Sheila van Damm

Racy Ladies: Sheila van Damm. Sheila van Damm’s career was interesting to say the least. She was known in the nineteen fifties as Britain’s top woman rally driver and by the nineteen sixties she was running ‘naughty’ reviews on the London stage. Yet she arrived at both careers accidentally. You will most probably have heard of the famous Windmill Theatre in London. It shot to fame in the wartime years as it was...

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The Last Victorian

Ethel Lang – born in the reign of Queen Victoria On 16th January, 2015, Ethel Lang passed away. She was the oldest living person in the UK, having been born in 1900, when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Can you imagine that? Mrs Lang lived through six monarchs, twenty-two prime ministers … and let’s not forget two world wars. She had lived through a period of amazing advances. When she was born, public...

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Diana Barnato Walker

Who was Diana Barnato Walker? Diana was an English pilot who worked extensively during the Second World War transporting aircraft to the Royal Air Force. By the time she reached twenty two years of age, she had delivered  240 planes that were vital to the war effort. She was the first British woman to break the sound barrier. Before the war, few people would have imagined the socialite Diana would have been involved in such dangerous...

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Lady Iris Mountbatten: Royal Black Sheep

Who was Iris Mountbatten? When she was fourteen years old,she was a train-bearer at the wedding of the Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece. Two years later, she performed the same function at the coronation of George VI. She grew up to have sultry film star looks. She was a direct descendant of Queen Victoria and at one time was fourteenth in line to the throne. She was one of the most photographed debutantes of her time. Yet...

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Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel: Naughtier than you might think. What do you know about Coco Chanel? Possibly most people today think of her as a couturier and the person who was responsible for iconic fashion designs – and of course, the famous Chanel N0 5 perfume. But who was she really? Her name instantly conjures up style and sophistication for most of us but she came from humble beginnings. Not only that, she had a string of fascinating...

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The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge. On 19th July, 1981, Carole and Mike Middleton sat down in front of their television – as did millions throughout the world – to watch the wedding of Diana Spencer to Prince Charles. Little did they know that thirty years later, they would see their as yet unborn daughter marrying the son of the happy couple. At the time Charles married Diana, Carole Middleton was in the early stages of pregnancy...

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The Mystery of Amy Johnson

The mystery of Amy Johnson. As a pioneer aviator, Amy Johnson from Yorkshire had broken several flying records by the time the Second World War started in 1939. But once the war had begun, the Royal Air Force had no use for female pilots. So the only opportunity for her to use her flying skills to help the war effort was to join the ATA – the Air Transport Auxiliary. This organisation, as the name suggests, used female pilots to...

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Kanga: Camilla’s Rival, Lady Dale Tryon

Prince Charles’ other mistress, Kanga If you look up Dale Tryon in Wikipedia, you will read that she was a ‘close friend of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales’. That is not strictly speaking true.  Dale, known by the nickname of Kanga, was actually Charles’ mistress prior to his marriage and as such, a rival for his affections. Her story is tragic. Charles loved women who were blonde, attractive and...

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Music of 2016 – Women of the Year

Designer and artist Andy Royston looks back on his favourite sounds of 2016 – Part two is all female. I’m not at all sure what it says about the year’s music that it all came down to “Becky with the good hair”. Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ has topped all the usual ‘best of’ lists this year including the venerable Rolling Stone Magazine, who called the album “a major personal...

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Who Was Blanche Barrow?

Who was Blanche Barrow? The image you see below gives the game away. As you can see, in 1933 Blanche Barrow was in police custody.  The mugshot also shows that she was twenty two years old and charged with murder. Blanche had been born as Blanche Caldwell on 1st January, 1911. Her mother was just sixteen. When Blanche was only seventeen years old, she was married off to a much older man but left him shortly afterwards. She then met...

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Mitford Marriages: Pamela Mitford and Derek Jackson

Mitford Marriages: Pamela Mitford and Derek Jackson. Pamela Mitford is probably the least known of the six sisters.  She’s often thought of as ‘the quiet one’ and certainly she was less scandalous than most of her sisters but nevertheless  she married a man who was not just a millionaire, he was also a war hero and a brilliant scientist. Pam had not been without admirers. She had been briefly engaged to Oliver...

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Helene Stanley

Who was Helene Stanley? There are many people who left  an important legacy to the world of Hollywood movies but I imagine that if most of us were asked to list them, the name of Helene Stanley wouldn’t feature. But she left a lasting legacy to the Golden Era of Hollywood and it will probably surprise you. She certainly made a handful of movies but her lasting legacy was to make two films that have never been seen by the public...

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Who Was Evelyn Nesbit?

Who was Evelyn Nesbit? When Evelyn Nesbit died at the ripe old age of eighty two, she had been in obscurity for years. But at one time, her name was well-known on Broadway and in the theatres of Europe. She became even more well known in 1906 when,openly and in public, her husband shot her lover dead in a glittering supper club in Manhattan. Evelyn was only twenty at the time and had met her much older lover, Stanford White, when she...

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The Curious Life and Death of Empress Elisabeth

 Who was Empress Elisabeth? The Curious Life and Death of Empress Elisabeth. Elisabeth, or Sisi as she was known, wasn’t destined to be the Empress of Austria but that became her role, nevertheless. She was born into the royal family of Bavaria – her parents were both related to the upper-crust of Europe. It was the fact that her mother, Ludovika, was the sister of Sophie, the mother of Emperor Franz Joseph that sealed her...

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Who Was Butterfly McQueen?

Who was Butterfly McQueen? I love old movies yet I have to admit  that there’s one – a very famous one indeed – that I haven’t seen. I don’t know why. But I do know about one of the actors in the film. That’s Butterfly McQueen. She is one of the most memorable of the cast (even to people like me who have only seen clips but never the full film) and yet, she hated the part. She took the role because...

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Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne: English Eccentric For those who have heard the name of Maud Gonne, they probably have an idea that she was an Irish political activist. It’s true that she was pretty vocal in Irish politics but she was actually English, born in Surrey. She had a curious career but she is probably remembered most for being: The woman who had sex by her baby’s grave She had the child in 1889 in Paris. The father was her older...

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Thelma Todd

Who Killed Thelma Todd? On a Monday morning December  1935, Thelma Todd’s body was found. She was in a car that was parked in the garage of her lover, Roland West. It was the exhaust fumes from the Packard convertible that had caused her death. Police rushed to the scene above the Pacific Highway between Malibu an Santa Monica. They took photographs, questioned locals and discovered that Thelma had bruises and that her face was...

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Who Was Helle Nice?

The strange story of Helle Nice. Helle Nice: The forgotten story. By 1984 Helle Nice was an old lady. She lived in a rather squalid room in Paris. She knew that she hadn’t got long to live. She’d been born in at the same time as the century. She had her memories and not much more. She kept her mementoes in an old tin trunk under her shabby bed. Nowadays, she survived thanks to charity. But it didn’t seem too long ago...

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Who Was Margaret Hamilton?

The lady you see in the photograph is Margaret Hamilton. Do you recognise her? The chances are that you’ve seen her on the screen, especially in her most famous role. She played that part in an old movie – you can tell from the photograph that she’s not an actress of today but she was still appearing on the screen in 1982. Although her most famous part was in a movie dating from 1939, I imagine that a good percentage...

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Was Dorothy Kilgallen murdered?

Was Dorothy Kilgallen murdered? She died in 1965 so it’s likely that you don’t remember her. But in the middle of the twentieth century, Dorothy Kilgallen was a true media star. She was a journalist with many more strings to her bow. And it may be that her journalistic investigations were the cause of her untimely death. What’s My Line? Despite being a well-known journalist, gossip columnist, crime reporter, actress...

