The History Girls: Dunkirk by Julie Summers

I went to see Dunkirk earlier this week. Not the town but the film of the same title written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It is a remarkable piece of art but is it a good film? And is it historically accurate? And does that in fact matter? I went with a completely open mind and was determined to leave my historian’s hat firmly at the door. Trouble is, I went…

Source: The History Girls: Dunkirk by Julie Summers

Snacking In Shakespeare’s Time: What Theatregoers Ate At The Bard’s Plays

There were no dress circle lounges nor mezzanine bars 400 years ago. Back then, audience snacked on cold nibbles and ready-made street food from vendors they passed on their way to the performance…

Source: Snacking In Shakespeare’s Time: What Theatregoers Ate At The Bard’s Plays

The Cockney Novelists | Spitalfields Life

Originally posted on Spitalfields Life.

The ‘Cockney’ – that is the born East Ender – has long since been a regular figure in fiction. Originally, in appearances from Jacobean plays to mid-nineteenth century sporting fiction, the type was not working-class. It was the geography not the sociology that mattered. Wealthy merchants were still Cockneys and revelled in the name.

The East End of modernity, which (at least until recently) meant primarily poverty, is a mid-nineteenth century invention. Its citizens emerge, struggling and insecure, via the pages of Henry Mayhew’s pioneering sociological study, London Labour and the London Poor (1851). They are further investigated by Mayhew’s many successors, notably James Greenwood, but not until the nineteenth century was nearly over, were they fictionalised.

Dickens had portrayed Cockneys, but mainly as comic walk-on parts or, as in Oliver Twist, criminals who properly spoke cant. Other novelists, often temperance advocates whose ‘novels’ may as well have been tracts, looked East, but they made no attempt to put flesh on their caricatures. They were all in dreary earnest, propagandizing the proles, permitting neither…

via The Cockney Novelists | Spitalfields Life.

Post-war Germany and Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies

DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 PIctures’ BRIDGE OF SPIES, directed by Steven Spielberg, is the story of James Donovan, an insurance lawyer from Brooklyn who finds himself thrust into the center of the Cold War when the CIA enlists his support to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot.

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII, the Allies divided Germany into a larger democratic parliamentary state (the Federal Republic of Germany) and a communist state (the German Democratic Republic). Within a few years after its establishment, by the mid-fifties, the capitalist West Germany enjoyed a thriving economy. By way of contrast, East Germany, controlled by the Soviet Union, mirroring its police state (the Stasi was modeled after the KGB) and exploited for its needs, sank into economic depression.

Like a microcosm of the divisions within Germany itself, Berlin was divided into a communist and a democratic part: East and West Berlin. In 1961 the East Germans erected the Berlin wall, officially called the “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall”, under the pretext of protecting their population from fascist elements. In actuality, they were striving to put an end to the exodus of people fleeing East Berlin into West Berlin. The wall, along with the East German soldiers shooting upon sight any person trying to climb over it, turned out to be…

Source: Post-war Germany and Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies

Artisans Beat the Aristocrats in 1885

Will I be called a traitor to my class if I say that the following news item from The Daily Telegraph in 1885 about the Cup Final between Blackpool Olympic and Old Etonians gives me great pleasure? Probably. I have no doubt that the current crop of Old Etonians would apply the phrase but since so many of them form the current UK government and are intent on destroying the country and the lives of its people, they can whistle (the expression muttered under my breath is, of course, unprintable).


THE PLUMBERS and weavers of Blackburn Olympic beat the gentlemen of the Old Etonians to take “t’Coop” up North for the first time in its 11-year history. Blackburn, in existence for only five years, needed extra time to win the 1885 final 2-1 after reaching it with 6-5, 9-1, 8-0, 2-0, 4-0 and 4-0 victories in the earlier rounds. They had been moulded into an imposing force by half-back and trainer Jack Hunter, who before the final took his team away to Blackpool to prepare them for the great day, the first time such systematic training had been implemented.

Old Etonians, the Cup-holders, fielded six internationals, including the Hon. A.F.Kinnaird, a veteran of the competition who was playing in his ninth final. There was little to choose between the two sides in the first half, although the Etonians took the lead through Goodhart.

