Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bank Holiday opening hours

Need to study over the Bank Holiday? We are open on Monday 10.00 - 20.00.
See our full opening hours at the link below

Hope you get to take some time off too!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and getting your mates acquainted with them.


Uh-kweyn-tuhns: Noun: (1) a person known to one, but usually not a close friend (2) the state of being casually familiar with someone or something (3) personal knowledge as a result of study, experience, etc. (4) (used with a plural verb) the persons with whom one is acquainted.

Related terms: acquaintanceship; nonacquaintance; nonacquaintanceship; preacquaintance; reacquaintance.

Actually, let’s make it abundantly clear right from the outset that this week’s choice of word is not absolutely and precisely what you might call a neglected gem of the language as such, now is it? No indeed, especially seeing pretty much each and every one of us will have used this term at some stage or another during our brevid mortal existences (and more than once, we’ll wager). Or at least the older ones amongst us will have, given that there is now a palpable threat of it dropping out of modern usage altogether, thanks to the inception of social media sites such as Facebook, whereby people you’ve never even so much as set an eye on before can instantaneously leap miraculously past the acquaintanceship stage to suddenly become your “Friend,” simply on the strength of the fact that they too like pointless videos of dogs eating their dinners or young children being (allegedly) faintly amusing and then falling over. Still, at least it saves all that tedious palaver of actually getting to know them first, finding out what they’re all about, that sort of stuff and, once they are your Friend, unlike the proper version (real live chums, pals, mates etc.), such shall they eternally remain, no matter what, and you don’t even have to have any kind of contact whatsoever with them ever again if you don’t want to. Sorry, did that come across as a touch cynical at all …
So, having established that acquaintanceship is several notches higher on the intimacy scale than your average Facebook Friend, let’s now take a closer look at the word itself, shall we? It’s one of those particularly ticklish customers that you have to be a tad careful about before you going bandying it around because, for some mildly and inexplicably embarrassing reason, you wouldn’t want the person concerned ever to hear you referring to them as “an acquaintance,” would you? (Or is that just us?) There’s a kind of unacknowledged insipidity implied by it, a distinct sense of unwarmth about the whole thing, as if by saying, “he’s an acquaintance of mine” what you actually mean is, “well, I’m familiar with him, of course, but I wouldn’t want to share a macaroon with him come teatime, thanks all the same.” (Insipid, purely by the bye, is another term we use without ever pausing to think what it might actually mean and, being as it starts with the negative in- like it does, that suggests there should be a positive version, sipid, though this actually turns out to be sapid, full of flavour, the French having turned the a into i to make it insipid). Talking of our Gallic brethren, the word acquaintance has a distinctly French ring to it, wouldn’t you say, although the armslength sense of it is indubitably and inescapably our very own stiff-upper-lipped, stand-offish, d’you mind if I don’t, British through and through. Not to mention the fact that it also appears to contain within its borders another similarly hazardous adjective in quaint and, as we all know, when we describe something as quaint, what we’re actually saying, in a slightly pompous and condescending (and, once again, altogether British) way is, “oh, I say, how peculiarly inappropriate or amusingly old-fashioned and eccentric!” When it comes to looking down our noses at the rest of the world, we Brits have sure got the lexicographic armoury with which to pull it off, and nobody will ever knowingly outsneer us. And get away with it. Sadly, however, we didn’t coin either of the terms. So who did, then?

Acquaint comes from the Old French (we knew it!) acointer, to make known, a term that sprung up in the early thirteenth century, just around the time those wretched Plantagenets were acquainting themselves with our land before nicking it off of us, and thinking they had every right so to do, just because they happened to wear a sprig of broom in their hats – broom’s Latin name being planta genista, of course, hence the name – and because they didn’t do quite so much running away as we did back then. (Another purely English quality: long and unforgiving memories). Funnily enough, surrender is actually a word of French origin and is supposedly the only one in Churchill’s famous Fight on the Beaches  (not fight them on the beaches or anywhere, note) speech not solidly grounded in good old Anglo Saxon. Acointer itself comes from Vulgar Latin (which really means the common usage or vernacular, as opposed to Classical Latin, not just some coarse Roman sort effing and blinding like a centurion all the way down to the Colosseum), the root being accognoscere, know well, which springs from ac- (or ad-, actually), towards, plus cogniscere, which is com-, with or together, and gnoscere, know. Giving us the meaning of gaining a personal knowledge of, and a pretty thorough one at that. Which isn’t at all like our modern “on nodding terms” usage of acquaintance, though we do use it in the “know well” sense on occasions, as in phrases such as, “he is well acquainted with the theatres and bars of old Paris,” meaning that the fellow concerned is actually something of a cognoscente (we’ll come back to that word later) of such places, not that he waves a wan hand vaguely and mumbles a slightly embarrassed “wotcher, mate” as he hurries on by as rapidly as decency allows. As a maliciously satisfying by-product, that particular phrase additionally allows us to insinuate that the Jack the Lad concerned is also something of a raincoated lush who is rather overfamiliar with all the ins and outs of the Can-Can, if you catch our drift …

