Perhaps the earliest black star of popular entertainment was Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson whose career was ended prematurely in tragic circumstances.
He was born Kenrick Reginald Huymans Johnson in 1914 in Britsh Guiana, his father a prominent doctor in the community. He was educated locally until he was fifteen when he was sent to the Sir William Borlase Grammar School in England. Read more ›››
If you take even a passing interest in aircraft, the Ilyushin is instantly recognisable as a Russian brand, and the company that manufactures them owes it all to the son of a peasant family, Sergei Vladimirovitch Ilyushin.
Ilyushin was born in the village of Dilyalevo in south-central Russia in 1894, the youngest of eleven children. Read more ›››
Anyone who has read The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling might think it typical of British Imperialism, but it seems that the inspiration for the story was, in fact, an American, Josiah Harlan.
Harlan was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1799, the son of a prosperous Quaker family. He was one of nine children of Joshua Harlan, a merchant broker in Philadelphia. Read more ›››
Even the most difficult situations can throw up the unlikely hero and one such was Leo Gradwell who emerged with great credit from one of the most disastrous episodes of World War Two – the decimation of Arctic Convoy PQ17.
Gradwell was born in Chester in 1899 and after studying classics at Oxford, he joined the Royal Navy and served during the First World War. When the war ended, he became a barrister. Read more ›››
Maria Teresa de Filippis was an Italian racing driver who in 1958 was the first woman to enter the Formula One Championship and is one of only two women ever to make it to the starting grid.
Filippis was born in Naples in 1926, the daughter of a count, her career began on the Amalfi coast when her brothers bet that she couldn’t drive quickly. Read more ›››
Christiana Edmunds was in many ways typical of our idea of a Victorian English lady. Born to a privileged family, she was privately educated and lived a comfortable life as a ‘lady of fortune’. Strange then that she is remembered as The Chocolate Cream Poisoner.
Edmunds was born in Margate in 1928, the eldest daughter of the architect who designed Margate Light House among other projects. Read more ›››
Helen Duncan was a spiritualist of the fake variety, but is best remembered as the last woman in Britain to be imprisoned under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.
Duncan was born Helen MacFarlane in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1897. Despite her Presbyterian church background, she shocked her school friends with her hysterical behaviour and dire prophecies. Read more ›››
If the record of Noel Chevasse is impressive for his double Victoria Cross, even more so to my mind is that of William Coltman, the most decorated serviceman of the First World War.
Coltman was born in a village on the outskirts of Burton-on-Trent in 1891. Despite being a deeply religious man and a member of the Plymouth Brethren, he joined the North Staffordshire Regiment as a rifleman. Read more ›››