Blackburn began to press in the second half, but Kinnaird, who was playing magnificently, hit a place-kick through the posts only to have it disallowed because the ball did not touch an opponent. This was the turning point of the game. Matthew dribbled down the right and hit an angled shot to equalize, and then Dunn went off injured, a severe handicap for the Etonians, who were tiring fast.

The 10 men managed to contain the Olympians for the remainder of the 90 minutes. But they were no match for their fitter opponents in extra time, and Crossley converted a Pass from Dewhurst soon after the change-over for the winner.

TimePlays – 500 years of stories brought to life in daily performances

Originally posted on Historic Royal Palaces.

Every day at Hampton Court Palace from 3 April to 31 August:

Meet characters from the palace’s past and witness scenes of five hundred years of life at the Palace, from the Tudors to the present day.

If the walls of Hampton Court could speak…

Experience history close-up, as bite-sized dramas, inspired by real characters and events from Hampton Court’s past, play out across the palace every day.  Through a series of specially-written micro-plays by award-winning playwright Elizabeth Kuti, directed by Pia Furtado, discover some of the extraordinary lives lived within these walls over the past 500 years as you explore…

via TimePlays – 500 years of stories brought to life in daily performances.

The Green Fields of France

Two versions of one of the most moving songs about The Great War — The Green Fields of France (also known as No Man’s Land), written by Scottish-born folk singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1976.

The Green Fields of France performed by The Fureys and Davey Arthur.

The Green Fields of France performed by Eric Bogle

Albert Evacuated by Stanley Holloway

by Stanley Holloway [1890-1982]

Have you heard how young Albert Ramsbottom
Was evacuated from home
With his mother, clean socks and a toothbrush
Some syrup of figs and a comb.

The stick with the ‘orses ‘ead ‘andle
They decided that they’d leave behind
To keep safe with the things they weren’t wanting
Like their gas masks and things of that kind.

Pa saw them off at the station
And shed a few crocodile tears
As he waved them goodbye from the platform,
‘Twas the best break he’d had in ten years.

Ma got corner seat for young Albert
Who amused all the rest of the team
By breathing hot breaths on the window
And writing some swear words in steam.

They arrived at last somewhere in England
And straight to their billet were shown
There was one room for mother
But Albert was in a small room of his own.

The very first night in the blackout
Young Albert performed quite a feat
By hanging head first from the window
And shining his torch down the street.

It flashed on an A.R.P. warden
Patrolling with leisurely gait;
“Good Heavens,” he said, “it’s Tarzan,
I’d better go investigate.”

So reading his book of instructions
To make himself doubly sure
Then in an official manner
Proceeded to knock on the door.

It was opened by Mrs Ramsbottom
“Now then,” said she, “what’s to do.”
And in stern air-warden manner, he said
“I’m going to interrogate you.”

This fair upset Mrs. Ramsbottom
Her face was a picture to see
“I’ll have you know, you’ll do nowt of the sort,
I’m a respectable woman.” said she.

“Has your son been evacuated?”
Said the A.R.P. man at the door
“He’d all them things done as a baby,” said mother
“He’s not being done anymore.”

“Be off now,” said Mrs. Ramsbottom
As she bustled him out of the porch
And the A.R.P. man patted Albert
And then confiscated his torch.

Now that were unlucky for Albert
He had no torch to see him to bed
But being a bright little fellow
He switched on the hall light instead.

“Put out that light,” a voice shouted
“Where’s the men of our A.R.P.?”
“I’ve told them already” the warden replied
“They take no bloody notice of me.”

Soon, Mrs. Ramsbottom and Albert
Were feeling quite homesick and sad;
So they thanked the landlady most kindly
And prepared to go back home to Dad.

When at last they reached home to Father
They were fed up and had quite enough;
But in the front parlour they found six young women
And Father were doing his stuff.

“Hello Mother,” said Mr. Ramsbottom
“Come right on in, don’t be afraid,
When you went away I joined Ambulance Corps
I’m instructing the girls in first aid.”

“First aid?,” said Mrs. Ramsbottom
With a horrible look on her brow.
“If ever you wanted first aid in your life,
By gum, you’ll be wanting it now.”


