The wars are over and a new world begins

With the end of the conflict both sides of the Atlantic took a deep breath and moved on.  The third decade of the 20th century- the 1920s – looked exciting.  It would be the decade that marked the beginning of the modern music era. The music recording industry was just beginning to develop and a myriad of new technologies was coming along.  That would help to create the way music would be made and distributed.

By the 1910s the first commercial public radio stations had begun broadcasting in the United States and, once radio became widespread and popular, the worlds of radio and recorded music began to merge. The music recording industry’s profits dropped with the proliferation of commercial radio and, beginning in 1923, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) required licensing fees to play their music on the radio. A final influence on the music industry came near the end of the decade when silent movies turned into “talkies”, incorporating recorded sounds and creating a whole new venue for the distribution of popular music. Movie versions of Broadway musicals became extremely popular and introduced different types of music to audiences across the world.

What we all know is that the modern music industry developed wider skills in the 1920s with all of the new technologies that were created and used to make and distribute music. The music world was wide open, making way for the popularization of genres like Jazz, Blues, Broadway and Dance Bands.

The gramophone had been created in the late 1880s; become popular in the early 1900s and developed the way the music was recorded in the mid-1920s. As the recording process improved, a number of independent record labels began to appear and, in doing so, helped to expand the modern music industry.  For many this expanded in the harbour city of Charleston in South Carolina.

The Charleston was a dance with rhythm that had popularized the mainstream dance music in the United States by a 1923 composer/pianist – one James P. Johnson.  It was called “The Charleston” and had originated in a Broadway show ‘Running Wild’ and became one of the most popular hits of the decade.  The show itself only ran from 29th October 1923 to 28th June 1924 but the Charleston, as a dance by the public, peaked in the mid-1926 to 1927.

The Charleston – and similar dances such as the Black Bottom which involved “Kicking up your heels – were very popular through to the end of the 1920s

Jazz music had begun in the early 1900s within the New Orleans community and reached the mainstream in the 1920s when Southern African American musicians began moving up to Chicago looking for work. The Twenties are often called the Jazz Age because the popularization of that music had an enormous cultural effect.  The music was important because it influenced fashion, dances, accepted moral standards, youth culture, and race relations. It was one of the first types of music to be culturally appropriated by the American white middle class and Jazz scholars often separate the music into “Jazz” and “White Jazz”. This marked a difference in style and meaning between original African American jazz artists and popularized white jazz artists. Jazz music was also popular on the newly booming radio networks and it was one of the ways that white musicians appropriated and popularized the music as many national stations refused to play records by black artists at the time.

Two predominant black artists that had popularity and played in jazz bands. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were two, while one influential white jazz artist at the time was Bix Beiderbecke. Jazz gained popularity and spread through the country in clubs, speakeasies, and dance halls where Jazz bands would play their new music.

We’ll have a looks at Britain’s music work next week!

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An unplanned man becomes King of England

Wednesday 12th May 1937 saw the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This was the day that had originally been chosen for the coronation of Edward VIII, before he abdicated. As a result the whole thing appears to have been quite a shambles behind the scenes.

All the planned images of ‘King Edward VIII’ were used with the equivalent of a modern day ‘PhotoShop’ job putting George’s face where Edwards would have been. On this day the staff on duty started work at 4am and the crowns and other regalia were brought to the Jerusalem Chamber – a part of the Deanery – at the crack of dawn.  The guests began arriving at 6am, with many peers reported to be carrying sandwiches in their coronets!  At 9.30 the procession of the Regalia started, going through the cloisters to the Abbey. Eye witnesses recalled that the overall impression in the Abbey was colour everywhere, with blue and gold hangings and carpets, and crimson robes and uniforms. Queen Mary and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret watched from the royal gallery while around 40 newsreel cameramen, all in full evening dress, were in the Abbey to capture the enthronement. Virtually all of the ceremony was broadcast live on the radio.

However – one of the clergy fainted; a bishop stepped on the king’s train – the King later recorded in his diary that ‘I had to tell him to get off it pretty sharply!’ and, to cap it all, Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang put his thumb over the words of the oath when the king was about to read it!

The coronation procession was shown as the first major outside broadcast by the BBC’s new television service. The Royal couple were briefed beforehand as to when and where they should wave so that the cameras caught them. Some 50,000 people were claimed to have watched that television broadcast – a broadcast described by commentator Freddie Grisewood.

