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 ›››
Auguste Piccard was the perfect portrait of the potty professor with his six foot six gangly frame, bulging forehead, receding hair, a white lab coat and round spectacles.
And he proved it too with inventions that set records for exploring both height and depth and by being the paradigm for two peerless fictional characters. I’ll bet you can guess at least one of them straight away. Read more ›››
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 ›››
Marina Popovich held over one hundred aviation records in forty different aircraft and yet she is probably the greatest pilot that the west has never heard of.
She was born Marina Lavrentievna Vasiliyeva in 1831 in the Smolensk Oblast in the west of Russia and was evacuated to Novosibirsk in south-central Russia during World War Two. Read more ›››
The gates of history turns on small hinges, at least if you believe that great events have their roots in trivial incidents. So did a punch on the nose lead to the massacre of a generation in World War One?
The year is 1878 and a nineteen-year-old Prince Wilhelm was misbehaving himself by throwing stones at beach huts on Rapparee Beach in Ilfracombe, Devon. Read more ›››
Back in 2013, I wrote about Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, the man who saved the world, but there is another Russian who can lay claim to that title – Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.
Petrov was born in 1939 in Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast. He joined the Soviet Air Defence Forces, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and it was in this role that he prevented nuclear armageddon by doing absolutely nothing. Read more ›››
John Petts was an artist responsible for one of the most moving works of stained glass commemorating a shocking event in American history that also demonstrated the generosity of the people of Wales.
Petts was born in London in 1914, but, for the most part, he is remembered as a Welsh artist since he and his wife, set-up the Caseg Press in Snowdonia in 1937 and lived and worked in Abergavenny. Read more ›››
A deviation from my usual real people subject matter because this week I’m featuring the fictional cartoon character Popeye.
Actually that isn’t strictly true. When Elzie Siegal created Popeye back in 1929, he based him on a one-eyed sailor from his home town of Chester, Illinois, a pipe-smoking roughneck called Frank ‘Rocky’ Fiegal. Read more ›››