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Agnes Moorehead

Do you recognise those eyes? If you know your television history you might, especially if you were watching in the 1960s or 70s. This shows Agnes Moorehead who played the witch Endora in the TV show Bewitched. You’ll remember that the comedy series was about a beautiful young witch (Samantha) who had married a mere mortal and live a normal suburban domestic life. Endora, her mother, deemed that Samantha had married so far...

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Pregnant Women on Television in the 1960s

Why Lucy was ‘enceinte’ in the nineteen fifties. One of the most popular TV shows in the nineteen fifties – if not the most popular – was I Love Lucy starring married couple, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. At the time, they were the most powerful people in the world of television. In 1952 the couple discovered that they were expecting a baby. This was great news for them. They already had a small daughter, born...

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Grace Darling

Grace Darling and the sinking of the Forfarshire. The story of Grace Darling is well known. It’s often published in magazines that cater to young girls, possibly being thought to be inspirational. But why did she achieve such fame? Are the stories about her true? It’s certainly the case that she helped her father – a lighthouse keeper – to rescue nine people from a wrecked ship of the coast of Northumberland in...

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The Tragic Story of Princess Cecilie

The royal tragedy of Princess Cecilie. There have been so many tragedies that have befallen royal families. This was especially the case in the twentieth century. The story of Princess Cecilie and her family must be one of the saddest of all. It was 1937 – just  couple of years before the Second World Way broke out. Celilie was a beautiful young woman married to handsome Georg Donatus, the Grand Duke of Hesse. They had two small...

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Was Karen Silkwood murdered?

Who was Karen Silkwood? Many people believe that she was murdered. Let’s look at her background first. She began working at an Oklahoma chemical plant in 1972.  The facility was responsible for producing plutonium pellets for use in nuclear reactors. Yes, frightening. As did her colleagues, she joined the union and became concerned about the levels of safety for the workers employed in the factory who were exposed to dangerous...

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Ivy Benson

Who was Ivy Benson? Have you heard of Ivy Benson? I doubt you have but her story is fascinating. Unusually, she was the leader of a swing band in England during the Second World War – and it was an all-girls band. They were incredibly popular. Women came into their own during World War Two. They drove trucks and buses, flew planes, worked as machinists and engineers, worked decoding messages and in general, took over the jobs of...

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Will we ever know the truth about Wallis Simpson?

It’s a famous story, of course. In the 1930s the King of England was the unmarried Edward VIII. When he ascended to the throne, he had a long-time mistress, Wallis Simpson. Although many members of the public believed that the king should be able to marry whoever he wished, the establishment were horrified at the possibility of their monarch marrying an American divorceé. Famously, the king announced his abdication, declaring...

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Why is Maureen O’Hara Buried in Arlington?

Rest In Peace, Maureen O’Hara, 1920-2015 Maureen O’Hara, beautiful talented actress, passed away on October 24th, 2015. The news stated that her burial is to be in Arlington National Cemetery. Many people, including this author, wondered why she would be buried there, since she was not a veteran. First, let’s learn a bit about this lady and her acting career. ‘Tis Herself: An Autobiography About Maureen Maureen...

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Diana Dors

Who was Diana Dors? Diana Dors was an English actress and sexy movie star who was popular in the nineteen fifties and sixties. She was often compared to Marilyn Monroe. She was gorgeous, and rather a naughty girl but she typified the ‘tart with heart of gold’. She became a much loved British institution. When she was younger, and she became a well-known movie and television star when still in her teens – most...

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Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine

Sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. In the golden era of Hollywood, few theatregoers realised that these two top actresses were sisters. Olivia was the eldest of the two. They were both born in Japan, to British parents. Their father was a patent attorney who had moved to Japan to further his career. He taught there and also ran his own law firm. The mother of the two girls was an actress who had given up her stage career...

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Gorgeous Rita Hayworth

When I was a kid, one of the most popular movie actresses was the glamorous Rita Hayworth. She was the epitome of the beautiful stars coming out of Hollywood  plus she had red hair. The first time I ever saw her was in a black and white movie, so I had no idea she was red-headed. But when I later saw a  movie called “Down to Earth” there she was with her gorgeous red-gold locks. I didn’t know they weren’t...

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Sheila Chisholm

Sheila Chisholm: An ingenue’s introduction to high society. Words by Lyndsy Spence In a distant corner of the Empire, in the “Land of the Wattle and the Gum”, Sheila Chisholm, a sensitive and imaginative girl with large hazel eyes and a pale, heart-shaped face would take London society by storm. But that would have to wait for two decades; in the meantime she was busy growing up on Wollogoron, the family’s sheep farm where...

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Christine Granville

The strange story of Krystyna Skarbek. On June 15th, 1952, a woman’s body was found in the Shelbourne Hotel in London.  She had been murdered, stabbed in the heart. The authorities believed her to be a thirty-seven year old married woman who worked as a stewardess on ocean liners. This was only partially true. Christine Granville was forty four year old Krystyna Skarbek, the daughter of a Polish nobleman. Yes she had been...

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Mrs Miniver

Mrs Miniver: The woman who won the war. Well, not literally but Winston Churchill said that her contribution to the war was worth more than six ‘divisions of war effort’ and that she had done more for the war effort than a ‘flotilla of battleships’. So who was she? Even more surprising than Churchill’s praise was the fact that she was a fictional character. But it’s said that she affected the...

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Princess Viktoria’s Disastrous Marriage

Princess Viktoria of Prussia: Ruined by her young lover She was born into a privileged and wealthy royal position. And yet when Princess Viktoria died at the age of  sixty three she was penniless and disgraced – thanks to her choosing the wrong man. Her grandmother was Queen Victoria. Her mother was Victoria’s eldest daughter and had married Frederick III, the German Emperor and King of Prussia. Her brother was Wilhelm II,...

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Deborah Mitford: The Duchess of Devonshire

Deborah Mitford: The Duchess of Devonshire. The famous Mitford sisters, born in the earlier part of the twentieth century, are endlessly fascinating. You may have read about Unity Mitford and how it’s said that she gave birth to Hitler’s illegitimate child. The other sisters were equally fascinating and, in some cases, equally scandalous. Deborah however,was the youngest of the sisters and although she didn’t totally...

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Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull: The first woman to run for the US presidency. Her father was a con-man and an arsonist. He mother was illegitimate and illiterate. But that didn’t stop Victoria Woodhull from deciding that she wanted to be the president of the United States. She only went to school for three years. She was enchanted by clairvoyants and spiritualists. She was married when she was fifteen, had two children then was quickly...

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Sophia Loren and Cary Grant

 Sophia Loren and Cary Grant. The gorgeous Sophia Loren met Carlo Ponti, the man who was to become her husband, when she was seventeen and he was thirty nine. That was in September, 1951. She was at his bedside when he died aged ninety four in 2007. But Carlo was a married man when the couple met and by the time Sophia made her first film with Cary Grant, in 1957, he was still married and it wasn’t certain where their...

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The Real Peggy Sue

Who was the real Peggy Sue? Which is Buddy Holly’s most famous song? I’m not sure but Peggy Sue must be up there. But who was the real Peggy Sue? Peggy Sue Gerron was the girlfriend of Buddy Holly’s drummer, Jerry Allison. As she recalls,the inspiration for the song arrived in the middle of the night and Buddy called his manager, Norman Petty,  saying ‘I’ve just written a song and named it after...

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Who Was Monica Proietti?

Monica Proietti: Machine Gun Molly Monica Proietti was the mother of two children and old twenty seven years old when she died. This young mother was killed in a gun battle with the law. I know that sounds like a story from the Wild West but this took place  in Montreal in 1967. Monica was known as Machine Gun Molly  and was a known criminal – with a curious background. She’d been married when she was only seventeen,...

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Who Was Peg Entwistle?

