The Father of Modern Photography

Situated in a converted 16th-century stable at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire is a museum dedicated to one of the owners of the building and the nearby village. Whilst the French inventor Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) is usually recorded as the inventor of photography, Lacock owner William Henry Fox Talbot equally deserves that title. The museum demonstrates the history of photography from Talbot’s era up until the present day and explores Talbot’s techniques and processes.

William Henry Fox Talbot was born on 11th February 1800 to a soldier called William Davenport Talbot and the daughter of the 2nd Earl of Ilchester, Lady Elisabeth Fox Strangways. When he was only five months old, Talbot inherited Lacock Abbey following the sudden death of his father. Unfortunately, the estate came with a £30,000 debt, which was eventually paid off when his mother married the sympathetic Captain Charles Feilding in 1804. Feilding carefully managed the estate on his behalf to allow Talbot to focus on his schooling.

Talbot’s education began with the Scottish governess Agnes Porter (c.1752-1814) before attending a primary school in Rottingdean. Talbot did not live at Lacock during his early years. Instead, he lived with his mother on the south coast of England while the Abbey was let out to various lodgers. For his secondary education, Talbot boarded at Harrow School in Greater London. During his teens, Talbot took a keen interest in chemistry and used his pocket money to buy equipment for experiments. He also excelled at mathematics, which he went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge.

By the age of 21, Talbot could legally take possession of Lacock, but it was let to a local MP at the time, so Talbot decided to visit Europe with his stepfather until the house became vacant. During his travels, Talbot met the polymath John Herschel (1792-1871), with whom he went on to collaborate, and Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), who influenced Talbot’s research into light and optics. In 1826, Talbot submitted a paper called Some Experiments on Coloured Flame to the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, followed by an essay to the Quarterly Journal of Science about monochromatic light the following year.

In 1832, Talbot married Constance Mundy (1811-80) of Markeaton Hall. Constance was the youngest daughter of Francis Mundy (1771–1837), a Member of Parliament for Derbyshire. In the same year of their marriage, Talbot became the MP for Chippenham, meaning the newlywed couple had to wait a year before they could take their honeymoon. In June 1833, the Talbots finally travelled to Lake Como in Italy for six months, where they attempted to capture the scenery on paper with pen and brush. Constance proved to have a natural artistic talent, but Talbot struggled with his efforts. Determined to think of a solution to his difficulties, Talbot began experimenting with various methods, which eventually led to the negative-positive process of photography.

Talbot initially experimented with a camera obscura, which used natural light to reflect views onto a surface for an artist to trace. Although this made it slightly easier for Talbot to produce drawings, he did not take naturally to using pen and ink. Instead, Talbot thought, “How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed on paper.”

To attempt to capture images, Talbot coated ordinary paper with table salt and silver nitrate, which he placed in the sun with an opaque object, such as a leaf, resting on top. Talbot discovered that the paper became dark in the sunlight, except for the section covered by the object, which left a silhouette of white paper. Talbot called these creations sciagraphs, which is Greek for “shadow drawings”.

Talbot’s early sciagraphs did not survive for long because after he exposed the white silhouette to the light, it too began to darken. Throughout the summer of 1843, Talbot experimented with ways to stabilise the images, eventually developing a wash of potassium iodide that successfully fixed the silhouettes in place. Pleased with his discovery, Talbot set up several modified camera obscurae around his estate at Lacock Abbey. He commissioned the Lacock village carpenter to produce little wooden boxes with microscope lenses to reflect silhouettes of buildings around the Abbey onto the light-sensitive paper. His wife, Constance, nicknamed the boxes “mousetraps” and Talbot named the resulting pictures the work of “Lilliputian artists”.

The first successful image Talbot took with a “mousetrap” camera was an oriel window from inside Lacock Abbey. Talbot set up the camera obscura to point at the window and left it for several hours. The result, whilst tiny, captured the intricate details of the diamond-patterned glass, plus the view beyond the window.

When Talbot showed the silhouettes to his friend Herschel, the polymath pointed out Talbot had created a “negative” image where the light sections become dark and vice versa. Herschel suggested the “negative” could be placed on another sheet of light-sensitive paper to reverse the dark and light tones. Herschel subsequently coined the terms “negative” and “positive” in relation to photography.

Despite Talbot’s progress, his political work as a Member of Parliament took up much of his time, thus preventing him from making his findings public. In January 1839, Louis Daguerre revealed to the world that he had “frozen” the images from a camera obscura. Much to Talbot’s dismay, Daguerre was hailed the “father of photography” and rewarded by the French government. It later became clear that Talbot’s and Daguerre’s techniques differed greatly, but it was still a blow to Talbot. It was also revealed that other inventors, such as Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805) and Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833), had captured shadows on paper much earlier but failed to find a way to prevent the images from darkening over time.

In 1840, Talbot observed that if he coated his light-sensitive paper with silver iodide instead of potassium, the paper reacted to sunlight within seconds. This significantly sped up the exposure time when capturing images. Talbot also discovered that applying gallic acid to the already exposed paper developed the image into a full-strength negative. The chemical also revived faded negatives.

Talbot’s mother suggested he name the new technique the “Talbotype”, but Talbot was not too keen to name it after himself like his rival Daguerre and the Daguerreotype. Talbot was also hesitant to declare his process to the world, so took out a patent before introducing his invention. In spring 1841, Talbot publically named the process the “calotype” after the Greek word kalos, meaning “beautiful”.

Patenting the calotype caused more problems than it solved because anyone wishing to use the process needed to apply for a licence. Although Talbot received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society for his photographic discoveries in 1842, he received many criticisms about the way he handled the administration of the calotype licences. Some accused Talbot of hindering the development of photography through money-grabbing schemes, although Talbot did not make much money from patenting his work. Meanwhile, the Daguerrotype became well-established as the principal method of photography.

Attempting to undo the damage to his reputation, Talbot published the first photographic book, The Pencil of Nature (1844). He wrote about potential uses of photography in the future, including portraiture, landscapes, architecture and documentation. The photographs for the publication were taken by Talbot’s former valet, Nicholas Henneman (1813-98), using the calotype process.

Henneman was not the first photographer to adopt the calotype process. Talbot previously licensed the painter Henry Collen (1797-1879) as the first professional calotypist in 1841. Collen subsequently set up the first calotype studio in London where he took one thousand portraits using Talbot’s process. One of his earliest photographs was of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) with one of her daughters.

Talbot set up the second calotype studio, the Reading Establishment, halfway between London and his home at Lacock. Talbot employed Henneman as a photographic assistant, who printed many of Talbot’s photographs. These include a series titled Sunpictures, which featured places mentioned in poems by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), and about 7,000 prints for Talbot’s article in the June 1864 issue of the Art-Union Journal. Henneman also developed negatives for other photographers, totalling over 50,000 prints before the short-lived studio closed in 1847.

Talbot continued to experiment with photographic processes for the rest of his career. He was one of the earliest researchers in the field of spectral analysis and investigated the polarization of light. He pioneered the polarizing microscope, which is still used today to identify minerals and chemical elements in rocks. Talbot also studied the diffraction of light using gratings, which led to the discovery of a phenomenon known today as the Talbot effect.

For development purposes, Talbot made the calotype licences free for scientific uses. Using his scientific knowledge, Talbot experimented with microscope lenses, including those used in telescopes, to take close-up images of flowers and insects. These are known as photomicrographs because they reveal details that are usually difficult to see with the naked human eye.

Whilst the development of photography took up a great deal of Talbot’s time, he still enjoyed his family and political life. His wife, Constance, encouraged his photographic exploits and became the first woman to take a photograph, but she also wanted to focus on raising a family. Talbot began to distance himself from politics during the 1840s, despite being made High Sheriff of Wiltshire by Queen Victoria in 1839, so he could spend time at Lacock with his young children.

Talbot and Constance had four children, Ela Theresa (1835-93), Rosamond Constance (1837-1906), Matilda Caroline (b. 1839) and Charles Henry (1842-1916). Matilda was the only child to marry and provide Talbot with grandchildren, John Henry (b. 1861), Constance (b. 1863) and Matilda Theresa (1871-1958). The youngest granddaughter lived at Lacock, eventually selling the Abbey and village to the National Trust.

Due to Talbot’s passion for photography, Lacock Abbey became the first widely photographed building. Talbot often asked his family and workers to pose, but when no one was available, he took still-life shots of the many statues and ornaments around the estate. As he got older, Talbot began to spend less time at Lacock, preferring to stay in Edinburgh, where his daughter lived with her husband, John Gilchrist-Clark (1830-82) and her children.

In 1863, Talbot received an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh University. As well as a photographer and scientist, Talbot was a geologist, mathematician, botanist, astronomer and classicist. He also helped decipher cuneiform, an ancient Assyrian form of writing, which he wrote about in eight books and over 100 articles.

After a lifetime of achievement, albeit not always recognised, William Henry Fox Talbot passed away in his library at Lacock on 17th September 1877. He is buried in Lacock village cemetery along with several members of his family. Whilst not many people know about his contribution to photography, the National Trust is attempting to change that with a museum dedicated to his work at Lacock Abbey.

Although Louis Daguerre usually takes the credit for the invention of the photograph, Talbot improved the process by developing the negative, which until the introduction of digital cameras, was a vital part of photography. Talbot’s contribution to science helped shape the future, but he also helped preserve the past. Through careful upkeep, much of Lacock appears as it did during Talbot’s time, almost as though he captured it as a photograph for posterity. Lacock is now a place of historical interest and is popular with filmmakers of period dramas. As Talbot’s granddaughter, Matilda, said, “I have a pleasant feeling that Lacock is rather like a tree which will go on growing, even if most of the people that sat under its shade have moved on to another world.”


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 Louisa Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon, is a well-known name in the history of women’s rights. Lesser renowned but still important is her daughter, Louisa Garrett Anderson, who followed Elizabeth into the medical profession and Suffrage campaigns. Whilst her aunt, Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), belonged to the Suffragist movement, Louisa joined the more militant Suffragettes.

Born on 28th July 1873 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Louisa was the eldest of Elizabeth and James George Skelton Anderson’s three children. Elizabeth was a co-founder of the London School of Medicine for Women and later Britain’s first female mayor. Louisa’s father co-owned the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as P&O.

As a child, Louisa attended St Andrews School for Girls Company, a boarding school in Scotland, later renamed St Leonards. Founded in 1877, the first headmistress, Louisa Lumsden (1840-1935), believed “a girl should receive an education that is as good as her brother’s, if not better.” The school advocated for higher education for women, which paved the way for Louisa to receive her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1898.

In 1900, Louisa received her Doctor of Medicine and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the United States for post-graduate studies. Despite her academic achievements, Louisa could not find a hospital willing to employ a female doctor. Instead, she returned to England, where her mother had founded the New Hospital for Women, now renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital. Louisa began working as a surgical assistant in 1902 before working her way up to a senior surgeon. Her role involved gynaecological and general operations, including hysterectomies and uterine cancer surgeries.

