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Yesterday I watched Terry Gilliam’s 1988 film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen for the first time. It stars John Neville as the Baron and Eric Idle as Berthold. It’s a fantastic film, completely absorbing and surreal with amazing sets, stunts and action which look so impressive compared to today’s CGI alternatives.
With spectacle comes criticism however as, having done some research on the film, it is clear that Gilliam’s films are notorious for being dangerous and traumatic for the cast and expensive to film – watching this one, you can see why. Sarah Polley, who played 9-year-old Sally, said:
It definitely left me with a few scars … It was just so dangerous. There were so many explosions going off so close to me, which is traumatic for a kid whether it’s dangerous or not. Being in freezing cold water for long periods of time and working endless hours. It was physically grueling and unsafe.
There were disputes surrounding the production and in the end it received limited distribution and only made $8 million in the US box office. Nonetheless, I really recommend it as it is so spectacular and engrossing – and it’s currently on Netflix!
It really made me think about the stories that inspired the film and specifically the real Hieronymus Carl Friedrich Baron von Münchhausen. The real Baron was a German nobleman, born in 1720, who became famous for telling stories about his adventures.
Münchhausen moved to Russia where he rose to the rank of Rittmeister (Captain) in the Russian cavalry and fought in the Russo-Turkish War. He was known as a amiable and truthful man, however after he retired he gained a reputation as a teller of extraordinary stories about his time in Russia. He told these tall tales at social gatherings as entertainment and perhaps to poke fun at his contemporaries’ love for rationality. This theme certainly runs through the film as the Baron exclaims he is tired of the world because:
It’s all logic and reason now. Science, progress, laws of hydraulics, laws of social dynamics, laws of this, that, and the other. No place for three-legged cyclops in the South Seas. No place for cucumber trees and oceans of wine. No place for me.
Bearing in mind this relatively simple story of the Baron’s real life, it is amazing that his stories had such far-reaching effects. He began to be fictionalized before he even died, when 17 of his stories made it into the Vademecum fur lustige Leute between 1781 and 1783. In 1785 these were translated into English, as Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia by Rudolf Erich Raspe, and over the next century his stories were expanded and republished multiple times, becoming very popular.
It is likely that folk and fairy tales made it into the narratives that were attributed to him, so we cannot know how much of the material is really his. He was apparently very annoyed that his name was associated with these tall tales as he was given the name Lügenbaron or Baron of Lies.
Still it was way too late to stop public enthusiasm for the fictionalized Baron and the character and stories were replayed again and again on the stage, on radio, television, in films and even in video games. Some of the most famous stories that were in Raspe’s 1785 book and in Gilliam’s film include the Baron’s journey to the moon in a hot air balloon, his meeting with Venus and his escape after being swallowed by a giant fish.
Lastly, Münchausen Syndrome was named directly after the fictional Baron. In an article published in 1951, British doctor Richard Asher proposed the name Münchausen Syndrome for cases of patients lying about their illnesses, arguing that:
Like the famous Baron von Munchausen, the persons affected have always travelled widely; and their stories, like those attributed to him, are both dramatic and untruthful. Accordingly, the syndrome is respectfully dedicated to the baron, and named after him
He was criticised for this, since other physicians felt the name trivialised the disorder and downplayed the dangers associated with it and also linked it to a real man who did not suffer from the condition. Clearly though the name has stuck and is now in common usage.
Adele Parks is a very successful novelist, whose books have so far been set in the modern day and have followed the lives of different women. She has made her first step into historical fiction with this new novel, Spare Brides, published by Headline this month.
Parks is certainly not the kind of author I would normally read, and so I was a little apprehensive when I was asked to review her new book. The marketing and descriptions I read made me think it might just be another bodice-ripper. However I was pleasantly surprised by Parks’ ability to deal with a historical setting and the book is an absorbing read.
The novel is set in Britain in the aftermath of the First World War, as a group of different women come to terms with the losses they have suffered. The story revolves around Lydia, a beautiful but vain woman who struggles with her marriage, specifically her inability to conceive a child and her husband’s lack of participation in active combat in the war.
Her story is set against three other women: Sarah, whose husband was killed in the war, Beatrice, a single woman who is left with little money or marriage prospects, Cecily, whose husband lost both legs and an arm at Passchendaele, and Ava, a socialite who indulges in the luxuries and vices of the era of the “bright young things”.