Who was Peg Entwistle? Peg Entwistle was British girl. To be accurate she was born in 1908 in Wales  to English parents. She was the eldest child of Robert Entwistle, an actor. It’s unclear whether her mother died or whether her parents were divorced but her father married again and Peg acquired two half-brothers. By 1913, the family had moved to the United States but their home was soon disrupted when Robert Entwistle was the...

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The Prince & the Showgirl: Gisèle Pascal, Prince Rainier & Marilyn Monroe

Gisèle Pascal, Prince Rainier and Marilyn Monroe In the early 1950s,Prince Rainier of Monaco was the perfect age to marry – he had been born in 1923. He was wealthy, handsome and the ruler of a magical principality. However, he was a shy and retiring man. For several years he had been living with a French actress, Gisèle Pascal and the time was approaching when he needed to marry to produce heirs to his principality. However,...

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Margaret Lockwood

Margaret Lockwood. A Modern Woman from a Bygone Age by Lyndsy Spence At the height of her fame as Britain’s ‘queen of the silver screen’, Margaret Lockwood exuded brains, beauty, and a bawdiness which threatened to undermine the censorship board across the Atlantic. Yet, despite her exotic pairing of dark hair, light eyes, and a strategically placed beauty spot on her cheekbone, she was lamented as having...

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Isadora Duncan

Who was Isadora Duncan? Although she was American, Isadora Duncan was virtually unknown in the States during her short and rather scandalous lifetime. A free-spirited dancer, she found her fame in Europe. When she first appeared on the stage in Victorian New York, the public was scandalised. One critic wrote: “This woman is an outrage, scandalous and a threat to all decent societies. She should be locked up at the earliest...

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Royal Feud: York and Lancaster

Queen Elizabeth and Wallis Simpson: The Houses of York and Lancaster. In the fifteenth century, as all good students of Yorkshire history know, there were battles in England for the throne. The combatants were the House of York and the House of Lancaster. These were known as the Wars of the Roses as each house used a rose as its emblem; white for York, red for Lancaster. But in the twentieth century there was another ‘war of the...

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Irrepressible:  The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford

Irrepressible:  The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford. Jessica, almost always known as Decca, was one of the famous aristocratic Mitford sisters who were notorious in the  twentieth century. There were six sisters (and one brother who died in the Second World War) and all drew notoriety in their own way. As society girls,they were constantly in trouble during their teens. Their mother always remarked that if ever she saw newspaper...

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Seymour Worsley, The Lady in Red

The Scandalous Lady Worsley. In the eighteenth century, England was rocked by the scandalous story of Lord and Lady Worsley and her lover, George Bisset. There were many scandals amongst the aristocracy in those days but the case Seymour Worsley was seen to be one of the worst – certainly the most entertaining. Born as Seymour Fleming to a wealthy family, she married Sir Richard Worsley when she was only seventeen. The couple...

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Who was Sarah Winchester?

The mysterious Winchester House. When Sarah Winchester was widowed, she started to create one of the most bizarre homes ever seen in America. Why? It’s quite simple, it was to keep evil spirits away. Obviously really, isn’t it? No? Well, it was to Sarah. Sarah’s late husband was William Winchester, the man who made rage rifles ‘that won the West’. The distraught widow, who had discovered spiritualism some...

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Who Was MaVynee Betsch??

Who was MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady? She was born into high society. Her great grandfather had been the first black millionaire in Florida. He founded the Afro-American Insurance Company in Jacksonville and the famous black American Beach resort in the days of segregation. MaVynee was exquisitely educated, as were her brother and sister. They were taught the piano, for example, at a very early age. MaVynee went onto study voice and...

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Lady Anne Savile

Who was Lady Anne Savile? Actually, she was Princess Anne of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg but Anne Savile, her maiden name, is considerably less effort to type. She was a rather eccentric aviator in the times when flying was still new and extremely dangerous – as she discovered. Lady Anne was born into a wealthy and titled British family. Her father was the Earl of Mexborough. When she married Prince Ludwig of...

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Nancy Kulp

 Who was Nancy Kulp? Nancy Kulp starred in a television show that is still being shown worldwide. Do you recognise her? Does the face look familiar? There were two hundred and seventy four episodes of the television show made and their aired in the nineteen sixties and seventies. She won an Emmy for the part she played and in 1999, her characters was deemed to be number thirty nine in the top fifty ‘greatest characters on TV of...

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The Short and Sad Life of Lady Catherine Grey

The short and sad life of Lady Catherine Grey. Catherine Grey was born in 1540 and was in direct line to the English throne. When she was born, King Henry VIII was still alive and ruling the country. When the throne passed to his son, Edward VI, the young king named his cousin, Lady Jane Grey – Catherine’s older sister – as his heir. Queen Jane’s reign only lasted for a couple of weeks before Henry’s...

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Who Was Ellen Church?

Ellen Church: The first air hostess. In 1930, Ellen was ideally qualified to become the first air hostess. She was a registered pilot and a qualified nurse. In those days, airlines wouldn’t employ female pilots (for reasons known only to them) but Ellen persuaded them that cabin crew should be trained in nursing. Flying was a rather hazardous business in those days — you only have to think of the large number of...

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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Who was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu? In the eighteenth century, Lady Mary was known for her sharp satiric writing about prominent personalities. Not all this work survives however, because of her daughter. Her daughter was scandalised by her mother – who she considered to be extremely eccentric –  so when Lady Mary died, her papers were destroyed. Lady Mary was renown for her wit and her beauty but there was another side to...

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Princess Anne

Princess Anne: Forgotten royal. These days, we are more aware of the more ‘glamourous’ members of the royal family. In particular, this applies to the younger generation, royal babies, fashions and lifestyle. But one of the older members of the family, Princess Anne, has had an interesting life, a touch of scandal and yet is known for being one of (if not the) hardest working of the British royals today. Born in 1950, she...

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Diana Mitford

Diana Mitford and Oswald Mosley. The true story of Diana Mitford is wonderfully scandalous and took place during an eventful period in history. The ingredients in her story include the British aristocracy, millionaires, the upper echelons of society, affairs, Hitler, royalty and more – mostly set in wartime Britain. But it is also the story of two people in love who were vilified by the general public – to some extent,...

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Who Was Grace O’Malley?

Who was Grace O’Malley? What were women like in the sixteenth century? Well, not many were like Grace O’Malley but nevertheless, her life shows that women in those days certainly had spirit. She was an Irish queen, a chieftain and also a pirate. Yet she was presented to Queen Elizabeth I as the image here shows. She was born on the west coast of Ireland. Her exact date of birth isn’t known but the year is believed to...

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Who Was Jackie Cochran?

Jackie Cochran: The mystery. Jackie Cochran isn’t as well known as her counterpart and contemporary, Amelia Earhart.  But nevertheless she was the first woman – and in some cases, the first person – to achieve an enormous number of aviation feats and challenges. But who was she and what was her background? For many years, this was the accepted story. She did not know exactly when she was born, or where. She had no...

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Lucille Ball

About Lucille Ball. Didn’t you love those old television shows with Lucille Ball? She was one of the most popular actresses of her day and won just about every professional award you can imagine. I thought that today I’d get together a few facts and tidbits about her fascinating career and  her life. Her career was long and varied but no-one doubted her genius or her business acumen. Although she was best known as a...

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Jeanne Louise Calment

Jeanne Louise Calment: The oldest woman. You might have read my colleague Merry’s recent article about what’s supposedly good for us and what is damaging to our health.The article is called Food for Health. It’s a great read – why do scientists and nutritionists keep giving us conflicting advice? Instead of listening to them, let’s take a look at Jeanne Louise Calment, until her death she was the...

