All posts by talkinghistory2013

About talkinghistory2013

Social historian with Masters degree from Cambridge Uni on the subject. Presented over 2,000 courses, talks and lectures in past 15 years on various subjects ranging from Nursery Rhymes to witchcraft, plagues and monastic life. Guide at Burghley House and for Peterborough Museum. 75,000 word Peterborough Book of Days launched in November 2014. Active blogs on Wordpress which includes weekly 'On this day in history' and free standing historic pieces. Also developing fictional stories with social history as a broad base.

The flagship named Mary Rose

Sunday 19th July 1545 was the day that the Mary Rose, flagship of King Henry VIII’s fleet, sank off Portsmouth 34 years after coming into service.   In 1971 the wreck was located, raised and is now a museum that attracts visitors from across the world.

The actual reason why she sank remains a matter for deep discussion. The only confirmed eyewitness account of the sinking says that she had fired all of her guns on one side and was turning when she was caught in a strong gust of wind. Other accounts agree that she was turning, but offer various reasons why she sank during the manoeuvre.

Although there is no archaeological evidence from the wreck to confirm this, a French cavalry officer present at the battle stated that the Mary Rose had been sunk by French guns. A cannonball low in the hull would have let water to flood in, making the ship unstable and leading to her sinking. Perhaps this was why the ship turned north so suddenly. Was she aiming to reach the ‘Spitbank’ shallows which were only a few hundred meters away?

A fourth suggestion is that she was overloaded with heavy guns and/or with extra soldiers. If this was the case, a strong gust of wind could have heeled her over into the sea. However, the guns had been put aboard in London so she had managed to get round the Kent coast, and along the English Channel, without mishap so why did she topple in the Solent?  All we know is that we probably never will know why it happened – but that’s the perennial challenge presented by so much of our history!

There are many questions – and as many may-be answers – that go with this story.  For instance – why was the ship named as it was?   The second part of the flagship’s name is believed to refer to the Tudor rose, the emblem of Henry VIII’s house – but what about ‘Mary’?  That name could refer to the Virgin Mary, but it is more commonly seen as a reference to Henry VIII’s sister Mary who was the wife of King Louis XII of France.  We’ll never know!

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A British Prime Minister; a German Chancellor and a USA Ambassador in the background – and we can listen to music!

 

We now read and write today in the year 2018 – but for today I want to take you back 80 years to the year 1938 and see what was happening in Britain.

On 17th January 1938 Joseph P Kennedy had been appointed United States Ambassador to the UK while, on 20th February, Anthony Eden had resigned as Foreign Secretary over Chamberlain’s policy towards Italy.  Lord Halifax took over Eden’s role and just under 2 months later, on 16th April 1938, the Anglo-Italian Treaty and Britain recognised Italian government over Ethiopia in return for Italian troops withdrawing from Spain.

In a different field – from the 13th to 20th August 1938 – Great Britain and the United States contested the inaugural Amateur World Series in baseball, played in the north of England. Britain won every match! This was closely followed on 23rd August when English cricketer Len Hutton scored a record Test score of 364 runs in a match against Australia.

Let’s finish this look at 1938 from a different angle that we shall return to later.

On 13th September 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in an attempt to negotiate an end to German expansionist policies.  On 29th September Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement and a resolution with Germany determining to resolve all future disputes between the two countries through peaceful means. On 30th September Neville Chamberlain returned to the UK from Munich, memorably waving the resolution signed the day earlier with Germany, and later in Downing Street giving his famous ‘Peace for our time’ speech.

We’ll have to wait for the stories above for different places but we can clearly enjoy the musical delight that was available in the year of 1938…

Just outside the top 5 were “A Gypsy Told Me” by Ted Weems and his Orchestra with Perry Como; “Cry, Baby, Cry” by Larry Clinton and “Don’t Be That Way” by BennyGoodman.

In 5th place we have Roy Acuff with the ‘Wabash Cannonball’. – In 4th place are Bob Hope & Shirley Ross saying ‘Thanks for the Memory’ while in 3rd place has Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb telling us all about ‘A-Tisket A-Tasket’.   At number 2 we find, we find  the Andrew Sisters going German with ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’ and, at number one we have Artie Shaw telling us all to ‘Begin the Beguine’.

