Mary, Countess of Pembroke: poetry, patronage and power

This is, more or less, the text of the talk I gave earlier this month at the Wilton History Festival. Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and her sons William and Philip, were the most influential patrons of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. Let’s begin with a story to illustrate that assertion. For the moment, we will... Continue Reading →

Of God and Jonson: theatre history, new things and non-events

I was fortunate to be able to attend some of the superb Before Shakespeare conference at Roehampton last week. I came away with a range of thoughts and ideas, some of which I hope to pursue in one form or another. Perhaps the thing that struck me most, however, was Bill Ingram’s opening talk. Ingram... Continue Reading →

Wilton History Festival: the Countess of Pembroke and her circle

Just a brief post to say I will be speaking at Wilton History Festival on 17 September about the literary circle around Mary Sidney and the power of patronage. For those who don't know, Mary Sidney was the younger sister Philip Sidney and is the Countess of Pembroke for whom he wrote the Arcadia. However,... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: Waterloo Road (1945)

Set contemporaneously, Waterloo Road expertly taps into the tensions between those called up for military duty and those who remained behind in civilian life. It stars John Mills as a soldier who comes home to south east London on leave to find his wife, played by Joy Shelton, apparently enamoured of local spiv, Ted Purvis.... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: The Happy Family (1952)

The redoubtable Stanley Holloway leads the ensemble cast in this 1952 comedy set against the opening of the Festival of Britain the previous year. I say “against” advisedly: the premise of the film is that an administrative error, discovered just weeks before the festival is set to open, means that Holloway’s family home and shop... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: London Belongs to Me (1948)

Released in 1948, this is an adaptation of Norman Collins’ sprawling sub-Dickensian novel of London life, published just three years earlier. The novel teems with stories, and much has had to be trimmed to create a workable film (the book’s current Penguin edition runs to 750-odd pages of small type), but there is still plenty... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: St Martin’s Lane (1938)

Also known by its US title, Sidewalks of London, St Martin’s Lane is the story of a pickpocket, played by Vivien Leigh, who is befriended by a seasoned street performer (Charles Laughton). He discovers she has a lovely singing voice and incorporates her into his act, falling in love with her as he does so.... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: Pool of London (1951)

A gripping and beautifully shot 1951 film noir from Ealing Studios, Pool of London follows two merchant seamen on shore leave who get sucked into a world of petty crime which quickly escalates out of their control. Its principal claim to fame these days is that it features an inter-racial love story – the superb... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: The Boy and the Bridge (1959)

The bridge in question is Tower Bridge, where the boy, played by nine-year-old Iain Maclaine, flees after he sees – or believes he sees – his drunken father get arrested for murder. At heart, this is a rather tender film, as Maclaine’s character works resourcefully to live hidden away in one of the towers, with... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: Night and the City (1950)

Unarguably the finest British film noir ever made, Night and the City was directed by American Jules Dassin. Its strikingly dark tone may not be unrelated to the fact that Dassin took the project because studio head Darryl F Zanuck had told him he was about to be blacklisted by the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities... Continue Reading →

FT: Emigrants by James Evans

Otto von Bismarck was once asked to identify the pre-eminent fact in modern world history. That America spoke English, he replied. In Emigrants, James Evans attempts to explain how and why that happened. For much of the 17th century, England was something of a failed state. In mid-century it collapsed into a brutal and protracted... Continue Reading →

TLS: So High A Blood by Morgan Ring

So High A Blood explores in detail the life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox, a Tudor princess without whom, perhaps, there would have been no Stewart succession and no subsequent union between England and Scotland. Born in 1515, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, by her second husband... Continue Reading →

Me and Debbie McGee – or, Life and Death in West Ruislip

I know what you’re thinking. What does Debbie McGee, diminutive relict of the late pint-sized prestidigitator Paul Daniels, have to do with anything? And, more specifically, what does she have to do with me? Just a few weeks ago, I’d have wondered the same thing. And then she turned up at the auction of my... Continue Reading →

History Today: Between fact and fiction

This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of History Today. What does it mean to write history today? What claims can historians make about their work? These are just two of the questions that sprang to mind after listening to Niall Ferguson tussle with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley on Radio 4’s Start... Continue Reading →

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