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The Adventures of Enid Lindeman

The Adventures of Enid Lindeman by Lyndsy Spence. Standing at six-feet tall with handsome features and platinum hair, Enid Lindeman was never going to be a wallflower. As she gallivanted through life she accumulated four husbands, numerous lovers, and during the inter-war years her high-jinx dominated the gossip columns. Evelyn Waugh satirized her set in Vile Bodies, but the workings of his menacing imagination paled in comparison to...

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Accentuate the Positive – The language of Louise Bennett

Accentuate the Positive – The language of Louise Bennett. Back in my high school days the deputy headmaster was trying to make a point about accent and dialect. He turned to me and suddenly I was held up as an example of someone making no effort to speak properly; what he called the Queen’s English. I was dumbfounded (or should I say gobsmacked) by this. I hadn’t considered that the way that I spoke made any...

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The Mystery of Dr James Barry

Dr James Barry James Barry, born in the eighteenth century, had a long and successful career as a medical surgeon in the British army. He fought and practised medicine all over the British Empire with distinction. He achieved the rank of medical superintendent general and eventually retired to London after and exciting career that even included duels of honour. A confirmed bachelor, he died in 1965. Of course, this isn’t a very...

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Marni Nixon

Who was Marni Nixon? Is the name unfamiliar to you? The chances are that you don’t recognise the face either. But it’s very likely that you know her voice. Marni was responsible for some of the most famous singing voices heard on the silver screen.. Have you heard the soundtrack from My Fair Lady for example? Or seen the film? That’s not Audrey Hepburn that you’re listening to – it’s the voice of...

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The Life of Margaret Whigham

The Grit in the Pearl: The Life of Margaret Whigham. Words by Lyndsy Spence She was always a headstrong woman, always used to getting her own way. This character trait, or flaw (depending if one were a friend or a foe), was apparent in girlhood. Born Ethel Margaret Whigman in 1912 in Newton Mearns near Glasgow, she dropped her parents’ choice of Ethel and insisted on being known as Margaret. Margaret was the only child of Helen...

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Lettice Curtis

Who was Lettice Curtis? During the Second World War the Air Transport Auxiliary was formed to move new, damaged or repaired aircraft to where they were needed by the Royal Air Force. Civilian pilots were used so that the trained fighter pilots could concentrate on winning the war. One hundred and sixty six of the pilots employed by the ATA were women and Lettice Curtis was one of the first to join up. By the time the war was over, she...

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The Curious Life of Rosemary Leveson-Gower

The tragic story of the girl who almost changed the course of British history. In fact, had circumstances turned out differently, Rosemary Leveson-Gower could have changed the course of world history. But it was not to be. The story has its true beginnings in the First World War. It is a love story that involves tragedy and includes the people who were the main players in what was called ‘The Love Affair of the Century’....

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Giovanna Amati

The kidnapping of Giovanna Amati. If you were a Formula One fan in the early nineteen nineties then you’ll remember Giovanna as a driver for the doomed Brabham team. The team, which started in the nineteen sixties, had been successful but by the time Giovanna (only the fifth female driver in Formula One) was recruited Brabham was in trouble. It’s thought that Giovanna was signed up by the team not only because she was...

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Who was Georgia Tann?

Who was Georgia Tann? Georgia Tann was the seemingly benevolent organiser of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, starting in the nineteen twenties. However, the society was little more than a front for her black-market dealings. Georgia Tann sold babies. Back in those days, treatment for couples who couldn’t conceive,or for women who couldn’t carry a baby to term, was very primitive compared to today’s...

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Kick Kennedy: By Barbara Leaming

The truth about John Kennedy’s sister. I’ve long been fascinated by the life and tragedies of President Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen. She was nicknamed ‘Kick’ because of her exuberance and vivacity. You may know the basic story of her life. Born the fourth child of Joe Kennedy Sr. and his deeply religious wife Rose, Kick fell in love with a member of the British aristocracy in the late 1930s. Her father was...

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Who Was Julia Stanley?

Julia Stanley: Which version do you believe? Julia Stanley will go down in history. But her life is surrounded by myths and legends. What is the truth? Let’s look at the facts. She was born as one of five sisters in Liverpool in 1914. She wasn’t from a wealthy family but they were not poor either.  After the death of the girls’ mother, the father ruled over the household with an iron fist. When Julia was fourteen,...

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The Bobbed Haired Bandit

The Bobbed Haired Bandit. In 1989 it was clear to Ed Cooney Jr that his mother, now aged eighty five, was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Ed had been a computer programmer and had moved to Florida when he retired. His mother Celia, having no other family except Ed and his brother, had also moved from New Jersey to the Floridian sunshine. Ed didn’t realised that his mother had lived in Florida before – or anything...

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Did Ruth Ellis Really Shoot her Lover?

Did Ruth Ellis really shoot David Blakely? The world certainly thought so in 1955. It’s said that on Easter Sunday of that year, she had followed David Blakely – a racing driver – to outside a London pub. When she confronted him – their relationship had been stormy of late – she took a revolver from her handbag and shot him repeatedly. He died at once. Ruth did not run away or try to hide. She was...

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Behind Enemy Lines: Review

Behind Enemy Lines: Marthe Cohn The number of people who took part in the Second World War is slowly dwindling. But it’s important that we should never forget them- and the heroism that so many of them showed during that terrible conflict. You can read about many of them in this book by Marthe Cohn. Marthe  Hoffnung (her maiden name) was born in 1920 and was still a teenager when war broke out.  Yet she worked as  spy,...

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The Queen’s Cousins: Scandal

Queen Elizabeth II’s cousins. In 1987 the media uncovered what seemed to be a huge scandal. Newspapers reported that two sisters had been discovered in what they called an ‘asylum for mental defectives’ and what’s more, they were cousins of the queen, Elizabeth II. It was said that the two women were living in the most basic conditions and that they had no visitors. It seemed that this was a case of the royal...

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Who Was Carrie Buck?

Who was Carrie Buck? Carrie Buck was a victim of a curious belief that was sweeping the United States in the nineteen twenties. Various powerful men were becoming increasingly concerned about the health of the general population. Strange though it seems to us these days, many people thought that the answer was the sterilisation of people who were mentally or physically imperfect. The USA had previously had an open door policy when it...

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Hetty Green

Who was Hetty Green? Hetty Green was at one time one of the richest women in the world, certainly in the United States. She was born in 1834 to a wealthy family. She also had the advantage of being the only offspring her parents managed to bring up. She’d had a younger brother but he had died as a child. However, her parents – especially her father – had particularly wanted a son so Hetty never felt loved. But she...

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Amelia Earhart

The making of Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart became world famous for flying planes. Lots of other women were flying at the time, but Amelia became the  female pilot. Today, she is known for her mysterious disappearance but during her lifetime, her popularity was largely due to the skilled promotion and public relations created by her husband, George Putnam. Amelia was always an adventurer and was a tomboy as a child. She’d...

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Nancy Mitford: A Biography

Nancy Mitford, A Biography: By Selina Hastings. All the six Mitford sisters were fascinating and that fascination hasn’t waned over the years. When the sisters were young, they  were rarely out of the newspapers. Throughout their lives they attracted stories and scandal. One thing they all had in common was a sense of humour – and Nancy in particular. But hers was  a mildly cruel wit and this made her much-loved books even...

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Nora Ephron: Everything is Copy

Everything is copy – true? Writer Nora Ephron was told this by her mother. Her parents were both writers and Nora took the words to heart – she wrote a great deal about her own experiences. I think most writers would agree that writing about personal experience is not only easier, it’s more fun and quite possibly more interesting to the reader simply because it comes from the heart. But I’m not talking here...

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Jackie Kennedy: The pink suit

Jackie Kennedy: The pink suit. In early November, 1963, John and Jackie Kennedy were at the White House enjoying a private dinner with newspaper columnist Joe Alsop and his wife, Susan. After dinner, John Kennedy asked his wife to show their guests the pink suit that she intended to wear during their forthcoming trip to Texas. Jackie was reluctant at first but went to her room and fetched the plain, pink suit. Yes, that one. Looking...

