When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Britain

Noddy And Chatterley

1960: Penguin Books’ decision to tweak a few legal noses by publishing an unexpurgated, inexpensive edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover produced the expected result: prosecution under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act.

Penguin’s lawyers contacted an array of writers and academics to bolster the defence case. Aldous Huxley offered to appear as a witness. Graham Greene backed the publisher, but admitted that he found parts of the book “rather absurd”. T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Kingsley Amis and John Betjeman sent letters of support. Enid Blyton declined: “My husband said NO at once”.

Source: Jeremy Lewis, Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane (2005), pp. 323–4

Queen Charms Soviet Leader

1956: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited Britain, where he was charmed by Elizabeth II – “the sort of young woman you’d be likely to meet walking along Gorky Street on a balmy summer afternoon.”

Source: Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, ed. Strobe Talbott (1971), p. 406

Moscow’s Gorky Street, since renamed Tverskaya Street, photographed in 1957 by Manfred and Barbara Aulbach

Culinary Queen

1947: Marooned in a provincial English hotel with dispiriting winter weather outdoors and dispiriting food indoors, Elizabeth David’s mind wandered to memories of southern sun, colours and flavours. Writing about Mediterranean cookery offered a way of escape.

The memories and words tumbled out: “The saffron, the garlic, the pungent local wines; the aromatic perfume of rosemary, wild marjoram and basil drying in kitchens; the brilliance of the market stalls piled high with pimentos, aubergines, tomatoes, olives, melons, figs and limes; the great heaps of shiny fish, silver, vermilion or tiger-striped, and those long needle fish whose bones mysteriously turn green when they are cooked.”

Source: Elizabeth David, A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950), p. v

Wells’s Sex Appeal

1946: How did H.G. Wells become the Don Juan of 20th-century English literature? How did a short, rather portly man with a receding hairline, a tired moustache and a squeaky voice attract a string of lovers that included the writers Rebecca West and Elizabeth von Arnim, the birth control activist Margaret Sanger, and the Russian baroness Moura Budberg?

“Fat and homely” was the way William Somerset Maugham described Wells, and he once asked Budberg what it was that attracted her to him. His smell, she said; his body “smelt of honey”.

Source: Andrea Lynn, Shadow Lovers: The Last Affairs of H.G. Wells (2001), pp. 19–21

Dangerous Driver

Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris photographed at his desk

1943: The area bombing of German cities and the people in them was inextricably linked to Arthur Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command. Harris was very energetic, very forceful, very blunt. When stopped late one night for driving his Bentley at high speed, the policeman rebuked him: “You might have killed somebody, sir.” To which Harris replied: “Young man, I kill thousands of people every night!”

Source: Max Hastings, Bomber Command (1979), p. 135

Giveaway Vegetable

1942: The poet Robert Graves, living in south Devon, had his application to join the special constabulary blocked by the village policeman. Three reasons: first, because of Graves’s suspicious German middle name, von Ranke: second, because Graves had been heard “talking a foreign language to two disreputable foreigners” – refugees from Franco’s Spain, as it happened; and third, because someone had scratched the words HEIL HITLER! on a marrow in his garden.

Source: Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1982), p. 281

Peace In Wartime

1941: “You hear people say that fishing is a waste of time,” wrote the novelist and keen angler H.E. Bates. “Can time be wasted?” he pondered. “In a hundred years it will not matter much whether on a June day in 1941 I fished for perch or devoted the same time to acquiring greater learning by studying the works of Aristotle, of which, anyway, I have no copy. The day is very hot, and there are thousands of golden-cream roses blooming on the house wall in the sun. Perhaps someone will be glad that I described them, sitting as I am forty miles from the German lines at Calais. Perhaps someone will wonder then at the stoicism, the indifference, the laziness or the sheer lack of conscience of someone who thought roses and fish of at least as much importance as tanks and bombs.”

Source: H.E. Bates, The Country Heart (1949), p. 30

Mouldy Clothing

1940: If the Wehrmacht crossed the English Channel and German jackboots got as far as Oxford, the Australian Howard Florey and his team of researchers at the university planned to destroy their work on penicillin to prevent it benefitting the enemy.