As for friend itself, that comes from the Old English, freogan, to love or favour, and implies a good degree of intimacy – it’s actually related to free (so you can just imagine what it was like when the Witan went a-wooing), the primary sense of that seeming to be beloved too, but also not in bondage (not a slave, in other words, or not until you’ve uttered the fatal “I do”, that is). Those purists amongst you (like us, we fully and unashamedly admit), who will almost obsessively insist that friend is not and never has been a verb (as in the hideously Facebookish “I friended him”), and who equally as rabidly demand that people stop using it like one because it only makes them sound like complete and utter imbeciles short of a little education, are in for something of a nasty shock: it’s been a verb since the fourteenth century. Makes you want to spit, don’t it?
Going back to acquaintanceship for a moment, if we may, that’s a bit of an odd one altogether, wouldn’t you say? After all, apart from the twice already – three times, if you count that one just now – that it has managed to shoehorn itself into these paragraphs, when did you ever hear someone actually use the term acquaintanceship? There it goes again! It’s getting to be a positive infestation and, as if acquaintance weren’t insipid and inexplicit enough on its own in not describing precisely how far you’d actually be prepared to go, should you ever become entangled in a ticklish campsite situation with such a blighter, someone’s now gone and stuck that –ship bit on the end of it, just for pure devilment. What’s that all about then? It’s a suffix that keeps cropping up willy-nilly all over the place, as in fellowship (a state or condition), lordship (rank or office) or horsemanship (craft or skill) and our backroom boffins doing all the researching inform us that it’s got a good deal to do with shape, coming from the Old English, scapan, to create or form, the original meaning being to scrape, hack or cut, and from the same root we also (bizarrely) get scabies.
We never did quite clear up the explanation of quaint to any degree of satisfaction, so we’ll put that right straight away. Once again, as it was bound to do, this one springs from the same cognoscere root and then turned up in Old French (again) round about 1200, which was just after Richard I, the Lionheart, had been busy getting the crossbow bolt through his neck, a wound that would turn gangrenous and kill him. He was one of the great English Kings, of course, though he couldn’t speak a word of the lingo (apart from “where’s the cash” perhaps) and only ever spent six months in England, nearly ruining the country with his wanton crusading, during which he had twenty seven hundred Muslims beheaded in cold blood so as to make Acre get a move on with its surrendering, which pretty much did the trick. (Apart from that, though, thoroughly decent bloke). Anyhow, there he was besieging again, this time at the castle of Châlus-Chabrol in order to get his hands on yet more cash, strutting around the walls without bothering to put his chainmail on, when a crossbowman decides to have a potshot at him and scores a bullseye. As the stricken king lay dying, he called the archer to his tent (he turned up too, which is more than we’d’ve done in that situation) and forgave him, even giving him a hundred shillings into the bargain. Didn’t do him much good. The minute Richard was dead, the wretch was taken outside, flayed alive and hanged. So the French coined the word cointe, which is admirably apposite in Richard’s case, seeing it meant arrogant, proud, elegant, gracious and clever. Not sure about that last one, mind. In English (c.1300), it would mean elaborate or skilfully made, not quite the quaint that we know so well now, though they started to spell it that way from the early fourteenth century.
Cognoscere and noscere, both Latin for to know, have between them spawned a myriad litter of offspring words to do with knowing in some form or other. Incidentally, knowing, in the sense of sexual intercourse (goodness, has it suddenly got very hot in here?) goes all the way back to 1200 (when the French were getting quaint) and even features in the Old Testament so, should a friend introduce his wife to you, it’s probably best to reply that, yes, we are acquainted, rather than blurting out that you’ve known her well for a number of years (unless you do happen to be Boris Johnson). And that most infuriating of all parenthetical fillers, y’know, came in as early as 1712 but its roots go back to the fourteenth century. So, cognoscere and noscere, what have they given us? Here we go: agnosy (state of not knowing); agnosia (inability to recognise familiar objects); agnostic, of course; bibliognost (what a beauty, and one for all you librarians out there, being as it’s someone with a comprehensive knowledge of books and bibliography); cognition (and family) and recognise; cognosce (inquire into to determine); cognoscente (as mentioned earlier, one in the know or a connoisseur) and connoisseur; diagnose (and family); gnome (a pithy saying); incognito (why, when Superman puts on a pair of glasses, do people then not recognise him at all?); prognosis (and family); and reconnoitre (to survey or inspect, in rather a French-sounding manner), to name but a few.

 Then there’s notice, of course, which originally meant information or intelligence, which is why we “give in our notice” when we intend to quit something, which dates back to about 1590, while notice as a sign giving information didn’t come along until 1805. Notice used as a verb goes back to 1757 but it was long execrated in England as an “Americanism,” sometimes even a “Scottishism,” and it seems that Benjamin Franklin went apoplectic and nearly blew a gasket when he got back from the French Revolution only to find all his countrymen scattering it around all over the place, in exactly the same ghastly fashion as we talk of “friending someone” today. By “we” we mean “they,” of course, and, you know what, Franklin had a point, which we wholeheartedly acknowledge. Which is another one, though it should really be aknowledge, the ac- part only coming in by mistake.

And finally, we mustn’t ignore ignore, must we? Or we might just end up sounding ignorant. Ignore was originally French for to be unaware of (rather than take no notice of), which is how ignorant came about in the first place. Which brings us nicely on to ignoramus, a word commonly ascribed to the coinage of a fellow by the name of George Ruggle, a seventeenth century dramatist who, in 1615, penned a witty little number (a college farce, by all accounts), written in Latin with passages in French and English (what a big show-off), and in which the leading character was a dullard dunce of a lawyer called Ignoramus, though the play would probably need a good few one-liners in it, seeing the thing was a buttock-numbing six hours long. James I loved it and ended up seeing it twice, which may be where we get the phrase “pearls before swine.”

Ignoramus is Latin for “we do not know” and does, in fact, have a law connection. Way back when, in the sixteenth century actually, it was used in court, as reported by Sir Thomas Smith in De Republica Anglorum (1565), who didn’t win many prizes for spelling but did say that when a Grand Jury was considering an indictment, “if they finde it true they do nothing but write on the backeside of it, ‘billa vera’, as ye would say, ‘scriptum verum’: or ‘accusatio iusta’, or ‘reus est qui accusatur’: Then he who is there named is called indicted.” On the other hand, if they thought the whole thing was a stitch-up, they simply wrote “ignoramus” on the back (we do not know) and handed that to the judge. It’s just surprising more of them weren’t banged up for contempt, we’d’ve said. Lots of terms, it would seem, for saying send the blighter down, but only the one for let’s let him off: ignoramus.