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The Murder of Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese and the apathetic bystanders. Catherine Genovese, an attractive twenty-eight year old, was murdered as she walked through the streets of Kew Gardens, NY, in March 1964. Her murder became well-known not just because of its brutality but because of allegations that almost forty bystanders saw her being attacked but did nothing to prevent her death. Her murderer did not know her. The attack wasn’t premeditated....

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Stephanie Hoffnung

Stephanie Hoffnung: Just one Jew. June 1942: Every evening, German SS officers would hammer on the door of the Hoffnung family’s home in Rue Riffault, Poitiers. This was occupied France and the Hoffnungs were Jewish. Led by Adjutant Wilhelm Hipp, the officers would visit Jewish homes to ensure that they were complying with the various rules and curfews that had been imposed. Any deviation from these rules and regulations could...

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Who Was Ottoline Morrell?

The curious life of Ottoline Morrell. When Ottoline Morrell grew to womanhood, she was six feet tall. She had striking, flowing red hair and a strongly-featured face. Knowing that she would turn heads, she dressed flamboyantly. She also led a flamboyant and somewhat scandalous life. She was also the sort of woman that was often caricatured – even by her several lovers. She was born in 1873 into an aristocratic English family of...

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Who Killed Amy Dudley?

Did Queen Elizabeth I murder her lover’s wife? Queen Elizabeth the First was known as ‘the virgin queen’  but it’s unlikely this was the case. It’s true that she never married by most historians believe that she had a long-time affair with Sir Robert Dudley. Elizabeth and Robert had known each other since childhood and were the very best of friends.When she became queen she appointed him to her court and...

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Josephine Baker

The Joséphine Baker Story. Until I recently read a biography about Josephine Baker, I had only the haziest idea about who she was. Little did I know what a truly fascinating life she had. It’s amazing that someone who had such  a poor start in life could achieve so much. The book tells so many fascinating stories about her life – and it wasn’t always an easy one. She inherited her terrific looks from her mother,...

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Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio … and the doorman

The story of Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio … and the doorman. Marilyn Monroe was known for so many aspects of her life (including her involvement with the Kennedys, of course) but a subject of speculation is how her husbands could have been such completely different characters. Her first husband, who she married when she was just sixteen, was  a US Marine. The marriage ended quite quickly. Her second husband was almost as...

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Wallis Simpson’s Wedding Dress

Wallis Simpson’s wedding dress. Not a fashion success. In the nineteen thirties, when King Edward VIII gave up the throne of England for Mrs Wallis Simpson, many people just couldn’t understand what this highly eligible bachelor saw in her. Many  still don’t understand the attraction. In those days, and ever since, she has been described as a ‘fashion icon’. There is little photographic evidence to...

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Is Hitler’s son alive and living in England?

Hitler and Unity Mitford. Did Adolf Hitler have a child with an English girl? And could that child still be alive? It sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? But there are many historians who believe that this is the case and there is some evidence to show that the possibility exists. Unity Mitford was from an aristocratic English family. She and her sisters were the most colourful characters around in the pre-war era. They were fun...

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In praise of sensational women – Siouxsie

Andy Royston continues his series of articles on the women in popular culture who made his world quake. “There is a fun, flippant side to me, of course. But I would much rather be known as the Ice Queen. Susan Ballion/Siouxsie  I started to pay attention to Siouxie after a trip to London. There used to be an open air street market at the end of Gerard Street, on Newport Court not far from Leicester Square. There was a stall...

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The Curious Love Life of Fabulous Fanny Cradock

The curious love life of bigamist Fanny Cradock Fanny Cradock was known as the first TV celebrity chef. She appeared on her show along with her ‘husband’, Johnny. Although he was her real-life partner, they were not married – a fact that could have scandalised some viewers when their show started in 1955. In fact, Fanny had first been married at the age of seventeen – to an RAF pilot. Accounts vary regarding...

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Alice de Janze & Raymund de Trafford

The day Alice de Janzé shot her lover. It was March 25th, 1927 and Alice had a date to meet her lover, Raymund de Trafford for lunch in Paris. Actually it would be more accurate to describe him as her ex-lover. This meeting, at the Maison Lapérouse restaurant overlooking the River Seine ended at the Gare du Nord, with a detour to Monsieur Guinon’s gun shop on the Avenue de l’Opera. When they arrived at the station, Alice...

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Kathleen Kennedy

Four months before he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, American president John Kennedy visited Ireland. Most people thought that he then flew directly to London but in fact, he detoured to the tiny village of Edensor in England. There he laid a wreath on the grave of his younger sister, Kathleen. How had she died and why was she buried in a country churchyard in Derbyshire? Who was Kathleen Kennedy? Kathleen Cavendish was nicknamed...

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Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford: Loves and private life. Legendary Hollywood actress Joan Crawford was the subject of  vitriolic exposé book written by her adopted daughter. Whether these revelations are true is a matter of conjecture but Christina claimed that her mother had adopted her and other children to enhance her fame, rather than because of maternal feelings. The book reveals stories of abuse and tells of Joan’s affairs – with both...

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Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich: Style I have a now out-of-print book that studies the lives and style of five famous women. It could be called a history lesson through the eyes of a fashion designer. One of the five is the fabulous Marlene Dietrich. She was known for her special style and her fashion innovations – when in Germany in the early years of her career, she once attended an audition wearing a Napoleon hat with a huge feather, a...

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Odette Sansom: WW2 Spy

Odette Sansom Hallowes: Odette was tortured by the Gestapo in the Second World War and sent to a concentration camp where she was sentenced to death. She never gave in and managed to survive – and save others – purely by her wits. In 1942, she had made sure that her three daughters were safe and well-cared for and left England to risk her life helping others. Odette was French by birth.She had married an Englishman and...

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The Mysterious Death of Wallis Simpson

What happened to Wallis Simpson after the Duke of Windsor died? Wallis was of course, the Duchess of Windsor. Her husband the duke had formerly been King Edward VIII and famously he abdicated in 1936 so that he could marry her. Their affair and subsequent marriage had tongues wagging on both sides of the Atlantic and was the constitutional crisis of the twentieth century. They had a curious, scandalous and rather sad married life but...

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Is Shirley Temple Still Alive?

Is Shirley Temple Still Alive? Shirley Temple was a child star who sang and danced into the hearts of children and grownups alike, starring in movies in the 1930s. She grew up to become a wife, mom, and grandmother, a diplomat, and a breast cancer survivor. Shirley was born April 23, 1928. She died February 10, 2014, at age 85 from natural causes, at her home in California. Shirley Temple Facts at a Glance Did you know . . . Shirley...

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Violette Morris: Life and Loves

The curious life of Violette Morris   See this chap here? Well actually, this is Violette Morris; not a chap after all but a Frenchwoman who was born in 1893. She rose to fame as a sportswoman, excelling in those sports that require strength and power such as shot put and javelin. She was also keen on boxing, soccer  and, as you can see in the photograph here, motor racing. Violette wasn’t just a tomboy, she was a confirmed...

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Viv Nicholson. The party’s over

Viv Nicholson – Spend, Spend, Spend Many years ago,I was in a perfume shop  called Duty Free in the Ridings Shopping Centre in Wakefield. The lady behind the counter looked so very familiar. Eventually, I realised  that she was Viv Nicholson – who for one spell in the 1960s was one of the best known – and derided – women in England. Why? Because when she was twenty five, in 1961, she and her husband won a...