George’s real name actually Albert but he assumed the regnal name “George VI” to emphasise continuity with his father and restore confidence in the monarchy. The beginning of George VI’s reign was taken up by many questions surrounding his predecessor and brother, whose titles, style and position were uncertain. He had been introduced as “His Royal Highness Prince Edward” for the abdication broadcast, but George VI felt that by abdicating and renouncing the succession, Edward had lost the right to bear royal titles, including “Royal Highness”.  In settling the issue, George’s first act as king was to confer upon his brother the title “Duke of Windsor” with the style “Royal Highness”.  However – the ‘letters patent’ creating the dukedom prevented any wife or children from bearing royal styles.

There were also other steps involved in the whole situation.  For instance – King George VI was forced to buy from Edward the royal residences of Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House, as these were private properties and did not pass to King George VI automatically!

However – three days after his accession, on his 41st birthday – the new King George VI invested his wife, the new Queen Consort, with the Order of the Garter and a ‘new world’ began – a new world that would soon fall back into conflict caused by others.

The war moved on as the USA took a hand

The United States had carefully kept out of the conflict in Europe while being helpful to the sufferers.  In 1917 the British intercepted and decoded a telegram from the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Mexico urging that country to enter into war against the United States. The American states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico were to be offered to the Mexican government in return for such assistance.

On a wider front unrestricted U-boat warfare was renewed with all allied and neutral ships to be sunk on sight. Over the next month close to a million tons of shipping would be lost and on 3rd February the United States of America severed diplomatic ties with Germany.

As U.S. president, it was Woodrow Wilson who made the key policy decisions over foreign affairs: while the country was at peace, the domestic economy ran on a laissez-faire basis, with American banks making huge loans to Britain and France — funds that were in large part used to buy munitions, raw materials, and food from across the Atlantic. Until 1917, Wilson made minimal preparations for a land war and kept the United States Army on a small peacetime footing, despite increasing demands for enhanced preparedness.

On 24th February the Cunard passenger liner S.S. Laconia sailing from New York to Liverpool was sunk off the Irish coast by a German U-boat and, on 2nd April 1917, the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress and asked the House of Representatives to declare war on Germany and, on 6th April 1917, the United States of America declares war on Germany.  On 26th June 1917 the first U.S. troops, men of the 1st Division, begin to arrive in France.

In October, the first American soldiers entered combat, in France. That December, the U.S. declared war against Austria-Hungary with U.S. troops arriving on the Western Front in large numbers in 1918.  When the war concluded in November 1918, with a victory for the Allies, more than 2 million U.S. troops had served at the Western Front in Europe, and more than 50,000 of them died.

Looking at the American involvement from a different slant we find that they also brought their music with them!  The most significant song was “Over There“, a 1917 hit song written by George Cohan, that was popular with the United States military and public during both this and the 1939/45 war. It was a patriotic song designed to galvanize American young men to enlist in the army and fight the “Hun”. The song is best remembered for a line in its chorus: “The Yanks are coming.”

It was Cohan’s biggest hit recording and was performed by the American Quartet. The American Quartet consisted of Billy Murray, John Young, Steve Porter and Donald Chalmers and recorded the song on June 28, 1917. There were many singers singing ‘Over There’ –  Enrico Caruso’s version of Over There, sung partly in French, was a major hit just before the end of the war in November 1918.  By the end of the conflict the song had sold over a million records and two million copies of sheet music. George Cohan was awarded a medal of honour by Congress in 1936 for writing You’re a Grand Old Flag and Over There. His sequel to Over There, ‘When You Come Back (and You Will Come Back)’, was a hit for John McCormack and for the Orpheus Quartet in early 1919:

Johnny, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun.  Take it on the run, on the run, on the run.   Hear them calling you and me, Every Son of Liberty.  Hurry right away, no delay, go today.  Make your Daddy glad to have had such a lad.  Tell your sweetheart not to pine, To be proud her boy’s in line.

Johnny, get your gun, get your gun.  Johnny, show the “Hun” you’re a son-of-a-gun.  Hoist the flag and let her fly; Yankee Doodle do or die.  Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit.  Yankee to the ranks from the towns and the tanks. Make your Mother proud of you and the old red-white-and-blue.

Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming – the drums rum-tumming everywhere.  So prepare, say a prayer, send the word, send the word to beware – we’ll be over, we’re coming over, and we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

The conflict was over and the music did begin again.  The first – in 1918 – was ‘Tiger Rag’ by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Close behind as the best from 1919 we have ‘After You’ve Gone’ by Marion Harris.