And so, it seems, we’ve come all the way from acquaintance via friends on Facebook to end up with an ignoramus. How is that even possible


Chums: By Staff of Chums (Scan of original) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Britishers: By HM Government ( photo 17377.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jane Avril Dancing (Can-Can): By Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Witan: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Scabies: By Kalumet (de.wikipedia) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Richard the Lionheart: Merry-Joseph Blondel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Samson and the Philistines: Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Benjamin Franklin: Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
James I: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Saturday workshops in the Library - Summer term

Come along to a Library workshop, find out about useful resources and brush up your library and information skills!

This term our workshops are aimed at taught and research postgraduates, but all are welcome.

We are trying a different format this term and are running two full days of workshops, 30th May and 20th June - sign up for as many or as few as you wish, no need to come for the whole day. Here's the programme:

Sat 30th May
10am - 11am Finding And Accessing Theses
This session will cover how to identify and obtain copies of PhD theses using the Library catalogue, Index to Theses and the Ethos service. Book Now

11.30am - 1pm Improving Your Search Skills
Learn to get the best out of your searches on Library catalogues, databases and the web. Book Now

2pm - 3pm Keeping up to date using current awareness services
Keep up to date with the latest journal articles in your field by using current awareness services such as ZETOC. Book Now

3.30pm - 5pm Managing your references using Zotero
An introduction to managing your references using the Zotero package. Book Now

Sat 20th June
10am - 11am Finding And Accessing Theses
This session will cover how to identify and obtain copies of PhD theses using the Library catalogue, Index to Theses and the Ethos service. Book Now

11.30am - 1pm Improving Your Search Skills
Learn to get the best out of your searches on Library catalogues, databases and the web. Book Now

2pm - 3pm Keeping up to date using current awareness services
Keep up to date with the latest journal articles in your field by using current awareness services such as ZETOC. Book Now

3.30pm - 5pm Managing your references using Mendeley
An introduction to managing your references using the Mendeley package. Book Now

The Library is also contributing two sessions to the Academic Writing Day on May 16th

10am - 11.30am UK Data Service
This session will introduce you to the resource and provide tips to get you started. Book Now

11.45am - 13.45pm Improving your Search Skills
Learn to get the best out of your searches on Library catalogues, databases and the web. Book Now

We look forward to seeing you at a workshop.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Are you a crossword lover?

One of our resources, Credo Reference, has a built in crossword solver (as well as being a trusted source for information!)

Try it out at

You may find some of their other tools on the same page useful too - such as tools for looking updefinitions, people, pronounciations and quotations.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Today's the Day

Anniversaries in Academia & Elsewhere

April 17
This day was to prove quite a significant one in the life of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales bloke, commonly known as the Father of English Literature, and the first writer to be interred in Poets’ Corner. Whilst his name derives from the French, chasseur, meaning shoemaker (his father and grandfather were vintners and extremely well-heeled by all accounts), he himself was something of an astronomer, philosopher and alchemist, though his main job was that of civil servant, bureaucrat and diplomat, which meant spending his days hanging around the courts of Edward III and Richard II. In actual fact, so upper crust was he that he was almost what you might call royal-in-law, seeing he married Philippa Roet (lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III), who (Philippa Roet) was sister of Katherine Swynford (also from Hainault, making them all three Belgians), who eventually became John of Gaunt’s third wife, John of Gaunt (that’s Ghent, actually, also in Belgium) being not only third son of Edward III but also dad of Henry Bolingbroke, who would eventually usurp Richard II and then starve him to death in Pontefract Castle, which is where Thomas Beaufort happened to be Constable, he being the third illegitimate child of, wouldn’t you know it, John of Gaunt and Katherine, while she was still only his mistress. Talk about keeping it in the family. Or amongst what you might call a flange of highly dubious Belgians. And a mighty complex and incestuous web of intrigue it was too, with Chaucer flitting around at the periphery trying to steer clear of all the scandal and bloodletting. Mind you, it’s easy to see where he might have got some of his ideas for bawdy tales from, though what with that vaudeville farce going on and all his various day jobs to be getting on with, it’s amazing he found any time at all for the old authoring side of things.

But he did. And he even achieved fame for it during his own lifetime, so much so that on St George’s Day 1374 (23 April, and a day on which artistic endeavours were traditionally recognised), Edward III rewarded Chaucer’s efforts in penmanship with the grant of “a gallon of wine a day for the rest of his life.” Now, that is going it some, even for our own times, so either our Geoff had plenty of mates to help him out with getting through that little lot or else the monarch was rather less than pleased with the prospect of some upstart bureaucrat hogging all the limelight and simply wanted to provide the means with which Chaucer might drink himself all the faster into his niche in Poets’ Corner. If that was the plan, it failed miserably, as it was Eddie himself who pegged out first, on 21 June 1377, leaving the throne to a ten year old Richard II who, it seems, took a dim view of this voracious wine guzzling (well, someone high up did, anyhow) and so 17 April 1378 saw the last of the gallons of wine handed over, the grant becoming a strictly cash only one the next day. Still, mathematically speaking, Chaucer had managed to enjoy nearly three years of wetting his whistle on the gratis grape, equating to (1376 was a leap year) some 1090 gallons of the stuff and, though that only works out at less than five cubic metres volume-wise (a metre by a metre by five, if you want to picture it and, yes, we do realise gallons is a measure of volume, but it’s hardly a very illustrative one, now is it?) it still sounds like the makings of a darn good party, we’d’ve said. Or a quietish night down the old Bullingdon Club, perhaps?