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Evelyn Waugh & Diana Guinness

Evelyn Waugh & Diana Guinness. Words by Lyndsy Spence. Evelyn Waugh had made up his mind to dislike Diana Guinness, the third-born and most beautiful of the six Mitford girls. As the young wife of the brewing scion Bryan Guinness, Diana had already established herself as a dazzling society hostess. She was the epitome of what Evelyn (at that time) despised: rich, frivolous and, as he privately imagined, not very bright. During...

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Bette Davis

Bette Davis Bette Davis, who was born in 1908, was one of the most stunning and unusual actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whereas most actresses of that era made it to success because of  their beauty, Bette Davis succeeded by sheer force of personality. Most actresses at the time wanted to be portrayed as beautiful and stylish women – Bette didn’t care about that. She took the parts of slovenly women, bitchy...

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Who Was Isabella Beeton?

Who was Isabella Beeton? The ‘Isabella’ part of the name might not be familiar but many people have heard of ‘Mrs Beeton’, the Victorian lady who compiled the then best-selling book of  household management advice. But who was Mrs Beeton? It’s easy to have the impression that she was a rosy-cheeked, suitable plump, grandmotherly old lady who shared her years of experience  of cooking and managing a home....

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Princess Mary

 Who was Princess Mary? It’s likely that you’ve never heard of England’s Princess Mary but it’s highly possible that even after all these years you are familiar with the story of her brother. For Princess Mary was the sister of Edward VIII, the English king who famously abdicated so that he could marry his American mistress, Wallis Simpson. When you look at the photograph of her on the right, you can see the...

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Who Was Gertrude Ederle?

Gertrude, or Trudy as she was more usually known, was a sportswoman who should have been famous and remembered today but despite her achievements she faded into obscurity. In the 1920s she was seen as a pioneer in showing the world that women were not ‘the weaker sex’.  Strangely, women were still considered to be so. Gertrude was the first woman to swim the English Channel She was the first woman to do so and she...

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Who Was Ruth Snyder?

Who was Ruth Snyder? When you realise that the image above shows the final moments of Ruth Snyder’s life, then it becomes evident that she was a murderer. She was executed on January 12th, 1928 at Sing Sing. She was the first woman to be executed using the electric chair. Her lover, Henry Judd Gray, suffered the same fate. Together, they had murdered Ruth’s husband. The story had begun ten years before the executions....

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Who was Pancho Barnes?

Who was Pancho Barnes? She was no beauty, that’s for sure, but she was one of the fastest-living, hardiest partying girls of the last century. She was married four times, was a Hollywood stunt pilot and spent her way through several fortunes.   The girl who was destined to escape from Mexican rebels by dressing as a man, and who could out-party, out-drink and out-everything most men she met, was born with the demure name of...

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Who was Brownie Wise?

You may not be familiar with the name of Brownie Wise but I imagine that you know about her products – and the sales method she devised. You see, it was Brownie who developed the Tupperware party. She started her career as a secretary for a company called Stanley Home Products and sold their goods at home as a sideline. But when she discovered the Tupperware products, she dropped them to concentrate on these new bowls and...

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Eva Braun: Mrs Hitler

Eva Braun: The woman who married Adolf Hitler. Who was the woman who married the fuhrer? Of course, it was probably one of the shortest marriages ever, ending with the couple’s death on April 30th 1945, but at that time, she had known Hitler for sixteen years. She was born to what was then known as a lower-middle class couple in 1912,one of three sisters. She was educated at the local catholic school and then at a convent. She...

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The Kidnapping of Princess Anne

The 1974 kidnapping attempt on Princess Anne. Princess Anne is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and in March 1974, four people were shot by a man who was trying to kidnap the princess for ransom. Anne, or the Princess Royal as she is known today, is not one of the younger, more popular members of the royal family such as Harry, William and Catherine, but she’s widely acknowledged to be the most hard-working member with a...

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Who was Pattie Boyd?

Pattie Boyd, George Harrison and Eric Clapton. There must have been something special about Pattie Boyd. Actually, you might have noticed a minor pun there because Pattie supposedly was the inspiration behind George Harrison’s song Something. The Eric Clapton song Wonderful Tonight was also reputedly written about her. She was married to both men – George first and then to his best friend, Eric. She first met George in...

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Who Was Maria Callas?

Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis. One of the richest men in the world, Aristotle Onassis, was married twice. His first wife was Tina Livros, the seventeen year old daughter of a shipping tycoon. (Onassis was forty when he married her). His second wife was one of the most famous women in America at that time — Jackie Kennedy, the widow of the assassinated president JFK. But one woman was with him for longer than either of his...

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Who was Marli Renfro?

Marli Renfro: You know  her well. The chances are that if you like movies, you know who Marli Renfro was but you might not recognise the name. What’s more, I’m willing to bet that you’ve seen her completely naked. She was in one of the most famous films – ever. But few people know her name. She was born in America in 1938. She grew up to be very attractive and she was only in her early twenties when she took...

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Nicole Hughes Maxwell

Who was Nicole Hughes Maxwell?  Nichole Hughes Maxwell transformed herself from a Californian socialite into a South American explorer and ethnobotanist. She later said that the wild animals,the witch doctors and the swamps held no fear for her – not,that is, compared to her pre-expedition lunch with top executives of  pharmaceutical company.”I hate asking for money’ she said. But she did receive a grant to continue...

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Who was Mary Garden?

Who was Mary Garden? Her name is unknown today but had we been around in the earlier half of the last century, we’d definitely know it. She entertained kings and princes – indeed King George of Greece reportedly presented her with a necklace worth $100,000 Mary was born in Scotland in the 1870s – the exact year varies depending on the accounts you read. When she was just a girl, her parents emigrated to the United...

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Idina Sackville: A WW1 marriage

Idina Sackville & Euan Wallace. A First World War marriage. Although Idina and Euan were definitely from the top drawer of society, the sad story of their marriage must have happened to so many couples during the First World War. They were both quite young when they married. Idina was twenty and Euan less than a year older. They both enjoyed parties, dancing and having fun. They were madly in love. She was a sparkling socialite...

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International Women’s Day: The Origins and Future

International Women’s Day: The Origins and Future International Women’s Day has been an annual celebration since 1911 and each year reminds us to dedicate time to celebrate those women who have played a part to improve the world we all live in. From looking at achievement we can reflect on how far we have come and how far we have yet to climb. It began as a Socialist political event, first organized by the Socialist Party of America...

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Atlas and Vulcana

Who was Vulcana? Vulcana was the stage name of a young woman from Wales. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she performed in the music halls as a strong-woman. She was born with the more likely name of Kate Williams in 1875. She was interested in acrobatics and fitness and her father, a local preacher, encouraged her to become fit and strong. When she was in her early teens she started attending a gym. She soon...

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Who was Catalina de Erauso?

Who was Catalina de Erauso? Catalina was born into a highly-ranked Basque family in 1585. Like many girls of her day,she was expected to live the cloistered life of a nun. She entered the convent when she was just child. She was desperately unhappy and determined to escape from the dreary future she saw before her. It was arranged that she should take her vows when she was fifteen. As the date approached, she became even more...

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The Accidental Empress: Elisabeth of Austria

Elisabeth of Austria: The Accidental Empress  I received this book as a gift and – to be honest – set it aside for quite a while. The cover make me think that it was a somewhat junky historical novel of the ‘bodice-ripper’ type. I was wrong.This is a fictionalised version of real events that took place in the nineteenth century and as such, is fascinating. Yes,it’s a love story but so much more too. When...

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Mary I of England: Phantom pregnancies

The phantom pregnancies of Queen Mary of England Although Mary had been born in 1516, it was only in later life that she married. Her life had been a turbulent one. As the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, she was later deemed to be illegitimate. How could this be? When Henry VIII realised that his wife Catherine would not be able to provide him with a male heir, he had their marriage annulled....