Enjoying a ‘Furry Dance’

On 8th May every year (or Saturday 7th if the 8th is a Sunday) the Cornish town of Helston is home to ‘The Furry Dance’. A Gentleman’s Magazine report in 1790 tells us that: ‘At Helstone (sic), a genteel and populous borough town in Cornwall, it is customary to dedicate the 8th of May to revelry (festive mirth, not loose jollity). It is called the Furry-day, supposed Flora’s day; not, I imagine, as many have thought, in remembrance of some festival instituted in honour of that goddess, but rather from garlands commonly worn on that day. In the morning, very early, some troublesome rogues go round the streets with drums, or other noisy instruments, disturbing their sober neighbors, and singing parts of a song, the whole of which nobody now recollects. About the middle of the day they collect together to dance hand-in-hand round the streets, to the sound of the fiddle playing a particular tune, which they continue to do till it is dark. This is called a ‘faddy’.

In the afternoon, the gentility go to some farmhouse in the neighborhood to drink tea, syllabub, etc., and return in a Morris-dance to the town, where they form a faddy, and dance through the streets till it is dark, claiming the right of going through any person’s house, in at one door and out at the other. And here it formally used to end, and the company of all kinds to disperse quietly to their several habitations, but latterly, corruptions have in this, as in other matters, crept in by degrees.’.

Many things have changed since this piece was written but the day still sees a 7 a.m. dance; a Hal-an-Tow pageant at 8 a.m.; children’s dance at 10 a.m.; a midday dance which replicates the earlier dance of the gentry and their ladies. All wear Lily of the Valley sprigs – the gentlemen wearing it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wearing it upside down on the right. The day ends with an evening dance at 5 p.m.

It is one of the oldest British customs still practiced today but the modern variant of the dance holds few similarities with the original, having been revived long after the event had died out. Traditionally, the dancers wear Lily of the Valley, which is Helston’s symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right. Lily of the Valley is worn on Flora Day by dancers, bandsmen, Flora Day stewards and by those who are “Helston-born”.

The world is changing – and perhaps not for the better

It’s the second decade of the 20th century and the world continues to develop and change.

At this time Great Britain was at the centre of the world’s largest empire, a beneficiary of colonial resources and trade.  It occupied territory on four different continents and was at the centre of a vast trading and commercial empire.  However, domestically, 19th century Britain was often unsettled by demands for improved conditions and political reform.  British rulers had engaged in imperial expansion over the years but had sought to avoid war – a policy dubbed ‘splendid isolation’.  However – this policy approach was waning in the early 1900s as British interest concentrated on events in Europe, particularly the unification of Germany and the expansionist policies adopted by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

In the USA Sophie Tucker was singing of ‘Some of These Days’; Arthur Collins & Byron Harlan were telling us all about ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’.  We also have the American Quartet group singing  ‘Moonlight Bay’; Billy Murray telling the story of ‘Casey Jones’ while Al Jolson was singing ‘You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)’ to the US population at large.

By 1914 Britain was no longer the dominant economic power in Europe. It still had the world’s largest shipbuilding industry but in other areas such as coal, iron, chemicals and light engineering, Britain was being out-performed by Germany.

Britain was a constitutional monarchy under George V with a government formed by the majority party of the House of Commons with members being elected by some 8 million registered male voters. The aristocratic House of Lords had limited power to veto legislation.

Since the later part of the 19th century the British government had considered Germany to be the main threat to its empire. This was reinforced by Germany’s decision in 1882 to form a Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy – an alliance to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia.  France felt threatened by the Triple Alliance and was concerned by the growth in the German Navy and, in 1904, the two countries had signed the Entente Cordiale (friendly understanding) with the objective of the alliance was to encourage co-operation against the perceived German threat. Three years later Russia, who also feared the growth of the German Army, joined Britain and France – and the ‘Triple Entente’ was formed.

By August 1914, Britain had 247,432 regular troops. About 120,000 of these were in the British Expeditionary Army and the rest were stationed abroad. There were soldiers in all Britain’s overseas possessions except the white dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The USA had no links with either side at this time.

Despite everything, there was music to generate some cheerfulness.  One such number was ‘Pack up your troubles in your old Kit Bag – and Smile, Smile, Smile’ written in 1915 by Welsh brothers Felix Powell – an army staff sergeant – and George Henry Powell who became a conscientious objector.  A later play presented by the National Theatre recounts how these music hall stars rescued the song from their rejects pile and re-scored it to win a wartime competition for a marching song.  In its many ways it became very popular and boosted British morale despite the horrors of that war. It was one of a large number of music hall songs aimed at maintaining morale, recruiting for the forces, or defending Britain’s war aims. Here are the words if you want to turn back those challenging times:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile. While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, smile, boys, that’s the style.  What’s the use of worrying?  It never was worthwhile, so pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile.

