Leonard Bernstein

“Two things are necessary for great achievement: a plan and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Bernstein

Best known for the musical West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein won seven Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards and sixteen Grammy Awards. He wrote many genres of music, including symphonic, orchestral, ballet, film and theatre music and was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra. Aside from these achievements, Bernstein was a lifelong humanitarian. He supported civil rights, raised money for HIV and AIDS research, campaigned against the Vietnam War, and more.

Leonard Bernstein was born in Massachusetts on 25th August 1918 to Ukrainian-Jewish parents Jennie and Samuel Bernstein. His birth certificate states his name as Louis, which was his grandmother’s choice, but his parents preferred to call him Leonard. Bernstein legally changed his name to Leonard when he reached adulthood.

Bernstein began learning to play the piano at the age of 10. Whilst he showed considerable talent, Bernstein’s father tried to curb his enthusiasm for the piano by refusing to pay for music lessons. Undeterred, Bernstein began teaching basic piano techniques to other children to earn money to pay for his more advanced studies. Eventually, Bernstein’s father relented and started supporting his son’s music education.

In 1935, Bernstein enrolled on a music course at Harvard University, where he wrote his first voice and piano composition, Psalm 148. Based on the 148th Psalm in the Bible, which begins “Praise ye the Lord from the heavens”, Bernstein was inspired by the music he heard at the synagogue. He also wrote a dissertation called The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music, which demonstrated his support of civil rights. Bernstein graduated from Harvard in 1939.

After finishing his studies at Harvard, Bernstein enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied conducting, piano, orchestration, counterpoint and score reading. During the summer of 1940, Bernstein studied conducting with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s music director, Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951). Koussevitzky considered Bernstein one of his protégés and gave him a pair of cufflinks that Bernstein allegedly wore at every concert he conducted.

On completing his post-graduate studies, Bernstein moved to New York City, where he taught piano and singing lessons. He also played the piano for dance classes at Carnegie Hall. For extra income, Bernstein transcribed jazz and pop music under the pseudonym “Leonard Amber”. He chose this name because Bernstein is the German word for “amber”.

In 1942, Bernstein produced his first published work, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Bernstein conducted the piece, which lasts about ten minutes, at the Institute of Modern Art in Boston, where critics preferred the piano part over the clarinet. Following these reviews, Bernstein stopped writing for the clarinet for the next seven years.

Bernstein’s first major success in the music world came unexpectedly on 14th November 1943, when he stood in for Bruno Walter as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic. With not much time to prepare, Bernstein conducted the orchestra through pieces by Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Robert Schumann and found himself on the front page of The New York Times the following day. The editorial declared, “It’s a good American success story. The warm, friendly triumph of it filled Carnegie Hall and spread far over the air waves,” and Bernstein’s fame quickly spread across the country. For the next two years, Bernstein became one of the most sought after conductors in the United States and Canada.

In January 1944, Bernstein premiered his first symphony, Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah, with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Following the story of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, the symphony features verses from the Book of Lamentations sung by a mezzo-soprano. It was rated the best American work of 1944 by the New York Music Critics’ Circle.

A few months after the premiere of Jeremiah, Bernstein’s first ballet collaboration, Fancy Free, was shown at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Bernstein wrote the score, and Jerome Robbins (1918-98) choreographed the dances to tell the story of three American sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York City during the Second World War. Following its success, Bernstein and Robbins chose to develop it into a musical called On the Town. It first appeared on Broadway in 1944 and became a film in 1949, starring Gene Kelly (1912-96), Frank Sinatra (1915-98), and Jules Munshin (1915-70) as the three sailors.

Bernstein flourished as a conductor during the latter half of the 1940s. From 1945 to 1947, Bernstein was the music director of the New York City Symphony orchestra. He also conducted performances abroad, such as the Czech Philharmonic in Prague and the 1946 European premiere of Fancy Free with the Ballet Theatre at the Royal Opera House in London.

In 1947, Bernstein flew to Israel to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv. He returned several times during his career for concerts, including recordings of his symphonies. In 1949, back in the United States, Bernstein made his first television debut as the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall for the first anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bernstein completed his second symphony in 1949, titled The Age of Anxiety after W. H. Auden’s (1907-73) poem of the same name. Rather than conducting the premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein played the solo piano sections. The music has since been used for three ballets, the first choreographed by Jerome Robbins.

The 1950s were, without doubt, the busiest period of Bernstein’s career. In 1950, he composed music for a Broadway production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and the following year composed the opera Trouble in Tahiti. Bernstein wrote the music and libretto while on his honeymoon with Felicia Montealegre (1922-78), who he married on 10th September 1951 and had three children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina.

In 1953, Bernstein wrote the music for Wonderful Town, a musical based on My Sister Eileen, a set of autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKenney (1911-72). The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Bernstein’s next work was the operetta-style musical Candide, based on the 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire (1694-1778). Bernstein wrote the lyrics to a couple of songs, but the others were written by a selection of lyricists, including Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021) and Lillian Hellman (1905-84). Bernstein also worked with Sondheim on his next project, West Side Story.

Sondheim and Bernstein worked alongside Jerome Robbins, who won the 1958 Tony Award for choreography, on a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in the 1950s. Robbins initially had the idea for a story in 1949 about a conflict between an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Unfortunately, the project, titled East Side Story, merely echoed similar anti-Semitic plays, so the musical was put on hold.

Arthur Laurents (1917-2011), who worked on the book for East Side Story, met with Bernstein a few years later and discussed taking another look at the musical. Bernstein suggested changing the families to Mexicans and Californians, but Laurents admitted he knew more about the rivalry between Puerto Ricans and New Yorkers. So, the musical was renamed West Side Story and moved to Harlem, New York. After persuading Sondheim and Robbins to come back on board, the production was soon underway.

On 26th September 1957, West Side Story premiered at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City. The Seattle Times noted Bernstein’s score blended “jazz, Latin rhythms, symphonic sweep and musical-comedy conventions in groundbreaking ways for Broadway.” Several popular songs feature in the musical, including Maria, Tonight, America, I Feel Pretty and Somewhere. In 1961, Jerome Robbin rechoreographed the dances for the film version, which won 10 Academy Awards, the most any musical film has won to date. In December 2021, a remake by Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) was released, starring Ansel Elgort (b.1994) and Rachel Zegler (b.2001) as the leading characters.