Lydia meets a young man, fresh from war, and embarks on an affair that changes the way she thinks about the war and her own happiness. The shock of the affair also alters her friends’ lives as they too reassess the roles they have been left with after the war.
The novel is, above all, a romance. It tells the story of lovers working out how to deal with their relationship when it so profoundly affects those around them. It could therefore be set in any era. However what the post-war setting adds to the narrative is a profound sense of guilt, pity and concern felt by the characters about one another to different degrees. How can one justify uprooting a relationship when so many have had theirs destroyed by war? How does one come to terms with a society in which the roles of men and women are so radically altered? I felt that the creation of this atmosphere was the most successful aspect of Parks’ book.
Nonetheless the love story dominates the narrative so intensely that I felt there were opportunities missed for the exploration of more interesting historical areas. Of course, if you want a romance , this one is certainly very engaging, but it would not be something I would go out of my way to read. There are plenty of elements that mark the narrative out as a standard romance: descriptions of silk garments felt against naked skin, sexual descriptions which I personally find unnecessary and of course the inevitable love-at-first-sight scene. Again I want to make clear that if romance is what you want, this has it all, but personally I consider these kinds of tropes superfluous.
While the historical detail appears to me to be legitimate, there are points where it feels a little clunky: ‘like every fashionable woman she wanted to wear her hair cropped at the ear, as she favoured close-fitting cloche hats’. Some of the characters seem at times a little archetypal: the damaged womanizing war hero and the gorgeous promiscuous flapper. However this problem is corrected over the course of the narrative as the characters gain depth and the stereotypes are questioned.
If you have an interest in the First World War and its social effects at home, and you don’t mind a bit of romance, this novel is worth a read. It does conjure up successfully the atmosphere of the era and deals with some of the key problems faced by women after the war. And if you want a love story set against a thought-provoking and nostalgic historical backdrop, this book is definitely for you.
Spare Brides will be published by Headline on 13th February 2014 and can be found on Amazon.
I went to the V&A’s Museum of Childhood for the first time on Friday. I had always thought it would be interesting to see all the childhood-related objects collected by the Victoria and Albert Museum in one place, but I had never got round to visiting. The objects date from the 1600s to the present day and most of the exhibits are toys, with a section containing objects associated with home life and child upbringing.
The first thing you notice about the museum is its design. It consists of a large open space containing the café and shop, with all of the exhibits positioned around the centre. This makes it a great place to visit with young children as its impossible to get lost. There were many very young children there when I visited and it seemed to me that they were all really enjoying themselves.
Most of the objects on display are in glass cases with some interactive screens and activities and areas for children to play. I saw the kids interacting really well with everything and showing a real interest in the objects. Parents were also walking around showing their children the toys they used to play with when they were young.
As well as the 20th-century nostalgia available, there are plenty of amazing objects from earlier centuries. On one side of the museum, the toys are arranged by the technology behind them – so for example, clockwork, magnets, springs etc. The section for optical toys was interesting as it ranged from nineteenth-century zoetropes to the Megadrive, Xbox and Playstation.
These photographs are of a large 3-dimensional theatre made from layers of card, with different sections showing different scenes. It was made by Martin Engelbrecht in around 1721, who was famous for his illustrations of children’s books. This section also has some good interactive screens which show different toys with videos of how they work and explanations of their mechanisms. They even have x-rays so you can see how the mechanism is arranged inside the toys.
On the other side of the museum, the toys are arranged into categories like soft toys, dolls, building and making etc. They have some wonderful dolls houses and dolls including the first version of the Barbie doll from 1959. Some of the dolls and soft toys were very familiar to me, while others I had never heard of but were apparently very famous.
For example, above are soft toy versions of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred from the 1930s. These characters were from a long-running cartoon published in the Daily Mirror from 1919 to 1956. They were devised by Bertram Lamb and drawn until 1939 by Austin Bowen Payne. The cartoon was incredibly popular and successful, spawning dedicated newspaper supplements, annuals like the one pictured above and even in 1921 twenty-five silent animated cartoons.
On of my favourite sections is about the history of children making toys and objects of their own, as I was obsessed with craft as a child. Pictured below is a paper mache duck and a campfire made from matches and bottle tops, both made by a three-year-old boy called Stephen, born in 1957. There is also a tank made by an eight-year-old in 1942 and some animal drawings created between 1890 and 1900. Looking at these objects really makes you realise how children from every era are just the same, as it is impossible to tell the difference between a child’s creation from 100 years ago and one today.