BUT – when we look at the music of 1938 in a different way – the creators – we get a different scene.  There we find: “The Biggest Aspidistra in the World” by Tommie Connor, W. G. Haines & James S. Hancock and “Boomps-A-Daisy”, with words and music by Annette Mills.  There is also “Cinderella, Stay in my Arms” with words by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Michael Carr.

“Dearest Love”;   “I went to a Marvellous Party”;   “The Stately Homes of England” and “Where are the Songs we Sung?” were in words & music by Noël Coward.

You’re what’s the Matter with Me” was on words and music by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr and was introduced by Harry Richman and Evelyn Call in the film ‘Kicking the Moon Around’

Next week we could be kicking something much more serious.

Saint Swithin – a belief in the weather and 15th July

 

15th July has a rhyme: St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain; Full forty days, it will remain; St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair; For forty days, t’will rain no more.

Celebrated (or berated as the case may be!) on July 15th, weather sayings pertaining to St. Swithin’s Day are probably the most famous or infamous in the UK.  St. Swithin died in 862 and was buried outside Winchester Cathedral so that he could ‘feel’ the raindrops when he was dead. However, when he was canonised a tomb was built inside the cathedral and July 15th 971 was the day his body was to be moved. Legend has it that a storm broke on that day ending a long dry spell.  Not only that – it continued to rain on each of the subsequent 40 days. As a result the monks took it as a sign of ‘divine displeasure’ and` left his body where it was.

Since 1861 there have never been 40 dry or 40 wet days following a dry or wet St. Swithin’s Day. In fact, on average, about 20 wet days and 20 rain free days can be expected between July 15th and August 24th. The summers of 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1995 were, however, near misses. During these summers July 15th was dry over southern England, as were 38 of the following 40 days. As for wet weather, BBC Meteorologist Philip Eden presented a report that on 15th July 1985 it rained in Luton and then rained on 30 of the subsequent 40 days.

The creators of the St. Swithin’s Day sayings during the Middle Ages would be aware that summer weather patterns are usually quite well established by mid-July and will then tend to persist until late August. It is not just England though; similar sayings exist for the same time of year in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. If we modernise the sayings surrounding St. Swithin’s Day perhaps the sayings should be updated to read:

St. Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, 40 days staying unsettled, St. Swithin’s Day, if it fair, 40 days staying settled.

 

Music and other aspects of the 1930s

For a great many the 1930s were remembered for mass unemployment with unemployment in Britain at the start of 1933 at 22.8%.  However, by January 1936 it had eased to 13.9% and in 1938 it was down to around 10%.  There was still a semi-permanent depression area in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales but new industries, such as car and aircraft manufacture, and new electronics were prospering in the Midlands and the South of England where unemployment was relatively low.

The 1930s were the great age of cinema going in Britain with many people going at least once and sometimes twice a week. The early films were black and white but in the 1930s the first colour films were made – although it was decades before all films were made in colour.  Radio broadcasting had begun in 1922 in Britain when the BBC was formed and by 1933 half the households in Britain had a radio. Television began in Britain in 1936 when the BBC began broadcasting.

From the mid-1920s to 1946 the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands. The British bands never quite adopted the kind of USA “Swing” and “Big Band” jazz and during the 1930s the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands – quite tame compared to American jazz and was generally sweeter.  Non-the-less Billy Cotton began in the 1930s and still had a prime-time TV programme until the late ’60s and Ted Heath’s fame lasted until 1964. Many others carefully adjusted as time passed.  For instant – Jack Hilton’s band was “hot” until 1933, but then became sweeter as their success grew.  Some of the lead singers also enjoyed fame on their own. Most famous were Al Bowlly and Leslie `Hutch` Hutchinson.

I’ll close off for this week with something very different from music – but something that people could nibble while they listened their music of choice …..

This decade also saw sales of ice cream boom and many new kinds of sweets introduced. Jaffa cakes had gone on sale in 1927 and Twiglets and Crunchy Bars in 1929.  Milky Way had been on sale in 1923 in the USA and arrived in Britain in 1935. Other UK arrivals included:  Snickers (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltsters and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937).

The first British Lawn Tennis Championships

It was on Monday 9th July 1877 that a Lawn Tennis championship took place for the first time at Worple Road, Wimbledon.  Records of the time record Worple Road, and the streets on the southern slopes of Wimbledon Hill, as ‘highly respectable‘. Until about 1875 ‘Walpole Lane’ as a map of the time named it, had been a narrow track leading to fields. In 1868 the self-styled All-England Croquet Club had leased a field between the road and the railway line but doesn’t seem to have developed it much until the members decided to add the new game of Lawn Tennis to its activities.