Whilst working on Candide and West Side Story, Bernstein simultaneously worked on other projects, including the score to the film On The Waterfront (1954). He also became the first American to appear at La Scala in Milan, where he conducted the likes of Maria Callas (1923-77) in the comic-opera Médée by Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842).

In 1957, Bernstein became the music director of the New York Philharmonic, a position he kept until 1969 when he was appointed “Laureate Conductor”. During his time as director, Bernstein brought the Young People’s Concerts at the New York Philharmonic onto television screens for the first time. The concerts date to 1885 when conductor Theodore Thomas (1835-1905) established family-friendly weekend matinees. Bernstein made the concerts accessible to many more people by televising the concerts. The first concert aired on 18th January 1958 and continued until 1972.

Throughout the 1960s, Bernstein focused on working with the New York Philharmonic. He introduced lesser-played composers, particularly Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer. In 1960, Bernstein made the first commercial recording of Mahler’s 4th symphony and started giving a combination of concert performances and television talks about the composer. About Mahler’s work, Bernstein said he “showered a rain of beauty on this world that has not been equalled since.” Mahler’s widow, Alma (1879-1964), occasionally attended the rehearsals, much to Bernstein’s delight.

In 1961, Bernstein conducted at President John F. Kennedy’s (1917-63) pre-inaugural gala. Unfortunately, he also conducted a memorial concert following the President’s assassination in 1963. At the latter, the orchestra performed Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, which has since become part of the Philharmonic’s repertoire for national mourning.

Following JFK’s assassination, Bernstein composed his third symphony, Kaddish, and dedicated it to the late president. A Kaddish is a prayer that features in Jewish services for the dead. The symphony begins with an Aramaic recitation of the Kaddish before becoming a powerful narrative that confronts God, expresses anger and grief, and eventually starts to come to terms with the situation.

Realising he wanted more time to concentrate on composing music, Bernstein made the difficult decision to step down as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1969, although he continued to conduct and tour with the orchestra. The decision gave Bernstein the opportunity to work with other orchestras, such as the Vienna Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra.

In 1970, Bernstein wrote and narrated Beethoven’s Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna, an Emmy-winning television show to celebrate the composer’s 200th birthday. The show included brief performances of the opera Fidelio, Bernstein playing Beethoven’s 1st piano concerto, and Bernstein conducting the Ninth Symphony.

Bernstein’s composition work during the 1970s included a Mass commissioned by Jackie Kennedy (1929-94) and the score for the ballet Dybbuk. The Mass combined elements of musical theatre, jazz, gospel, folk, rock, and symphonic music. The libretto featured religious liturgy and Hebrew prayers, which the Catholic church criticised for having an anti-Vietnam War message.

In 1978, Bernstein’s wife passed away from lung cancer, prompting him to establish the Felicia Montealegre Bernstein Fund of Amnesty International USA. Two years earlier, Bernstein took part in an Amnesty International Benefit Concert in Munich, which fuelled in him a passion to help human rights activists. The fund helped raise money to help activists with limited access to resources.

Thirty-two years after the premiere of Bernstein’s opera Trouble in Tahiti, he produced its sequel, A Quiet Place. Although it did not receive as many accolades, Bernstein’s international fame prevented it from being a flop. By the 1980s, Bernstein was a celebrated composer and conductor and received invitations to attend and partake in concerts all over the world. On Christmas day in 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin’s Schauspielhaus in celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He reworded the lyrics of the Ode to Joy (An die Freude) chorus to Ode to Freedom (An die Freiheit), believing “Beethoven would have given us his blessing.”

In 1990, Bernstein founded the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, with the conductor and pianist Michael Tilson Thomas (b. 1944). The festival aimed to educate people in the Pacific about classical music. By this time, Bernstein had developed lung cancer and knew he did not have long to live. He wanted to devote the remainder of his life to education. After receiving the Praemium Imperiale, a prize awarded by the Japan Arts Association for lifetime achievement in the arts, Bernstein used the prize money to establish The Bernstein Education Through the Arts (BETA) Fund, Inc.

Bernstein conducted his final concert on 19th August 1990 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, a music venue he often frequented during his career. His poor health was evident from the coughing fits he suffered on stage, yet he persevered to the very end before leaving during the standing ovation. Whilst this was Bernstein’s last concert, he did not officially retire from conducting until 9th October.

Five days after announcing his retirement, Bernstein passed away after suffering a heart attack brought on by the severity of his lung cancer. Years of smoking had caught up with him, and the United States mourned the loss of the 72-year-old man and his talents. Bernstein was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, next to his wife. A copy of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, opened to the Adagietto, was placed on his chest.

Whilst Bernstein’s musical achievements are widely known, particularly due to remakes of West Side Story, his political and social actions are often forgotten. His opera, Trouble in Tahiti, criticised upper-class American lifestyles, and he made it his mission to reveal that “American” music was a blend of many foreign influences.

During the 1940s, Bernstein joined various left-wing organisations, earning him a black mark against his name by the US State Department. Fortunately, this did not ruin his career, but many others involved suffered greatly. In the 1950s, Bernstein was accused of being a Communist, yet his musical talents surpassed these accusations, whether true or false.

Bernstein and his wife made the headlines in the 1970s when they hosted an event to raise money for the defence of several members of the Black Panther Party. The BPP was a Marxist-Leninist Black Power political that challenged police brutality, which ironically resulted in physical fights and deaths. Bernstein supported the BPP because it aimed to establish community health clinics for the treatment of diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, the public ridiculed Bernstein’s support of a working-class organisation because he lived in a wealthy neighbourhood.

Whilst Bernstein and his wife appeared to have a happy life with their three children, letters published after Bernstein’s death reveal he was homosexual. Felicia wrote a letter to her husband saying, “You are a homosexual and may never change—you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?” Bernstein’s friends confirmed he conducted affairs with men, but Felicia appeared to accept this. When questioned, Arthur Laurents said Bernstein was “a gay man who got married. He wasn’t conflicted about it at all. He was just gay.”

Bernstein loved his wife and family despite his sexuality. He only left Felicia once to live with another man but returned immediately after hearing about her lung cancer diagnosis. Bernstein nursed and cared for his wife until she passed away on 16th June 1978. He reportedly felt very guilty about her death, and his lifestyle became more excessive, but none of this showed in his professional life.