Some other interesting exhibits include dolls from the eighteenth-century to today. You can see how Barbie’s figure developed over the course of the last 50 years, but even more startling is the shape of older dolls, such as the 1720 doll pictured below. Also, while Barbie is usually the doll accused of being damaging to young girls, I was shocked to see how Sindy’s looks have changed since her introduction in 1963. Sindy had always been a child-like doll in relatively casual childish clothing, however her latest incarnations have made her older, wearing more revealing clothing.
The museum also contains sections on the history of the upbringing of young children, with objects relating to washing, feeding and learning. They have a large case showing the development of children’s clothing between the eighteenth century and today.
At the moment they also have an exhibition called War Games, which runs until 9th March 2014. This exhibition shows the various action and strategy war-related games children have played of the years, and also links the history of these toys to the actual history of warfare of the last 100 years. It ends by making the link to science fiction and asking visitors whether they think war-related children’s games are morally right.
The museum is really worth a visit, with children or without, and it isn’t so enormous that you can’t see everything in a few hours. It’s located just down the road from Bethnal Green station and is open every day between 10am and 5.45pm.
The new Mary Rose Museum opened this year, and while I haven’t had the chance to visit yet, it’s a good moment to look back at its fantastic history. BBC News broadcast a short documentary about the raising of the ship and the years of conservation work and this one is really worth a watch because you get some great behind-the-scenes access. It’s really made me consider conservation as a career – if I could only go back to uni!
In the first few decades of Henry VIII’s reign, he devoted a great deal of time to building up the English navy from its weak position, in order to enter the global military stage. Henry wished to relive the glorious victories of England’s past by engaging in war with France. He oversaw the construction of several new ships, including the Mary Rose, the Peter Pomegranate and the Henry Grace a Dieu.
The Mary Rose was built in Portsmouth and launched in July 1511. She was built primarily of oak and weighed 500 tons. While it is a common story that she was named after Henry VIII’s sister Mary, historians assert that it is much more likely that the name was based on the Virgin Mary.
Immediately after construction, the ship engaged in battles with the French in the First French War, first in 1512 and then in 1513. In July 1514 she was placed in reserves for maintenance and subsequently took part in the Second French War, before being kept again in reserve from 1522 to 1545.
The last battle of the Mary Rose was the Battle of the Solent against the French in July 1545. The ship was not sunk due to damage, but right at the start of the battle a malfunction caused it to lean heavily to the right, allowing water to enter. This could not be corrected and the ship began to be damaged by water and falling equipment. The Mary Rose sank very quickly, giving men trapped by nets and equipment no time to escape.
In 1985, three years after the ship was salvaged, Patrick Wright wrote about the Mary Rose in his book On Living in an Old Country: The National Past in Contemporary Britain:
The fact that it sank due to what one commentator admits must have been ‘gross mismanagement’ before even engaging with the threatening French fleet does not appear to have prevented this from being recognised as the real stuff of history by the thousands who followed and celebrated the recovery.
Secretary of State William Paget ordered the ship to be salvaged soon after its sinking and while some guns, rigging and other equipment were retrieved, the hull could not be raised. The Mary Rose then lay forgotten on the bottom of the Solent for nearly 300 years until in 1836 it was rediscovered by fisherman.
The Victorian period saw many objects retrieved from the wreck and while some deteriorated due to inadequate preservation techniques, sketches were made of many objects and interest in the Mary Rose grew.
Modern efforts to salvage the ship were instigated by the Southsea branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club in 1965. The Royal Navy and the Committee for Nautical Archaeology in London were also involved in the project. By 1974 the Committee had support from the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Navy, the BBC and Prince Charles.
The wreck was extensively surveyed and more objects retrieved. Plans for the salvage of the surviving section of hull began to be prepared, drawing on lessons from the salvage of the Swedish warship Vasa in the early 1960s. The methods of raising the wreck were highly contested due to fears that it would not hold together out of the water.
In Spring 1982, the plans began to be put into action. The frame was attached to the hull and slowly eased away from the seabed, before being lifted by a crane onto a specially designed cradle. On 11 October 1982, the full salvage began and the ship broke above the surface at 9.03am. Patrick Wright:
The Mary Rose is raised into the present social imagination, and it makes its entrance from the parallel realm of ‘nature’. It comes into society as if from nowhere.