As a result the club was renamed The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. The members held their first Tennis Championship on this day – 9th July 1877 – a championship consisting of just gentlemen’s singles matches. That first championship is recorded as attracting twenty-two competitors and a crowd of about two hundred.

The popularity grew rapidly and by 1884 they had permanent stands for the spectators built around the Club’s Central Court.

By 1922 they had totally outgrown the ground and moved to the Club’s present site in Church Road. The old ground then became the Girls’ High School playing field.

Now, when you sit down – or stand up – enjoying this second week of the modern game recall the beginning of the whote event back in 1877!

Roy Fox – an American-born British dance band leader.

Roy Fox, an American-born British dance band leader, was born in Denver, Colorado on 25th October 25 1901.  His period of greatest popularity was in England during the British dance band era of the 1930s.

Roy and his musician sister Vera were raised in Hollywood in a Salvation Army family. Roy had begun playing a cornet when he was 11 years old, and by age 13 was performing in the Los Angeles Examiner’s newsboy’s band. Soon after he was playing bugle for a studio owned by Cecil B. DeMille!

His first major association came at the age of 16 when he joined Abe Lyman’s orchestra at the Sunset Inn in Santa Monica. There he played alongside many of the established artists and developed a soft style of playing which earned him the nickname, “The Whispering Cornetist”. In 1920 he put together his own band and, in 1925, scored a gig on radio broadcasting with Art Hickman’s orchestra.  After some time in New York City, Roy and Abe reconvened in Hollywood, working at the Ambassador Hotel, and Fox continued to broadcast with his own bands. During this time he also did a number of film soundtracks!

As time and reputation moved on 1930 found Roy Fox being invited to perform in London.  His first performance was on Monday 29th September 1930.  In that same year Roy recorded on the BBC and, when his band returned to the USA in the Spring of 1931, Roy remained behind, recording with a new group for Decca Records and accepting an engagement at the Monseigneur restaurant in Piccadilly.  Unfortunately Roy fell ill with pleurisy in 1932 and travelled to Switzerland for a stay at a sanatorium. During his convalescence the band was led by its pianist, Lew Stone but, on his return to London, Roy resumed the control.

However, when the Monseigneur contract came up for renewal that autumn Roy was unable to agree terms and, as a result the restaurant’s owner then offered the residency to Lew Stone. With the exception of trumpeter Sid Buckman, the band decided to go with Lew!  In response Roy took out an injunction on the grounds of breach of contract against his singer Al Bowlly which prevented Bowlly performing with Stone’s band on the first night.  On Tuesday, 25th October Roy Fox applied for an extension of the injunction against Al, but at a hearing in chambers Mr. Justice McCardie denied Roy Fox’s application on the grounds that ‘the contract related specifically to the ‘Monseigneur’ lost his action.

Roy now formed a new band with Sid Buckman as trumpeter and vocalist, and secured a residency at the Cafe Anglais in Leicester Square.  Roy also performed in Belgium as well as other locations in the UK.  At Christmas he played a variety of instruments in this band.  In 1933-4 Roy made the films On the Air and Big Ben Calling; recorded for HMV in 1936, and toured Europe until 1938, when he fell ill again.

In later years Roy moved to Australia, where he led the Jay Whidden Orchestra and visited the U.S. for a few tours with small groups.  In 1946/47 he led a band in England  with appearances at the Isle of Man and London’s Potomac Club. He went into semi-retirement after 1952, when he opened his own booking agency. He died in London in 1982, aged 80.

Roy Fox – an American-born British dance band leader

Roy Fox, an American-born British dance band leader, was born in Denver, Colorado on 25th October 25 1901.  His period of greatest popularity was in England during the British dance band era of the 1930s.

Roy and his musician sister Vera were raised in Hollywood in a Salvation Army family. Roy had begun playing a cornet when he was 11 years old, and by age 13 was performing in the Los Angeles Examiner’s newsboy’s band. Soon after he was playing bugle for a studio owned by Cecil B. DeMille!

