When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1930s

“Avon Calling”

1939: In the 1880s, David McConnell was a salesman in New York State, trudging from door to door, selling books. McConnell’s sales gimmick was a giveaway bottle of perfume. He soon found that his customers preferred his scent to his Shakespeare, so in 1886 he turned his back on literature and set up the California Perfume Company. In 1939, the company was renamed Avon, after the river that runs through Shakespeare’s hometown.

Source: Reader’s Digest Book of Facts (1985), p. 128

Precise Number

1938: The British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington announced that he had calculated the precise number of protons in the universe:
15,747,724,136,275,002,577,605,653,961,
181,555,468,044,717,914,527,116,709,
366,231,425,076,185,631,031,296.

Source: Sir Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939), p. 170

No-Show

1934: Alistair Cooke, who had recently begun work as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, married Ruth Emerson. The bridegroom was presumably on time for the ceremony; the bride, as tends to happen, was perhaps a little late; the best man failed to turn up at all. After waiting for an hour, Cooke got one of the guests to stand in. Who was the unreliable best man? Charlie Chaplin.

Source: Nick Clarke, Alistair Cooke: The Biography (2002), p. 114

Emus On Rampage

1932: Large mobs of emus, migrating from the interior of Western Australia to the coast, pecked and trampled crops in the state’s wheat belt, especially around the town of Campion. The farmers, many of them First World War veterans, clamoured for the authorities to deploy machine guns against the marauders. A contingent of soldiers armed with Lewis guns was sent into battle, but the birds were too speedy and too wily, scattering into small groups and dashing for cover as soon as the guns opened up. “Major Meredith and his merry men” claimed a thousand kills, but the inglorious campaign failed to impress anyone, and was scathingly referred to as the “Emu War”.

Source: Journal of Australian Studies, 2006

Noisy Send-Off

1931: As Arnold Bennett lay dying from typhoid in his flat near Marylebone Road, the local council gave permission for straw to be spread in the busy street to muffle the noise of traffic, possibly the last time this was allowed in central London. Bennett died at nine in the evening of 27 March. “It was a night of rain. The straw became sodden and slippery. Just after midnight a milk dray skidded and overturned, sending its load of churns crashing along the pavement below the flat in a thunderous din.”

Source: Reginald Pound, Arnold Bennett: A Biography (1971), p. 367

Chocolate Revolution

1930: Grown-ups fretted over grown-up issues like political instability and job insecurity, but for 13-year-old Roald Dahl, 1930 marked the start of the “great golden years of the chocolate revolution”. The limited chocolate choice of the 1920s was suddenly transformed; “the entire world of chocolate was turned upside-down in the space of seven glorious years, between 1930 and 1937”.

The Mars bar first appeared in 1932; Chocolate Crisp was launched in 1935 and renamed Kit Kat two years later; Aero also went on sale in 1935; Quality Street made its debut in 1936; and Maltesers, Rolo and Smarties were introduced in 1937.

Source: Felicity and Roald Dahl, Roald Dahl’s Cookbook (1991), pp. 150–5

“Animalistic Hopping”

1937: The Lambeth Walk, a jaunty number from the musical Me and My Girl, was a success first on the London stage, and then in dance halls around Britain and on the Continent. Fascist leaders in Europe, however, took a dim view of the craze. In Italy, the dance was condemned for its “ugly, coarse, awkward motions and gesticulations”, and in Germany it was denounced as “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping”.

Sources: The Times, 19 May 1939; The New York Times, 8 January 1939

Dahl Dislikes Dust

1936: After two years’ training with the oil company Shell, Roald Dahl anticipated an exotic foreign posting – somewhere with tall coconut palms, silvery beaches, jungles, lions and elephants.

Head office called him in to meet one of the directors. “We are sending you to Egypt,” the director said.

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Papal Divisions

1935: During a visit to Moscow, the French foreign minister, Pierre Laval, urged Joseph Stalin to improve the lot of Catholics in the Soviet Union. Stalin was utterly contemptuous of Catholics and the Vatican. “The Pope!” he snorted. “How many divisions has he got?” (To which the perfect riposte would have been: “The same number that Karl Marx had.”)