Louisa joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1903, which used democratic and non-militant tactics to protest in favour of female emancipation. The NUWSS was led by Millicent Fawcett, the sister of Louisa’s mother. Despite the family connection, Louisa felt frustrated with the NUWSS’s lack of progress, so she became a member of the more radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1907.

The WSPU, led by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and her daughters, Christabel (1880-1958) and Sylvia (1882-1960), were known for their acts of civil unrest, including breaking windows, heckling politicians and holding loud demonstrations and marches. Many members of the WSPU, or Suffragettes as the Daily Mail called them, frequently found themselves arrested for their actions. Regardless of this risk, Louisa devoted her time to the union.

On Friday 18th November 1910, Louisa and her mother joined 300 women to march to parliament and petition Prime Minister Asquith (1852-1928) for voting rights. Louisa and Elizabeth were in the first group to arrive in Westminster, with Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948). They were taken to Asquith’s office, but the Prime Minister refused to see them. After leaving the building, they witnessed a violent clash between the demonstrating women and the police.

Nicknamed ‘Black Friday’, the marching women were met by lines of policemen who subjected them to violence and, in many cases, sexual assault. Male bystanders felt encouraged to join in the melee. Several women suffered injuries, and the police arrested four men and 115 women, including Louisa. The remaining protestors and the families of the women in prison created a public outcry about the unnecessary actions of the police. To keep the peace, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the Home Secretary, ordered the release of all prisoners, stating “on this occasion no public advantage would be gained by proceeding with the prosecution.”

Louisa spent time in Holloway prison in 1912 after throwing a brick through a window and participating in other Suffragette activities. HM Prison Holloway was the largest women’s prison in western Europe until its closure in 2016. Many Suffragettes were imprisoned during the years preceding the First World War. In protest, several women went on hunger strike and were subjected to force-feeding. One of Louisa’s fellow window-smashers, Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), composed the official anthem of the WSPU to words by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952), which they performed during their stay at Holloway in 1912.

In 1914, Louisa left the WSPU to form the United Suffragists, which allowed men and non-militant Suffragists to join former Suffragettes in the ongoing campaign for the right to vote. Supported by the artist Patricia Woodlock (1873-c.1930), Louisa ran the Edinburgh branch of the United Suffragists. They adopted the Votes for Women newspaper, which formerly belonged to the WSPU.

Not much information exists about Louisa’s private life, but her friend, Dr Flora Murray (1869-1923), is frequently described as Louisa’s partner, suggesting a lesbian relationship. Murray, originally from Dumfries, Scotland, started living with Louisa in 1914. Before then, she and Louisa established the Women’s Hospital for Children at 688 Harrow Road, London, in 1912. The hospital provided treatment specifically for children of working-class families. They adopted the WSPU motto, “Deeds not words”, and allowed female doctors to gain clinical experience in paediatrics, which they could not receive anywhere else.

When the First World War broke out in July 1914, Louisa and Murray founded the Women’s Hospital Corps (WHC), which they equipped with female staff. The couple suspected the British War Office would reject their help, so they offered their assistance to the French Red Cross instead. The French provided the women space in a Parisian hotel and appointed Murray as Médecin-en-Chef (chief physician) and Louisa as the chief surgeon.

The Women’s Hospital Corps expanded to set up another military hospital in Wimereux on the coast of the English Channel. They treated both French and British soldiers, the latter of whom were greatly surprised to find a hospital run by British women. Noting the successfulness of Murray, Louisa and their medical team, the British claimed it as their auxiliary hospital rather than a French one. When casualties were evacuated to England in January 1915, the War Office invited Murray and Anderson to run a hospital in London.

Overseen by the Royal Army Medical Corps, Louisa and Murray started running the Endell Street Military Hospital (ESMH) in May 1915. Constructed in the former St Giles Union Workhouse in Covent Garden, the hospital had space for an operating theatre and most of the equipment from Wimereux Hospital, which closed following Louisa and Murray’s departure from France. Initially, the ESMH opened with enough beds for 520 men, but the number of wounded continued to grow, forcing them to squeeze in another 53 beds. Additional Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals were established to allow doctors and nurses to treat up to 800 wounded soldiers at a time.

The ESMH saw 50,000 patients between 1915 and 1919, with 80 soldiers arriving each day. Louisa and the other surgeons conducted around 20 operations per day. The majority of staff were women, including drivers, dentists, pathologists, doctors, surgeons and nurses. Other women came in daily as librarians and entertainment officers to boost morale among the patients, particularly those who never had visitors from family or friends. Whilst the majority of wounded soldiers were British, at least 2000 Canadians received treatment, plus a handful of Australian, New Zealand, American, Russian and French troops.

Reluctant to give the women full control of the hospital, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) regularly checked up on the staff and patients. The RAMC was sceptical about the women’s ability to work professionally and felt they were not properly trained for the job. Louisa, Murray and the other women proved the RAMC wrong when they received positive feedback from the patients. Soldiers even commented on the “feminine touches” around the hospital, such as flowers, colour and proper lighting, which benefited their psychological health, unlike the other drab, gloomy military hospitals.

At the ESMH, Louisa worked closely with the pathologist Helen Chambers (1879-1935) to pioneer a new method of treating septic wounds. James Rutherford Morison (1853-1939), a surgeon stationed at Northumberland War Hospital, introduced BIPP (bismuth iodoform paraffin paste) to treat contaminated wounds. Louisa and Chambers tested the product on some of their patients and reported the positive results to Morison, who asked them to continue with a larger trial of BIPP throughout 1916. Louisa published her report on the product in the weekly medical journal The Lancet, in which she praised its effectiveness, both in healing the wound and limiting the patient’s pain. The antiseptic properties allowed dressings to remain on for longer, reducing the use of bandages by 80%.

In 1917, King George V founded the Order of the British Empire to honour those who served in non-combatant roles during the First World War. The Order consists of five classes: Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight/Dame Commander (KBE/DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), and Member (MBE). For their work in the hospital, Louisa and Murray became one of the first people awarded a CBE in August 1917.

Louisa and Murray continued working in the ESMH hospital until the end of the war, when they received orders to evacuate and close the building by December 1919. Both women returned to the Women’s Hospital for Children in Harrow Road, renamed the Roll of Honour Hospital. While working as doctors and surgeons, Murray wrote the memoir Women as Army Surgeons: Being the History of the Women’s Hospital Corps in Paris, published in 1920. She dedicated the book to “Louisa Garrett Anderson / Bold, cautious, true and my loving companion.”

As well as celebrating the end of the war, the Suffragists and Suffragettes celebrated the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which allowed women over the age of 30 the right to vote. The NUWSS and WSPU disbanded and formed the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC), which fought for the same voting rights as men, equal pay, fairer divorce laws and an end to discrimination against women in employment.

Lack of funding resulted in the closure of the Roll of Honour Hospital in around 1921, so both women decided to retire and move to a cottage in Penn, Buckinghamshire. Sadly, Murray discovered she had rectal carcinoma and died shortly after surgery to remove the tumour, with Louisa by her side. Murray left everything to Louisa in her will and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church near their home.

Following Flora Murray’s death, Louisa lost her radicalism and joined the Conservative Party. In 1934, she became a justice of the peace and later the Mayor of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. When the Second World War began, Louisa came out of retirement to work as a surgeon at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, named after her mother.

In 1943, Louisa discovered she had developed cancer, which quickly spread throughout her body. She spent her remaining days in a nursing home in Brighton, where she passed away on 15th November 1943 at the age of 70. Her brother, nephews and nieces arranged her funeral and scattered her ashes on the South Downs. They also commissioned a new headstone for Flora Murray, featuring the inscription:

To the dear love of comrades and in memory of
Flora Murray
CBE, MD, BS Durham, DPH. Cambridge
Daughter of Com John Murray RN
Murraythwaite, Dumfriesshire
Born 8 May 1869
Died 26 July 1923
She commanded the military hospital Endall Street London with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel RAMC 1915 -1919
God gave her the strength to lead, to pity and to heal
And of her friend
Louisa Garrett Anderson
CBE, MD, Chief Surgeon Women’s Hospital Corps 1914–1919
Daughter of James George Skelton Anderson and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson of Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
Born 28 July 1873
Died 15 November 1943
WE HAVE BEEN GLORIOUSLY HAPPY

Louisa Garrett Anderson is one of 55 women whose names and photographs appear on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London. Erected in 2018 to celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the statue pays homage to several people who supported the suffrage campaign. Many notable Suffragettes appear on the plinth, including Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Adele Pankhurst, and four men: Laurence Housman (1865-1959), George Lansbury (1859-1940), Frederick Pethick-Lawrence (1871-1961) and Reverend Claude Hinscliff (1875-1964).

Flora Murray did not make it onto the shortlist of names on the Millicent Fawcett statue, but she is due to appear on the new polymer £100 Scottish banknote in May 2022. Dr Murray will feature on one side and the poet Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) on the other. Speaking about the decision to include Murray, the chief executive of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust said, “Almost a century since her death, Flora’s story is a reminder of the huge debt of gratitude we owe to those early agitators who refused to accept the limitations imposed by a society that didn’t believe women could or should be doctors, physicians and surgeons. Then and now, we embrace the pioneers, the innovators, and the game-changers.”


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Britain’s Queen of the Desert

When thinking about the Middle East, the first British name to come to mind is often Lawrence of Arabia (T. E. Lawrence), who was involved with the Arab Revolt (1916–1918) and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915–1918). Yet, Lawrence was not the only British person to support the Middle East. Gertrude Bell, an author and archaeologist, became highly influential to British officials and helped establish modern states, such as Iraq. Trusted by both the British and the Arabs, Bell is often described as “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection”.

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on 14th July 1868 in an English town called Washington in County Durham. Her father, Sir Thomas Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet of Rounton Range and Washington Hall (1844-1931), was a wealthy landowner, and her grandfather, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, 1st Baronet (1816-1904), was an ironmonger “as famous in his day as Isambard Kingdom Brunel“. Gertrude’s mother, Mary, passed away when she was only three years old after giving birth to her younger brother, Maurice (1871-1944).

Without a mother, Bell grew close to her father, who inspired her thirst for adventure. Her father also taught her about British policy-making and capitalism. He always made sure his workers were well paid and cared for, an attitude which he passed down to his daughter.

When Bell was seven, her father married the playwright Florence Olliffe (1851-1930). As well as providing the family with three more children, Hugh (1878-1926), Florence (1880-1971) and Mary (1882-1966), Florence taught Bell about duty and decorum but also encouraged her growing intellect. Florence regularly assisted the wives of local ironworkers, helping them become self-sufficient and access education.

At 11, Bell started attending Queen’s College in London before moving to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, at 17. At the time, degree topics were limited for women, with history being one of the few they could study. Bell specialised in modern history and became the first woman to graduate in the subject at Oxford with a first-class honours degree. Unfortunately, her success was not classed as an academic degree because she was a woman.

