When the BBC included a black actor as a Victorian soldier in the Empress of Mars episode last year, he protested that there were no black soldiers in Victoria’s army but when he researched further he found there was at least one – James Durham.
The story of how Durham’s came to join the army is a remarkable one. Born in Sudan around 1884, he was abandoned, found and adopted by the men of the Durham Light Infantry in 1885. Read more ›››
Eccentric and naive he might have been, but Lord Timothy Dexter was also shrewd enough to sell coal to Newcastle, bed warmers to the West Indies and Bibles to India and managed to become a successful author despite being semi-literate.
Dexter was born in Malden Massachusetts in 1747 to a family of farm labourers when America was still a British colony. He had little or no schooling and was working in the fields at the age of eight. Read more ›››
Ferdinand Waldo Demara spent two decades pretending to be someone else, from a naval surgeon to a dean of philosophy, from a prison warden to a Trappist monk, and many more for which he became known as the Great Imposter.
Demara was born in 1921 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His father was a cinema owner and the family was affluent until bankrupted by the Great Depression. 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 ›››
I can’t imagine that there is any of you who hasn’t heard of Bob Dylan, but what may surprise some is that his first appearance in the UK wasn’t in concert, but as member of the cast of a tv drama.
Madhouse on Castle Street was commissioned by the BBC as one of its Sunday Night Play series. It was a rather odd drama set in a boarding house and was described later by The Times as a ‘strange free-wheeling piece about a man who has said goodbye to the world and simply shut himself up in his room’. Read more ›››
When I was young, Children’s Favourites was essential listening on Saturday morning when Uncle Mac would play the likes of The Deadwood Stage, My Old Man’s a Dustman, The Ugly Duckling and Donald Where’s Your Troosers.
But amid all the jolly discs there lurked one song with an altogether darker history – Lonnie Donegan’s Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley. Read more ›››
Frederick William Densham was an eccentric vicar who for decades preached to an empty church, apart from a congregation of cardboard cut-outs, and was the inspiration for a character in a literary classic. Although one of these facts is a myth.
In 1931 the Reverend Densham was appointed vicar of St Bartholomew, the parish church of Warleggan, the remotest hamlet in Cornwall on the edge of Bodmin Moor… Read more ›››
Bertrand Dawson was a renowned physician, a peer of the realm, a pioneer the National Health Service and also the last person to commit regicide in the UK, or at least the last that we know of.
Dawson was born in Croydon in 1864, the son of an architect, and graduated with a medical degree from the Royal London Hospital in 1893. Read more ›››