15 04, 2014
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Nineteenth-Century Nuts: The Anatomy of a Victorian Lad’s Mag (Part 1)

By |April 15th, 2014|Featured, History|4 Comments

Nineteenth-Century Nuts The Anatomy of a Victorian Lad's Mag It’s all gone tits up. Nuts, the beleaguered lads’ mag, has finally cracked under the twin pressures of outrage (from those who didn't read it) and indifference (from those who once did). As a Guardian-reading feminist I should probably be quite glad to see it go, but the historian in me feels a pang of sadness. I work on the history of popular newspapers and magazines, so whenever a long-running publication closes its doors I feel compelled to mourn its passing. Even when the odious News of the World went to joing the great newsagent in the sky I couldn't bring myself to celebrate the death of a 160 year old publication, no matter how toxic it had become. Nuts doesn't have anything like this kind of history, but its death still feels like the end of an era. Front magazine closed its doors in February, the company behind Penthouse filed for bankruptcy last Autumn, and the circulation figures of most other men's magazines are in freefall. Now that one of the genre's flagship publications has sunk, titles like Zoo, FHM and Loaded seem sure to follow. For better or worse, the lad's mag is on its last legs. I was seventeen [...]

26 02, 2014
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Musical Prize Fight

By |February 26th, 2014|History|1 Comment

In September 1859 a "Grand Village Band Contest" was held in a place called Loftus - a small moorland-village on the North-Yorkshire coast, not far from the house where I grew up. Music filled the air and crowds poured in from miles around to witness the spectacle. Among them was John Hollingshead, a London journalist and theatrical impresario who would later go on to produce the first collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan. At this point he was making his way in the business under the tutelage of Charles Dickens by contributing articles to Household Words and All the Year Round. His account of the "Musical Prize Fight" at Loftus appeared in the latter magazine in November 1859. It's a delightful account of an outsider's visit to the area and features a Dickensian cast of local characters. 119 years later, in 1978,  my parents unearthed a copy of the article in a second-hand bookshop. My Dad (a historian) began to explore the history of the Loftus Band Contest, while my Mam (an artist) started illustrating some of the scenes from Hollingshead's account. Her pen & ink drawings are fabulous. She's far too modest to make this comparison herself, but the characterisation and delightful background details remind [...]

21 12, 2012
  • CLEVER DETECTIVES - The Dart The Birmingham Pictorial (Birmingham, England), Friday, May 11, 1894

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Repeat Prescription

By |December 21st, 2012|blog, History|0 Comments

It's been a record breaking year for British sport. Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, Andy Murray triumphed at the U.S. Open, our Olympians earned an impressive stack of gold medals, and ex-footballer Gary Linekar celebrated his 18th year as the face of Walkers crisps. It's a remarkable achievement. Speaking to Digital Spy back in March, the former England striker confidently proclaimed that he was responsible for spearheading "quite comfortably the longest-running celebrity-endorsed campaign" in advertising history. He's not even close. An advert has recently been doing the rounds in which Sherlock Holmes endorses the miraculous healing powers of Beechams Pills. It's not the great detective's finest hour. Shorn of his deductive powers by a troublesome head cold, Holmes only regains his crime-solving abilities thanks to a timely dose of Beechams Ultra All In One. Conan Doyle must be spinning in his grave. Holmes is rather vulnerable to this sort of treatment. The copyright on his adventures expired in 1980, leaving him open to all imaginable abuses and adaptations. However, it turns out that Beechams' relationship with Sherlock pre-dates this landmark by quite some distance. Way back in 1893, the following advert began to appear in British papers: Watson loses [...]

2 06, 2012
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It’s alive!

By |June 2nd, 2012|blog, History, Journal Articles|0 Comments

In Mary Shelley's version of the story, Victor Frankenstein locks himself in a laboratory for two years in order to pursue his scientific research. He is driven by an insatiable appetite for discovery, but when he finally witnesses the results of his labours he is filled with an overpowering sense of dread: "I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room..." I was reminded of this passage a few weeks ago on the morning of my PhD viva. It had been more than a month since I had last read my thesis, but in preparation for the big event I plucked up the courage to have a final look. It was a mistake. Every page seemed to bring a fresh disaster; a grammatical error here, a missing footnote there, and so many sentences that I longed to rewrite. Three and a half years earlier I had set out to create something beautiful. Now, as I looked upon it with fresh eyes, I saw only [...]

19 12, 2011
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Smiling Victorians

By |December 19th, 2011|blog, History|2 Comments

Two years ago I taught on an undergraduate course which gave 1st year students an introduction to Victorian Britain. In the opening seminar I divided my students into groups and asked them to define a 'typical Victorian'. As I expected, they drew upon every cliche in the book: top hats, bonnets, monocles and waxed mustaches cropped up in every discussion. When I asked them to imagine their character's surroundings, they immediately thought of gloomy workhouses, smoke-filled factories and crumbling Dickensian rookeries. Finally, I asked them to describe their character's personality. All of them imagined the 'typical Victorian' as glum, joyless, or incapable of expressing any emotion at all. When I jokingly asked them to do their best impression of a Victorian they all stared back at me with expressions of disdainful indifference (which I decided not to interpret as genuine contempt). These responses were not unexpected. For the best part of a century we've imagined the Victorians in these unflattering terms. Most people tend to think of them as old fashioned, stuffy, pompous, cripplingly respectable,  emotionally stunted, sexually repressed, and obsessive about manners and decorum. One of the most enduring (though probably apocryphal) images of the period is of Queen Victoria, dressed in black [...]