This day in 1397 was also when Chaucer began reading out his Canterbury Tales to the court of Richard II. They must’ve been on at him for ages about it, saying stuff like, “Come on, Geoff lad, tha’s been scratching away at that theer parchment s’long now, that quill pen o’ thine must be nigh on redhot be now.” Except that they would’ve phrased it in French, rather than vernacular Northern, being as they were all still Plantagenets just then, which is probably why Chaucer wrote it in Middle English in the first place: so those land-grabbing Frenchies (of then) would have about as much idea as to what he was on about as we do today when we’re confronted by it. Anyhow, no matter how much he tried to put them off, they were having none of it, even though he kept on insisting that they weren’t finished yet. Which they weren’t. Nor would they ever be. So let’s none of us have too much sympathy with the EngLit boffins and all their tearful tales of woe about how they’ve had to “wade through the whole thing” studying it word by word, “sometimes in the original Middle English” because they’ve actually got off amazingly lightly. Yes, a very lucky escape as it turns out, seeing our Geoff had intended to have each of the pilgrims telling two tales out and two tales back, which would then make it one hundred and twenty tales, or six times longer than it actually ended up. So let’s have a bit less of the moaning from you EngLit people in future, shall we? Just countest thye blessings …

Chaucer was something of a trendsetter for his time because, up until then around the palaces, and for as long as anybody could remember, entertainment had been nothing but court minstrels, who never did anything original and kept on churning out the same old whiskery stories over and over, time after time after time, that everyone had heard ad nauseum and were just about fed up to the back teeth with. To paint the picture brutally blunt, it would be very much the same thing for us today if, every time we turned on the television, all we could ever find by way of entertainment was wall-to-wall Jimmy Tarbuck. Yes, not at all funny. The Ricardians were utterly sick to death of endless court minstrels, which is why they turned to Chaucer and begged him to do a spot in the limelight. So he agreed to help them out and got started, as we’ve seen, on 17 April 1397.

Make no mistake about it, there will be those out there now who will be chuntering away to themselves right this minute, complaining about how that seems to be a mightily precise dating for so very long ago (it was a Monday, by the bye), so how can you be so cocksure certain about it, matey? Sounds about as emphatic as a Grant Shapps strenuous denial and we all know how wide of the mark they can sometimes be. In actual fact, it’s all down to Experts. Quite where they manage to haul these Experts (as in “Experts now say”) up from has always been something of a mystery as far as we’re concerned, seeing the only ones we’ve ever come across are of the utter ignoramus sort that are easily converted into experts by the mere addition of a little alcohol. However, in this case, ours were Scholars. They have successfully managed to prove that the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales set off on 17 April 1387, which also happens to be the year that Chaucer went on pilgrimage himself. The 17 April part comes from the text itself (and it’s at this point that the EngLit people come into their own by claiming, quite rightly, fair play to ‘em, that “We knew that; it’s in The Man of Law’s Introduction”) and (as they also knew already) he gets going on his tale the second day, with lines five and six informing us that, “He wiste it was the eightetethe day / Of Aprill, that is messager to May”. Ergo, they set off on the 17 April. By a process of elimination, getting rid of Sundays and any Easter weeks, and by events referred to, the year must be 1387. 17 April would thus be a fitting day on which to commence readings, and 1397 the first time he had The Canterbury Tales knocked into any kind of decent shape. Well, the first sixth of it, anyhow. It does seem that Richard II eventually had a change of heart over the wine grant business, reinstating it in that same year of 1397 but, for some reason, only two hundred and fifty two gallons a year this time. Bad luck, Chaucer. He died in 1400. We don’t know what of …

17 April 1521 wasn’t such a good one for Martin Luther, the Ninety Five Theses bod, seeing he found himself being hauled up before the infamous Diet of Worms that day, in order to explain to them just what in the name of Wittenberg he thought he was playing at. This wasn’t about his having caused damage to church property by nailing his Theses to one of their doors back in 1517 because, of course, he never did any such thing, not at All Saint’s nor anywhere else, but more to do with the Diet’s desire to restore market forces to parity before they all came a cropper. It seems that the pontiff – that’d be Pope Leo X – had cast his eye over the work the previous year and discovered that Luther had been saying some very unseemly things about the practice of selling of Indulgences (that’s basically sinners buying absolution for a sum in hard cash, usually from highranking churchmen), arguing that why should these highflying clerics be making fat wadges of cash at it when the sinners could be getting their redemption for free from the Almighty by merely bending their knees? This approach was tending to undermine trade somewhat so, once Leo X got to hear about it, he thought we’d better have a word with this fellow sharpish like or he’s going to ruin the whole damn scam for everybody. So they summoned him to appear. With the reassurance, of course, that they were all bishops and archbishops and popes and the like, pillars of the church establishment, thoroughly decent chaps all, honest and upstanding, trust us on this one, as well as throwing in a guarantee of safe conduct while they were at it. Luther, for some reason, wasn’t quite convinced, pointing out to them that they were the very rogues and scallywags whose thoroughly deserving wedding tackle he’d been swinging his size niner at in the first place when he penned his Theses, scoundrels and reprobates out to make a fast buck, and about as trustworthy as a sack of badgers. Besides all of which, they’d also given that selfsame promise of safe conduct to Jan Hus, and look what happened to him.

