at the invitation of the Manchester-based Foundry Worker’s Union. He was invited to London by the Prime Minister subsequent to that.
     I remember that in my hometown of Manchester people couldn’t have been more excited than if it had been The Beatles – (except that not many people had heard of the Beatles in 1961.)

    I never heard one word against him in relation to cold war angst, just genuine admiration for someone brave who had made history. He was driven through the streets of Manchester to huge cheers and a genuine warm welcome. We were all touched that he agreed to visit us.

    I was sad to hear though that his life took a rather sad downward turn later on.

  2. While I respect Gagarin and all he’s done for the world and for science, that statue makes him look like he’s wearing footie pajamas.

    1. My first thought, upon seeing the statue, “Wow, that kind of makes Gagarin look fat. Like he’s got a bit of a spare tire around the tum.” 

      1. My first thought, upon seeing the statue, “Wow, that kind of makes Gagarin look fat. Like he’s got a bit of a spare tire around the tum.

        Mine was barbie doll crotch. It’s almost concave.

      2. My first thought, upon seeing the statue, “Wow, that kind of makes
        Gagarin look fat. Like he’s got a bit of a spare tire around the tum.

        Test. Test. Test.

  3. I also thought that the statue made Gagarin look like he was wearing pajamas. The suit needs some better definition on the small details so its a bit more apparent what it is. Though forgive my nitpicking, there is something terribly charming about the style and design of the sculpture. Not sure of which artist it reminds me of…

  4. England was in the range of the entire Soviet arsenal. Until the ICBM the only harm the USSR could do to North America was what ever bombers could penetrate the NORAD (North America Air Defense) system. Amazingly the information problem of tracking Soviet bombers penetrating North American airspace was cause for constructing the first network of computers.Because of fuel limitations, those bombers would have been on suicide missions as it was. The point being, Sputnik and Gagarin were proof to the Americans that we were vulnerable. It was something like the 9/11 experience. You can hear it in the vocabulary of the era. Nuclear warfare on the European continent was called tactical nuclear warfare, nuclear warfare waged between Eurasia and North America was called strategic nuclear warfare. Amazingly everybody accepted the use of the US centric vocabulary.

    But that said, even as an Cold War kid my self I was always able to appreciate Gagarin’s and the Russians success in space travel. There was a whirlwind tour of Gagarin after his flight.

    1. Don’t quite get that comment–American textbook version of what? Are there American textbooks that depict Gagarin (or someone else) in a pose like the one Maggie is doing there? Or are you just saying that’s a very “American” type of pose for some reason?

  5. A litter of cats was born in my house over a decade ago, one fine April 12.  By the date, you could assume that one of the kittens was gonna be named Yuri, and you would be correct.  At this late date, I”m pretty sure this could still piss off your run-of-the-mill tea-bagger who probably refuses to believe that Alan Sheppard came in second, and suborbital at that.
    But that was then, right now I wanna listen to David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid Of Textbook Americans”.

  6. it is a disservice to his name and accomplishments that when I looked upon that pic in a tiny thumbnail I mistook the statue for a bent spoon and thus thought this was a statue in honor of Yuri Geller

    I am shame

  7. The article linked to says the Berlin Wall went up a month after Gagarin’s flight, but in fact the wall went up 13th August 1961, a week after Gherman Titov’s 17-orbit flight four months after Gagarin. The article also suggests that NATO allies were unhappy with Britain’s rapturous welcome of Gagarin; still, some of them must have got over it as the following year Titov met JFK and John Glenn at the White House. I got to meet Titov myself in his house in Moscow 1998, a couple of years before he died. Titov was Gagarin’s backup and went out to the pad fully suited up so that, as he put it in his own book, if Gagarin had caught flu or broken his leg at the last minute, he would have stepped in and it would be his statue in London. But of course Gagarin didn’t, and Titov said he was suddenly the most useless person on the launch pad, struggling to get out of his suit while Gagarin was prepared for launch.

  8. I get the opposite cognitive dissonance, I find it hard (as a brit) to fully appreciate the american feelings about the cold war.  Over here ‘communist’ isn’t much of a hot button term.  Mind you, we’re used to a history of being on and off friends with russia (and everyone else) over the centuries, so celebrating the achievements of a country we were nominally (sorta) at war with isn’t too unusual.

  9. You removed my post simply because I questioned whether Maggie’s ignorance of Gagarin’s post-trip travels was the fault of “the American textbook version of modern history?” And in a perfectly pleasant way too?

    Good grief! Are only glowing comments allowed?

    1. Apparently your idea of “perfectly pleasant” is about the same as my idea of “rude and insulting,” so maybe your idea of “glowing” would be about right.

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