Every decade has its own peculiar obsessions and the subject of this week’s ABC Wednesday post was responsible for one of the strangest – the fad for flagpole-sitting in the 1920s and 1930s.
Alvin ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly was born Aloysius Anthony Kelly in 1893 in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York. His father died before he was born and his mother died in childbirth so he was effectively alone from the moment he was born. Read more ›››
Fred Karno’s name has entered the English language to describe any situation that is comically chaotic, but as a music hall impresario he discovered the likes of Charlie Chaplain and Stan Laurel and is credited with inventing the custard-pie-in-the-face gag.
Karno was born Frederick John Westcott in Exeter in 1866 but his family moved to Nottingham soon afterwards which is where he grew up. Read more ›››
The British army has long relied on soldiers and units from its former empire and never more so than in the First World War when Khudadad Khan became the first Asian and Muslim to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery.
Khan was born in Chakwal in the Punjab province of India in 1888, now the Potohar region of Pakistan, and joined the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis as a sepoy. Read more ›››
Rather than being about an individual, this week’s post concerns a remarkable photograph of nine kings that illustrates how great were the changes in the early 20th century.
It was taken in London in May 1910 as the crowned heads of gathered for the funeral of King Edward VII and of the nine monarchs, four would be deposed, one assassinated and two would be at each other’s throats. Read more ›››
This week I am departing from my usual ABC Wednesday format by writing about a group of people, rather than an individual, because it allows me one of the few genuine references to ‘Shooting Parrots‘.
Kilwinning is a town in Ayrshire, Scotland, home of the Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers, probably the oldest archery society in the world. Read more ›››
It is often assumed that there was little traitorous activity in the UK during World War II, but there were quite a few German sympathisers whose activity was neutralised thanks to the spy Jack King.
It was known that Siemens (GB) Ltd had previously provided cover for pro-Nazi espionage and King was tasked with infiltrating the company to assess the level of threat that its employees might pose… Read more ›››
Wolfgang von Kempelen was a philosopher, polyglot, mathematician and author, but above all else he was one of the best of those remarkable inventors of automata in the 18th century, one of which baffled the likes of Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin.
Kempelen was born in 1734 in Pressburg, Hungary, or what is now Bratislava, Slovakia. He studied law and philosophy in his birthplace, and then in Győr, Vienna and Rome… Read more ›››
Noor Inayat Khan was a most remarkable woman. She was a beautiful Indian princess, children’s author, poet, accomplished musician, pacifist and spy, and one of the bravest women of World War II.
Khan was born in Moscow in 1914, the eldest child of an Indian father and an American mother. She coukld trace her royal heritage to Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, while her mother was Ora Baker, half-sister of the American yogi, Pierre Bernard. Read more ›››