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Frances Reynolds: Life on the Run

Frances Reynolds: Wife of Great Train Robber, Bruce. Frances was just sixteen years old when Bruce Reynolds started courting her. She knew that he operated on the wrong side of the law but she was in love. She understood his rebellious character. So when he went on the run, she was with him. After Bruce and his colleagues had pulled off the Great Train Robbery in 1963, the couple had no choice. They had a small baby, Nick, but Franny...

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Who was Barbara Payton?

Who was Barbara Payton? There are some strange and often sad stories that have come out of what was called the Golden Era of Hollywood. Barbara Payton’s is one of them. Blonde and attractive Barbara, seen here with Gregory Peck, was sure of her own stardom. She bought into the Hollywood press releases about herself. She thought she was a huge star. Yet today, hardly no-one remembers the name and she died alone aged only thirty...

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In praise of Sensational Women – Mavis Staples

Andy Royston pays tribute to a true musical legend, the magnificent Mavis Staples. We’ve come here tonight to bring you some joy, some happiness, inspiration, and some positive vibrations! We want to leave you with enough to last you for maybe the next six months. – Mavis Staples / Live: Hope at the Hideout Mavis is coming to Fort Lauderdale,just a walk away from my home and I just cannot wait. Here is an American voice...

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Katie Hopkins: British Broadcaster Hates Fat People

Katie Hopkins fights obesity I have to admit that I have a sneaking admiration for people who  speak their minds on public platforms. In today’s politically correct world, it’s refreshing (and even more so if I tend to agree with their opinions). Katie, and I have to admit that I had never heard of her until this furore, spoke her mind very clearly about the obese. She declared that they were lazy and that she deplores the...

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Bessie Coleman

Who was Bessie Coleman? Bessie Coleman was a pilot. When she was born in January 1892, it was several years before the Wright brothers even began to explore the possibility of flight. For Bessie, as a child, human flight was simply an unknown. And yet she became a well-known pilot – the first woman of African-American descent to do so. When she was older, and when flying was in its infancy, Bessie knew that this was what she...

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Who Was Lillie Langtry?

 Lillie Langtry’s royal illegitimate baby. At various times in her life,Lillie Langtry was an entertainer, a racehorse owner, an American citizen, a resident of Monte Carlo and most notably, a mistress of members of the British aristocracy and royal family. But what is often forgotten is that she had a royal illegitimate daughter whose descendants are related by blood to today’s heirs to the British throne. Lillie was born...

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City Girls

Think football (or soccer) and you think men: men shouting, waving, cheering, chanting, booing. But here in my home city, Bradford, West Yorkshire, many female fans of all ages attend both home and away matches. They come with their male partners or spouses, they come in female pairs, they come with their kids or grandchildren, and some come on their own. And they can be as passionate as the men about the game. In 2015 a local...

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Gypsy Rose Lee

 Stripping Gypsy Gypsy Rose Lee, or Rose Hovick as she was originally named, was the product of a driven stage mother. Rose was born in 1911 and her sister June followed a year later. After the girls’ parents were divorced, the two youngsters were made to perform on the vaudeville stage to support the small family. Rose and June’s mother is said to have had a variety of forged birth certificates for the girls to...

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Under the Covers: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

Andy Royston takes a listen to Carole King’s delightful song Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and the different ways it has been covered through the years. The songs of Goffin and King are superb examples of the song writing craft of the Sixties. Finely honed to meet the demands of the clients who commissioned them, and written with the requirements of AM radio always firmly in mind, they still managed to express themselves in a...

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Gladys Deacon

The curious life of Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough. Perhaps it became evident to Gladys that hers would be an unusual life when her father fatally shot  her mother’s lover.   Her parents were American and rich. They were in Paris in 1881 when Gladys, one of their four daughters, was born. The Deacons moved in the best social circles and their children were largely brought up and educated in France, mostly in Paris itself....

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Alberta Vickridge – forgotten poet and printer

The Forgotten Bard. Alberta Vickridge? You’ve probably never heard of her. Which is a pity – because in her lifetime she was a poet of considerable talent, including poetry that won her a Bardic Crown and Bardic Chair at an Eisteddfod in 1924. She also ran her own printing press from her home in Yorkshire at a time when women in printing were uncommon. Her poetry was admired and praised by writers, such as Agatha Christie,...

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Zora Neale Hurston

Who was Zora Neale Hurston? The nineteen thirties were a strange time in the USA. When most people were struggling with the effects of the Depression, Zora Neale Hurston was travelling and living in Florida, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Haiti – studying voodoo. She is remembered today as a folklorist, anthropologist and writer, yet she came from a childhood which featured deprivation an segregation in the rural southern states. She...

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Thelma Furness: Wallis Simpson’s Rival for Edward

Thelma Furness: Wallis Simpson’s rival for Edward’s affections The name of Wallis Simpson is well-known. The one time king to England, Edward VIII, famously gave up his throne for the sake of Mrs Simpson,choosing to marry her rather than remain sovereign. A lesser known name is that of Thelma Furness but without her presence in Edward’s life,the abdication crisis, as it was known, might have never happened. Thelma...

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In praise of sensational women – Debbie Allen

Andy Royston introduces a new series of articles on the women in popular culture who made his  world quake. “I don’t have time for prima donnas. You want to become a dancer? You’re going to have to work.You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here’s where you start paying in sweat. I want to see sweat. And the better you are, the more sweat I’m going to demand. So if you...

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The Sisters: Saga of the Mitford Family

Who were the Mitford sisters? They were the most remarkable people. They were scandalous, controversial and a lot of fun. They were born between 1904 and 1920 to an aristocratic, well-connected and decidedly eccentric English family. Between them the six sisters kept the newspapers busy for years with stories of their scandals, divorces, affairs and bizarre and differing political views. They were all beautiful with stunning figures...

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Mae Westisms

Westisms are what I call the things said by a bawdy, beloved performer named Mae West. She was born Mary Jane West on  August 17, 1893 to parents John Patrick West and Matilda (Tillie) Doelger in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was a prize fighter who became a “special policeman” and later had his own detective agency. Her mother modeled corsets and fashions. Mae was only five years old when she entertained a crowd at a...

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Lady Ursula d’Abo

Lady Ursula d’Abo: The girl with the widow’s peak. Words by Lyndsy Spence Born into an aristocratic family in 1916, Lady Ursula d’Abo (née Manners) was interrelated with some of the most powerful and interesting figures of the 20th century. She counted the famous beauty and hostess Lady Diana Cooper as her paternal aunt, and among those famous aunts were Laura and Margot Tennant, part of the Victorian intellectual...

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Scandal: John Lennon and Alma Cogan

Yoko Ono did not break up the Lennon’s marriage. Cynthia Lennon, the first wife of John, died on April 1st, 2015. Four days later, a newspaper broke the story that she had told a reporter, back in 1989, that it wasn’t Yoko Ono that had split up the Lennon marriage. Cynthia had revealed, the newspaper said, that the breakup of the marriage was due to a once-famous but then-fading British singer called Alma Cogan (pictured)....

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The Mitford Sisters: Book review

The Sisters: The curious lives of the Mitford Sisters If you’ve never read this fascinating book about the Mitford sisters, then I highly recommend it. This isn’t a novel,it’s a biography, but it’s one of those ‘fact is stranger than fiction’ stories. The six sisters were born into minor British aristocracy between 1904 and 1920. They had an unconventional upbringing and each girl developed their...

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Did Alice de Janzé murder her lover?

Did Alice de Janzé murder her lover? I’m inclined to think that she did. But read about the case below and let me know what you think. Alice was American and a wealthy heiress. She was born in 1899. She lived a scandalous life, which ended when she took her own life t the age of only forty two. She was incredibly beautiful. Surviving photographs of her do not do her justice. in those days, rich American families often arranged...