The notion of the time-capsule situates the Mary Rose in a narrative structure which comes up again and again in various and diverse fables of nationalism.
The conservation process began immediately after the ship reached the surface. The hull and its objects were very sensitive to deterioration after air exposure due to their long rest underwater and so each artefact was immediately stored according to the material it was made of.
The initial aim of most of the conservation was to ensure that none of the material was allowed to dry out, before more permanent methods of preservation could be achieved. So the hull was constantly sprayed with water and kept at a low temperature. Then between 1994 and 2010, the hull was sprayed with polyethylene glycol, a substance commonly used for preserving old wood. Over the sixteen years, this substance replaced the water in the timbers with wax. Since 2010, the hull has been in a phase of controlled air drying.
The hull was on display to visitors during this process, however it was only visible from behind a glass barrier in a covered dry dock. A separate museum was opened in the 1980s to explain the history of the ship and display artefacts. The new museum opened in May this year, finally uniting the hull with its objects and the history of the ship and its crew.
Efforts have been made to reconstruct the lives and physical attributes of the lost crew members, to make the ship and its era seem more real to the public. Even though only part of the hull remains, the museum reconstructs the other sections to give a better impression of the entire ship. Patrick Wright:
Is the Mary Rose still the Mary Rose? While the actual planks remain the same, there can be little doubt that, like the Ship of Theseus, this is a boat which has been thoroughly remade.
With so much reconstruction necessary and so much of our modern own historical consciousness applied to the Mary Rose, there is some truth in Wright’s words. However he was writing long before this new museum was opened, so I hope that when I visit I will find that his cynicism is proved wrong.
I visited the Churchill War Rooms many years ago and since my memories of it were hazy, I thought I’d check it out and see how it had changed. I remembered looking in on the old rooms and had a general feeling that it was a pretty great day out.
I also remembered it as being quite small and cramped, so I only left myself an afternoon to visit. This has certainly changed. The first thing I would say to people thinking of visiting the Churchill War Rooms is: leave plenty of time! You could easily spend a whole day there now if you like to be thorough in museums – I had to rush through the last few things to get through it all before closing time.
I must have visited before 2003 as all I remembered was the basic suite of the cabinet war rooms. In 2003, the attraction received major redevelopment. A new suite of rooms, which had been occupied by Churchill, his wife and other associates, was restored and opened to the public. Also an enormous museum about the life and work of Winston Churchill was opened and in 2006 it won the Council of Europe Museum Prize.
The war rooms now have an excellent audio guide which takes your through the different rooms and explains how they were used during the war. The bunker began to be constructed in 1938 and started to be used just before the outbreak of war in 1939.
The first room you come to is the Cabinet Room, where Churchill and his cabinet and military officials met to discuss strategy. The room was left exactly as it was when the war ended in 1945 and it’s fascinating to see Churchill’s leather chair still in pride of place in front of the world map.
During the first year of the war, Neville Chamberlain only used the room once, but after Churchill became Prime Minister, he said ’this is the room from which I will direct the war’ and subsequently had 115 cabinet meetings there.
Another interesting room is the Transatlantic Telephone Room which contained a secure telephone line which Churchill used to talk to President Roosevelt in Washington. This security was achieved with the use of a SIGSALY code-scrambler located in the basement of Selfridges, Oxford Street. I really wish this still existed and could be visited by the public!
There is a good section halfway through the route around the rooms, which gives a little more information about the way the rooms were used. There are some great objects on display as well as a map which shows how huge the bunker complex is – visited are only seeing a tiny portion of it!
There’s some great information about the ordinary people who worked in the war rooms and how they had to sleep in the sub-basement dormitory known as “the dock”. This small section is accompanied with some fantastic video interviews with former employees.
One interesting exhibit is a joke letter written by staff complaining of ‘acute shortages’ of ‘silk stockings, chocolates and cosmetics’.
In the light of the above, it is considered that the most expedient method of implementing the proposal in (c) would be the early dispatch of a mission to the U.S.A; a Force Commander has already been appointed, in anticipation of instructions.
At this point you enter the Churchill Museum, which is massive and includes lots of audiovisual displays, interactive elements, sounds and objects. It has been designed so that you do not start at the beginning of Churchill’s life, but rather follow the course ofhte war and then return to Churchill’s birth and early life halfway through the museum.