Hoping to salvage something from their efforts, they intended to rub Penicillium notatum into the fabric of their coats, knowing that the spores of mould could survive for years. Then at some time, somewhere, they might be able to resume their work.

Source: Eric Lax, The Mould in Dr Florey’s Coat: The Remarkable True Story of the Penicillin Miracle (2004), pp. 4, 158–9

British Innovation

1937: When Britain’s ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, reproached Hermann Göring for the brutality of Germany’s concentration camps, Göring took down a volume of a German encyclopaedia from his bookcase, opened it at Konzentrationslager, and triumphantly read out, “First used by the British, in the South African War.”

Source: Sir Nevile Henderson, Failure of a Mission: Berlin 1937–1939 (1940), p. 29

No Love Lost Between “Boom” And “Bendor”

1931:  There was much aristocratic tittle-tattle about William “Boom” Lygon, the 7th Earl Beauchamp: his weakness for handsome young menservants; the affection he displayed towards his butler; the parties he organised at Walmer Castle for local lads and fishermen.

When Beauchamp’s brother-in-law heard the rumours, he was determined to ruin the earl. Hugh “Bendor” Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, was a vindictive and homophobic individual. He was instrumental in the separation of Beauchamp from his wife, the instigation of divorce proceedings and Beauchamp’s hasty departure for the Continent.

After the earl’s fall from grace, Bendor sent him a nasty little letter:
Dear Bugger-in-law,
You got what you deserved.
Yours,
Westminster

Source: Jane Mulvagh, Madresfield: One Home, One Family, One Thousand Years (2008), pp. 277–307

Political Asylum

David Lloyd George – much imitated

1930: Another extract from Bruce Lockhart’s diary. Lord Beaverbrook told him a tale of Lloyd George coming back late at night from Criccieth. “L.G.’s car broke down outside Horton Asylum. Knocked up porter. ‘Who are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m the Prime Minister.’ ‘Come inside. We’ve seven here already.’ ”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 133

Cat Burglar

1928: The writer Thomas Hardy died on 11 January. His heart was removed from his corpse, which was then cremated and the ashes interred at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The heart was buried in the grave of Hardy’s first wife, Emma, in the Dorset village of Stinsford.

Or was it? Rumour had it that the doctor’s cat made off with the heart while it was unattended, though this sounds suspiciously like a tale invented over a few pints of cider in a Dorset pub.

Source: Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man (2006), pp. 371–2

Innocents Abroad

1927: Brian Howard, a leading light among the Bright Young People, was appalled but fascinated to see a man snorting cocaine in a Berlin café. Howard had never seen a drug addict before, and thought at first that the man was performing “deep breathing exercises”.

Source: Brian Howard, Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure, ed. Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster (1968), pp. 237–8

Saved By Jellyfish

1925: One night in July, feeling that he had reached “the end of the tether”, schoolteacher and struggling writer Evelyn Waugh made a half-hearted attempt to kill himself. He went to a deserted beach, undressed and swam slowly out to sea, but turned back when he was stung by jellyfish.

Source: Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography (1964), pp. 229–30

“Out Of The Vents Rushed Steam And Oil And Air”

Tug alongside a scuttled German destroyer at Scapa Flow

1919: For the children of Stromness, in the Orkneys, conditions on 21 June were ideal for their school outing – a warm, windless day, a clear sky, a gentle swell on the sea. Once the children had embarked on the Flying Kestrel, the Admiralty tender cast off and steamed out into Scapa Flow, past the long lines of German warships interned there since the armistice.

“We came face to face with the German Fleet, some of them huge battleships that made our own vessel look ridiculous,” recalled James Taylor, one of the schoolchildren. He was 15 years old; 20 years later he wrote a vivid account of what happened next.

