When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1930s

Wholesale Slaughter

1939: “They are saying, ‘The generals learned their lesson in the last war. There are going to be no wholesale slaughters,’ ” Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary on 1 November. “I ask, how is victory possible except by wholesale slaughters?”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), pp. 448–9

Lollipop Period

1938: Art historians might quibble, but the summer of 1938 could be regarded as Pablo Picasso’s Lollipop Period. On holiday in the south of France, he drew and painted a series of pictures depicting mostly men sucking lollipops or licking ice creams.

Source: Sabine Rewald, Twentieth Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection (1989), pp. 206–9

Airdrops

1937: In southern Spain, Nationalist pilots devised a technique similar to dive-bombing to drop supplies within the perimeter defended by civil guards and Falangists at the mountain monastery of Santa María de la Cabeza. Fragile supplies – medical appliances, for example – were attached to turkeys, which were released over the monastery. The birds plunged towards the earth in flight that was characterized as “heavy, majestic, and vertical” (“lento, majestuoso y relativamente vertical”).

Source: Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (2001), pp. 611–2

Glum Outlook

1936: Having sold only two copies of More Pricks Than Kicks in a year, Samuel Beckett’s publisher was understandably reticent about his next effort, Murphy. A further 41 publishers turned the novel down before it was eventually accepted.

“I do not feel like spending the rest of my life writing books that no one will read,” Beckett wrote to a friend. Thoroughly disillusioned, he contemplated swapping his desk and typewriter for an aircraft cockpit. “I hope I am not too old to take it up seriously, nor too stupid about machines to qualify as a commercial pilot.”

Source: Samuel Beckett, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. I: 1929–1940, ed. Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Loise More Overbeck (2009), p. 362

Kenyatta On Screen

Jomo Kenyatta depicted on a 1964 Kenyan postage stamp

1935: Sanders of the River combined footage filmed on location in Africa – tribal dancing, wild animals, native canoes – with a storyline shot at an African village constructed in a film studio near London. The black extras for the British sequences were mainly dockers, but also included an overseas student named Johnstone Kenyatta. Thirty years later, having changed his first name in the interim to Jomo, Kenyatta became the prime minister and then the president of independent Kenya.

Source: Stephen Bourne, Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television (2001), p. 36

Nazi Sympathizers

1934: Norfolk farmers showed little sympathy for skylarks, regarding them as pests that damaged winter crops. Newspapers offered farmers some support for the need to control lark numbers. The migration of larks from northern Europe and recent political developments in Germany were behind one finger-wagging headline: “Skylarks that sing to Nazis will get no mercy here”.

Source: Paul F. Donald, The Skylark (2004), p. 225

Cockroach Whiskers

NKVD mugshot of Osip Mandelstam

1933: The poets Osip Mandelstam and Demian Bedny landed themselves in trouble for injudicious comments about Stalin. Mandelstam described how
His cockroach whiskers leer
and
His fingers are fat as grubs
and Bedny wrote in his diary that books he lent to the Soviet leader came back with greasy fingermarks on the pages.

Source: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope: A Memoir (1971), pp. 13, 26

Painful Birth

1932: Jessie Beale accompanied her husband, a forest manager with a teak firm, into the foothills of Burma. At Karen and Kachin villages they distributed Epsom salts, boracic washes and aspirin. Other than that, the villagers had to rely on local medical care, some of it “pretty grim”.

“I once saw a poor girl who was being looked after by some old women in childbirth. They put a plank on her stomach and jumped on it to force her baby out.”

Source: Lines from a Shining Land, ed. Derek Brooke-Wavell (1998), p. 9

Cryptic Cinema

1930: The Film Society was sufficiently impressed by Germaine Dulac’s surrealist silent film La Coquille et le Clergyman, to screen it, with English subtitles, at a London cinema. The British Board of Film Censors took a dimmer view of the film’s merits and rejected it for general release, supposedly on the grounds that it was “so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable”.

Source: James C. Robertson, The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913–1972 (1989), pp. 38–9

“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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