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Mary Astor: Scandal

Mary Astor’s diaries. Mary Astor was a gorgeous actress in the Golden Era of Hollywood. Yet like many of the actors of the time, she was involved in a juicy scandal. In total she was married four times. The first marriage was to a movie director names Kenneth Hawks. Less than two years later he was killed in an air crash. He was in a plane during the shooting of aerial scenes when two of the aircraft collided. Understandably she...

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Party Like it’s 1989 – Ryan Adams covers Taylor Swift

They’re not cover songs. They’re reimaginings of my songs, and you can tell that he was in a different place emotionally than I was. There’s this beautiful aching sadness and longing in this album that doesn’t exist in the original. Taylor Swift When Ryan Adams let it slip that he was contemplating doing a cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album it was hard to figure out if he was serious. He’s played a few curve balls...

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“Miss Bacall Did Her Own Singing…”

“Miss Bacall Did Her Own Singing…” The scene is a bar room in French Martinique, a hot and noisy club setting where a piano player called Cricket (Hoagy Carmichael ) is playing for a gorgeous teenage singer, Slim. Slim was Lauren Bacall in her first movie role, and what a star turn she gave, singing one of Carmichael’s most memorable songs, How Little We Know. Her vocal training was coming along, but no-one...

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Miss Marple: Margaret Rutherford’s Family Murder

Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. Margaret Rutherford was a much-loved British actress and probably her best known role was that of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. And yet because of a tragic murder in her own family, Miss Rutherford almost turned down the part of the famous elderly amateur detective. The public was almost denied from seeing her in  this most memorable role. MGM, the movie studio, was planning to make Murder...

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Hollywood Redheads – Wilma Flintstone

Andy Royston pays tribute to one of the original Hollywood Wives. Wilma Flintstone. Television’s image of the American woman, 1964, is a stupid, unattractive, insecure little household drudge who spends her martyred, mindless, boring days dreaming of love – and plotting nasty revenge against her husband. Betty Freidan – Television and the Feminine Mystique.  I love thee Wilma, with hair like silk, Lips like cherries,...

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Who Was Harriet Mordaunt?

The Harriet Mordaunt Scandal. A Royal Scandal: The Prince of Wales and Harriet Mordaunt. It’s not really unusual to hear of an older man marrying a much younger woman. But in the case of Harriet Mordaunt, it became a scandal that fascinated Victorian society. Harriet was young and attractive and her story involved British royalty and led to Harriet being locked up as insane for the rest of her life. Was a conspiracy at work?...

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The Magnificent Meschiya Lake

Andy Royston sings the praises of Meschiya Lake, New Orleans nightingale made good. “I was driving in to meet the circus. I’d been driving alone for about eight hours, and I stopped in the French Quarter to use a phone to find out where I was supposed to go to meet everyone. I looked around and noticed the gas lamps and the classic, Old World feel, just this feeling of timelessness. And I eventually learned that it’s a very...

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More of Hollywood’s Finest Redheads

Andy Royston continues his appreciation of Hollywood’s redheads. “It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity” –  Jonathan Swift, Gullivers Travels “You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair, people who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is” – Anne of Green Gables In Part One...

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Hollywood’s Finest Redheads

An appreciation of big screen redheads by Andy Royston “I would always hesitate to recommend as a life’s companion a young lady with quite such a vivid shade of red hair. Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.” P.G. Wodehouse – Very Good Jeeves “Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead.”  ― Lucille Ball In 2014 something extraordinary happened. A rubescence of...

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Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedy Family

Did the Kennedys murder Marilyn Monroe? Most people are aware that there was a strong connection between Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedy family, especially John Kennedy and his brother, Robert. There is also speculation that the Kennedys were responsible for her death. Could this be the case? It’s certainly true that Marilyn had affairs with both the Kennedy brothers. It’s also true that she had a serious problem with using...

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Mitford Weddings: Diana Guinness & Oswald Mosley

Diana Mitford & Sir Oswald Mosley. Of the six somewhat scandalous Mitford sisters, possibly the most controversial wedding was that of Diana to Oswald Mosley. It took place in Germany in October 1936 – less than three years before the outbreak of the Second World War. The marriage service was conducted in the home of the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels and the guest of honour was Adolf Hitler. Both Diana and her...

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Songs from the Heart : Landslide

A highlight of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks shows has always been Landslide, which is a song that seems to get stronger with age. In later live performances its clear that the song is almost a cathartic singalong, with Stevie; once the great Californian sex symbol, now fairy godmother to the classic rock generation, rising to the occasion. Her audience comes dressed in homage – top hats, shawls, feathers, long long hair and...

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The Life of the Princess of Wales

The Life of the Princess of Wales. She was incredibly unhappy. The Princess of Wales had only been married for a short period of time but she was fully aware that her husband, the Prince of Wales, was still seeing his long-time mistress. And what’s more, she rather suspected that he was seeing other women too. She knew that he’d had plenty of women when he had been single and now it seemed that he hadn’t changed in...

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She Captains by Joan Druett

She Captains: Heroines of the Sea. Prize winning historian and author Joan Druett has created a fabulous book which is chock-full of fascinating about women at sea throughout history. Seafaring was a dangerous business in times gone by and yet many women were attracted to life aboard. Some were captains – and even pirates – in their own right.Others went to sea with their husbands. All their stories are fascinating....

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Young Inventors: Mimi Ausland & Freekibble

The 11 year old girl who founded Freekibble Mimi Ausland was nine years old, the minimum age required, when she began to volunteer at her local animal shelter. Only two years later, in 2008, she first began the Freekibble website. She wanted to help feed the animals in her local shelter, but she realized a greater need than just her surrounding area. It may be a different sort of invention but one that has proven remarkable...

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A Circle of Sisters: The MacDonalds

 A Circle of Sisters: The MacDonalds Remarkably, four daughters of a nineteenth century Methodist minister became powerful and feted by Victorian society – against all odds. The girls were born into a relatively impoverished family; their father being a minister who moved around the country and their mother the daughter of a wholesale grocer. The had few advantages. They weren’t particularly educated. In that society in...

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Anti-rape pants – really?

Pants that prevent rape – really? I suppose that the two women who started this company have their hearts in the right place but really, anti-rape pants? Yes, I know that wearing the modern equivalent of a chastity belt might seem like a good idea but what on earth does it say about society? We’ve all heard the old excuse ‘well, she was wearing a very short skirt and a low cut blouse so she was asking for it’....

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The Sun newspaper stops topless page three feature

The Sun newspaper stops topless page three feature I just don’t get it. The Sun, in case you don’t know, is a British tabloid newspaper. It is not necessarily a paper for the intellectually superior. For the last forty-four years – which is more or less for as long as many people can remember – page three of the newspaper has featured a glamour shot of a topless model. On 20th  January 2015, it was announced...

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TV presenter chooses to have a double mastectomy

Tv presenter Claira Hermet chooses to have a double mastectomy Claira is a British television presenter in  her twenties. Because of her family history – both her mother and her sister died because of breast cancer – she has decided to have both her breasts removed. This is because she carries a mutated BRCA 1 gene – as had her mother and her sister. This gene indicated that a woman has an eighty-five  to...

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The three husbands of Clara Davis

Clara Davis and her three husbands Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Clara Davis – she wasn’t famous and she wasn’t a celebrity but I was drawn to her story because of the three men she loved and lost. She was just an ordinary girl but had such bad luck in the marital department. She was the daughter of a gas superintendent from Dulwich and rather liked the idea of a career on the stage. Her first...

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Breastfeeding in public: Yes or no?

 Breastfeeding in public. The debate In December 2014, it was reported in the British news that a media storm has broken out because a woman was breastfeeding her baby in a restaurant. The woman was told by a member of staff to cover her baby and her breast with a large napkin. Even members of parliament became involved in the row, one suggesting that women should retire to a discreet corner should they wish to breastfeed their baby....

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