During his career, Bernstein wrote music for three ballets, three operas, nine musicals, and many orchestral, choral, vocal and piano pieces. He won a total of 16 Grammys, including Best Orchestral Performance (Mahler’s Symphony No. 9), Best Classical Album (Candide) and Best Contemporary Composition. In 1985, Bernstein won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

Bernstein tutored many composers, including John Mauceri (b. 1945), Marin Alsop (b. 1956) and Michael Tilson Thomas, who have worked with orchestras across the world. Unfortunately, he did not take on any students as composers, so his blends of jazz, Jewish music and theatre music remain unique to Bernstein.


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Stand Still and Look Stupid

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” So said Hedy Lamarr in reference to her career as a Hollywood actress, yet she was far from stupid. As well as acting, Lamarr helped develop a radio guidance system for torpedoes, which inspired future Bluetooth and GPS technologies. Yet, Lamarr’s lengthy career in the film industry continues to overshadow her intelligence and scientific achievements.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born on 9th November 1914 in Vienna, which was then in Austria-Hungary. She was the only child of Jewish parents Gertrud “Trude” Kiesler (1894-1977) and Emil Kiesler (1880-1935), although her mother had converted to Catholicism and raised Lamarr as such.

At age 12, Lamarr entered and won a beauty contest in Vienna and developed a fascination with film and theatre. So, she began attending acting classes. Yet, at the same time, Lamarr attended a private school, where she studied piano, ballet, language and natural sciences. During her spare time, Lamarr accompanied her father on walks and listened to his explanations about the workings of different technologies.

Desperate to start an acting career, Lamarr forged her mother’s signature on an application to work as a script girl for Sascha-Film, the largest Austrian film production company of the silent film era. The role involved overseeing the continuity of the film, which included ensuring clothes, props, scenery, and so forth appeared at the right moments. Yet, Lamarr longed to act and was no doubt thrilled to star as an extra in the 1930 film Money on the Street.

The film brought her to the attention of the Austrian producer Max Reinhardt (1873-1943), who cast her in a play called The Weaker Sex. Enamoured with her performance at the Theater in der Josefstadt, Reinhardt persuaded Lamarr to travel with him to Berlin. Whilst she readily agreed, on arrival she was snatched up by the Russian theatre producer Alexis Granowsky (1890-1937), who cast her in The Trunks of Mr. O.F. (1931). Following this, Lamarr played the lead role in the German comedy film No Money Needed (1932).

In 1933, the Czech film producer Gustav Machatý (1901-63) cast Lamarr in the lead role of Ecstasy, an erotic romantic drama. Lamarr, billed as Heddie Kiesler, played  Eva Jermann, the neglected young wife of an ignorant older man. Fed up of being ignored, Eva files for divorce and falls in love with a younger man, which makes her ex-husband jealous.

The film portrayed sexual intercourse, although never showing more than the actors’ faces. There were also brief nude scenes, which gave Ecstasy and Lamarr a notorious reputation. Despite giving Lamarr international recognition, the film was considered overly sexual in the United States and Germany, where it was subsequently banned.

Dismayed with the infamous reputation brought on by Ecstasy, Lamarr retreated from cinematography and focused on the theatre. Lamarr played the lead roles in several plays, often receiving roses from her admirers. Fans tried to sneak backstage to meet her after each performance, including the alleged third-richest man in Austria, Friedrich Mandl (1900-77). Initially, Lamarr sent Mandl away, but his determination to speak to her, plus his charm and personality, won her over.

Lamarr’s parents disapproved of her relationship with Mandl. He often attended parties with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, despite their opposing political beliefs. Yet, Lamarr ignored her parents’ warnings and married Mandl in Vienna on 10th August 1933. At 18, Lamarr was much younger than the 33-year-old previously married Mandl. Initially, living with Mandl in his castle-like home, Schloss Schwarzenau, probably felt like a fairytale, but after he disapproved of her role in Ecstasy and prevented her from further acting, the illusion soon wore off.

Feeling like a prisoner, Lamarr only left Schloss Schwarzenau to accompany her husband to business meetings, where he met with scientists involved with military technology. Whilst she felt disheartened about her marriage, the meetings enhanced her knowledge and scientific talent. Unfortunately, not even these meetings made her situation bearable, so Lamarr fled to the United Kingdom in 1937. Writing about her relationship with Mandl thirty years later, Lamarr said, “I knew very soon that I could never be an actress while I was his wife. … He was the absolute monarch in his marriage. … I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own.”

Shortly after arriving in London, Louis B. Mayer (1884-1957), the co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM), approached Lamarr, offering her $125 a week to work with him in Hollywood. She refused the proposal but decided to travel to the United States anyway. Travelling on the same liner as Mayer, she impressed him enough to raise his offer to $500, which she accepted. Following his advice, she changed her acting name to Hedy Lamarr to distance herself from the reputation she garnered as Heddie Kiesler. The surname was suggested by Mayer’s wife, a fan of the late silent-film actress Barbara La Marr (1896-1926).

After promoting Lamarr as the “world’s most beautiful woman,” Mayer loaned her to the film producer Walter Wanger (1894-1968), who wanted to make an English version of the French film, Pépé le Moko (1937). Titled Algiers (1938), Lamarr played Gaby, a beautiful woman who attracts the attention of a thief called Pepe le Moko. Lamarr’s beauty “took one’s breath away,” and Algiers inspired the 1942 film Casablanca, written with Lamarr in mind. When Mayer refused to release Lamarr from her contract, the lead role went to Ingrid Bergman (1915-82).

Following the success of Lamarr’s first American film, she was frequently typecast as “the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origin”. She portrayed such roles in Lady of the Tropics (1939) and I Take This Woman (1940), as well as Boom Town (1940) and Comrade X (1940) alongside “The King of Hollywood” Clark Gable (1901-60). Lamarr also starred with James Stewart (1908-97) in Come Live with Me (1941) and Ziegfeld Girl (1941), the latter also featuring Judy Garland (1922-69).

In 1939, Lamarr married the American author and screenwriter Eugene Willford “Gene” Markey (1895-1980). Rather than having children of their own, Lamarr and Markey adopted James Lamarr Markey (1939). At least, that is what they told the world. Many years later, James discovered he was Lamarr’s biological son with the actor John Loder (1898-1988), who Lamarr married in 1943 after divorcing Markey in 1941.

During the war years, Lamarr continued acting, starring in films such as White Cargo (1942), The Heavenly Body (1944) and The Conspirators (1944). In 1945, she made her final film under her contract with MGM, Her Highness and the Bellboy, in which she played a princess who fell in love with a New Yorker.