Though Luther generally gets the “credit” for the Protestant Reformation, it was actually Hus that was instrumental in getting the ball rolling (and Wycliffe before him even) and, once again, the Church – that’d be the Catholics, or the bigwig ones, anyhow – got a touch edgy about the whole business and thought they’d better have him in so they could whisper a bit of advice in his shell-like, with the promise of safe conduct, of course. So Hus duly turns up to the ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 to hear what they’ve got to say, only it turns out that the advice is simply “recant or we’ll burn you, matey.” Following a fair trial, they dressed him in priestly garb simply so they could ritually strip it from him, ruined his haircut (tonsure) and stuck a paper hat on his head for good measure. They knew how to make a man suffer in those days. The next thing he knew, he was tied to the stake with firewood and straw piled up to his chin, which was probably about the point he realised that they’d promised safe conduct to him only on the way in

Anyhow, Luther got a guarantee for both legs of the journey, so he decides he might as well go along and see what all the fuss is about, only to find that they want to have a go at his library and pick holes in the works he’d been reading (which the Church hierarchy thought eminently unsuitable). They debate the whole thing thoroughly throughout 17 April, though they didn’t allow Luther a defence advocate or to speak except in answer to a direct question so, at the end of the day, he says he needs more time to respond and they grant him until the next morning. Then, having “prayed for long hours,” the blackguard is actually barefaced enough to admit they were his books all along, even adding his own version of “So what?” at the end of it. They found him guilty. Then they spent the next five days deciding what to do with him until finally Emperor Charles V got up onto his hind legs and told the Diet of Worms that Luther was an outlaw, banned his literature, demanded his arrest and that he be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, making it a crime for anyone to give him food or shelter, and saying it was OK if anyone fancied doing him in. You may already have spotted the tiny flaw in all this: by the time they had eventually made their minds up, the unarrested Luther had already legged it longsince. And, when they finally did get round to going after him, other things cropped up to distract them, so in the end he was allowed to return to public life. By everyone except, strangely enough, the Belgians …

Barely a dozen years later and it was none too good a day for Sir Thomas More, the Utopia chap, either as, on 17 April 1534, he was being frogmarched into the Tower of London, which, back in those days, tended to leave the future looking decidedly iffy, not to mention perilously short. More was the polar extreme to Luther and, in fact, he hated him more than Marmite, liking nothing better than to sit there of an evening, pen in hand, thinking up adjectives and epithets with which to vilify his rival – turd is about as far as we dare go down that particular road in these columns but, believe us, there were far worse than that. So, you see, he wasn’t quite the saint his reputation would have us believe, not when he kept his cellar kitted out as a dungeon for chaining up the beastly Protestants in, where he could then (allegedly) torture and flog them into a sounder way of religious thinking, not to mention the fact that he thoroughly approved of burning the wretches afterwards when they refused to see sense. But anyone of that ilk is almost bound to come a cropper sooner or later, just as More was about to find out.
Not only did he detest Luther to the very depths of his bowels (which is where he pulled most of the adjectives from, it seems), he was none too keen on Henry VIII’s new wife, Anne Boleyn (she had six fingers, so More was clearly right in thinking she was a wrong ‘un), his main beef being that the Catholic Church didn’t believe in divorce, so he reckoned Henry was still legally married to Catherine of Aragon (who had been married to Henry’s own brother, Arthur, before that, so More was being a tiny bit picky about what he did and didn’t believe). Which is why he never bothered to turn up when Henry finally married Anne in 1533, something that Anne took as a snub, especially as you’d expect something half-decent in the wedding present line from your Chancellor, wouldn’t you? (Actually though, looking at our own current one, not a chance, we take that all back), and then it was downhill all the way. He was accused of taking bribes, conspiring with a nun (the Holy Maid of Kent), neither of which were proven, but then he threw it all away on 13 April 1534 by refusing to acknowledge that Henry was on first name terms with God, then publicly declaring that the King was still shackled to Catherine of Aragon in Catholic eyes and that Anne Boleyn was therefore no better than a concubine. None of which went down at all well and four days later he was given his own room in the Tower, so he could have a bit of a think about what he’d done.

On 1 July 1535, More was tried. He probably had a fairish idea of how things might pan out when he noticed that the panel of judges included Anne Boleyn’s father, brother and uncle. More tried to wriggle out of the charges by saying nothing (he couldn’t be convicted unless he explicitly denied that Henry was Supreme Head of the Church) but it took the jury all of fifteen minutes to find him guilty. Being as he was such a treacherous rotter, they dished out the usual reward of a sentence to be hanged, drawn and quartered, only for his erstwhile mate, the King, to go all tender-hearted at the last minute and commute it to beheading. Five days later, 6 July 1535, More arrived at the steps to the scaffold, where he is reputed to have quipped, “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and, as for my coming down, I can shift for myself.” He is also alleged to have claimed to the executioner that his beard was entirely innocent of any crime (after so long in the Tower, it was a good long bushy one too but, seeing he’d grown it in prison, you could argue it was a lifelong gaolbird), so he moved it out of the way of the axe and was then decapitated. Thus it was that, just like his chum Henry before him, he too would lose his head over Anne Boleyn …

Geoffrey Chaucer: By anonymous portrait (Government Art Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Edward III (portrayed in the Sixteenth Century): [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard II: By English: Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chaucer as a Pilgrim (Ellesmere Script): [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Leo X with his cousins the Cardinals: Raphael [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jan Hus: By Janíček Zmilelý z Písku (Jena codex) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Luther at the Diet of Worms: Anton von Werner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas More as Chancellor: Hans Holbein the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anne Boleyn: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas More with his daughter after sentence of death: William Frederick Yeames [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 10 April 2015

Giants of Academia & the Arts

… but, then again, nobody is perfect

Philip St. John Basil Rathbone (13 June 1892 – 21 July 1967)

That would be Basil Rathbone, of course, the quintessential English actor “best known for his film portrayals of Sherlock Holmes”, as they always insist on saying, though he himself wished to be remembered more for his stage work, especially in the Shakespearean productions he so loved. Like Conan-Doyle previously, he would eventually become disenchanted with the Great Detective, though neither of them would ever manage to shake themselves finally free of the character, however much they tried. In a career spanning some fifty six years, only about seven of them would be in the guise of Sherlock Holmes, by the end of which it was already far too late: the image had become indelibly fixed in the public imagination. Basil Rathbone didn’t play Sherlock Holmes in those films, he was Sherlock Holmes.

