P is for Harry Pollitt

Pollitt with his Stalin portrait

Harry Pollitt is little known these days, but as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain and a friend of Russia, he was a significant figure in the turbulent politics of pre- and post-war Britain and achieved a sort of immortality in a song sung by the Grateful Dead among others.

He was born in 1890 in Droylsden on the outskirts of Manchester, not far from where I grew up. Read more ›››

O is for Titus Oates

Titus Oates

Titus Oates was one of the most odious figures from history – a self-serving liar, bully, coward and fantasist whose vindictive conspiracy theories brought death and vilification to countless Catholics.

Oates was born in 1649, the son of a Church of England clergyman and even as a child he was hard to like. He was sickly with a permanently runny nose and dribbling mouth and as he grew he developed an annoying manner of speech, somewhere between a bark and a whine. Read more ›››

N is for John Norton-Griffiths

John Norton-Griffiths

If you watched the tv series Peaky Blinders you’ll know that their story began in World War as miners below the German trenches and although their story is fictional, the truth is not. thanks to John Norton-Griffiths. And it didn’t begin with Brummies.

We all know about the horrors of the stalemate that stretched for 400 miles from the French coast to the Swiss border, but less well-known is the war that took place below the trenches. Read more ›››

M is for Jasper Maskelyne

Jasper Maskelyne

Jasper Maskelyne came from a long line of stage magicians. Born in 1902, he was the son of Nevil Maskelyne and the grandson of John Nevil Maskelyne, perhaps the preeminent magician of the Victorian age and inventor of the pay toilet – but that, as they say, is another story.

While Jasper Maskelyne followed in their footsteps with a successful stage career his greatest contribution to history was as the War Magician of WWII. Read more ›››

L is for Emile Leray

Leray, now 62, with his bike

A story emerged in 2012 of an amazing feat of extreme auto engineering by Frenchman Emile Leray that allowed him to escape being stranded in a Moroccan desert in 1993.

Leray had been driving from the city of Tan-Tan in his battered Citroën CV when he was stopped at a military outpost and told he could go no further because of the conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara, in the area beyond Tilemsem. Read more ›››

K is for Lena Celestia Kellogg

Lena Kellogg Sandler

Lena Celestia Kellogg was the sister of John Harvey and William Kellogg of Cornflake fame and one of the ‘discoverers’ of The Urantia Book of divine revelations.

Lena was born in 1875 in Michigan and after a brief spell as a teacher, she turned her attention to nursing. It was then that she met and married William S Sadler and the two pursued their medical careers together, graduating with equal honours at the American Medical Missionary College. Read more ›››

J is for the Modern Jonah

Moby Dick

In the latter years of the 19th century, the English whaling ship ‘Star of the East’ was operating around the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic when a whale was spotted.

The boats were launched and the whale harpooned, but its thrashing in the water capsized one of the boats and two men were lost, one of them a sailor called James Bartley. Read more ›››