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Royal Chuckle

1917: George V’s decision to change the royal family’s name from the distinctly un-British Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor raised a chuckle in Germany, where Kaiser Wilhelm II announced he was going to the theatre to watch The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Source: Elizabeth Longford, The Royal House of Windsor (1984), pp. 20–3

Nuisance Birds

1913: Gamekeepers on shooting estates in England and Scotland destroyed all birds and animals that in any way posed a threat to pheasants and their chicks.

In Adventures Among Birds, W.H. Hudson recalled a head keeper who slaughtered woodpeckers, blackbirds and thrushes because “he was not going to have the place swarming with birds that were no good for anything, and were always eating the pheasants’ food”; another keeper “shot all the nightingales because their singing kept the pheasants awake at night”.

Source: W.H. Hudson, Adventures Among Birds (1913), pp. 88, 89

Common pheasant, photographed by Dick Daniels

Boating Mishap

1912: George Lyttelton was dining with the headmaster of Eton when the provost’s wife came in with news that the Titanic had sunk. “Quivering slightly with age and dottiness”, she announced: “I am sorry to hear there has been a bad boating accident.”

Source: George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis, The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters: Correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis, 1955–57, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (1985), vols. 1 and 2, pp. 38–9

“Tha’s Niver Done A Day’s Hard Work In Thy Life”

1911: D.H. Lawrence’s first novel, The White Peacock, was published at the beginning of the year. Lawrence showed it to his parents, hoping they would approve.

His father, a coalminer, “struggled through half a page, and it might as well have been Hottentot.

“ ‘And what dun they gi’e thee for that, lad?’

“ ‘Fifty pounds, father.’

“ ‘Fifty pounds!’ He was dumbfounded, and looked at me with shrewd eyes, as if I were a swindler. ‘Fifty pounds! An’ tha’s niver done a day’s hard work in thy life.’ ”

Source: D.H. Lawrence, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, ed. Edward D. McDonald (1936), p. 232

Bottom Of The Class

Prince Albert, the future George VI (centre front), photographed in 1908 with his elder brother, Prince Edward, the future Edward VIII (centre rear), their father, Prince George, the future George V (left), and their grandfather, the reigning British monarch, Edward VII (right)

1910: “You don’t seem to take your work seriously, nor do you appear to be very keen about it. My dear boy this will not do.” The exasperated parent was George V; the underperforming son was Prince Albert, the future George VI, a cadet at Osborne naval college. The royal hand-wringing had no effect, and in final exams in December, Bertie came 68th out of 68.

Source: Sarah Bradford, King George VI (1989), p. 45

Nuclear Test Ban

1998: Britain’s Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998 made it illegal to cause a nuclear explosion:

“Any person who knowingly causes a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.”

Source: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/
1998/7/pdfs/ukpga_19980007_en.pdf

“The Wrong Kind of Snow”

1991: British Rail regretted to announce, on 11 February, that very cold weather would continue to cause delays and cancellations of commuter services around London for several more days. It wasn’t the amount of snow, explained a BR spokesman, so much as its nature – very dry and fine enough to penetrate the air intakes of trains and to short-circuit their motors.

The spokesman didn’t actually say “the wrong kind of snow,” but newspaper headline writers knew a good paraphrase when they coined one, so the expression stuck.

Source: Terry Gourvish, British Rail 1974–97: From Integration to Privatisation (2002), pp. 274, 613

Snow on the tracks, photographed by Likelife

Petri-Dish Baby

1978: A human reproductive first: the birth of the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilisation. Louise Brown, born in Oldham, Manchester, on 25 July, was dubbed a “test-tube baby” in the popular media, although the term was a misnomer, as conception actually took place in a Petri dish.

Source: Anthony Dyson, The Ethics of IVF (1995), p. 1

Orton Breezes In

1967: Returning from a holiday of sun, sea, sand and homosexual sex in Morocco, the playwright Joe Orton breezed through British customs without a hitch. His technique: “I simply chose the customs officer that, in an emergency, I wouldn’t mind sleeping with, and got through without having even to open my case.”

Source: Joe Orton, The Orton Diaries, ed. John Lahr (1986), p. 230