His first major association came at the age of 16 when he joined Abe Lyman’s orchestra at the Sunset Inn in Santa Monica. There he played alongside many of the established artists and developed a soft style of playing which earned him the nickname, “The Whispering Cornetist”. In 1920 he put together his own band and, in 1925, scored a gig on radio broadcasting with Art Hickman’s orchestra.  After some time in New York City, Roy and Abe reconvened in Hollywood, working at the Ambassador Hotel, and Fox continued to broadcast with his own bands. During this time he also did a number of film soundtracks!

As time and reputation moved on 1930 found Roy Fox being invited to perform in London.  His first performance was on Monday 29th September 1930.  In that same year Roy recorded on the BBC and, when his band returned to the USA in the Spring of 1931, Roy remained behind, recording with a new group for Decca Records and accepting an engagement at the Monseigneur restaurant in Piccadilly.  Unfortunately Roy fell ill with pleurisy in 1932 and travelled to Switzerland for a stay at a sanatorium. During his convalescence the band was led by its pianist, Lew Stone but, on his return to London, Roy resumed the control.

However, when the Monseigneur contract came up for renewal that autumn Roy was unable to agree terms and, as a result the restaurant’s owner then offered the residency to Lew Stone. With the exception of trumpeter Sid Buckman, the band decided to go with Lew!  In response Roy took out an injunction on the grounds of breach of contract against his singer Al Bowlly which prevented Bowlly performing with Stone’s band on the first night.  On Tuesday, 25th October Roy Fox applied for an extension of the injunction against Al, but at a hearing in chambers Mr. Justice McCardie denied Roy Fox’s application on the grounds that ‘the contract related specifically to the ‘Monseigneur’ lost his action.

Roy now formed a new band with Sid Buckman as trumpeter and vocalist, and secured a residency at the Cafe Anglais in Leicester Square.  Roy also performed in Belgium as well as other locations in the UK.  At Christmas he played a variety of instruments in this band.  In 1933-4 Roy made the films On the Air and Big Ben Calling; recorded for HMV in 1936, and toured Europe until 1938, when he fell ill again.

In later years Roy moved to Australia, where he led the Jay Whidden Orchestra and visited the U.S. for a few tours with small groups.  In 1946/47 he led a band in England  with appearances at the Isle of Man and London’s Potomac Club. He went into semi-retirement after 1952, when he opened his own booking agency. He died in London in 1982, aged 80.

My Fair Lady – Audrey Hepburn – and Aphrodite!

It was on Wednesday 3rd July 1963 that Cecil Beaton recorded the filming of My Fair Lady in his journal:

I had watched Audrey [Hepburn] during the tests, wearing almost no make-up and being photographed in a somewhat flat light. One took for granted her charm and vitality, but it was only when the result was magnified hundreds of times, that one realised that, as Jack Warner said, ‘She’s one in a million.’ Somehow, the celluloid accentuates her expressions of tenderness, humour, fun, hauteur and plaintive childishness. Her nose and jawline do not conform to the golden rule of Praxiteles yet add enormous character to the photographed result. 

After seeing herself without eye make-up Audrey pleased me by saying that, in the future, she was going to soft-pedal its use. The ‘Flemish look’, without make-up, is going to be a surprise. Suddenly, one realizes what a hard look the black liner gives the eye, and how its effect is to close up, and make smaller, the white of the eye. Audrey’s appearance without it will be quite a revolution and, let’s hope, the end of all those black-eyed zombies of the fashion magazines.

Just in case you wish to know – and are like me and did not know who/what Praxiteles was – he was a 4th century BCE Greek from Athens, the son of Cephisodotus the Elder, and was the most renowned of the Attic sculptors of the time, being the first to sculpt the nude female form in a life-size statue.

The Music and the 1920s become the 1930s both sides of the Atlantic

One of the pioneers of the raucous, rapid-fire, eight-to-the-bar piano style described as ‘BOOGIE’ was Jimmy Yancey.  Born in Chicago in 1896 he worked in vaudeville as a singer and tap dancer – starting at the age of 6 – before taking up the piano in 1915.  Although he did not make a recording until 1939 his student – Meade “Lux” Lewis – would become one of the first to document the boogie-woogie piano style on record with his 1927 ‘Honky Tonk Train Blues’ – a masterpiece of intricate cross-rhythms that highlighted Lewis’s skills.   In this same year Pine Top Smith gathered widespread attention with the catchy ‘Pine Top’s Boogie-Woogie’.

The 1930s were a crucial period in the development of the blues. It was then that the Mississippi Delta blues performers Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson travelled throughout the southern states, singing about their woes, freedom, love and sex to community after community.  Johnson – who allegedly made a pack with ‘The Devil’ in order to become a better guitar player – was the first true blues performance artist.  On the east coast, musicians such as Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry and the Rev Gary Davis developed a more folksy, ‘Piedmomt Blues’ style.  Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Count Basie was absorbing the blues and – reinjecting it into the big band jazz style of the swing era.  In New York Billie Holiday, one of the most famous blues/jazz singers of all time’s, began captivating audiences with her haunting, sensuous voice.  We’ll come back to her another day.

In the 1930s, Great Britain was not without its’ own performers.  Jack Hylton – born John Greenhalgh Hilton in 1892 – was an English pianist, composer, band leader and impresario that rose to prominence during the British dance band era.  Being referred as the “British King of Jazz” and “The Ambassador of British Dance Music” by the musical press, not only because of his popularity which extended throughout the world, but also for his use of unusually large ensembles for the time and his polished arrangements.

By the time the Depression started biting in 1930 Jack had downsized his band and began performing less frequently in Europe.  However, in that same year, Maurice Chevalier recorded with Jack, who also made the first record of “Body and Soul”. In 1932, Hylton was decorated by the French government, recording with Paul Robeson the same year and making the first transatlantic entertainment broadcast with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra.

In late 1933 Jack left Decca after refusing to take a pay cut and did not begin making records again until 1935 when he re-joined HMV.  He had spent 1934 touring Europe again, and adopted “The Soldiers in the Park” – more commonly known as “Oh Listen to the Band” –  as his signature tune. In 1935 he appeared in his first feature film, the musical comedy ‘She Shall Have Music’, which starred June Clyde and Claude Dampier.  That same year, Jack was finally able to perform in the United States, something he had repeatedly attempted for almost a decade, but had been opposed by the musician unions who, in 1929 cancelled his tour at the last minute.  Standard Oil signed Jack for a radio show on CBS, not only paying him and his star players, but also paying all expenses for those band members unable to play in the U.S. While in Chicago, Hylton made a number of records with his radio band for Victor but Union pressure led him to return to the UK in 1936. Pat O’Malley and Alec Templeton stayed in America, making a name for them-selves.

Upon returning to Britain, Jack was criticised for adopting the then-popular swing rhythm, so he kept playing in his well-established style, including a series of new “concert recordings”. After a new tour of Europe in 1937, which included a performance at the Scala in Nazi Germany, Hylton began appearing on radio more frequently, starring in Radio Luxembourg’s Rinso Radio Revue until 1939, when he appeared in BBC’s Band Waggon as well as its 1940 film adaption.  He mostly retired from the music industry after 1940, becoming a successful theatrical businessman until his death.

We’ll tell the story of another man of the times next week.

The man who earned the first Victoria Cross

It was on Wednesday 21st June 1854 that 20 year old Charles Davis Lucas won the first Victoria Cross. He came from County Monaghan in Ireland and had joined the Royal Navy when he was thirteen. Now twenty, he was a Mate on HMS Hecla as part of an Anglo-French fleet at the eastern end of the Baltic bombarding the Russian fortress of Bomarsund.  The fortress mounted some eighty massive guns and, as HMS Hecla drew closer to Bomarsund, a live shell landed on the Hecla’s deck and lay there, smoking evilly and obviously about to go off, to murderous effect.

Charles Lucas coolly picked the shell up, carried it to the ship’s side and dropped it into the sea, where it exploded with a huge bang and a giant fountain of spray. Lucas was promoted to lieutenant from that day and his was the first act of heroism to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The medal was not actually instituted until 1856, but it was made retroactive to cover the Crimean War. Queen Victoria took a keen interest in the decoration which bore her name and it was she who suggested the words ‘For Valour’ beneath the medal’s bronze Maltese cross – rather than ‘For the Brave’, which she pointed out could be taken to imply that other people were not.

Charles Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are now displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. They are not the original medals though – they were left on a train and never recovered!  Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.

The crosses were actually made of metal from Russian cannons captured at Sebastopol. It was a crucial innovation that the medal was awarded completely regardless of rank and on no consideration other than a single act of valour or devotion in the presence of the enemy.

Many years later the writer C.S.Forester used this incident to good effect in one of his Hornblower stories.