During her Hollywood years, Lamarr often felt homesick, although she helped her mother escape to the United States following the Anschluss in 1938. Lamarr also did not understand why so many Americans adored her and found the notion of signing autographs peculiar. In her spare time, Lamarr developed concepts for inventions, for example, a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink. She even advised aviation tycoon Howard Hughes (1905-76) to make his aeroplanes more streamlined.

When the Americans entered the Second World War, Lamarr desired to help and attempted to join the National Inventors Council. The NIC repeatedly refused her application and suggested she sell war bonds instead. Whilst she agreed to attend war bond rallies, Lamarr’s desire to invent something to aid the war did not abate. After learning that radio-controlled torpedoes could be jammed and set off course, Lamarr devised on paper a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. Lamarr asked a friend and pianist, George Antheil (1900-59), to help her make the device. Lamarr told him that she “did not feel very comfortable, sitting there in Hollywood and making lots of money when the world was in such a state”, so Antheil agreed to help.

By synchronizing a small player-piano mechanism with radio signals, Antheil made Lamarr’s invention a reality, and she was granted a patent under US Patent 2,292,387 on 11th August 1942. Lamarr used her married name, Hedy Kiesler Markey, to keep her passion for science separate from her Hollywood career. Unfortunately, Lamarr’s device was too technologically advanced for the US Navy to implement. They also refused to consider inventions by non-military personnel.

Disheartened by the rejection, Lamarr returned to acting and married John Loder in 1943. As well as their son James, who Loder adopted (perhaps he did not know he was the biological father), they had two children, Denise (1945) and Anthony (1947).

Whilst Lamarr left MGM in 1945, she did not stop acting. Lamarr briefly formed a production company with the producer Jack Chertok (1906-95) and made the thriller The Strange Woman (1946), in which she also starred. The film went over budget and only made minor profits, as did their second thriller, Dishonored Lady (1947). An attempt at a comedy, Let’s Live a Little (1948), also failed to make much profit.

After the third flop, Lamarr gave up her attempts to produce a successful film and returned to acting for other companies. By this time, she had also divorced John Loder. Following these unhappy years, Lamarr finally enjoyed her biggest success when she started as Delilah in Paramount Pictures’ Samson and Delilah (1949). Based on the Biblical story about a strongman whose secret lies in his uncut hair from the Book of Judges, it was the third highest-grossing film ever at the time of its release.

Lamarr was chosen to play Delilah from a large selection of actresses, which included Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Maureen O’Hara, Lucille Ball and Vivien Leigh. Burt Lancaster was the first choice to play Samson, but due to injury, he declined. Instead, Victor Mature (1913-99) was given the role. The film remained true to the Biblical story, except for making Delilah the younger sister of Samson’s wife, played by Angela Lansbury (b. 1925). At the 23rd Academy Awards in 1951, Samson and Delilah won for Best Color Art Direction and Best Color Costume Design.

In 1950, Lamarr returned to MGM and starred in A Lady Without Passport (1950), which unfortunately flopped. After this, Lamarr starred in two Paramount films, Copper Canyon (1950) and My Favorite Spy (1951), but neither achieved the same accolades as Samson and Delilah.

After marrying “swing-king” Ernst Heinrich “Teddy” Stauffer in 1951, a marriage that only lasted a year, Lamarr’s career went into decline. After her fifth marriage in 1953, this time to a Texas oilman called W. Howard Lee, she travelled to Italy to star in Loves of Three Queens, in which she played multiple roles. On returning to the US, Lamarr starred as Joan of Arc in The Story of Mankind (1957) and the lead in The Female Animal (1958). In 1960, Lamarr was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but in 1966, while filming Picture Mommy Dead, she collapsed from nervous exhaustion and was replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917-2016). Lamarr never acted again.

In 1960, Lamarr divorced her fifth husband, and three years later, married her divorce lawyer, Lewis J. Boies. Sadly, Lamarr’s sixth marriage only lasted two years, after which she remained single for the rest of her life.

In an attempt to remain popular in the Hollywood industry, Lamarr agreed to let Leo Guild and Cy Rice ghostwrite her autobiography Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. Unfortunately, she did not read what they had written before it went to publication and only realised afterwards that the book was “fictional, false, vulgar, scandalous, libellous and obscene.” When questioned about the autobiography on the Merv Griffin Show, Lamarr responded, “That’s not my book.”

Whilst the 1960s resulted in the end of Hedy Lamarr’s acting career, her 1942 invention was finally used by the US Navy. After updating the design, Navy ships were equipped with the device in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unfortunately, Lamarr did not receive recognition for the invention until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation honoured Lamarr and Antheil with a special Pioneer Award. Lamarr also became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award.

From the 1970s onwards, Lamarr lived a secluded lifestyle. She turned down opportunities to appear in television commercials and stage shows due to disinterest and failing eyesight. In 1981, Lamarr moved to Miami Beach, Florida, where she rarely left the house. Instead, she spent six to seven hours on the phone with friends and family rather than seeing them in person.

On 19th January 2000, Hedy Lamarr passed away from heart disease at the age of 89. Following her final wishes, her son Anthony flew to Vienna to scatter her ashes in the Vienna Woods. Lamarr’s life as an actress was celebrated during her lifetime, but her contribution to science and technology remained largely unknown. Using her original invention, scientists have made significant developments, leading to many devices used in the 21st century, such as GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

In recognition of her contribution to science, the Austrian Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) named the quantum telescope on the roof of the University of Vienna after Lamarr in 2013. The following year, Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her development of frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology. The same year, the Vienna Central Cemetery erected a monument in her memory.

On 9th November 2015, on what would have been Hedy Lamarr’s 101st birthday, Google honoured her with a “Google Doodle” on their homepage (although not in the United Kingdom). Designed by Jennifer Hom, the animated video illustration tells Lamarr’s story, emphasising both her acting and scientific careers. Using film posters from the 1940s, Hom drew the glamorous movie star but emphasised Lamarr was more interested in helping the Allied war effort during World War II than in the roles she was being offered on screen.

In 2019, Lamarr received her most recent posthumous honour when her name was given to an asteroid. The 32730 Lamarr was first spotted in 1951 by German astronomer Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth (1892-1979). It remained unnamed until 2019.

Whilst there was no doubt Hedy Lamarr was a talented, beautiful actress, gender stereotypes prevented her from achieving her full potential as a scientist and inventor. She is not credited with the invention of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but her initial ideas helped many people develop the technologies relied upon today. It is impossible to imagine what Lamarr could have created if given the chance, and the posthumous awards and recognition barely make up for the lack of opportunity women had in the early 20th century.