While the museum is full of interesting exhibits and detailed information, I feel that it has suffered from the 2003 curators’ over-excitement about new technologies. The museum is very dark, clearly to accentuate the panels and visual exhibits that light up. However this is quite disorientating once you’ve been in the museum for a few minutes, and some of the smaller more traditional exhibits such as letters and documents are difficult to read and so suffer.
The museum also lacks a clear route. I am sure some people prefer to wander and find their own route, but personally I like to look at everything when I visit a museum, preferably in order, so if I find myself reading about something ten years ahead or behind where I just was, I find it very distracting. Of course I am sure this is a personal thing.
The designers were clearly trying to weave sound and image in a very innovative way in the museum, and it certainly is innovative. However I sometimes felt the words ‘style over substance’ come to mind, as some of the design elements seemed a bit unnecessary. For example they incorporated two projections facing eachother with seats beneath, and the accompanying sound could only be heard when sitting directly below the opposite screen. While an interesting idea, it still means you have several voices in your ears at once and I feel it may have simply been more effective to just have two screens installed away from one another.
Another example of this overuse of sound technologies is the use of focused speakers in the ceiling, which are activated when you step on a sensor in the right place directly below the speaker. I am all for these methods of directing sound so it is not heard by everybody else, however it does somewhat remove the social element of visiting a museum. I found myself at several points listening to an interesting commentary near somebody else, before they suddenly moved away from the sensor, so the sound was turned off and I missed the end of the recording.
I found myself frequently wandering around confused, trying to read something, while hearing several conflicting voices coming from unexpected places. Perhaps I am just old-fashioned about these things and in a few years we will all be so used to these kinds of exhibitions. However I do think that curators should be careful not to overuse these techniques for the sake of it, at the expense of people’s understanding and comfort.
One interesting element of the museum is the Lifeline, an interactive timeline which contains loads of detailed information about every year of Churchill’s life. This is really fascinating once yuo get the hang of it, however it demonstrated how fast technology moves. As it’s 2013 my first inclination was to touch the screen to move through the timeline, however instead you have to touch one of the small pads positioned around the table. It is not very sensitive and a little difficult to navigate, but a useful reference all the same.
Leaving aside these design-related criticisms, I must say the Churchill Museum is incredibly comprehensive and has some fascinating exhibits. One of my favourites was a small interactive screen which showed remarks Churchill made over the course of his life. He was n incredibly witty man and these quotes made fantastic reading.
The museum also has one of Churchill’s Siren suits on display, an all-in-one zip up suit which he wore on many occasions. From Churchill’s early life there are also some school reports, which show his lack of achievement in early life but his interest in history, and a punishment book, which is fascinating to read just to see the kinds of punishments delivered for the types of school-related transgressions.
At this point during my visit, we had to hurry through the final part of the museum to see the rest of the war rooms before closing times. Again it would have been good to know how many rooms were left if you don’t have much time as you get stuck into the museum halfway through the route around the historical rooms.
These final rooms included the bedrooms of Churchill, his wife and other senior staff and the Chief of Staff Conference Room, which includes large maps with wartime doodlings of Hitler on them
There is also a room which the BBC used to broadcast Churchill’s speeches, four of which he made from his bedroom, including his 11 September 1940 speech warning of Hitler’s plans against the UK.
The map room is also fascinating, with maps covering every wall and each one marked by millions of tiny pinpricks as they were marked and remarked by hand. It is amazing how plans were executed from these rooms with such basic organisational equipment.
The Churchill War Rooms is definitely worth and now it has been expanded so much, I would say it is worth a whole day’s visit, as you can certainly make it worth the £17 ticket price if you absorb all the information there. The museum is open daily from 9.30am to 6pm and is a short walk from Westminster or St James’s Park tube stations.
On 11 December 1941, the USA declared war on Germany and Italy on the same day that Hitler declared war on the USA. The first American servicemen arrived in Britain on 26 January 1942 and to prepare them for the culture shock of wartime Britain, the United States War Department published and distributed a handbook called Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, 1942.
Today this book gives some fascinating insights into the cultural position of both Britain and the US, and from a British perspective it is interesting to see how some of our quirks were viewed by the Americans and vice versa. What I find most interesting is how nice the book is about Britain and the British and how insightful the comments are regarding British life. Some of the comments are really heart-warming!
American servicemen earned nearly 5 times what British Tommies earned. In 1942 when the Americans arrived, a British Private would be paid 14s a week, while his American counterpart would earn the equivalent of £3. 8s and 9d. This of course caused some bitterness among some British soldiers, leading to the (hopefully light-hearted) accusation: ‘Oversexed, overpaid and over here’.