Another of these songs, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ was so similar in musical structure that the two were sometimes sung side by side.

Ragtime begins to change our music

Ragtime became central to the development of jazz in both America and Britain around the turn of the century.  The term ‘ragtime’ comes from the syncopated or ‘ragged’ rhythm and had its origins in the African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis. One of the first pioneers and composers of ragtime was Ernest Hogan. He was the first composer to have his ragtime pieces (or “rags”) published as sheet music, beginning with the song “LA Pas Ma LA” published in 1895.  More important, though, could be the fact that he has been credited for coining the term ragtime.  Ben Harney, another Kentucky native, has often been credited for introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon but You Done Broke Down”, helped popularize the style. However – the composition was published in 1895, a few months after Ernest Hogan.

Nun-the-less – it is neither of these that keep Ragtime in our memory.  That composer is Scott Joplin who became famous through the publication of the “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 and was followed by “The Entertainer” in 1902.  Despite this Scott, and many others of the time, were later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados.  It was not until a major ragtime revival in the early 1970s that brought them to the fore.

So what’s happening in Britain at this time?  Well – not too much with regard to day-to-day music it would appear.  Many of the earliest parlour songs were transcriptions for voice and keyboard of other music.  Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, for instance, were traditional “folk” tunes with new lyrics by Moore.  Many arias from Italian operas, particularly those of Bellini and Donizetti, had become parlour songs, with texts either translated or replaced by new lyrics. Various other genres were also performed in the parlour, including patriotic selections, religious songs, and pieces written for the musical stage.  However – excerpts from blackface minstrels, arranged for voice and keyboard, were particularly popular.  Also we we have a handful of the better-known songs, such as Schubert’s “Serenade”, that became part of the parlour repertory. Lyrics written for parlour songs often have sentimental themes, such as love songs or poetic meditations.  We’ll come to these at a later time.

However – the following has been tracked down as being the top 10 pieces in 1901 to 1910. Starting at 10th best – and heading to number one – we have:

Arthur Collins (1902) we have ‘Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home’.

Harry MacDonough with Miss Walton (1909)‘Shine on Harvest Moon’.

Hayden Quartet (1903) ‘In the Good Old Summer Time’.

Bill Murray in 1905 ‘Yankee Doodle Boy’.

Billy Murray (1904) ‘Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis’.

Byron Harlan (1907) ‘School Days (When We Were a Couple of Kids)’.

Bill Murray (1905) ‘Give my Regards to Broadway’

Hayden Quartet (1908) ‘Take me out to the ball game’.

Hayden Quartet (1904) ‘Sweet Adeline (You’re the Flower of My Heart)’.

And at number one for the years 1901 to 1910 we have:

Bill Murray (1906) ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag (aka ‘The Grand Old Rag’)’.

Ragtime gets closer

Last week we started our story with a broad overview of ‘Ragtime’ from both sides of the Atlantic.  This week we’ll have a look at early British popular music. This music can be seen as originating in the 16th and 17th centuries and from this we can trace the arrival of printed musical copies which were sold cheaply and in great numbers through to the 19th century.

Most of the instruments used by British brass bands had existed for some time but they only became a mass activity in the 1840/50s out of village, church and military bands. For many these brass bands were an expression of the local solidarity and their newly formed and often rapidly growing communities.

This developed as a result of a steady increase in the number of households with enough surplus cash to purchase musical instruments and instruction in music and with the leisure time and cultural motivation to engage in recreational music-making. This high point of the parlor song came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a distinction arose between ‘art music’ and ‘popular music’, even if it was not expressed exactly in those terms.

The increase in urban populations and the rise of the bourgeoisie brought a need for public demonstrations of social standing, since it was no longer common knowledge who was important. Attending concerts was, among other things, a means of displaying status.  What for a working-class audience might be down-to-earth, plain-speaking and funny – for the bourgeois audience might appear as rude, vulgar, and silly! Perhaps this is why inversion was common in popular form – for example, lust not love, crudity not politeness, degradation not sublimity, materiality not spirituality.

For the middle class, culture was in itself instructive but first required that people be instructed in it; hence the didactic character of attempts to encourage working-class ‘appreciation’ of music. The People’s Concert Society, founded in 1878, was an amateur organization dedicated to making high-status music known among the London poor. The Society began Sunday concerts of chamber music in South Place, Moorgate, in 1887. From the succeeding year, admission was free, or a voluntary contribution could be made, and attendance was good.