After graduating from university, Bell travelled to Persia in 1892 to visit her step-uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles (1841-1920), who served as the British minister in Tehran. Bell described her journey in a book, Persian Pictures, which she published in 1894. The adventure inspired her to continue travelling, and she developed a passion for archaeology and languages. During her travels, Bell learned to speak Arabic, Persian, French, German and Italian.

In 1899, Bell explored Palestine and Syria, then travelled from Jerusalem to Damascus the following year. In 1903, Bell visited Singapore with her brother, where she befriended British colonial administrator Sir Frank Swettenham (1850-1946). Bell and Swettenham kept up a correspondence for several years, and they may have had a brief affair in 1904.

Between 1899 and 1904, Bell enjoyed mountaineering. While hiking in the Bernese Alps in western Switzerland, she recorded ten new pathways and reached one of the highest peaks in 1901. Since named after her, Gertrudspitze rises 2,632 m (8,635 ft) above sea level and remains a popular destination for experienced climbers.

In 1907, Bell published another book, Syria: The Desert and the Sown, which described her voyage to Syria. At the time, Syria belonged to the Ottoman Empire and encompassed the cities of Damascus, Jerusalem (now Israel/Palestine), Beirut (Lebanon), the ruins of Antioch (Turkey), and Alexandretta (Turkey). Her descriptions of the country and cities gave readers in the Western World their first glimpse of the Arabian Desert.

In March 1907, Bell returned to the Ottoman Empire, where she joined the archaeologist and New Testament scholar Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851-1939) on an excavation of Binbirkilise. Meaning “One Thousand and One Churches”, Binbirkilise is a ruined city once inhabited by Byzantine Christians between the 3rd and 8th century AD. Bell published her initial findings in the Revue Archéologique and helped Ramsay write the book, The Thousand and One Churches. Together, they started excavating several buildings, but when Bell returned two years later, stone robbers had demolished their findings.

Bell returned to England in 1908, where she became a founder member of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League. Despite her misgivings about women’s inequality at university, Bell opposed women being granted the vote in parliamentary elections. Bell’s opinions stemmed from her social and political background, where the men were in charge but allowed her to participate in intellectual discussions. Today, it may seem strange that Bell, one of the most educated women of her time, opposed the suffrage campaign, but her main argument was that the uneducated should not be involved in politics, regardless of their sex. If women did not have the right to equal education with men, Bell questioned how they would cope with parliamentary matters.

Bell did not remain in England for long before travelling to Mesopotamia in January 1909. Today, the majority of historical Mesopotamia is located in Iraq. While there, she visited the ancient city of Carchemish, where she met T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935), who was working for Reginald Campbell Thompson (1876-1914), the man responsible for the excavation of the city.

While in Mesopotamia, Bell also photographed the Assyrian relief carvings in the Halamata Cave near the city of Duhok (Iraq). Bell was the first person to document a procession of nine carved figures that date back to approximately 704-681 BC on camera. Further study of the carvings has led archaeologists to believe the figures represent ” the Assyrian king worshipping the main divinities in the Mesopotamian pantheon.”

In the same year, Bell helped excavate the Al-Ukhaidir Fortress and wrote the first report on the remains. Whilst the building was large, Bell noted the living quarters were cramped. The fortress was on several important trade routes, so the size was likely to demonstrate the “despotic and the pleasure-loving character of the dynasty” rather than provide comfort for its inhabitants.

In 1913, Bell made another trip to Mesopotamia, where she became the second foreign woman to visit Haʼil, a city now in Saudi Arabia. Haʼil is the homeland of the Rashid royal family, who are historical rivals to the Saudi royal family. When Bell arrived, the city was in political turmoil. She was held in the city for eleven days before being able to continue her journey across the Arabian peninsula to Baghdad and back to Damascus. The only woman to visit Haʼil before Bell was Anne Blunt, 15th Baroness Wentworth (1837-1917), the daughter of the famous mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815-52).

At the outbreak of the First World War, Bell requested to be posted to the Middle East. Initially, her request was declined, so she spent a year in France working for the Red Cross. In November 1915, British Intelligence changed its mind and sent Bell to General Gilbert Clayton (1875-1929) at the Arab Bureau in Cairo, Egypt. Both Bell and T. E. Lawrence, who had also been sent to Cairo, were recommended by Commander David Hogarth (1862-1927), an archaeologist who became the acting director of the Arab Bureau the following year.

Using her knowledge of the Arabic language, Bell’s first task was to interpret data about Arab tribes collected by Captain William Shakespear (1878-1915), who had been shot and killed at the Battle of Jarrab. With Bell as the translator, Lawrence and other British Intelligence agents aimed to encourage the Arabs to form an alliance with Britain and stand against the Ottoman Empire.

In March 1916, Captain Clayton sent Bell to Basra, a former city belonging to the Ottoman Empire (now Iraq) that British forces had captured. Bell visited the city during her earlier travels and knew the area better than any Brit. Dividing her time between the Military GHQ Basra and the office of Chief Political Officer Percy Cox (1864-1937), Bell devised maps to help British troops travel safely from Basra to Baghdad.

Bell was given the title “Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo” and assigned to Colonial Office intelligence officer Harry St John Philby (1885-1960), an Arabist born to British parents in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As his field controller, Bell taught him about political manoeuvering and espionage. Bell remained in Basra until British troops successfully took Baghdad in March 1917.

When it was safe, Percy Cox summoned Bell to Baghdad and gave her the title “Oriental Secretary”. She remained in the city until the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in January 1919, after which Cox sent her to analyse the situation in Mesopotamia. With her knowledge of Arab tribes, Bell wrote a report called Self Determination in Mesopotamia, in which she listed the tribes she thought best suited to take on the leadership of a newly formed country. Unfortunately, the British Commissioner in Mesopotamia, Arnold Wilson (1884-1940), insisted the Mesopotamian population was not ready to rule alone, so proposed an Arab government under the influence of British officials.

Throughout 1920, Bell acted as a mediator between the Arab government and British officials. Not only did she have to convey messages between the two nations, but she also needed to mediate between the various Mesopotamian tribes. The Shias in the south, the Kurds in the north and the Sunnis in the centre all wanted to self-govern their land, but for the country to function, Bell needed to persuade them to unite. British Officials were also mindful of tribal feuds that could be costly and make the country vulnerable to other nations, such as Turkey, Persia and Syria, who had their eye on Mesopotamia’s oil resources.

Uniting the tribes was easier in theory than in practice. The Kurds not only inhabited parts of Mesopotamia but also Syria and Turkey. Whilst the Shias and Sunnis could merge their lands, only a portion of the Kurds lived in the new country, Iraq. Whilst Bell endorsed the division of the northern tribe, the Kurds were not happy about being denied a homeland, which led to uprisings in Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

Bell expressed the difficulties British officials faced in a letter to her father, saying, “Mesopotamia is not a civilised state.” By the end of 1920, the British had prevented the Kurdish revolt from escalating. Bell was invited to attend a series of meetings between 12th and 30th March to discuss the geographic and political future of the country. Officially known as the Middle East Conference held in Cairo and Jerusalem, the meetings were attended by many British officials, including the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and T. E. Lawrence, the Special Advisor to Colonial Office. The minutes of the meetings record Bell as the Oriental Secretary for High Commissioner of Iraq, with Sir Percy Cox as High Commissioner of Iraq.

During the Cairo Conference, Bell provided significant input in the discussions about Iraq’s creation and recommended Faisal bin Hussein (1885-1933), a former commander of the Arab forces, as the first King of Iraq. Lawrence backed up the suggestion, and Faisal officially became King on 23rd August 1921. Due to his Hashemite lineage, the country was initially called the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq.

Not everyone welcomed Faisal as the king because they did not want to be governed by someone from a different tribe. Bell tried to ease Faisal into the role, teaching him about tribal geography and local business and supervising the election of government officials. The Arabs called Bell “al-Khatun”, which means a Lady of the Court who keeps an open eye and ear for the benefit of the State, and she served as Faisal’s confidante.

Supervising Faisal was not always an easy task, especially when he attempted to rid himself of the control of the British advisors. Writing about the ordeal, Bell confessed, “You may rely upon one thing — I’ll never engage in creating kings again; it’s too great a strain.” Eventually, Faisal settled into the role and assisted Bell to establish the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, later renamed the Iraqi Museum. Bell donated many of her archaeological finds to the museum, believing the relics of Mesopotamian civilization ought to remain in their country of origin. Bell also founded the British School of Archaeology in Iraq to encourage the Arab population to develop an interest in their history and help preserve ancient artefacts.

Before the creation of Iraq, each Arab tribe had a flag or badge. To prevent riots and protests, the British proposed a new flag for Iraq, which incorporated aspects of each tribe. The design featured a black stripe to represent the Abbasid caliphate, a white stripe for the Umayyad caliphate, and a green stripe for Fatimid Dynasty. Joining the three lines together, a red triangle represented the country’s main religion, Islam. Bell also suggested adding a star to the flag to make it stand out from similar flags of other Middle Eastern countries.

The flag of Iraq has changed many times since its creation. Today’s flag looks remarkably different from the version Bell worked on in 1921. In 1959, a revolution led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim (1914-1963) abolished the Hashemite monarchy. For a brief time, the new republic adopted a black, white and green vertical tricolour, with a red eight-pointed star in the centre. When Qasim was overthrown in 1963, the country adopted the same colours and style as Egypt and Syria’s flags, a horizontal tricolour of red, white, and black bands. Initially, three green stars sat in the centre to symbolise Iraq’s aspiration to unite with Egypt and Syria. The union never happened, and the central symbol changed several times until 2008 when the Council of Representatives of Iraq settled on the phrase Allāhu ʾakbar in Kufic script, which means “Allah is the greatest”.

Bell’s lengthy stay in the Middle East began to take a toll on her health during the 1920s. Her work, which included writing correspondence and intelligence reports, was stressful, not helped by her repeated bronchitis attacks due to the smoke-filled offices she shared with her heavy smoking colleagues. She also suffered bouts of malaria and struggled to cope with the heat in the summer. By the time Bell returned to England for a brief visit in 1925, she was frail and emaciated.

After a short stay with her family, Bell returned to Baghdad, where she developed pleurisy, leaving her unable to work for several weeks. When she recovered, she received the sad news that her brother Hugh had succumbed to typhoid. On 11th July 1926, Bell instructed her maid to wake her up in the morning and went off to bed. That night, Bell died from a supposed overdose of sleeping pills. Whilst some assumed Bell committed suicide, others believe her death was an accident since she had asked her maid to wake her.

Bell’s funeral took place on 12th July 1926, merely hours after her death. The funeral was a major event attended by British officials and Arabs living in the area. King Faisal watched the procession from his balcony as Bell’s coffin was carried to the British cemetery in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharji district.

Commander David Hogarth wrote Bell’s obituary, emphasising the respect British officials had for her. “No woman in recent time has combined her qualities – her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art, her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine vigour, hard common sense and practical efficiency – all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit.”