However when combined with the American tendancy to be a little more brash than the British, these inequalities were dangerous. The US War Office clearly recognised this and warned soldiers not to show off and be respectful. It’s fascinating how they explain why the British are reserved – due to our crowded island – and that this conceals a toughness that caused the English language to thrive around the world.
The British are often more reserved in conduct than we. On a small crowded island where forty-five million people live, each man learns to guard his privacy carefully-and is equally careful not to invade another man’s privacy.
So if Britons sit in trains or busses without striking up conversation with you, it doesn’t mean they are being haughty and unfriendly. Probably they are paying more attention to you than you think. But they don’t speak to you because they don’t want to appear intrusive or rude.
Don’t Be a Show Off. The British dislike bragging and showing off. American wages and American soldier’s pay are the highest in the world. When pay day comes it would be sound practice to learn to spend your money according to British standards. They consider you highly paid. They won’t think any better of you for throwing money around; they are more likely to feel that you haven’t learned the common-sense virtues of thrift. The British “Tommy” is apt to be specially touchy about the difference between his wages and yours. Keep this in mind. Use common sense and don’t rub him the wrong way.
The British Are Tough. Don’t be misled by the British tendency to be soft-spoken and polite. If they need to be, they can be plenty tough. The English language didn’t spread across the oceans and over the mountains and jungles and swamps of the worldbecause these people were panty-waists.
You are higher paid than the British “Tommy.” Don’t rub it in. Play fair with him. He can be a pal in need.
Britain as a war zone
What hits home right away when reading the book is the difference in war experience between Britain and the US. The book constantly reminds the American soldiers that the British have been at war already for three years and the island itself is a war zone. It shows how easy it must have been for the Americans to look down on British poverty and shabbiness compared to American wealth and how important a book like this must have been to explain the hardships the British had already suffered.
It’s quite poignant to read the summaries of how much the British suffered from an outside perspective. When we hear about the home-front in Britain, it is often easy to overstate the Blitz spirit and the positives of our ‘finest hour’ and forget how bad it really was. Coming from America to Britain, the pain must have been very clear.
Remember There’s a War On. Britain may look a little shop-worn and grimy to you. The British people are anxious to have you know that you are not seeing their country at its best. There’s been a war on since 1939- Tile houses haven’t been painted because factories are not making paint-they’re making planes.
Keep Out of Arguments. You can rub a Britisher the wrong way by telling him “we came over and won the last one.” Each nation did its share. But Britain remembers that nearly a million of.her best manhood died in the last war. America lost 60,000 in action.
Neither do the British need to be told that their armies lost the first couple of rounds in the present war. We’ve lost a couple, ourselves, so do not start off by being critical of them and saying what the Yanks are going to do. Use your head before you sound off, and remember how long the British alone held Hitler off without any help from anyone.
At Home in America you were in a country at war. Now, however, you are in a war zone. You will find that all Britain is a war zone and has been since September, 1939- All this has meant great changes in the British way of life.
But more important than this is the effect of the war itself. The British have been bombed, night after night and month after month. Thousands of them have lost their houses, their possessions, their families. Gasoline, clothes, and railroad travel are hard to come by and incomes are cut by taxes to an extent we Americans have not even approached.
You came to Britain from a country where your home is still safe, food is still plentiful, and lights are still burning. So it is doubly important for you to remember that the British soldiers and civilians are living under a tremendous strain. It is always impolite to criticize your hosts. It is militarily stupid to insult your allies.
The book highlights an attitude which probably still endures. Great Britain was viewed by some as an outdated system of titles and monarchy and the book takes the time to try to explain that the British respect their king while still living in ‘one of the great democracies’. You can see how the American’s perception of their own system as the greatest could easily come into conflict with British respect for tradition and it is interesting that the book goes as far as to suggest that the British system might even be better!
Although you read in the papers about “lords” and “sirs,” England is still one of the great democracies and the cradle of many American liberties. Personal rule by the King has been dead in England for nearly a thousand years. Today the King reigns, but does not govern. The British people have great affection for their monarch but have stripped him of practically all political power.
The important thing to remember is that within this apparently old-fashioned framework the British enjoy a practical, working twentieth century democracy which is in some ways even more flexible and sensitive to the will of the people than our own.