Source: Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, I: The Gathering Storm (1950), p. 121

Attractive Feature

John Betjeman, phototgraphed in the 1920s

1932: Penelope Chetwode met her future husband, the journalist and promising poet John Betjeman, for the first time. Asked shortly afterwards what it was she liked about him, she replied, “He has green teeth.”

Source: Bevis Hillier, Young Betjeman (1988), p. 373

What If . . . ?

1931: On the afternoon of 22 August, a young British aristocrat named John Scott-Ellis was making his way along Brienner Strasse, in Munich, in a little red Fiat. “Although I was going very slowly, a man walked off the pavement, more or less straight into my car.” The 42-year-old pedestrian was bowled over, but quickly picked himself up, politely shook hands with the driver, and went on his way.

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Cure For Sleepiness

1939: Straight-talking Winston Churchill went down well with wireless listeners. Two millworkers overheard in conversation in Bolton:
MW1: “Ah bet tha heard Churchill.”
MW2: “Aye – I did.”
MW1: “He doesn’t half give it them. I corn’t go to sleep when he’s on.”

Source: Tom Harrisson and Charles Madge, War Begins at Home (1940), p. 158

Singed Eyebrows

1938: In dense cloud over the south of France, a ball of lightning entered the open cockpit window of a B.O.A.C. flying boat, singed the captain’s eyebrows and hair, burned a hole in his seat belt, and then meandered harmlessly through the forward passenger cabin into the rear cabin, where it burst with a loud explosion.

Source: Nature, 5 April 1952

Spanish Shibboleth

1937: At the beginning of October, President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic ordered his soldiers to round up Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border between the two countries. To distinguish between Creole-speaking Haitians and Spanish-speaking Dominicans, the soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley and ask, What is this? Those who could not roll the “r” of the Spanish word “perejil” gave themselves away as Haitians.

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Young Maggie

1936: Margaret Roberts was a pupil at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School from autumn 1936 until summer 1943. Her nickname – years before “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” and “The Iron Lady” – was “Snobby Roberts”.

Source: Biographical Dictionary of British Prime Ministers, ed. Robert Eccleshall and Graham Walker (1998), p. 361

Culture Shock

Pearl Buck, photographed by Arnold Genthe

1934: Pearl Buck had lived so long in China that on her return to America she found she was a foreigner in her own country. Like most Chinese, Buck ate little meat and avoided dairy products altogether. She quickly noticed that white Americans smelled. The milk, butter and beef they consumed gave them “a rank wild odor, not quite a stink, but certainly distressing”.

Source: Pearl S. Buck, My Several Worlds: A Personal Record (1955), p. 315

Vulgar Wailing

1932: “Ravel’s Bolero I submit as the most insolent monstrosity ever perpetrated in the history of music. From the beginning to the end of its 339 measures it is simply the incredible repetition of the same rhythm,” scoffed Edward Robinson in The American Mercury. The main theme, he wrote, was “an overwhelmingly vulgar cabaret tune”, little different from “the wail of an obstreperous back-alley cat”.

Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 138

Hot Pants

1931: On 12 August, the Hawera Star surprised readers with a story about exploding trousers. Richard Buckley, a local farmer, had placed his wet trousers in front of the fire to dry. As they warmed up, they “exploded with a loud report”.

Buckley’s trousers weren’t the only combustible clothing. Elsewhere in New Zealand, a load of laundry burst into flames on a washing line and a farmer’s trousers began to smoulder while he was actually wearing them.

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Quiet News Day

1930: The BBC had a narrow view of what was newsworthy and what wasn’t. If an item didn’t come up to the required standard, it wasn’t broadcast. No effort was made to pad out news bulletins to a standard length. On 18 April, a quiet news day, the BBC announcer simply declared, “There is no news tonight.”

Source: Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff, A Social History of British Broadcasting, I: 1922–1939, Serving the Nation (1991), p. 118