Bell’s stepmother also honoured her by publishing two volumes of letters Bell sent to her and the family about her adventures in the Middle East before the outbreak of World War One. Some of these letters formed part of the documentary Letters from Baghdad, featuring Tilda Swinton (b. 1960) as the voice of Bell. Gertrude Bell’s life was also the basis of the 2015 film Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman (b. 1967).

For her work, Bell was posthumously made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and honoured with a stained glass window at St Lawrence’s Church, East Rounton, North Yorkshire. The window, designed by Douglas Strachan (1875-1950), features Magdalen College, Oxford, where Bell attended university, and Khadimain, Baghdad, where she spent the last year of her life.

As one of the few British people remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection, Bell remained a respected name in Iraq for some time. Unfortunately, as time went on, she disappeared from general public knowledge, with T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) taking precedence. With the help of recent films, Gertrude Bell is gradually getting the respect she deserves. Whilst the situation in Iraq and its neighbouring countries still face political struggles and tribal feuds, Bell simultaneously helped the country reform after the fall of the Ottoman Empire whilst preserving the remains of the ancient land. Not only are these enormous feats, but Bell’s achievements also occurred at a time when women were excluded from political work. Despite her views on women’s suffrage, Bell paved the way for women to aspire to careers in archaeology, and for that reason, she deserves the epithet “Queen of the Desert”.


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Charlie Chaplin: Rags to Riches

Rising to fame in the silent film era, Charlie Chaplin became a worldwide icon for his performances in many films. Throughout his 75 year career, Chaplin also wrote, directed, produced, and composed the music for his productions. Best known for starring as the Tramp, Chaplin remains a firm favourite among many generations. Even those who have not seen his films know of Charlie Chaplin and recognise his trademark bowler hat.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London on 16th April 1889. His mother, Hannah (1865-1928), was an actress and singer who went by the stage name Lily Harley. His father, Charles (1863-1901), was also a music hall entertainer. Unfortunately, his parents separated in 1891 and Chaplin, who stayed with his mother, grew up in poverty. At seven years old, circumstances forced the family into the Lambeth Workhouse, where he was separated from his mother and sent to the Central London District School for paupers.

After briefly reuniting with Hannah in 1898, Chaplin and his older brother Sydney were sent to temporarily live with their father. Meanwhile, Hannah was admitted to Cane Hill mental asylum after developing psychosis. Unfortunately, Charles Chaplin Senior was an alcoholic and abused the children, prompting a visit from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

In 1901, Chaplin Senior died from liver cirrhosis, and the boys reunited with their mother. Sydney decided to join the army, leaving 14-year-old Charles to look after Hannah when her illness returned in 1903. With his mother back in the hospital, Chaplin lived alone, sometimes sleeping on the streets. Hannah was briefly released in 1905 but soon returned to the asylum, where she remained until she died in 1928.

Chaplin had his first experience of acting at the age of 5 when he stood in for his mother at a musical hall performance. By the age of 9, his mother was actively encouraging his growing interest in the entertainment sector, so he joined the Eight Lancashire Lads clog-dancing troupe and toured English music halls between 1899 and 1900.

While his mother was in the asylum, 14-year-old Chaplin registered with a theatrical agency in London’s West End and starred in an unsuccessful performance of Jim, a Romance of Cockayne by H. A. Saintsbury (1869-1939). Following this, Chaplin earned the role of pageboy in a production of Sherlock Holmes, which he starred in for two and a half years.

When Sydney returned from the army, he also expressed an interest in the acting world. The brothers went on tour together, and Chaplin found a position with Casey’s Circus, which earned him his first star role. By the age of 18, Chaplin was an accomplished comic actor but struggled to find more work after leaving the circus in 1907. Eventually, both Sydney and Charles joined a prestigious comedy company run by Fred Karno (1866-1941). Although Karno initially had reservations about Chaplin’s abilities, he eventually selected Chaplin to tour America’s vaudeville circuit with the likes of Stan Laurel (1890-1965). Reviewers described Chaplin as “one of the best pantomime artists ever seen here” and particularly liked his performance as the permanently drunk “Inebriate Swell”.

While on tour, Chaplin caught the attention of the New York Motion Picture Company, who invited him to join their Keystone Studios. Chaplin did not think much of the films produced by Keystone but welcomed the opportunity to develop his acting career. In his first film, Making a Living (1914), Chaplin portrayed a swindler who found himself in trouble with the local press. Chaplin disliked the outcome, but a slapstick fight scene inspired Chaplin’s future acting style.

For Chaplin’s second film, he selected an outfit that quickly became his signature look. Chaplin paired a baggy pair of trousers with a tight coat, a small hat and large shoes. A small moustache completed the look. Chaplin debuted the outfit in Kid Auto Races at Venice in February 1914, swiftly followed by Mabel’s Strange Predicament. In both films, he played the role of the Tramp or “Little Tramp”, a good-hearted vagrant with the manners of a gentleman. Chaplin continued to portray the character in many of his subsequent films.

In May 1914, Chaplin directed his first film, Caught in the Rain, which featured Chaplin as a tipsy hotel guest, although still dressed as his signature Tramp character. Following the film’s success, Chaplin continued directing and starring in short productions at a rate of one per week. At the end of 2014, Chaplin’s contract with Keystone came up for renewal, but the company refused his suggested salary of $1,000 a week, so Chaplin looked elsewhere for work.

In December 1914, Chaplin found work with the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago, which agreed to a salary of $1,250 a week and a bonus of $10,000 upon signing the contract. Chaplin put time and effort into each production, releasing them monthly rather than weekly. He also recruited leading lady Edna Purviance (1895-1958), who went on to star in 35 films with Chaplin. They also had a brief romantic liaison.

Notable films Chaplin worked on with Essanay include A Night Out, The Champion and The Tramp. For the latter, Chaplin softened his signature character into a gentle and romantic type, although it still contained elements of slapstick. Unlike previous films, it had a sad ending, proving the Tramp cared for others, not just himself. It is this version of the Tramp that is fondly remembered today.

By late 1915, Charlie Chaplin merchandise filled shops across America, and fans wrote songs and comic strips about the actor and his characters. The Motion Picture Magazine nicknamed the phenomena “Chaplinitis”, which gradually spread across the ocean, making Chaplin the film industry’s first international star. As his contract with Essanay drew to an end, several companies sent him offers, including Universal and Fox. From the many proposals, Chaplin chose the Mutual Film Corporation, which signed the 26-year-old actor for $670,000 a year.

“We can afford to pay Mr Chaplin this large sum annually because the public wants Chaplin and will pay for him,” explained the president of Mutual, who set Chaplin up with a studio in Los Angeles. Chaplin produced The Floorwalker, his first film with the company, in May 1916. It contained the film industry’s first instance of a “running staircase”, which involved a frantic chase down an upward escalator.

Throughout 1916, Mutual demanded a new full-length film every four weeks, which Chaplin found challenging but managed to achieve. Working on stories around his signature character, Chaplin produced many memorable titles, including The Vagabond, where Chaplin’s character played the violin; The PawnshopThe Rink, which demonstrated Chaplin’s rollerskating skills; and One A.M., in which Chaplin was the sole actor.

In 1917, Chaplin insisted on more time to work on each film and produced only four in ten months. Nonetheless, these films are listed among Chaplin’s finest works. The Tramp-style character appeared in all four: Easy StreetThe CureThe Immigrant, and The Adventurer, which proved popular amongst Chaplin’s fans. Yet, Chaplin was dissatisfied with his output, feeling he was constantly repeating himself. He also received criticism from the British media for not returning home to fight in the First World War. Chaplin explained he registered for the American draft but never received a summons. Meanwhile, his films buoyed troops across the globe, and men began to impersonate the Tramp, causing Chaplin to take legal action. At the time, an estimated nine out of ten men attended costume parties dressed as the Tramp.

Whilst Mutual respected Chaplin’s need for extra time to produce films, the company agreed to release Chaplin from his contract when they realised he felt unhappy about his work. Unsure what to do next, Chaplin’s brother Sydney took over as his business manager and explained to the press, “Charlie [must] be allowed all the time he needs and all the money for producing [films] the way he wants … It is quality, not quantity, we are after.” Eventually, Chaplin signed on with the First National Exhibitors’ Circuit in June 1917 for $1 million.

In April 1918, Chaplin released his first film with his new contract. A Dog’s Life depicted the Tramp as a sad clown-like character, similar to Pierrot in European pantomime. The French critic Louis Delluc (1890-1924) described it as “cinema’s first total work of art”. Following its success, Chaplin joined the Third Liberty Bond campaign, which toured the United States to raise money for the Allied countries in the war. Chaplin contributed by donating all the money made from his short propaganda film The Bond. He also showed his support for the troops in Europe by writing and producing the film Shoulder Arms, set in the trenches.

The First National Exhibitors’ Circuit turned down Chaplin’s request for more money to produce his next film, so Chaplin joined forces with other dissatisfied film producers to form a new company in January 1919. Together, Chaplin, D. W. Griffith (1875-1948), Mary Pickford (1892-1979), and Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939) founded United Artists, which allowed them to focus on their interests rather than conforming to the desires of commercial studios. Unfortunately, First National refused to release Chaplin from his contract, so he had to complete a further six films before working on his own material.

Before working with United Artists, Chaplin married Mildred Harris, a 16-year-old film star who claimed to be pregnant with his child. The pregnancy turned out to be a false alarm, but Harris soon fell pregnant shortly after their marriage in September 1918. She gave birth to a boy, Norman Spencer, on 7th July 1919, who sadly passed away three days later. Losing their child put an irreparable rift between Chaplin and Harris, so they divorced in April 1920.

The death of his son greatly affected Chaplin and may have inspired his next film, The Kid. With four-year-old Jackie Coogan (1914-84) as his co-star, the Tramp discovered an abandoned baby in an alleyway and raised it as his child. Lasting 68-minutes, The Kid was Chaplin’s first film to last more than an hour. It took nine months to produce and became an instant hit after its release in 1921.

Chaplin’s contract with First National finally came to an end in November 1922, leaving him free to work on his first independent film. Titled A Woman of Paris, the film starred Edna Purviance with only a brief cameo appearance from Chaplin. Unfortunately, the film flopped because fans had no desire to watch a Charlie Chaplin production that did not star Chaplin. Fortunately, he redeemed himself with The Gold Rush (1925), in which he starred as the Tramp. It quickly became one of the highest-grossing films of the silent era.

In 1924, Chaplin married 16-year-old actress Lita Grey (1908-95) after she revealed she was pregnant with his child. Due to their age difference, the marriage was a discreet affair, and she gave birth to their son, Charles Spencer Chaplin III (1925-68), six months later. In the same year, Chaplin became the first film star to appear on the cover of Time magazine.

In March 1926, Lita gave birth to their second son, Sydney Earl (1926-2009), but their marriage was falling apart. Chaplin spent most of his time in the film studio to avoid his wife, who eventually took the boys and left. A bitter divorce followed, leaving Chaplin on the edge of a nervous breakdown, especially when the proceedings became headline news stories across America. To avoid an ongoing scandal, Chaplin’s lawyers paid a cash settlement of $600,000, the equivalent of $8,940,000 today.