Stanley Holloway
Albert Evacuated… Stanley Holloway

U-571 More Hollywood Propaganda


This was originally posted in October 2013 and somehow it disappeared so here is a reprise

Yesterday evening I happened to be watching TV, a program named Command Centre and the War office told me that there was a movie on later that might interest me: U571.

Now normally movies about naval events of WWII are of interest to me so I decided to have a look in. It took me all of ten minutes to realize that this movie was a load of rubbish. Or worse.

As per usual it is American propaganda about how they won the war without any help thereby saving the free world from, in this case Nazi tyranny!

To say this movie is a pack of lies is being overly generous; obviously produced to remind and make the citizens of the good ol’ US of A feel good about themselves and proud of their…

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But gentlemen marry brunettes


Once upon a time, long, long ago, longer than the first BB creams, or plastic surgery, longer ago than the film of How To Marry a Millionaire, longer even than the age of Flappers and their shingle bobs, when Anita Loos wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, longer than when unstoppable American heiresses married into the British and European aristocracy, longer ago than universal suffrage and universal education, at a time when the only universally accepted truth for a woman’s fate was in the marriage market, there lived two beautiful, but very poor, dark-haired sisters known as the Gunning Beauties.

They became A-list celebrities of their day, Cinderellas who escaped from genteel poverty in Ireland – so poor that they had to try earning a living on the stage – to social ascendancy in England through marriage to aristocrats – fine, if you…

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The Danseuse Electrique: 1893

Mrs Daffodil Digresses

Loie Fuller at Folies Bergeres.,-France,-1897.html Loie Fuller at Folies Bergeres.–Loie-Fuller,-France,-1897.html

The latest stage development is the danseuse electrique, the title given the youthful corphyee who, to enhance her grace and pedal dexterity, invokes the aid of science and appears at times in a blaze of varied coloured lights that rival in brilliancy and splendour the gems of the Eastern monarchs who figure in Arabian story. The latest contrivance must be regarded as more wonderful than all its predecessors. First for the effect; then for the explanations. The lady, usually a pretty one, runs upon the stage attired as if for the serpentine dance, and about her skirts and the folds of her dress dash sparks and lights of every possible hue. She dances, kicks and turns while the lights continue to corruscate. Revolving wheels, fountains and prisms of light play about her, appearing and disappearing ab every undulation of her form. She is…

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Whitewashing History by Tanya Landman

Rogues & Vagabonds


An article about the wonderfully gifted actor Sophie Okenedo in The Guardian (4th July 2014) mentioned that in order to find good parts she has to travel to the USA. She said, “I think a lot of it is [due to] costume and period drama, which must be, what, at least 40% of what we do here? Which means 40% of opportunities are closed to me already.”

Now this statement bothered me and not just because one of our best and brightest actors can’t find enough work in the UK. What’s really troubling is the apparent assumption amongst programme makers that costume and period drama is a Whites-Only zone. Peter Fryer’s Staying Power – the definitive history of black people in Britain – really ought to be required reading for anyone who produces period drama in the UK. Africans, Asians and their descendants have shaped British Culture and society…

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14-18-NOW: Soldiering On and Resemblance

Soldiering On – Jez Colborne

Learning-disabled people don’t go to war. Not officially anyway. Not nowadays. They are the ones left behind. Composer and musician Jez Colborne is seduced by the pomp and ceremony surrounding war: the camaraderie, the camouflage, the marching bands and parades. The only thing he doesn’t like is the killing. In collaboration with Mind the Gap this pop-music style video features an original song composed and performed by Jez, set in and old cinema playing silent films from WW1. It explores the contradiction between Jez’s desire to be part of an experience he is locked out of… and his horror at the brutal reality of war.

Resemblance – Claire Cunningham 

A solo performance created around the act of assembling (and disassembling) a crutch in the manner of a soldier assembling his gun. Enacting a ritual that mirrors the act of creating a weapon of destruction, when actually creating an object of support. Looking at the balance between creation and destruction, supply and demand and human and object, the film also acknowledges and honours the role of women munitions workers in WW1, and question the preconceptions we make about objects and their ‘users’, or indeed their ‘makers’.

See more: 14-18-NOW