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The Strange Case of Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are among the top stories of the 19th century. After selling hundreds of thousands of copies since their first publication, the name Robert Louis Stevenson is recognised by a significant number of people. Despite being a popular author, Stevenson’s novels are better known than his own life, which proves just as interesting for those who take the time to read about him.

Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 13th November 1850 to Thomas Stevenson (1818-87) and Margaret Isabella Balfour (1829-97). On reaching 18, Stevenson changed the spelling of Lewis to Louis, then in 1873 dropped Balfour from his name. Thomas Stevenson worked as a lighthouse engineer, and his father, Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), after whom Robert Louis Stevenson was named, built several lighthouses around Scotland. The Stevenson family had a long history of lighthouse work, but the young Robert Stevenson chose not to follow that profession.

As an only childhood, Stevenson grew up under the protection of his nurse, Alison Cunningham “Cummy”. Stevenson inherited weak lungs from his mother’s side, and Cummy nursed him through several childhood illnesses, telling him stories from the Bible. Stevenson dedicated one of his future stories to Cummy, calling her “My second mother, my first wife. The angel of my infant life.”

Stevenson found it difficult to fit in at the local school, and because of his many illnesses, he did not learn to read until he was seven years old. Nonetheless, he loved to hear stories and frequently dictated his own to his nurse or parents. As soon as he could write, Stevenson compulsively composed stories throughout his childhood, an activity his father encouraged. At 16, Stevenson’s father helped him publish his first work, The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666, which gave an account of the Covenanters’ rebellion. This was a tale recounted by his nurse many times during his bouts of ill health.

In 1867, Stevenson began studying engineering at Edinburgh University. Despite his love of writing, Stevenson’s father expected him to join the family business, but Stevenson showed no enthusiasm and avoided attending lectures. Instead, Stevenson joined The Speculative Society with other students at the university. The society predominantly focused on debates and public speaking, and Stevenson made friends with several people who encouraged his passion for storytelling.

To encourage his son to take his studies seriously, Thomas Stevenson took him on trips to various lighthouses during the summer months. This backfired when Stevenson enjoyed the experience because it gave him more writing opportunities, rather than evoking an interest in the engineering work. Although disappointed, Stevenson’s father agreed he could pursue a life of letters but insisted his son earn a degree in Law to provide some security.

As well as turning his back on engineering, Stevenson rejected religion, declaring himself an atheist. This decision appalled his parents, causing his father to proclaim, “You have rendered my whole life a failure.” Stevenson shocked them further by choosing to wear Bohemian clothing and grow his hair long.

In 1873, Stevenson visited his cousin in France, where he met Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), an art critic who became Stevenson’s literary adviser. Colvin set Stevenson on the path to fame by posting his article Roads in The Portfolio, a British art magazine. After returning to Great Britain, Stevenson spent time getting to know writers in London, including poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), who had an amputated left leg. Henley inspired Stevenson’s most famous character, Long John Silver (Treasure Island).

Toward the end of 1873, Stevenson returned to France to recuperate from an illness in Menton on the French Riviera. While in France, he spent time in artists colonies and visited many galleries and theatres. Back in Scotland, Stevenson qualified for the Scottish bar in 1875 but never practised law. Instead, he continued writing and travelling.

In 1876, Stevenson took a canoe voyage through Belgium and France with Walter Simpson, who he met at The Speculative Society in Edinburgh. The trip finished in Grez, North France, where he made the acquaintance of the American magazine writer, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne (1840-1914). She had recently moved to France with her children, Isobel and Lloyd, after separating from her husband. When Stevenson returned home, he could not stop thinking about Fanny, so went back to France the following year.

Fanny returned to America in 1878. That year, Stevenson conducted a lengthy walking trip, which he wrote about in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). Over twelve days, Stevenson walked 120 miles in the barren Cévennes mountains in south-central France. Several hikers have retraced Stevenson’s route, beginning in Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille and finishing at Saint-Jean-du-Gard. The journey, which Stevenson completed alone, cost him his health, although this did not prevent him from travelling on the steamship Devonia, to join Fanny in California.

Stevenson’s health deteriorated during the crossing of the Atlantic. Approaching death, local ranchers in Monterey, California, nursed him back to health until he felt fit enough to make his way to San Francisco, where Fanny lived. Unfortunately, Stevenson did not have much money and lived “all alone on forty-five cents a day, and sometimes less, with quantities of hard work and many heavy thoughts.” When he eventually reached the city, Stevenson was once again at death’s door. This time, the newly-divorced Fanny nursed him back to health.

In May 1880, Stevenson married Fanny. Whilst he had regained some of his health, he declared he felt like “a mere complication of cough and bones, much fitter for an emblem of mortality than a bridegroom.” For their honeymoon, the couple spent the summer at an abandoned mining camp on Mount Saint Helena. Today, the area is known as Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Stevenson’s parents were not overly pleased about the marriage, but after several trips to Britain, Fanny helped patch up the relationship between mother, father and son.

In 1884, Stevenson and his wife settled in Bournemouth, Dorset, where they purchased a cottage called Skerryvore. Still poorly, Stevenson spent a lot of time confined to his bed but enjoyed regular visits from the neighbouring author, Henry James (1843-1916). Despite his physical health, Stevenson felt able to write and produced many of his well-known works during his three years of bed rest.

Before settling in Dorset, Stevenson wrote, serialised and published one of his popular stories, Treasure Island. It is a story about pirates and a treasure hunt on a tropical isle. The story begins at the Admiral Benbow Inn in Bristol. Stevenson also mentioned other Bristol buildings, including Spyglass Tavern, which may be the present-day Hole in the Wall pub, and the Llandoger Trow, an historic public house dating from 1664. Stevenson aimed Treasure Island at children and started publishing chapters in the Young Folks magazine. Once all the chapters were written, it was printed as a book in 1883 by Cassell & Co. To date, it remains one of the most dramatised and adapted novels in history.

Also published in the Young Folks magazine from May to July 1886 was Kidnapped, a novel set during the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The full title of the story is Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; His Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson, yet that is a bit of a mouthful. Critics suspect Stevenson loosely based the story on James Annesley (1715-60), who was kidnapped by his uncle Richard and shipped from Dublin to America.

Another work written during Stevenson’s period of bed rest was the Gothic novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Aimed this time at adults, it is a short story about a lawyer investigating the strange occurrences surrounding his friend Dr Henry Jekyll and a sinister man called Edward Hyde. The book led to the turn of phrase, “Jekyll and Hyde”, to refer to someone with a dual nature: good and evil.