Before Chaplin’s split from Lita, he started working on The Circus, a film in which the Tramp becomes the accidental star of a circus show. Due to the divorce, Chaplin took ten months off before returning to complete the production. The Circus was eventually released in January 1928, and Chaplin received a special trophy at the 1st Academy Awards “for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.” Despite this, Chaplin associated the film with his divorce and refused to acknowledge The Circus for the rest of his life.

Toward the end of the 1920s, Hollywood introduced films with sound, also known as “talkies”. Chaplin was determined to continue making silent films, believing that “talkies” would detract from his pantomime-style acting. Nonetheless, Chaplin took the opportunity to write a musical score for his next film, City Lights. By the time City Lights was released in 1930, silent films were a thing of the past. Yet, City Lights was a financial success, and one critic exclaimed, “Nobody in the world but Charlie Chaplin could have done it. He is the only person that has that peculiar something called ‘audience appeal’ in sufficient quality to defy the popular penchant for movies that talk.”

Fearing audiences would think him old fashioned but not yet ready to produce a film with dialogue, Chaplin took a 16-month break, during which time he travelled across Europe and Japan. The day after he arrived in Japan, ultra-nationalists assassinated Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi (1855-1932), with whom Chaplin was staying as a guest. The original plan was to assassinate Chaplin to provoke a war with America, but Chaplin had gone out to watch a sumo wrestling match when the assassins arrived.

Chaplin returned to Los Angeles but still felt confused about his future film career. Instead, Chaplin started writing about his travels, which he published in the magazine Woman’s Home Companion. During this time, Chaplin developed a relationship with 21-year-old Paulette Goddard (1910-90), who had recently moved to Hollywood. Finally, he felt ready to return to the world of film and cast Goddard in Modern Times, released in February 1936. Rather than embrace spoken dialogue, Chaplin wrote the script without words but used sound effects and background music. At the last moment, Chaplin decided to include a gibberish song, which gave the Tramp a voice for the first time.

Following the release of Modern Times, Chaplin married Goddard while holidaying in China. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last, and they began to drift apart in 1938. Nonetheless, Goddard starred in Chaplin’s next film, The Great Dictator, which attacked fascism and satirised Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who wore a similar moustache to the Tramp. Making a film about Hitler was controversial, especially as filming began only six days after Britain declared war on Germany.

The Great Dictator became Chaplin’s first film to feature dialogue. Chaplin did not feel completely comfortable creating a “talkie” but knew it would help get his political messages across. The film ended with a five-minute speech from Chaplin, who abandoned his character to plead against war and fascism. Despite the controversial subject, The Great Dictator was “the most eagerly awaited picture of the year,” and Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed their enjoyment of the film. President Roosevelt also asked Chaplin to deliver the final speech over the radio during his inauguration in 1941.

Chaplin and Goddard divorced in 1940, and Chaplin began a relationship with the actress Joan Barry (1920-2007). When Chaplin ended the relationship in 1942, Barry became obsessed with him and was arrested twice. She then claimed to be pregnant with Chaplin’s child, which he denied, causing Barry to file a paternity suit against him. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which had been suspicious of Chaplin’s political motives, used the case as an opportunity to discredit his reputation. The FBI invented four charges, including the transportation of women across state boundaries for sexual purposes, all of which lacked evidence. Nonetheless, the court proceedings became headline news, although Chaplin was soon acquitted.

Barry’s paternity suit resurfaced after the birth of her daughter, Carol Ann, in October 1943. The courts declared Chaplin the father, despite blood test results that suggested otherwise. The judge ordered Chaplin to pay child support until Carol Ann reached the age of 21. The FBI made sure the media coverage painted Chaplin in a negative light. Admittedly, Chaplin did not help matters by marrying 18-year-old actress Oona O’Neill (1925-91) in June 1943.

Chaplin met O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), seven months before their marriage. Despite their 36-year age gap, Chaplin described their meeting as the happiest day of his life. After three unsuccessful marriages, Chaplin had finally found “perfect” love, and the couple remained married until Chaplin’s death. They had eight children, Geraldine Leigh (b.1944), Michael John (b. 1946), Josephine Hannah (b. 1949), Victoria (b. 1951), Eugene Anthony (b. 1953), Jane Cecil (b. 1957), Annette Emily (b. 1959), and Christopher James (b. 1962), the majority of whom became actors.

Despite finding happiness with O’Neill, Chaplin remained scarred from his dealings with Joan Barry. He claimed she had “crippled his creativeness”, and Chaplin felt unable to work until 1946. Not only did Chaplin struggle to get back into the filmmaking business, but his style of acting also changed dramatically. Monsieur Verdoux, released in 1947, was inspired by serial killer Henri Désiré Landru (1869-1922). Chaplin starred as a former bank clerk who married and murdered wealthy widows to support his family. He also vocalised his criticism of capitalism and his fears about nuclear weapons.

When Monsieur Verdoux premiered, the audience booed Chaplin and called for a boycott on the film. Nevertheless, the film was a success abroad and Chaplin believed it was “the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made.” Unfortunately, the media, led by the FBI, accused Chaplin of being a communist, which worsened his already damaged reputation. Chaplin denied the accusations, calling himself a “peacemonger”, yet he campaigned against the trials of the Communist Party members and the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

With his fan base dwindling rapidly, Chaplin focused his attention on producing another film. Limelight, about a forgotten music hall comedian and a young ballerina in Edwardian London, was largely based on Chaplin’s life. The main character, Calvero, alluded to his poor childhood and his loss of popularity in the United States.

Reunited with his eldest sons, Charles and Sydney, Chaplin cast them in Limelight along with his wife and three of their children. Another family member in the cast was Wheeler Dryden (1892-1957), a younger half-brother who did not learn he was Chaplin’s brother until he was 26 years of age.

Due to the negative press in America, Chaplin decided to premiere Limelight in London in 1952. Chaplin and his entire family sailed to England on 18th September 1952, learning soon after their arrival that his re-entry permit had been revoked. To return to the USA, Chaplin would have to attend an interview about his political views and behaviour. Although later evidence suggested the FBI had no real reason to prevent Chaplin’s re-entry, Chaplin decided to stay in Europe, where he was warmly received.

“I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America’s yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States.”

Chaplin’s wife travelled to the USA to settle the family’s affairs, then returned to her husband, renounced her US citizenship and became a British citizen. In January 1953, Chaplin decided to relocate his family to Switzerland, where he purchased Manoir de Ban, a 35-acre estate overlooking Lake Geneva. The building is now the site of Chaplin’s World, a museum dedicated to the life and work of Charlie Chaplin.

In America, the FBI continued to label Chaplin a communist, especially when the communist-led World Peace Council awarded him the International Peace Prize. Fortunately, in Europe, Chaplin’s political views were less important, and he felt encouraged to return to film work. Chaplin founded a new production company, Attica, and released A King in New York in 1957. Featuring autobiographical elements, the storyline featured a character facing accusations of communism. Without access to the equipment in Hollywood, the quality of the film suffered, but it still achieved moderate success in Europe.

Before working on his second European film, Chaplin edited some of his old film scores, composing music for earlier recordings and releasing several together as a compilation. The Chaplin Revue (1959), for instance, included A Dog’s Life, Shoulder Arms, and The Pilgrim. Simultaneously, Chaplin worked on his memoirs, which he released as My Autobiography in 1964. Whilst it became a best-seller, fans expressed disappointment at the lack of detail about his film career in America.

After the publication of his autobiography, Chaplin worked on a romantic comedy called A Countess from Hong Kong. Rather than starring as a lead character, Chaplin cast Marlon Brando (1924-94), Sophia Loren (b. 1934) and his son Sydney as the key characters. Chaplin only had a cameo role, which became his final film appearance. Sadly, A Countess from Hong Kong was a box office failure.

Chaplin suffered several mini-strokes in the early 1960s but was still determined to write. Unfortunately, he never finished his final work, The Freak, due to declining health. Instead, he focused on editing and compiling his old films.

During the early 1970s, Chaplin became the recipient of several awards and honours. At the Cannes Film Festival in 1971, he was made a Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest French order of merit. In 1972, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in America offered Chaplin an Honorary Award. Naturally, Chaplin felt uncertain about accepting the latter but eventually agreed to return to the USA for the first time in 20 years. At the Academy Awards gala, Chaplin received a 12-minute standing ovation, which remains the longest in the Academy’s history.

Chaplin had plans to work on more films, but another series of strokes left him wheelchair-bound. With assistance, he compiled a pictorial autobiography using old film reels and appeared in a documentary about his life, The Gentleman Tramp. In 1975, Chaplin was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) at the 1975 New Year Honours. To receive it, Chaplin had to break protocol and receive the honour in his wheelchair rather than kneel in front of the Queen.

By October 1977, Chaplin needed round-the-clock care. On Christmas morning, he suffered another stroke and passed away in his sleep. According to his wishes, the funeral was a small, private affair, and he was interred at the Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery. Many filmmakers and actors wrote tributes, including Bob Hope (1903-2003), who declared, “We were lucky to have lived in his time.”

Chaplin left more than $100 million to his wife, which tempted grave robbers Roman Wardas and Gantcho Ganev to dig up Chaplin’s coffin and hold his body for ransom in 1978. The criminals were caught a few months later, and the coffin returned to the Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery. To prevent further burglaries, Chaplin was interred in a reinforced concrete vault.

Charlie Chaplin’s life is a story of rags to riches with many ups and downs along the way. Born into poverty, Chaplin had no choice but to fend for himself, using his love of acting as a means to escape his situation. Through talent and determination, Chaplin made a name for himself, soon becoming an international star. As celebrities still discover today, fame comes with public scrutiny. With his every move documented, Chaplin’s poor decisions, such as his relationships with younger women, were analysed and discussed at every opportunity. The media backlash allowed the FBI to attack Chaplin and accuse him of communist sympathies among other things. Fortunately, while his world and career were being torn to shreds, Chaplin met the love of his life and lived the remainder of his years in peace, surrounded by his children.

Film critic Andrew Sarris (1928-2012) named Chaplin “the single most important artist produced by the cinema, certainly its most extraordinary performer and probably still its most universal icon.” The multitalented performer is ranked by the American Film Institute as the 10th greatest male star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. Chaplin inspired actors, directors, scriptwriters, film producers, composers and musicians throughout his career, including Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), the French mime artist. Chaplin’s slapstick routines also inspired cartoon characters, such as Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse.

Time magazine claims Chaplin helped turn the film industry into an art. Without Chaplin’s input, films may have taken a different direction. He developed comedy as a genre and not just something for music hall entertainment. Despite all the scandals during his lifetime, Chaplin is a man to be respected, admired and remembered. Statues and memorials across the world preserve Chaplin’s iconic Tramp look and remind people of his achievements. Generations to come will know his name and recognise his signature style, proving how successful Chaplin was in an industry that the world now takes for granted.