Historians often debate how far the position of women improved during the Second World War and the comments on this subject make very interesting reading. The fact that the book considers it worth pointing out indicates that the position of women in the USA had not reached a point where a female could give orders to a male. To be honest, I didn’t even realise that women officers would have that much power and respect.
A British woman officer or non-commissioned officer can and often does give orders to a man private. The men obey smartly and know it is no shame. For British women have proven themselves in this war. They have stuck to their posts near burning ammunition dumps, delivered messages afoot after their motorcycles have been blasted from under them. They have pulled aviators from burning planes. They have died at the gun posts and as they fell another girl has stepped directly into the position and “carried on.” There is not a single record in this war of any British woman in uniformed service quitting her post or failing in her duty under fire.
Now you understand why British soldiers respect the women in uniform. They have won the right to the utmost respect. When you see a girl in khaki or air-force blue with a bit of ribbon on her tunic-remember she didn’t get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich.
These comments indicate that the war itself changed certain social relations in Britain far beyond those in America. As far as I know the book doesn’t mention it, but another interesting conflict that emerged when the Americans arrived in Britain was caused by American attitudes towards black people clashing with the comparative tolerance of the British.
Although of course racism was endemic in Britain in this period, the even more pronounced prejudices of the Americans encouraged some British people to stick up for their black neighbours. Colonel Pleas B. Rogers of the London Base Command, US Forces, admitted that in London the ‘negro British nationals are rightly incensed. They undoubtedly have been cursed, made to get off the sidewalk, leave eating places and are separated from their white wives in public by American soldiers.’ I recommend this article ‘When Jim Crow Met John Bull’ if you want to read more about this topic.
The book contains many more interesting observations – to read more go to this website.
Dr Michael Mosley is a wonderful programme maker who is responsible for several other great documentaries I’ve mentioned before, including Medical Mavericks, The Story of Science, Frontline Medicine and several episodes of Horizon. Now he’s presenting a new three-part series called Pain, Pus & Poison: The Search for Modern Medicines.
The first episode deals with the search for medicines to relieve pain. Several of the stories he presents have been presented in his previous programmes, however it’s always nice to have an update. He tells the story of the development of ether for use in operations, which was marked by conflict between William T. G. Morton, who performed a painless tooth extraction with the drug in 1846, and Henry Jacob Bigelow, who arranged a demonstrations where ether was used in an operation on a patient’s neck tumor.
He also explains how the drugs Heroin and Aspirin were developed simultaneously and initially Heroin was selected as the preferred drug and marketed successfully by Bayer AG. Aspirin slowly grew in popularity as Heroin’s addictive properties began to cause concern and Aspirin became one of the most popular drugs in the world.
Mosley tests the medicines he is talking about on himself, which really brings his programmes to life, proving he’s really serious about what he’s talking about, or at least eager to get high! In this first episode, he conducts several staggering experiments, including rubbing cocaine into his eye before poking it and having himself intravenously drugged with sodium thiopental, to test its ability as a truth serum.
The show is incredibly engaging, and I particularly enjoy his explanations of how the painkillers actually function in the body, something I always wonder about when taking them! The episode concludes with a celebration of morphine, the drug that has endured for 200 years despite huge developments in medicine.
Episode 1: Pain is on iPlayer now, as is the next episode, Pus.
In the last couple of weeks I have been craving modern history documentaries, particularly those concerned with British and American politics. The next few documentary posts contain a few good ones I’ve discovered during my browsing.
Blair: The Inside Story
Several documentaries were made in 2007, on the 10th anniversary of Tony Blair becoming Prime Minister, including this one and The Blair Years. Both are on YouTube and are worth watching. I find this period very interesting as it is the only one I remember personally – my formative years were during Blair’s government. Blair: The Inside Story is presented by award-winning political journalist Michael Cockerell and is a generally well-balanced look back at Blair’s time in office. It contains fascinating interviews with key players in government, as well as revealing footage of Tony Blair inside Number 10, filmed by Cockerell himself.
The NHS: A Difficult Beginning
This documentary explains how the National Health Service was created and the difficulties it overcame to get established. it was broadcast on BBC4 in 2009 to celebrate the 60th birthday of the NHS. It tells the story of Nye Bevan, Labour’s minister of health, who pushed the reforms through despite enormous opposition from the Tory Party, the press and most importantly the medical establishment. This is a fascinating insight into some often overlooked areas of modern history – definitely worth a watch.