Filed: ABC Wednesday

P is for Nickolai Poliakov

When I was a boy. an annual treat was the Christmas visit to Belle Vue Circus and of all the acts – the lions and tigers, the trapeze artists and horse riders – my favourite was Nickolai Poliakov, also known as Coco the Clown.

Poliakov was born in Latvia in 1900 when it was part of the Russian Empire. His parents worked in the theatre and Poliakov began earning a living by busking from the age of five. Read more ›››

O is for Annie Oakley

Having been to the premiere of Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old last night – a film I thoroughly recommend – it seemed appropriate that my offering this week should have a connection to World War One.

You may not know the name Phoebe Ann Moses, but you will recognise her by her stage name – Annie Oakley, sharpshooter and star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Read more ›››

N is for Horatio Nelson

Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson is a great national naval hero, at least in the UK, probably less so in France, but famous though he is, many of the things we think we know about him are wrong.

Where to begin? Well, he didn’t hold a telescope to his blind eye at the Battle of Copenhagen and say: ‘I see no ships’ as is often quoted. What he actually said was: ‘I really do not see the signal’ when he chose to ignore the recall signal issued by Admiral Parker. Read more ›››

M is for Jean Joseph Merlin

Jean Joseph Merlin

Those ever so smart comedians are quick to poke fun at famous Belgians, or rather the lack of them – conveniently overlooking the likes of Eddie Merckx, Audrey Hepburn, René Magritte, Hergé and Rubens.

But my own personal favourite Belgian is the inventor, horologist, father of the roller skate and genius in the art of the clockwork automata Jean Joseph Merlin. Read more ›››

L is for Ruby Loftus

Ruby Loftus

World War Two was a time for heroes, both on the battlefield and on the home front, and one of those was machine operator, Ruby Loftus.

Loftus was born in Llanhilleth in South Wales and in 1940 she and her sisters were assigned to work at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Newport. She proved herself to be exceptionally skilful in operating a lathe and was chosen to work on the breech-ring component of the 40-millimetre Bofors anti-aircraft gun. Read more ›››

K is for Noor Inayat Khan

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 could trace her royal heritage to Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Read more ›››

J is for Joseph Jagger

I have written previously about ‘The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’ but in fact, there was more than one man to claim this feat and one of the earliest was the Yorkshireman Joseph Jagger and he achieved this quite legally.

Jagger was born near Halifax in 1830 and worked as an engineer at a mill in the village of Shelf and it was his knowledge of engineering that was to make his fortune. Read more ›››

I is for Charles Isham

Sir Charles Isham

Sir Charles Isham was a member of the landed aristocracy who lived a fairly blameless life tending his gardens, other than that he is also credited with introducing the ornamental gnome to the gardens of Britain.

Isham was born in 1819 at the family estate of Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire, the manor house built by his wealthy wool merchant forebear, John Isham, in 1568 Read more ›››

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