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Oskar Schindler

Remembered as the subject of the 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark and 1993 film Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler is famous for saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, despite being a member of the Nazi Party. Schindler knew the consequences of his actions if he were caught, yet he persevered by spending his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases to save the lives of so many people.

Oskar Schindler was born on 28th April 1908 in Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic). His father, Johann “Hans” Schindler, owned a farm machinery business, which he expected his son to work for after completing his schooling. Schindler worked with his father for three years but quit after marrying Emilie Pelzl (1907-2001) in 1928, despite living with his parents for another seven years.

Over the next two years, Schindler worked several jobs, including a brief stint in the Czech army as a lance corporal in the Tenth Infantry Regiment of the 31st Army. After 18 months, Schindler left the army to work at Moravian Electrotechnic, which promptly went bankrupt, leaving him jobless for a year. Schindler’s father’s businesses also folded, so he took a job with the Jaroslav Šimek Bank of Prague.

During the early 1930s, Schindler had an affair with Aurelie Schlegel, an old school friend. She bore two children, Emily (1933) and Oskar (1935), although Schindler claimed Oskar was not his. Around this time, Schindler also developed a drinking problem, resulting in several arrests for public drunkenness. His father was also an alcoholic and abandoned Schindler’s mother shortly before her death in 1935.

In 1935, Schindler joined the Sudeten German Party, a major pro-Nazi force in Czechoslovakia. Despite his nationality, the Nazi Party employed Schindler as a spy for the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Based in Breslau, Poland, Schindler collected information on railways and the military. He also recruited other spies in Czechoslovakia in preparation for an invasion of the country by Nazi Germany. Schindler was caught by the Czech government in 1938 and imprisoned, where he claimed he only took the job for the money to pay the debts accrued by his drinking problem.

After Schindler’s release as a political prisoner under the terms of the Munich Agreement, which aimed to prevent Germany from invading Czechoslovakia, Schindler became a member of the Nazi Party. He continued to work for the Abwehr and moved to Ostrava on the Czech-Polish border with his wife, who did not leave him despite his earlier affair. Schindler continued to conduct spy work, which helped Nazi Germany invade Czechoslovakia regardless of the Agreement. He was also instrumental in the invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of the Second World War.

In October 1939, Schindler temporarily moved to Kraków on Abwehr business. Abwehr agent Josef “Sepp” Aue introduced him to Itzhak Stern (1901-69), his Jewish accountant. Sepp had taken over Stern’s Jewish firm when Jews were banned from owning places of business and homes and stripped of their rights. Schindler asked Stern to look over the accounts of a Jewish enamelware factory he intended to acquire. Stern advised him to buy it outright rather than through the Haupttreuhandstelle Ost (Main Trustee Office for the East), giving him more control about the running of the factory, for instance, the freedom to hire Jews.

Schindler followed Stern’s advice and purchased Rekord Ltd in November 1939, which he promptly renamed Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (German Enamelware Factory). Over time, the company became known by the shorter name, Emalia. Schindler hired 250 Polish staff, only seven of whom were Jews. Much later, the number of staff increased to 1,750 workers, including one thousand Jews. Initially, the increase of Jews coincided with Schindler’s desire to earn money. Jews were cheaper to hire because the Nazi regime controlled their wages.

Life for the Jewish population in Poland became increasingly dangerous in 1940. Schindler felt concerned not just for his business, but for his employees as well. To protect his Jewish workers, Schindler listed his factory as a business essential to the war effort. This allowed his employees to claim exemptions from Nazi projects. Schindler even hired women, children and the disabled as essential workers.

On 1st August 1940, all Jews in Kraków were ordered to leave the city. Fortunately, those with essential jobs were allowed to stay, including Schindler’s workers. Of the 80,000 Jews in Kraków, only 15,000 remained by 1941. Unfortunately, those that stayed were forced to live in Kraków Ghetto, an area surrounded by barbed wire and tombstone-like walls. Aware of the unsanitary conditions of the ghetto, Schindler gradually expanded his factory to include a clinic, shop, kitchen and dining room for his workers. Using his connection with the Abwehr, Schindler smuggled in many items on the black market to improve the lives of the Jewish people in his care.

In 1941, the Nazis began transporting Jews to the Bełżec extermination camp in Poland, where they were murdered. Fortunately, due to their work at Emalia, Schindler’s Jews were saved from such a fate. In 1943, Schindler heard the Nazi party planned to liquidate the ghetto in Kraków and move the Jews to the Płaszów concentration camp. Fearing for his workers, Schindler arranged for them to stay at the factory to protect them from harm.

On 13th March 1943, all of Schindler’s workers avoided the horrors of the camp liquidation. Witnessing the event, Schindler felt appalled by the Nazi party and decided to save the lives of as many Jewish people as he could. He watched in horror as Jews were marched the two miles to the new camp, while those deemed unfit to work were shot in the streets. Those who reached the camp lived in fear of SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth (1908-46), who shot inmates at random every day.

Schindler could not hide his workers in the factory forever, so bribed Göth to let him open a subcamp at Emalia. After much flattery and money, Göth agreed, and Schindler opened his factory as a home to all his workers and 450 Jews from neighbouring factories. Safe from the threat of execution, Schindler’s Jews could observe religious practices and eat the food Schindler purchased on the black market.

Towards the end of 1943, Schindler received word from the Jewish resistance movement by Zionist leaders in Budapest, Hungary. They asked him to spy and report on the Nazi Party members who mistreated the Jews and deliver money from the Jewish Agency for Israel to the Jewish underground.

By 1944, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was drawing near the borders of Poland. The Nazis began closing concentration camps and transporting their prisoners to Auschwitz, a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps. The Nazis also planned to close all factories not directly involved with war work. To ensure his factory would not close, Schindler began manufacturing anti-tank grenades and sent more bribes to Göth. Eventually, Göth allowed Schindler to keep his factory, although made him move it to Brünnlitz in the Sudetenland (now the Czech Republic).

A list of 1,200 names was drawn up of Schindler’s 1,000 Jewish workers and 200 labourers at the textile factory belonging to Austrian businessman Julius Madritsch (1906-84). Schindler gradually transported his workers and equipment to Brünnlitz. Around 700 men accidentally ended up in a different camp before Schindler could arrange for their train to be re-routed to the new factory. Similarly, 300 women arrived at Auschwitz, forcing Schindler to send bribes of black market goods, food and diamonds to secure their release.

The move, which took several weeks, plus the money spent on bribes, restricted the amount of food and health care resources for Schindler’s workers. Output at the factory was poor due to the insufficient rations, but Schindler avoided suspicion by obtaining goods on the black market and selling them as his own. Meanwhile, Schindler’s wife, Emilie, surreptitiously gathered food and medicine for the workers.

Determined to save more Jews, Schindler arranged the transfer of 3,000 Jewish women out of Auschwitz to small textiles plants in the Sudetenland. Whilst he had little control over how they were treated by those running the plants, it increased the women’s chances of avoiding the gas chambers and surviving the war.

In January 1945, Schindler received a trainload of 250 Jewish prisoners from another camp. The doors to the wagons were frozen shut and took hours to open with a soldering iron. Twelve people died during the wait, and the remaining 238 were too poorly to work. Had they arrived in Auschwitz, the Jews would have been shot or sent to the gas chambers. Instead, Emilie set up a makeshift hospital and tended to their needs for the remainder of the war.

Schindler and his workers lived in the hope that the Red Army would arrive to liberate the camps in Poland. Schindler continued to bribe SS officers to prevent his workers from being taken away from him due to their inability to work. Finally, on 7th May 1945, the radio in the factory played British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) announcement that Germany had surrendered. The war in Europe was over.

Following the surrender of Germany, Schindler’s Jews (Schindlerjuden) were taken to safety. Their names and photographs are on display at the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, situated in Schindler’s original factory. Schindler, on the other hand, was far from safe. As a member of the Nazi Party and the Abwehr, he was at risk of arrest for war crimes. Itzhak Stern, who helped Schindler throughout the war, and several others wrote a letter detailing Schindler’s role in saving Jewish lives, which he could show to those trying to round up the war criminals.

Knowing the Soviets were unlikely to believe Schindler’s anti-Nazi actions, he and Emilie fled Poland until they reached American lines. In Passau, Germany, an American officer arranged transport to Switzerland. By this time, Schindler was destitute after spending all his money on bribes and the black market. Jewish organisations offered assistance, which Schindler reluctantly took. In 1948, he approached the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee with an estimated list of his expenditures at over $1,056,000 but only received $15,000 compensation.

Schindler and Emilie moved to Argentina in 1949 to try their luck raising chickens and coypu. Unfortunately, the business went bust in 1958, and Schindler returned to Germany alone to try to build a successful factory. While in Germany, Schindler received an invitation to visit Jerusalem. While there, a carob tree was planted in his honour on the Avenue of the Righteous. The Avenue honours non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Second World War.

In 1963, Schindler declared bankruptcy after a series of unsuccessful business ventures. The following year, he suffered a heart attack, which left him considerably weakened and less able to work. Fortunately, he remained in contact with several of his Schindlerjuden, who sent him donations as a thank you for saving their lives.

Oskar Schindler passed away from liver failure on 9th October 1974. His body was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, making him the only former member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way. His gravestone features the Hebrew inscription “Righteous Among the Nations”, below which a German inscription reads “The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews”.

Schindler and his wife were both awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by the State of Israel. A few other members of the Nazi Party also received the title for their actions to save Jews during the war. Karl Plagge (1887-1958) rescued Jews during the Holocaust in Lithuania, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (1904-73) helped resistance groups rescue 95% of Denmark’s Jewish population, Helmut Kleinicke (1907-79) saved Jews from Auschwitz, and Hans Walz (1883-1974) financed the emigration of Jews at the beginning of the war.

Schindler was one of the few members of the Nazi Party to turn against the regime and put his life on the line to save thousands of lives. His heroics are immortalised in the novel Schindler’s Ark written by Australian author Thomas Keneally (b.1935) in 1982. In 1993, Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) adapted the book into a film, Schindler’s List, starring Liam Neeson (b. 1952) as Schindler. The film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning six for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction.

A copy of the list Schindler compiled of his Jewish workers exists at the State Library of New South Wales, Australia. Notable people on the list include Itzhak Stern, portrayed by Ben Kingsley (b. 1943) in Schindler’s List; Poldek Pfefferberg (1913–2001) portrayed by Jonathan Sagall (b. 1959); Joseph Bau (1920-2002), an artist; and Ryszard Horowitz (b. 1939), a pioneer of special effects photography.


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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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Noël Coward’s Art and Style

A recent exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London has proved popular with old and new fans of the English playwright Noël Coward. Extended due to popular demand until 23rd December 2021, Noël Coward: Art and Style celebrates Coward’s life and works through a vibrant display of never-before-seen materials from the Coward Archive. The exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of Noël Coward’s West End debut as a 19-year-old playwright.