The British Brass Band Movement, in the second half of the century, was another example of ‘rational recreation’, with the willingness of factory owners to sponsor works bands. These bands had their roots in the industrial North, but the steel, ironworks and shipping companies of east London also had bands in the 1860s. Some of the difficulties and distractions facing London bands compared to bands further north have been discussed by Dave Russell. Huge annual contests were held at the Crystal Palace during 1860-63. The first of these, a two-day event with entrance prices of 2s 6d for the first and 1s for the second day, attracted an audience of 29,000. The test pieces for the contests at the Crystal Palace placed an emphasis on high-status music: selections from Meyerbeer’s grand operas were the favourite choices, as at the Belle Vue contests in Manchester that same decade.

The labouring poor may have been sung about and even felt to be understood in certain socially-concerned drawing-room ballads, but their lives often lay outside the experience of those who sang the ballads. Antoinette Sterling, who so movingly sang ‘Three Fishers Went Sailing’, confessed that not only had she no experience of storms at sea, but ‘had never even seen fishermen’. Actual acquaintance with fishermen was undoubtedly unnecessary, since the subject position such ballads addressed was that of the middle class.

So we have now had a glance of both sides of the water in the years as music met with the changing needs and attitudes.
Our story, though, was born as being from ‘Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That arrives next week – on Wednesday 25th April 2018.   Please be there!

A story from Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll

I first started pulling the pieces of this story together some 15 or so years ago.  At that time I was a tutor/speaker for the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and, among many other courses I presented, I offered ‘From Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’.   In due time I moved on, my activities changed and ‘FRT to R’n’R’ went on the back boiler.  I now feel that the time is right to bring it back to life.

I hope you will enjoy it as much I am sure I will.

Ragtime music came from the work camps linked to the railway’s expansion in the USA.  The words of Max Morath an American ragtime pianist, composer, actor and author who was best known for his piano playing .  He was referred to as “Mr. Ragtime”. – ‘Scorned by the establishment as ephemeral at best, trashy at worst, Ragtime was the fountainhead of every rhythmic and stylistic upheaval that has followed in a century of ever evolving American popular music’ – summed up his view of the establishment’s view of the new music.  But, as we shall see, this response to new popular music repeats itself time & time again.

Very few people ever listen by choice to music that they don’t like so, for music to be popular, it has to match or reflect the desires, feelings, conditions and attitudes of its listeners potential and real. Therefore, no commercial composer or performer can afford to ignore their chosen market.  As a result all, strands of composed music can be taken as a reflection of the social environment of the listeners the composer expected.  For the purposes of this course we are interpreting ‘popular music’ as music with mass appeal to the ‘man and woman in the street’ – the ‘Person on the Clapham Omnibus’.  This first session laid the foundations for our exploration of this look at our social history.  What I want to do is tell the story of the popular music as created, released and, above all, enjoyed.

Very few people ever listen by choice to music they don’t like so, for music to be popular, it has to match or reflect the desires, feelings, conditions and attitudes of its listeners potential and real. Therefore, no commercial composer or performer can afford to ignore his chosen market.  As a result all strands of composed music can be taken as a reflection of the social environment of the listeners the composer expected.

Almost everybody has a favorite tune or song, something that can instantly bring back a very special memory – good or bad.  However, the power of music to bring back that personal past is not limited to a single tune – or even a single event.

‘If music be the food of love, play on’ from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night conjures up one social aspect of music and Noel Coward’s comment in 1930 that ‘Strange how potent cheap music is’ from Private Lives gives musical meaning a different slant.  I think us, though, should start our path to understanding and enjoying the social underpinning of popular music with Ragtime and Scott Joplin’s 1899 Maple Leaf Rag

New Orleans was its birthplace – 1896 legislation created institutionalized segregation and tended to drive classically trained coloured musicians into the black community.  Changing work patterns took the black population north to Chicago, and the 1919 prohibition act created the illegal, gangster owned speakeasies.  Ragtime morphed into Jazz – music that was an integral part of this; music that was variously described as ‘the ultimate in rugged individualism and the creative process incarnate’ and ‘a manifestation of a low streak in man’s taste that has not yet come out in civilization’s wash’

In Britain we had our Music Halls that developed out of do-it-yourself pub entertainment & reigned supreme as the source of popular entertainment. The ‘Halls’ were frequented by ‘sporting aristocrats’ as well as the ‘working classes’, and made performers like Marie Lloyd national idols.