Even playing a Rathbone wouldn’t prove to be a straightforward role, as this was an ancient name that had already boasted some remarkable bearers. Take Major Henry Rathbone for one. On 14 April 1865, he and his fiancée, Clara, received an invitation to go see a show and so, as it would be gratis and better than a poke in the arm with a pointed stick, off they went. Best seats in the house, mind, sitting right next to their good friends, Abe and Mary Lincoln. Though they weren’t actually first choice as guests (that was Ulysses S. Grant and wife), nor yet second nor, alas, even third. Then the party managed to turn up late so the play had to be stopped for Hail to the Chief to be thumped out (rather drawing attention to their somewhat red-faced tardiness), during which (or soon after) the bodyguard stationed outside their box sloped quietly off to the pub with Lincoln’s footman. No matter. The play, Our American Cousin, got going again and, as it was famously a real rip-roarer, they all settled back to await the arrival of one particular line, so hilarious it was sure to bring the house down, just as it always did. But, seeing that this basically boiled down to the words “you sockdologizing old man-trap!” quite what was so amusing about it remains shrouded in mystery. Sounds about as funny today as discovering that not only has Grant Shapps moved in next door to you but his Pekingese has also gone and widdled on your doormat. Still, they all thought it a right rib-tickler, just as John Wilkes Booth well knew and so, during the ensuing cacophony of cachinnations, he put a bullet in the President’s head. Rathbone was understandably incensed (well, the evening was ruined), so he grappled with Booth, who slashed his arm with a knife, severing an artery, before jumping down onto the stage, breaking his own leg (with the still-laughing audience thinking this was all part of the play) but still managing to hop it away sharpish to twelve days on the run. Well, on the limp anyhow. Lincoln died, of course, but Rathbone’s wound healed and he eventually married Clara, they had three children and then he went mad. He attacked his children, fatally shot and stabbed his wife and then stabbed himself five times in the chest, after which he was sent to an asylum in Germany, where he died in 1911.

Then there were the Liverpool Rathbones, including a continuous line of William Rathbones, from I straight through to VI and, whilst not particularly gifted in the thinking-up-names department, they did some other stuff to make up for that. William II founded Rathbone Brothers (with sibling Richard), still one of the UK's largest of wealth management services providers (first bonkers, now bankers – you need all that in the family, don’t you?), while William V was a reforming Mayor of Liverpool and then William VI (Basil’s grandfather) thought up the idea of District Nursing. There were also two notable women, both near contemporaries of Basil’s: Elfrida (1871-1940), a dedicated educationalist who would found the Rathbone Society; and Eleanor (1872-1946), MP, women’s rights campaigner, establisher of Family Allowance etc, etc. All in all, a fair old family history for Basil to live up to, so it’s high time we thought about getting him born, don’t you think?

Philip St John Basil Rathbone (the name St John is always pronounced Sinjun; don’t ask why, nobody knows), our epitome of an English gentleman, was actually born in South Africa and would later spend a large part of his life in the United States. His mum, Anna Barbara George, was a violinist (cute Holmesian touch there), while his dad, Edgar Philip, was a mining engineer who probably thought the William Rathbone idea had been done pretty much to death by then, so he fell back on the old recourse of naming his son after himself, like his own dad had done to him. (Though quite where he plucked the St John from is anyone’s guess). To be fair, he had produced two other sons prior to Basil without having to rely on that old standby but, sadly, both Harold and Horace seem to have vanished almost entirely from history, other than as rare mentions as Basil’s brothers. Well, half-brothers, actually, which may explain it. Old man Rathbone then carried on his ostentatious christening work with a flamboyant Beatrice George Woodham Rathbone for his daughter (George being the mother’s maiden name, not merely a piece of paternal maliciousness), followed by a final flourish with John Ernest Vivian Rathbone before hanging up his naming boots for good and all. You’d think being lumbered with a moniker like St John might’ve instilled some mercy in our Basil when the time came but, oh no: he ended up calling his own lad Rodion. Possibly after the lead character in Crime & Punishment. A murderer …

The old man’s occupation was the reason why the Rathbones were in South Africa in the first place. In 1877, the British, or Sir Theophilus Shepstone anyhow, announced that South Africa actually belonged to us, not the Boer, so we simply nicked it, with the added bonus that it would be well handy for when we decided to pinch neighbouring Zululand too while we were at it. All purely for the good of the countries concerned, you understand. But were they grateful? Not a bit of it! Instead, both lots decided they’d rather have a war with us than see sense but, given that the Zulu were armed with nothing more formidable than spears, we soon gave them what for but, when it came to the dastardly Boer (the word means farmer, by the bye), it rather looked like they might end up giving us a good licking and, if there’s one thing a British gentleman cannot tolerate, it is being licked by a Boer. To be honest, he even blenches at the thought of having a damp towel flicked at him in the changing rooms. And so we naffed off livelyish and left him to get on with it. Right up until 1886, that is, when they found they’d got simply oodles of gold lying around under their very feet. But, being farmers, not mining engineers, they couldn’t dig it up, so up pops old man Rathbone, just in the nick of time. Everything was pootling along quite nicely, thank you very much, when the infamously botched Jameson Raid rather scuppered things, which had been intended to impose colonial rule on the ingrate natives but merely led to the Second Boer War. All the British workers were denounced as spies (typical shabby Boer spitefulness) and were forced to hightail it out of there as fast as their legs could carry them. Which is how young Basil then found himself steaming rapidly Englandward, along with a newly-acquired and lasting belief in the power of premonition: about to book their homeward passage, his mother had a dream that the ship would sink and so she convinced old man Rathbone that they’d best take a later boat. Which they then did, the original one going down with the loss of all hands.