Noël Pierce Coward was born in Teddington, south-west London, on 16th December 1899 to Arthur Sabin Coward (1856-1937), a piano salesman, and Violet Agnes Coward (1863-1954). Coward received little formal education but started appearing in amateur plays from the age of seven. His mother encouraged his passion for the stage and sent him to a dance academy in London, despite low family funds. In 1911, Coward received his first professional acting role in The Goldfish by Lila Field (d.1954).

Over the following few years, Noël Coward starred in roles for children and teenagers in several plays, including Where the Rainbow Ends at the Garrick Theatre and A Little Fowl Play at the London Coliseum. He was also cast as Slightly, a Lost Boy in Peter Pan.

In 1914, the society painter Philip Streatfeild (1879-1915) took Coward under his wing and introduced him to high society friends. Sadly, Streatfeild passed away the following year from tuberculosis, but Coward’s new friends encouraged him to continue to perform. During the First World War, Coward starred in The Happy Family (1916) at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Charley’s Aunt (1916), and The Saving Grace (1917).

During the early war years, Coward also experimented with art. He filled many notebooks with ink and watercolour drawings, the majority featuring satirical caricatures and stage costumes. In hindsight, these drawings demonstrate the future dramatist’s understanding of the importance of clothing on the stage. Clothes can transform their wearers into particular characters and personas.

In 1918, Coward was conscripted into the Air Force but was discharged after nine months because he was deemed at risk of contracting tuberculosis. Coward immediately threw himself back into the world of theatre, collaborating on two plays with his friend Esmé Wynne: Ida Collaborates and Women and Whisky. He followed this with his first solo effort, The Rat Trap, which eventually premiered in 1926.

Coward’s first full-length play was I’ll Leave It to You, which opened in the West End in 1920. It received mixed reviews, and Coward returned to acting for a couple of years. His first real success as a playwright occurred in 1923 with The Young Idea, in which he also starred. Coward’s first financial success, on the other hand, was with The Vortex (1924), a play about a nymphomaniac socialite and her cocaine-addicted son. As well as writing the script, Coward acted the part of the son and raised the funds to produce the play.

The Vortex met with success in London and America, and Coward hired his first business manager, Jack Wilson (1899-1961). Rumours suggest Wilson and Coward became lovers, which is why Coward forgave Wilson when he later stole money. Wilson was the General Manager for the production of Coward’s 1930s comedy Private Lives and the producer of Tonight at 8.30 (1936), Set to Music (1939) and Blithe Spirit (1941).

By 1929, Coward was one of the world’s highest-earning playwrights, with an annual income of £50,000. This is the approximate equivalent of £3,000,000 today. Despite the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Coward thrived. Furniture and items from Coward’s house, which are now in the Coward Archive, demonstrate the extent of his wealth. One example is the Wings of Time, a tin sculpture Coward purchased in an auction at Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex, in 1929. Produced in the 17th century, the wings extend from an hourglass, which Coward saw as an allegory for the passing of time. He often spoke about the passing of time, and the wings soon became both a treasured possession and a personal signature. The wings usually hung above Coward’s fireplace, but today they are usually on display at the Noël Coward Theatre.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Coward took a break from the theatre to participate in official war work. He began by running the British propaganda office in Paris, after which he started working for British intelligence. His main task involved using his fame and popularity in America to persuade the USA to support Britain in the war. Although he could not reveal that he was working on behalf of the Secret Service, Coward’s name ended up in the Nazi’s Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.(“Special Search List Great Britain), more commonly known as the Black Book. It listed British residents the Nazi’s wished to arrest and/or kill when (if) they invaded Britain. Other people on the list included Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Nancy Astor (1879-1964), Clement Attlee (1883-1967), Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) and H. G. Wells (1866-1946).

After the Americans joined the war, Churchill instructed Coward to entertain the troops at home. For reasons unknown, Churchill disliked Coward and forbade King George VI (1895-1952) from awarding Coward a knighthood for his services with British Intelligence. Begrudgingly, Coward toured, acted and sang around the world, following British troops across all continents.

During the Blitz, Coward’s London house was destroyed, so he took up temporary residence at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand. While sitting in an air raid shelter, Coward and his fellow musicians partook in impromptu cabarets to distract their frightened companions. Coward also penned several war-themed songs, such as London Pride and Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.

When not entertaining troops and civilians, Coward worked alongside the film-producer David Lean (1908-91) to direct In Which We Serve, a British patriotic war film. Coward was inspired by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-79), who was in command of the destroyer HMS Kelly, which sank during the Battle of Crete (1941). The film proved popular, and Coward won an honorary certificate of merit at the 1943 Academy Awards ceremony.

Coward also wrote Blithe Spirit during the war years, which some critics say is his greatest work. The play was first seen in the West End in 1941 and was recently adapted into a film starring Dame Judi Dench (b.1934) as Madame Arcati, an eccentric medium and clairvoyant. The main character, novelist Charles Condomine, invites Madame Arcati to a séance in the hope it will provide material for his new book. Instead, the ghost of Condomine’s ex-wife appears during the session and endeavours to ruin his marriage to his second wife.

Although Coward continued to write plays after the war, they were not as successful as his pre-war work. He wrote on a mixture of themes, such as political comedy, romance, satire, and musicals. Unfortunately, the musicals Pacific 1860 (1946) and Ace of Clubs (1949) were financial failures.

During the Second World War, Coward met the photographer Cecil Beaton (1904-80), who had long envied Coward’s success as a playwright. Unable to write satisfactory plays, Beaton became a costume and set designer instead. Their wartime meeting eventually led to a collaboration on the production of Coward’s play Quadrille in 1952. Beaton revealed to Coward, “it has always been my ambition to do scenery and costumes for one of your plays,” and set to work designing appropriate Victorian sitting rooms.

Set in the mid-Victorian era, Quadrille is a romantic comedy about an English aristocrat and the wife of an American businessman. Whilst The Manchester Guardian critiqued the play as “affectionate and sincere as well as amusing and elegant”, The Daily Express deemed it “a waste of expensive talent”. Nonetheless, Beaton’s costume designs earned him his first Tony Award.

Despite his lack of success, Coward remained a high profile figure, continuing to perform in plays and cabaret acts. In 1955, Coward appeared in Las Vegas for the first time and released the album Noël Coward at Las Vegas. The album reached number 14 in the Billboard albums chart and features songs written or arranged by Coward. Notable songs include Mad Dogs and EnglishmenWorld Weary, and Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love by Cole Porter (1891-1964).

Coward’s most successful post-war musical was Sail Away (1961), set on a luxury cruise liner. He also directed a musical version of Blithe Spirit, called High Spirits (1964), and collaborated with Beaton on Look After Lulu! (1959). Coward also published his first novel, Pomp and Circumstance (1960), which received critical acclaim. Coward’s final stage success was Suite in Three Keys (1966), a trilogy set in a hotel penthouse suite.

Although no longer writing as prolifically, Coward continued to act, including in notable films, such as Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Our Man in Havana (1959), and The Italian Job (1969). Gradually, Coward drifted away from the stage and screen, turning down many prestigious roles. He declined the offer to play the king in the original stage production of The King and I and replied, “No, no, no, a thousand times, no,” when asked if he would like to play Dr. No in the 1962 film of the same name.

Today, it is accepted that Noël Coward was homosexual but due to the convention of his times, Coward never publicly admitted to the fact. Coward believed private business should not be discussed in public, so it is not easy to determine with whom he had a close relationship. Yet, many agree that Coward’s most important relationship was with the South African stage and film actor Graham Payn (1918-2005). The exhibition at the Guildhall goes as far as to say Payn was one of the greatest loves of Coward’s life.

When Coward wrote his plays, he often envisaged Payn as the leading man. He also composed songs to suit Payn’s voice. The two remained almost inseparable until Coward’s death, after which Payn organised the Coward Archive. It is thanks to Payn that many of Coward’s personal items remain in safekeeping today.

When reading diaries and letters, Coward’s generosity is evident. He not only cared for his friends but many disadvantaged people. From 1934 until 1956, Coward was the president of the Actors’ Orphanage, a home and school for many parent-less children. The Orphanage received support from the theatrical industry, hence its name. Coward expressed genuine concern for the children’s welfare and improved their living conditions during his term as president. Coward actively sought out patrons for the orphanage, often throwing garden parties where the public could rub shoulders with both actual and theatrical royalty. On these occasions, Coward sported a top hat and white gloves, which became one of his signature outfits.

When not dressed up for parties, Coward could often be found wearing a dressing gown with a cigarette in hand. He first wore a dressing gown onstage in The Vortex and reused the fashion in several other plays, including Private Lives and Present Laughter (1942). It soon became Coward’s signature look on stage, so he incorporated dressing gowns into his everyday life.

When not working, Coward retreated to his country house, Goldenhurst Farm, in Aldington, Kent. He purchased the property in 1926 and lived there until 1956. Post-war tax regimes increased the expense of running the large house, so Coward sold up and left the country. Today, the house is divided into two dwellings, one of which belongs to the British comedian Julian Clary (b. 1959).

Coward initially settled in Bermuda before buying a house in Jamaica. He lived near James Bond author Ian Fleming’s (1908-64) Jamaican residence, and the two became good friends. Fleming and Coward both found Jamaica a welcome retreat from the world of literature, and Coward used it as an opportunity to focus on his amateur hobby of painting.

From childhood, Coward loved to draw and paint. He often drew ideas for characters and costumes, but over time he left the theatrical subject behind, preferring to paint still-lifes and landscapes. Coward found the different lights and colours in tropical landscapes fascinating, particularly in Jamaica. Although he jokingly referred to his painting style as “touch and Gauguin,” Coward captured the endless vistas of sea and sky, the bright sunlight and the warmth of the people.

Although Coward welcomed the break away from the theatre, he did not stop writing altogether. Coward wrote some of his final plays in Jamaica, only returning to England to help direct and produce them. He also bought a house in Les Avants, Switzerland, where many celebrities sought solace. Coward’s neighbours included David Niven (1910-83), Richard Burton (1925-84), Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) and Julie Andrews (b. 1935).

In 1970, Coward finally received his knighthood. It has never been ascertained why Churchill denied him the badge after the Second World War, although some suggest Churchill may have objected to Coward’s sexual orientation. Sir Noël Coward graciously accepted the long awaited award and attended the ceremony at Buckingham Palace with two close friends, actor Joyce Carey (1898-1993) and designer Gladys Calthrop (1894-1980). Coward often referred to Carey, Calthrop and a couple of other friends as his “chosen family”.

Following his knighthood, Coward was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. In 1972, he gained an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Sussex. Unfortunately, Coward’s poor health limited his enjoyment of these achievements. Coward suffered from memory loss and arteriosclerosis, which contributed to his death from heart failure on 26th March 1973, at age 73.

Coward died at his home in Jamaica and was subsequently buried on the island. In London, a memorial service took place at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, where the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman (1906-84), John Gielgud (1904-2000), Laurence Olivier (1907-89) and Yehudi Menuhin (1916-99) all read or played music in his honour. A decade later, the Queen Mother (1900-2002) unveiled a memorial stone in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey. When Graham Payn thanked her for coming, she replied, “I came because he was my friend.”