We’ll come to those next week and hope you do too!I first started pulling the pieces of this story together some 15 or so years ago.  At that time I was a tutor/speaker for the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and, among many other courses I presented, I offered ‘From Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’.   In due time I moved on, my activities changed and ‘FRT to R’n’R’ went on the back boiler.  I now feel that the time is right to bring it back to life. I hope you will enjoy it as much I am sure I will.

I

We were first over the top of the world

The the 29,029-foot-high summit of Mount Everest was first conquered on foot by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953.  BUT – it had been two decades earlier – on Monday 3rd April 1933 – that Everest had been conquered by air – by Britian!

With the financial backing of philanthropist Lady Houston, the Houston Everest Expedition took off from an airstrip near Purnea, India at 8:25 a.m.  Squadron Leader Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the Marquess of Clydesdale as he was then known, was flying a modified Westland PV-3 biplane accompanied by Colonel Stewart Blacker. Following them in a Westland PV-6 were Flight Lieutenant David McIntyre and photographer S.R. Bonnett.  The flight would test not only the mechanical capabilities of the biplanes at dizzying altitudes, but also the endurance of the pilots in the thin and frigid air.  After 30 minutes’ flying the planes passed over Forbesganj, their forward emergency landing ground forty miles from Purnea, and at a height of 19,000 feet Everest first became visible above the haze.  The crew members were flying without the benefit of pressurized cabins, and relied on oxygen tanks to breathe and at one point in the flight, the photographer Bonnett felt faint and experienced shooting pains in his stomach. He paused filming and sat down inside the cabin, where he discovered a gaping fracture in his oxygen line.  He quickly tied a handkerchief around the breach, and was able to resume his duties without losing consciousness.

With that now under control they were neared Everest, when wind presented them another challenge.  The deflection of winds off the mountain had created a down current that caused the planes to drop 1,500 feet as they struggled to climb skyward.  However, despite the high winds, both planes soared a hundred or so feet over the summit and the men spent some 15 minutes circling the roof of the world before beginning their journey back.

In recognition of his achievement Douglas-Hamilton received the Air Force Cross in 1935. Also in his open cockpit was an unnamed cine-photographer and following them was a second Westland PV-6, piloted by Flight Lieutenant, D F McIntyre.  The flight took three hours, covered a return distance of 320 miles reaching nearly 30,000 feet clearing the mountain by a reported 100 feet. Close range photographs of Mt Everest proved the achievement.

A film, ‘Wings over Everest’, was made of the record-setting flight – no doubt using the film of Squadron Leader’s cine-photographer.  In 1936 the story was told in a book ‘The Pilot’s Book of Everest’ written by the two pilots.

These happened in April in years gone by

Some while ago I compiled a set of 12 ‘It Happened in ….’ books – one for each day of each month of the year.  It was sold locally and went quite well.  However, various things came along and stopped me taking the ‘Happenings’ further.  Now – hopefully – this is the beginning of the next version of ‘It Happened in ….’ and we’re starting it in April.

April is the fourth month of the year and, by the Romans of times long past, was associated with the goddess Venus – and the word April may be related to her Greek name Aphrodite.  Both this and the traditional etymology, from the Latin aperire, to open (with reference to the opening of buds), was rejected by some scholars in favour of an ancient derivation from a word meaning ‘other’ that came from a time when March was the first month of the year.

As times and attitudes changed, traditions and expectations adjusted.  Linked to this month of April we find that Diamonds became the appropriate gemstone to be gifted to your lady.  If you just wanted to give your lady flowers Daisy or Sweet Peas were appropriate.

A traditional rhyme in Britain, however, tells the individuals or couples that:

Married beneath April’s changing skies; a chequered path before you lies.

Other traditions tell us that:

April blows his horn when it’s good both for hay and corn.

April floods carry away the frog and her brood.

April showers bring forth May flowers.

1606-7 – Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra III ii 43: ‘The April’s in her eyes.  It is love’s spring, And these the showers to bring it on.’

1648 – Herrick in Hesper – ‘First, April, she with mellow showers Opens the way for early flowers; Then after her comes smiling May, in a more rich and sweet array.’

1846 – Denham: ‘March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.’

Mid 19th century – ‘March brings breezes sharp and shrill, and shakes the dancing daffodil while April brings the primrose sweet and scatters daisies at our feet.’

We’ll tell the story of an airplane – and pilot! – next Tuesday