Basil was educated at Repton School in the small Derbyshire village of Repton, which claims an impressive array of Old Reptonians, including (these just a very few): Jeremy Clarkson (the ex-Top Gear pugilist), Andy Wilman (Top Gear producer, coincidentally enough), Roald Dahl, Sir Christopher Frayling (RCA), Graham Garden, Christopher Isherwood and Michael Ramsey (Archbish). And Basil himself, of course, who the roll predictably lists as, “actor most known for playing Sherlock Holmes.” Face it, Baz, that’s all they’re ever going to say. Even the school itself managed to get into the movies, in two separate productions of Goodbye, Mr Chips, the 1939 version featuring two hundred Reptonians as schoolboy extras. For the record, Rathbone’s chums didn’t actually call him Baz but seemed to prefer Ratters instead. As ever with our Giants, he wasn’t much cop at the academic stuff, being more interested in sports, especially fencing, in which he excelled, an accomplishment that would serve him well later …

His schooldays behind, Ratters then fancied a career treading the boards, only old man Rathbone took a very dim view of thespians altogether and suggested to his son that, rather than slapping on make-up for an occupation, why not try a year working in finance first, see how that suits. Which, he reckoned, would also be enough time for young Basil to get the whole absurd acting notion out of his system. Ratters, it seems, agreed and, next thing he knows, he’s become an employee of the Liverpool and Globe Insurance Companies, something he stuck at for exactly the prescribed year before contacting his cousin, Frank Benson, who happened to be managing a Shakespearean troupe in Stratford-on-Avon at the time. On 22 April 1911 (four months, incidentally, before his kinsman Major Henry Rathbone died), the world was treated to the debut appearance on stage of Basil Rathbone, as Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew, and then it was off to America for the first time, in October 1912. Back in England, he then met and fell in love with a fellow performer, Marion Foreman, in August of 1913, marrying her the following October and not long later (just over the nine months, in fact) son Rodion made his bow.

And then along came the Great War. Younger brother John, who left school in 1915, joined up straight away. Ratters, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so keen, describing the very idea of war as “monstrous … irrational, pitiable, ugly, and sordid.” Nor was he alone, not once the ever-burgeoning casualty lists began to prove that life-expectancy at the Front could be counted in days, and so the numbers of volunteers soon began to tail off badly. The Asquith government, not wanting to resort to actual conscription until Haig forced their hand in 1916, then fudged up the Group Scheme of 1915, which was still sort of voluntary, apart from the fact that you either had to have a darn good excuse or it was off to the Front with you sharpish, matey. Thus it was that Basil found himself freshly kilted and a fully-signed up member of the Liverpool Scottish, a regiment in which he would rise to the rank of captain. A bout of measles meant that he didn’t actually get to the Western Front until May 1917, far too late to join Haig’s hare-brained scheme for a Big Push, the very reason why the country needed so many young men in the first place: so that he could pointlessly toss them away like toysoldiers for no perceptible gain. This was the Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916), in which the blockheaded Commander-in-Chief (a one-time Bullingdon Clubber) managed to squander some 419,654 men as casualties (including a seriously wounded John Rathbone), 95,675 of them dead or “missing” (which meant dead) in Britain’s worst and bloodiest military catastrophe.
John eventually recovered and, in 1918, Basil was reunited with him, so they had a good dinner, a good few Scotches and went late to bed. Not long later, Basil awoke from a nightmare in which he had seen his brother killed and, for some moments, could not persuade himself that John was not dead until at last he heard him breathing. “A tremulous premonition haunted me - a premonition which even the dawn failed to dispel.” A few days later, on June 4, John was duly killed in action. Basil was a battalion intelligence officer and it was his job to go out on night patrols to gather information and then write a report of what he’d seen but, being as it was darker than a miser’s wallet out there, he was obliged to make up his reports. Possibly in reaction to his brother’s death, or perhaps out of a desire for vengeance, he then suggested to his commanding officers that the patrols be allowed to go out in broad daylight, so they might actually see something for a change, which was how he ended up playing his next role, a suitably Macbethian one disguised as a tree. In camouflage suits, foliage hats and blackened faces, three of them made their way into the enemy trenches and gained some highly important intelligence. On 26 July, in what they had thought was a deserted trench, they suddenly heard footsteps and then a German officer appeared but, so astounded was he to be confronted by a trio of trees, he could do nothing but stand and gape. Rathbone promptly shot him twice, killing him stone dead. He was later awarded the Military Cross.