Critics continue to speculate the meaning behind Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Some interpret it as the examples of humanity versus animal or civilisation versus barbarism. Others suggest it demonstrates the difference between God and the Devil, or even the debate between Scottish nationalism and the union with England and Wales. The story also deals with the evils of addiction or substance abuse, which can corrupt a man. Stevenson left much of this up to the readers’ interpretation but said he had always been intrigued by how human personalities reflect both good and evil. He named one of the titular characters after his friend, Reverend Walter Jekyll (1849-1929), the younger brother of the renowned gardener, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932).

Following his father’s death in 1887, Stevenson took his doctor’s advice and moved to a different climate. Taking his mother and family with him, Stevenson headed for the United States, where he spent the winter in the Adirondacks, New York. The Stevensons resided in a “cure cottage” intended for sufferers of tuberculosis. Now serving as a museum called Stevenson Cottage, Stevenson wrote some of his best essays while residing there on the Saranac Lake.

After not showing much sign of improvement, Stevenson decided to try a warmer climate. He set sail from New York in 1888, stopping first in Hawaii, where he befriended King Kalākaua (1836-91). Kalākaua, sometimes referred to as “The Merrie Monarch”, ran a choir called Kalākaua’s Singing Boys, who enjoyed performing for Stevenson and his family. Kalākaua also played the ukulele and was inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame in 1997.

Stevenson returned to Hawaii several times while sailing around the Pacific on his hired yacht, Casco. When not in Hawaii, he visited the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Samoan Islands. Stevenson recorded his experiences in letters, which were published after his death. He also spent time completing a novel, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, and a short story, The Bottle Imp. The latter is set in the Pacific, but the novel contains themes of piracy and the Jacobite rising of 1745.

During his voyages, Stevenson met several notable people, including Tembinok’ (1878-91), the High Chief of Abemama in the Gilbert Islands. The tyrannical chief allowed Stevenson and his family to stay on the island on the condition that they did not give or sell money, liquor or tobacco to his subjects. In his letters, Stevenson described Tembinok’ as “greedy of things new and foreign. House after house, chest after chest, in the palace precinct, is already crammed with clocks, musical boxes, blue spectacles, umbrellas, knitted waistcoats, bolts of stuff, tools, rifles, fowling-pieces, medicines, European foods, sewing-machines, and, what is more extraordinary, stoves.”

On Stevenson’s final trip from Australia to Samoa, he met “Tin Jack” Buckland (1864-97), a trader in the South Pacific. He told the family all about his adventures and almost set fire to the ship after some fireworks in his luggage accidentally went off. Stevenson used Tin Jack as the basis of a character in his novel The Wrecker (1892), which he wrote with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947).

In December 1889, the Stevensons arrived in Samoa, where they purchased 314¼ acres of land in the village of Vailima. They built the first two-storey building on the island and invited their extended family to live with them. Stevenson immediately immersed himself in the country’s culture, renaming himself Tusitala, which meant “Teller of Tales”. He collected stories from the locals in exchange for his own, which were translated into Samoan.

The more Stevenson learned about the Samoans, the more he understood the risk of colonisation by foreigners and higher powers, such as Britain, Germany and the United States. Putting his storytelling to one side, Stevenson used his knowledge of the law to write letters to The Times about European and American misconduct. He expressed his concern for the Polynesians, who feared the loss of their culture to foreign influences. For most of his life, Stevenson avoided politics, but after experiencing the situation in Samoa, he openly allied himself with chief Mata’afa Iosefo (1832-1912), whose rival Susuga Malietoa Laupepa (1841-1898) was supported by the Germans.

During his time in Samoa, Stevenson wrote over 700,000 words, completing several short stories and novels, including The Beach of Falesá (1892); Catriona (1893), the sequel to Kidnapped; and The Ebb-Tide (1894). Many of his works from this period reflect life in the South Pacific, although critics find many parallels with his earlier works. In 1894, he began working on Weir of Hermiston, about which Stevenson exclaimed, “It’s so good that it frightens me.” Whilst the story is set in Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars, Stevenson incorporated examples of Samoan culture. Although he felt it was his best work, Stevenson never had the chance to finish it.

On 3rd December 1894, Stevenson turned to his wife and exclaimed, “What’s that? Does my face look strange?” and promptly collapsed. Within a few hours, he passed away from a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 44. The Samoans insisted on guarding his body through the night and carrying him on their shoulders to Mount Vaea for his burial the following day.

As per Stevenson’s request, his tombstone was inscribed with his own words:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

The epigraph was translated into Samoan and sung as a song of grief.

Stevenson was a celebrity of his time and admired by many authors, including Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.M. Barrie and Ernest Hemingway. G. K. Chesterton, the creator of the fictional priest-detective Father Brown, declared that Stevenson “seemed to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins.” Spillikins is another name for the game Pick-up Sticks. Unfortunately, as time passed, a lot of Stevenson’s work was forgotten, with only Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde remaining popular. He was excluded from the first seven editions of The Norton Anthology of English Literature until his name was resurrected in 2006.

Since its publication, Treasure Island has been labelled a children’s book, yet American film critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1996, “I was talking to a friend the other day who said he’d never met a child who liked reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Neither have I … But I did read the books later, when I was no longer a kid, and I enjoyed them enormously …The fact is, Stevenson is a splendid writer of stories for adults, and he should be put on the same shelf with Joseph Conrad and Jack London instead of in between Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan.” After reevaluating Stevenson’s work in the late 20th century as adult literature, critics declared his writing superb, ranking him the 26th-most-translated author in the world, coming just below Charles Dickens in 25th place.

Robert Louis Stevenson is commemorated across the world for his contribution to literature and his insight into Samoan politics. The Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh devotes an entire room to the author, which is filled with some of his possessions. Other memorabilia is located at Stevenson House in California and the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, located in his former home in Samoa.

In 2013, the Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin unveiled a statue of Stevenson as a child with his dog outside Colinton Parish Church. There is also a bronze relief memorial to Stevenson in St Giles’ cathedral. Another statue is located in Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, and six US schools bear his name. To mark the 100th anniversary of Stevenson’s death in 1994, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a series of commemorative £1 notes.

Robert Louis Stevenson is no longer forgotten, at least in name, and his books are widely read across the globe. Yet, as is the case with many well-known names, Stevenson’s life proves just as interesting as his stories. He touched many lives in his relatively short life and achieved more than the average person despite his many illnesses. For that, he should receive as many accolades as his written work.


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Twinings of London

In 1662, the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) married Charles II (1630-85), bringing with her a tea-drinking habit that changed the course of British history. After serving the beverage to members of the English Royal court, tea became a fashionable drink amongst the aristocracy. For a while, only the rich and privileged drank tea, but in the 18th century, one particular family introduced the drink to the nation. Three hundred years later, the same company, Twinings, continues to supply Britain with teas of several varieties, making it one of the oldest companies in the country. The company also holds the record for the world’s oldest continually-used logo.

The Twining family moved to London from Gloucestershire in 1684. They originally worked as millers in the countryside, but a recession forced them to try their luck in the city. Nine-year-old Thomas Twining (1675-1741) moved with his parents, expecting to follow in their footsteps. He took up an apprenticeship as a weaver and worked hard to become a Freeman of the City of London in 1701. Aged 26, Thomas Twining turned his back on weaving and joined the East India Company under Thomas D’Aeth (1678-1745), who introduced him to the early shipments of tea from Asia.

After working in the tea trade for a few years, Twining saw the money-making potentials of the leaves and drink, so decided to set out on his own. In 1706, Twining purchased Tom’s Coffee House from Thomas D’Aeth, which stood at No. 216 Strand, London. Coffee houses were a popular location for men of all classes throughout the city. One notable frequenter was the artist William Hogarth (1697-1764), who painted a portrait of Twining in lieu of payment. Coffee shops did not only sell coffee, but they also provided customers with alcoholic beverages, such as gin and ale. Twining saw a place in the market for tea and quickly grew a reputation for having the finest blends in the capital.

As tea grew in popularity, the British government placed high taxes on the product. Only the rich could afford to drink tea, and it quickly became a status symbol. Customers began requesting dry tea leaves to take home to share with their wives and friends since women were not allowed in coffee houses. In 1707, 100g of Twinings Gunpowder Green Tea cost £160 in today’s money. To put this into perspective, in 2022, Twinings sell 100g of the same blend for around £7.

In 1717, Thomas Twining purchased the three adjacent buildings and expanded his coffee house into a shop called the Golden Lyon. Three hundred years later, the shop still exists. By 1722, Twining had enough money to buy Dial House in Twickenham, which remained the family home until 1889. The tea business provided a significant income and appealed to royalty as well as upper-class tea drinkers. By 1734, the coffee shop sold tea almost exclusively.

When Thomas Twining passed away in 1741, his son Daniel (d.1762) inherited the business and family home. At the time, Daniel was married to Ann March, but she passed away two years later. In 1745, Daniel married his second wife, Mary Little (1726-1804), who became a mother to Daniel’s son Thomas and produced three more sons, Daniel, Richard, and John. Daniel Twining expanded the business, attracting attention across the Atlantic. The Governor of Boston in the United States became a regular customer, so Twining began to export tea to America.

In 1753, Twining took on his nephew, Nathaniel Carter, as his business partner. They worked together for almost ten years before Twining’s death in 1762. His children were far too young to take on the Golden Lyon, by then known as Twining’s (with an apostrophe), and Carter no longer wanted to look after the shop and exports. Despite women’s lower status in society, Mary Twining took over the running of the business, increasing the number of exports.

Mary intended to run the tea business until her eldest son came of age. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1765 after receiving a blow to the head from a cricket ball. Her second son, Richard (1749-1824), left Eton College at 14 to help run the company. Trade was difficult due to increasing taxes, the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party protest, but Mary and Richard managed to keep Twining’s afloat. Mary refused to purchase any tea smuggled in from France or Holland, which were cheaper but typically diluted and of poorer quality. Before her death in 1804, Mary officially made Richard head of the family business.

By the time Richard Twining took over as head of Twining’s, he had extensive knowledge of the tea trade. As well as running the business, Richard had expert negotiating skills and joined in political debates about trading. In 1784, the London Tea Dealers elected Twining as chairman, meaning Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806) came to him for advice on tea taxes. Twining convinced Pitt that lower taxes on tea would increase sales and reduce smuggling. Following Twining’s advice, Pitt signed the Commutation Act of 1784, reducing the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%.

In 1787, Twining commissioned a logo for his tea business, settling on a simple typeface and opting to remove the apostrophe from the name. The logo first appeared above the entrance to the shop on the Strand, along with figurines of a golden lion and two Chinese men. The lion, which is lying down (lion couchant), is a sign of respect towards Thomas Twining, the founder of the business. The two Chinese men represent the tea trade. To begin with, only China produced and traded tea with the western world. The logo is used on all Twinings‘ products today, and the figurines still sit above the entranceway in London.

Richard Twining frequently travelled around Europe, leaving his brother John in charge of the business. He wrote several letters about his trips to his half-brother Thomas, which were published after his death by his grandson in 1887, who titled the books Selections from Papers of the Twining Family. Richard Twining also wrote three papers about the tea trade and Twinings, and in 1793, the East India Company elected him as a director. He continued working until his resignation in 1816 due to poor health.

Before inheriting Twinings, Richard Twining married Mary Aldred in 1771 and had six sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Richard (1772-1857), joined the business in 1794 and took over from Richard Twining Senior following his death on 23rd April 1824. During the 1830s, Richard Junior developed bespoke blends for his customers, and in 1837, Queen Victoria (1819-1901) granted Twinings its first Royal Warrant for tea. Since then, Twinings has supplied British monarchs and their royal households with tea.

Richard Twining was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 5th June 1834. The society provided “substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science.” Twining also followed in his father’s footsteps in the role of director of the East India Company, demonstrating his in-depth knowledge of the tea trade.

Richard Twining was married to Elizabeth Mary Smythies, with whom he had nine children. The eldest boy, also called Richard, was trained to continue the family’s famous business, yet two of the daughters made names for themselves, too. Louisa Twining (1820-1912) devoted herself to helping the poor. She initially aspired to be an art historian, writing books such as Symbols and Emblems of Mediaeval Christian Art (1852) and Types and Figures of the Bible (1854), but in her 30s, she changed her focus to alleviating poverty in Britain.

As children, the Twinings had a nurse who came from one of the poorest districts in London. With these conditions in mind, Louisa helped establish a home for workhouse girls and set up the Workhouse Visiting Society. With Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), Louisa formed the Workhouse Infirmary Nursing Association, helping to train poor women as nurses. Louisa also joined the Association for the Improvement of the Infirmaries of London Workhouses, chaired by Charles Dickens (1812-70). The Poor Law Inspector, Uvedale Corbett, said Louisa was “the most practical woman I have ever known amongst the many who have taken an interest in the subject.”

Louisa’s older sister, Elizabeth (1805-99), also contributed to the treatment of the poor. She established “mothers’ meetings” and published Readings for Mothers’ Meetings and Ten Years in a Ragged School. Elizabeth also worked as a botanical illustrator under her father’s patronage. Her observations of flowers and plants at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew feature in the two-volume Illustrations of the Natural Order of Plants published in 1849 and 1855.

Following her father’s death, Elizabeth remained at Dial House until her death on Christmas day in 1899. In her will, she left the house to the people of Twickenham for use as the vicarage.

Twinings continued to flourish under successive members of the family. In 1910, the much sought after tea company opened its first shop in France and continued making different blends. In 1933, they marketed their famous English Breakfast tea, which blended a combination of Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan leaves.

Despite the rationing of tea during the Second World War, Twinings continued to flourish. To keep up morale in British troops, Twinings supplied tea parcels for Red Cross prisoners-of-war, the Women’s Voluntary Service, and YMCA wartime canteens. As a whole, Britain purchased more tea than weapons during the war. The Royal Air Force dropped 75,000 tea bombs into the occupied Netherlands, which contained packets of tea and uplifting messages from the British.

In 1956, Twinings began selling their tea in teabags for the first time. Teabags were not a new invention, but the war years and lack of materials prevented Twinings from jumping on the bandwagon earlier. The first teabag was accidentally invented by New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan, who wanted to send samples of tea to customers in small silken bags. Sullivan intended the recipients to cut open the bag and pour out the tea leaves, but many people assumed the bag was some sort of infuser and put the entire bag into the teapot.

In response to his customers’ reaction to his sample bags of tea, Sullivan developed the first purpose-made tea bags, using gauze rather than silk. The invention was quickly accepted by America, but it took a while for the British to come on board. Eventually, Twinings’ rivals, Tetley, introduced teabags to Britain. Britain was slow to adapt and, by the 1960s, only 3% of tea was sold in teabags. Yet by 2007, this had risen to 96%.

In 1964, the British food processing and retailing company Associated British Foods plc (ABF) acquired Twinings. ABF oversees several private and branded British labels, including Ryvita, Silver Spoon, Kingsmill and Jordans cereal. In the past, customers visited the Twinings store on the Strand to purchase tea, but with the growth of supermarkets and convenience shops, Twinings products became widely available.

In 1972, Twinings were the first company to win the Queen’s Award for Export. Established in 1965, the award recognises the outstanding achievement of UK businesses and allows them to use the award’s emblem on marketing materials, such as packaging and adverts.

Fast forward to the 21st century, Twinings continue to thrive as one of Britain’s popular tea brands. In 2007, the company celebrated its 300th birthday, just three years after releasing their world-famous Everyday TeaTwinings describe their Everyday Tea as “well-rounded” and “invigorating”. It contains a blend of tea from Yunnan (China), Assam (India) and Africa.

In 2010, green tea grew in popularity, so Twinings relaunched the green tea range, adding flavours such as Mango & Lychee and Orange & Lotus Flower. They also relaunched their Earl Grey tea, inviting the 6th Earl Grey, Richard Grey (1939-2013), to add his signature to the packaging. Twinings first produced Earl Grey tea in 1831 by blending bergamot oil into their tea leaves. They named the product after the British Prime Minister, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845), although the reasons for this remain apocryphal.

Following the success of their green and Earl Grey ranges, Twinings relaunched their Infusions range in 2012. This brought twenty new flavours of tea onto the market, including strawberry & raspberry, lemon & ginger, blackcurrant & blueberry, buttermint, liquorice and cranberry. Infusions are caffeine- and sugar-free and can be drunk hot or cold, making them popular all year round.

In 2013, Twinings expanded the 216 Strand shop to include a tea tasting bar so that customers could try it before they buy. This led to the launch of Twinings’ luxury Signature Range, which is personally created by members of the team. Andrew Whittingham, for instance, took inspiration from spice markets in Zanzibar to create “an unusual blend of Rwandan black tea and Rooibos”. Michael Wright, on the other hand, was inspired by “the lowlands of Assam with the humid rainy season, the highlands of Darjeeling, and the gardens of Ceylon” to produce the “Perfect Afternoon Loose Leaf Tea”. For the upcoming Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II, Stephen Twinings produced a luxury tea based on the original blends the company sold in its early years. Twinings is also the only person allowed to deal with royal customers.

To celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016, the Royal Warrant Holders requested a commemorative blend of tea in a limited edition illustrated tin. The design incorporates symbols to represent the Queen’s status as Head of State and Church, her love of horse racing, and the style of hat she often wears in public. Unfortunately, the tea is no longer available to purchase.

The year 2017 marked the 300th anniversary of the Golden Lyon shop in the Strand. To mark the occasion, Twinings released yet another new range of tea. Known as SuperBlends, the teas aim to promote health and wellbeing and are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Each blend aims to benefit at least one aspect of the customer’s wellbeing, for example, metabolism, digestion, sleep, immunity, energy, relaxation and the heart.

Most of Twinings’ fruity flavoured teas are drinkable hot or cold, but until 2018, all teas required brewing in hot water before being drunk or cooled. Seeing a gap in the market, Twinings launched their Cold In’fuse range, which used cold water instead of hot. Dehydration is becoming a problem in Britain, with only 1 in 10 adults drinking an adequate amount of water. Many people claim they struggle to remain hydrated because they do not like water. Twinings’ Cold In’fuse essentially infuses the water with their much-loved flavours of herbal and fruit teas, allowing consumers to enjoy a healthy drink without needing to put the kettle on. Two years later, Twinings launched a Wellness version of their Cold In’fuse containing added vitamins and minerals.

Today, 216 Strand London provides wellbeing information and support, as well as Twinings’ extensive range of tea. With tasting experiences and masterclasses, Twinings aims to move with the times and supply teas to suit its customer’s needs. Of course, the more traditional teas remain some of Twinings’ best-selling products.

As of 2019, Twinings is Britain’s best-selling tea brand, with PG Tips and Yorkshire following in second and third place. Twinings may charge more for their tea than other companies, but only they supply such an extensive range. From humble beginnings to Queen’s favourite, Twinings has a history of success and has made Britain a stereotypical tea-drinking nation.


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