The accolades did not end there. In 2006, the recently closed Albery Theatre in St Martin’s Lane, London, reopened under the new name, The Noël Coward Theatre. Before then, the Queen Mother unveiled a statue of Coward in the foyer of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1998. Statues of Coward are also displayed in New York, Jamaica, and Teddington, where he was born.

The exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery is just one of the many ways Coward has been honoured since his death almost 50 years ago. “Even the youngest of us will know, in fifty years’ time, exactly what we mean by ‘a very Noel Coward sort of person’,” said English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan (1927-80) in 1964. Noël Coward: Art & Style proves Tynan right.

Booking is required to visit the Noël Coward: Art & Style exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London. Entry is free, but the gallery wishes to limit numbers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition is open every day until 23rd December 2021.


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Woolsthorpe Manor

The past year and a half has been challenging for everyone. For some, it has resulted in the death of loved ones, loss of jobs, ill health, depression and anxiety. Yet, for others, it has been an opportunity to spend time with family, take up new hobbies, redecorate the house, and learn something new. Perhaps someone has even made a scientific discovery. At least, that is what Sir Isaac Newton achieved during the Great Plague of 1665-1666. Known as his Annus Mirabilis or ‘Year of Wonders’, Newton spent lockdown at his childhood home in the countryside, where he filled his time learning and discovering new things about the world.

On Christmas day in 1642, Isaac Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, to Hannah Ayscough (1623-79). Christmas day babies were special, but Newton was also considered blessed because he was born three months after the death of his father, also called Isaac. When Hannah remarried the rector, Barnabas Smith (1582-1653), from North Witham, three-year-old Newton remained at Woolsthorpe Manor with his maternal grandparents.

Woolsthorpe Manor was a yeoman’s farmstead, which principally reared sheep. While Newton was not adept at farming, the environment and landscape inspired his curious mind to observe and experiment with nature. His quiet, contemplative personality set Newton apart from other boys his age, particularly when he started attending the Grammar School in Grantham at the age of 12.

Rather than travel several miles to and from school, Newton lodged with Mr Clark, an apothecary. Mr Clark’s daughter remembered Newton as “a sober, silent, thinking lad who never was known scarce to play with the boys abroad.” Newton paid little attention to his lessons, preferring to study the workings of mechanical devices, such as the newly built postmill nearby. As soon as he had an opportunity, Newton constructed a working model of the postmill from wood.

Visitors can see an example of Newton’s postmill model at Woolsthorpe Manor, which now belongs to the National Trust. The house has been refurbished since Newton lived there, but recent discoveries suggest some sections remain as they were in the 17th century. On a wall in the kitchen, a faint carving of a postmill suggests Newton drew on the walls as a child. Other carvings have also been discovered around the room.

Newton’s notebooks reveal some of the experiments he undertook at school and home during his childhood. These included staring at the sun until he almost went blind and squeezing his eye-ball with a large blunt needle to see what would happen. He also had a keen interest in astronomy, time and mathematics.

At 17, Newton’s mother removed him from school and set him to work on the farm. Rather than look after the sheep, Newton spent his time reading or designing waterwheels and such-like. A disastrous nine months persuaded Newton’s mother to send him back to school, where he gained enough knowledge to enter the University of Cambridge. In June 1661, at the age of 18, Newton left his rural lifestyle behind in exchange for the city.

History books about the Great Plague tend to focus on London, but most major cities across England were affected. In 1665, Charles II (1630-85) tried to halt the spread of the plague by imposing a lockdown to prevent people from mixing. This was not too dissimilar from Boris Johnson’s decisions in 2020. Likewise, if someone came into contact with a plague victim, they had to quarantine for 40 days, painting a red cross on their door to warn others to stay away. Those who could, fled to the countryside where the population was much lower than in the cities.

Newton retreated to the safety of his childhood home in the summer of 1665. Despite being away from his university studies, Newton’s lockdown resulted in some of his best theories that changed the course of science. “For in those days, I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematics & Philosophy more than at any time since.” (Isaac Newton)

One of Newton’s aims was to understand how light worked. He observed that glass used in chandeliers sometimes changed white light into a rainbow of colours. With a glass prism, Newton experimented with light in his bed chamber. By boring a hole into the wooden shutters, Newton let a thin beam of light into his darkened room. When he placed the glass prism in the line of light, the colour changed, creating a rainbow pattern on the opposite wall. To ascertain whether the prism caused the light to change colour, Newton placed a second prism in the path of a single-coloured beam coming from the first prism. He noted the colour remained the same, thus proving that the glass had not altered it. From this experiment, Newton inferred that white light was made up of several colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

Renovations to the house removed any evidence of Newton’s experiments, but his notebooks reveal the measurements of the room he used. Newton recorded the room had a width of “22 feet from the south-facing shutter to the wall”. Only one room in the manor house fits this description and has since been known as Newton’s chamber. For the benefit of visitors, the National Trust has filled the room with furniture from the 17th century and decorated the white walls with diagrams from Newton’s notes. Despite the carved drawings in the kitchen, it is unlikely that Newton wrote his findings on the wall. To demonstrate Newton’s experiment, a torch shines a light onto a prism, which produces a rainbow on the wall above the bed.

During his time at Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton contemplated the workings of the universe. While sitting under an apple tree outside the house, he observed an apple fall to the ground. This incident sparked questions, such as, why did the apple fall straight down and not to the side? Many who have heard this story believe this was the moment Newton “discovered” gravity, yet gravity was hypothesised by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) in 1604 and confirmed by Italian Jesuits, Grimaldi (1618-63) and Riccioli (1598-1671), in the 1640s.

The apple incident encouraged Newton to explore the theory of gravity in greater depth. He theorised that gravity was a key component in the working of the universe. Through numerous calculations, Newton developed a universal law of gravitation, which explained that all things with mass or energy are attracted to one another. Newton expanded upon theories suggested by Ismaël Boulliau (1605-94) and Giovanni Borelli (1608-79), who claimed the planets in the solar system are drawn towards the sun. Newton continued to explain that all planets, stars, galaxies, and even light are attracted to one another.

Newton did not tell the story of the apple tree until much later in life, leaving many people wondering if it actually happened or whether it was an example of gravity in action. Nonetheless, the incident was immortalised by Newton’s biographer, William Stukeley (1687-1765), who wrote, “the notion of gravitation… was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood.” Legend or not, there is an apple tree standing by Woolsthorpe Manor, which has enticed pilgrims and tourists to the area since Newton’s death in 1727.

An apple tree has stood at Woolsthorpe Manor for at least 400 years. Many visitors ask if the tree is the same one Newton sat under, but the answer is not straightforward. In 1820, a storm blew the tree down, prompting many people, including students at Cambridge, to attempt to preserve it. Parts of the broken tree were used to make wooden trinkets and such-like, but the roots remained embedded in the ground. From these roots grew another tree, which remains at Woolsthorpe today. Dendrochronologists have determined it is technically the same tree, and the Tree Council has listed it as one of 50 Great British Trees.

Since the National Trust took over the property, the apple tree has been regularly pruned and looked after. It is a Flower of Kent tree, which produces green-red cooking apples. This type of tree was first mentioned in the 15th century and, despite its name, originated in France. At certain times of the year, the apples are used in the cafe at Woolsthorpe Manor.

Not only are these apples famous for their association with Isaac Newton, but they are also rather rare. After almost losing the tree in the storm of 1820, a graft was taken by Reverend Charles Turnor (1768-1853), who propagated the tree at Belton Park in Lincolnshire. During the 1930s, the Fruit Research Station at East Malling in Kent took grafts of the tree at Belton and gave them to the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. In the 1970s, Kew Gardens in London grew apple trees from the stock in Cambridge, one of which stands outside the Physics Department at the University of York.

Newton’s laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation, which derived from the incident with the apple tree, were recorded in his most important written work, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687. Shortened to Principia, the Latin document includes details about Newton’s experiments during lockdown and his further studies at Cambridge University. Whilst at Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton also produced three papers on calculus, which he continued working on once life returned to “normal”. Six months after returning to Cambridge, he was elected as a Minor Fellow of Trinity College. Then, two years later, he was appointed as the second Lucasian Professor. 

Principia is one of the most important books in the history of science and brought about the beginning of the Age of Reason. Yet, Newton usually kept to himself at Cambridge, almost in a state of self-isolation and rarely discussed his ideas with others. Without the prompting of one student and future astronomer, Edmond Halley (1656-1742), Principia may never have been printed. Halley coaxed Newton through the writing process by asking questions and demanding written proof. The young astronomer even paid for the publication of Newton’s work.

Although science has moved on since Newton’s era, Principia remains a respected piece of work. When asked to name his 2015 mission to the International Space Station, British Astronaut Tim Peake (b. 1972) chose Principia in honour of the famous scientist and mathematician.

“Not only does it have the link with space and gravity but also it’s a celebration of science and that is what the space station is about now.”
Tim Peake

As well as an English translation of Principia, Peake took seeds from the tree at Woolsthorpe Manor on his trip to the International Space Station. Peake and the seeds spent six months floating in microgravity before returning to Earth in 2016. Then the UK Space Agency, the National Trust and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew took care of the seeds, nurturing them into saplings.

In January 2020, one of the “Space Saplings” returned to Woolsthorpe Manor, where Tim Peake planted it a few yards from the original tree. Many people have joked about potential alien DNA picked up by the seeds while in space, but chances are the sapling will grow into a normal Flower of Kent tree.

A competition was held to find homes for the remaining saplings. They have since been planted at the Eden Project in Cornwall, the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre in Cheshire, the Brogdale Collections in Kent, the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Cheshire, Bushy Park in London, the Rosliston Forestry Centre in Derbyshire, and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna. To win the competition, the applicants demonstrated their commitment to science, physics, space and horticulture. As well as looking after the young trees, the centres are expected to encourage education, break down barriers to allow access to science for people of all ages, genders and abilities, and inspire potential future Isaac Newtons.

Whilst the apple tree is one of the greatest draws to Woolsthorpe Manor, the museum-like house provides an insight into Newton’s everyday life. By studying Newton’s diaries and letters from his family and friends, the National Trust has recreated Newton’s childhood home to the best of its ability. Newton had very few possessions and not much wealth of which to speak. From the outside, his home life appeared typical of the seventeenth century, yet Newton saw the world in a very different way.

The house reveals Newton’s human needs, making him appear no different from everyone else. Despite his genius status, Newton had his foibles and, according to a list of sins, quite a temper. Newton’s background did not reflect his achievements, which may give hope to many young visitors who feel their circumstances hinder them from reaching their full potential. In the barns and stables, hands-on activities demonstrate some of Newton’s ideas and discoveries. Not everyone can understand the workings of Newton’s mind, but seeing things in action certainly helps break Science down into manageable portions.

Woolsthorpe Manor is open from Thursday to Monday between 11am and 5pm. Access to the Manor House is by guided tour only, which can be booked online. Tickets cost £9.50 for adults and £4.75 for children over the age of five. National Trust members can visit for free.


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