Back in Blighty, Ratters ditched the kilt, ditched the wife and went back to Shakespeare. From then on, he began to divide his time between England and America, a 1923 production of The Swan with Eva Le Gallienne not only making him a star on Broadway but also providing the material for a bit of a saucy fling with his co-star, though it was a short-lived one, as it turned out. Instead, he switched his attentions to a diminutive redheaded actress by the name of Ouida Bergère who, by lucky good hap, had been smitten with him for some time already, so they got straight down to the falling in love business and then making plans to get married. Which is when they hit a small snag in proceedings: Baz was still married to Marion Foreman. Not only that, but the Rathbone clan were notoriously old-school when it came to matters of honour, believing that once you were married, you stayed married, however grim it got. Besides which, old man Rathbone hadn’t yet forgiven his son for throwing up a promising career in insurance just so’s he could go flouncing around in greasepaint instead, so it was going to be a decidedly ticklish situation when Basil had to spill the beans on the proposed divorce to his father, which is where he went now. How it all went off isn’t known but Rathbone's father died on 13 June 1924, which, by cruel irony, was also Basil’s birthday. This time, however, our man did stick with it and the marriage lasted right up until his own death in July 1967.
By this time, Basil had already got stuck into his movie career, starting with the 1921 British silent film, Innocent, in which a naïve country girl (handily called Innocence, in case the plot proved too tortuous to grasp) comes to the city, where she is seduced by a cynical artist. Played by Rathbone, of course – Ratters the Rat, you might say – the first of many such suave villains that he would eventually become so well-known for, though he didn’t seem to mind that image half so much as he would being typecast as Sherlock Holmes later on. Several more silents followed, then along came the “talkies,” when Basil was able to really get into his stride, starting with The Last of Mrs Cheyney (1929) and going on to roles such as Mr Murdstone (David Copperfield), Pontius Pilate, Captain Blood and Anna Karenina’s husband (all in 1935!) before getting to his best-remembered baddie, Sir Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood (1938). Being the perpetual rotter did have its downside though: despite being regarded as the greatest swordsman in Hollywood history (he was also British Army Fencing Champion), his roles usually obliged him to “lose” to his on-screen foes, particularly Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn – “I could have killed Errol Flynn any time I wanted to!” – meaning he only ever won twice, once as Captain Pascuale (in The Mark of Zorro and over in seconds flat) and once as Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet (1936). His last on-screen clashing of the steel was with Danny Kaye in The Court Jester (1955), when Basil was sixty three, and said by some to be the best swordfight ever filmed.
After playing so many villains, it must have come as something of a relief when Fox, having decided to make an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, instantly thought of Rathbone for the part of Holmes (second billing, under Richard Greene, mind), with Nigel Bruce as a superbly bumbling Doctor Watson (apparently he played every role he ever had like that) and the rest is history. Sherlock Holmes had first made print in 1887, just five years before our man was born, and last appeared in 1927, a dozen years before Rathbone’s Hound of 1939, so still relatively new at that time. After two films, both set in pukka Victorian times, Fox lost interest and Universal took over, placing the detective in modern settings for a further twelve films, three of which are out-and-out war propaganda pieces, though all were B-movies filmed in Hollywood, with the same American actors turning up time and again, but with astoundingly convincing English accents (in most cases). Nigel Bruce was actually three years younger than Rathbone, who was himself fifty four when they made the last one, Dressed to Kill (1946). Holmes is markedly cruel to Watson in some of his remarks: “So simple a child could do it,” says the Doctor; “Not your child, Watson,” replies Holmes. And there’s a generous smattering of “Elementary, my dear Watson” while they’re at it, along with a good few “So I observed” put-downs too. If you haven’t seen these films, watch them at once; if you have, take another look at them as soon as you can; but, in either case, do so via the lavishly remastered versions now available in boxset, so fresh-looking they could’ve been made today (take a look at the included original theatre trailers to see how painstaking the restorations are). The gothic lighting effects are worth it in themselves.

Having played Holmes pretty much non-stop (the radio series was running concurrently) for so long, Rathbone decided to exchange his deerstalker for a pair of tights and get back to the Shakespeare. Well, to the stage, anyhow. Alas, too late! The association was irredeemably fixed and Rathbone even believed this typecasting cost him the role of Lord Henry Wotton in A Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Legend also has it that Margaret Mitchell had wanted Ratters to play Rhett Butler in the film version of her novel, Gone with the Wind (1939) but this is unreliable, though Basil did actively campaign for the part. Holmes would crop up again in Rathbone’s later career nonetheless, thanks to a stage play written by his wife, Ouida, in which Nigel Bruce was supposed to reprise his Watson but was too ill, which depressed his old friend no end, especially when Bruce died while the play was still in rehearsals. It was a complete turkey and closed after three performances. With a wife doing that to your career, who needs drama critics?

Now, before you all start complaining about that being an utterly outrageous assertion, the fact is that as soon as she got the ring on her finger, Mrs Rathbone decided to jack in the theatre lark and concentrate on the spending instead, the couple (both boxing fans, bizarrely) becoming notorious in the 1930s for lavish socialite parties thrown at their luxurious mansion (once owned by Jack Dempsey, as it goes) and, before very long, Basil could barely keep pace with all the retail therapy she needed. He got rather less choosy in the work he was prepared to undertake. Certainly he was still able to command roles in major films, such as with Bogart in We’re No Angels (1955) and in John Ford's political drama, The Last Hurrah (1958), and also to appear in dignified anthology programmes on television, but the desire for dollars drove him to some “most regrettable” depths. TV game shows for one thing. His later films included cheap, low quality thrillers and horror movies, such as Queen of Blood (1966), Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967) and, leaving little to the imagination (perhaps too literally), the ghastly sounding The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, in which he played Reginald Ripper, of whom one character remarks, “that guy looks like Sherlock Holmes!” How he must have shuddered at that. Then there was the time when he once again donned the infamous deerstalker and Inverness cape in a series of commercials for Getz Exterminators, famously insisting “Getz gets 'em, since 1888!” Oh, Basil

Basil Rathbone died suddenly of a heart attack in New York City on 21 July 1967 at the age of seventy five. He always insisted that he wished to be remembered for his stage career but it is his films that live on today and, to many of us, he will always be the Sherlock Holmes.

Basil: By Trailer screenshot Licencing information : and (Tovarich trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Major Henry Rathbone: By The Mystery Man at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons 
William Rathbone VI: Racklever at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 
Rorke’s Drift: Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Repton School: By Victuallers (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Haig: By Sir William Orpen, RA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Ouida Bergere: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Holmes: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Gone with the Wind: By Employee(s) of MGM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons