Dr Dud and ‘I am Spartacus’

Hello again, Mrs Dud here.

So, last time I introduced you to myself and the reason I’ve taken over the blog from Dr Dud (who sadly and tragically passed away on 28th January 2016).  We have now had the funeral, or rather Celebration of his life and what a day it was!  Thank goodness we had booked the larger chapel at Worthing Crematorium as upwards of 150 people gathered last Friday morning (19th February) – the vicar jokingly said that I had told him it would be ‘just’ family and a few close friends!  After the service there we all headed off to St. Nicholas Church in Bramber (well we physically had to leave Dud behind but I know he was still with us).  St. Nicks church was a subject of an earlier blog by Dud, and you can find it here.

Either if you know the church, or if you look on Dud’s blog, you will see that it is not that large a building.  However, thanks to the vicar and a few friends it was slightly reorganised so that we could seat 150 people. Which, as it turns out was not enough ….. it was standing room only!

st nich

St Nicholas’ Church, Bramber (the area to the left is the vestry, so we all had to fit into the rest!)

The service was indeed a celebration of Dud’s life with readings and tributes by his close friends, his son Toby and myself .  As in life, so in death, Dud would not do anything by half and so following the service there was a further round of celebration in St. Mary’s House, Bramber (also the subject of a previous blog…here).  This particular part of the  celebration took the format of sharing memories over a glass (or several) of wine, beer or soft drinks alongside some delicious food prepared by the Maharajah Indian Restaurant (also in Bramber – bit of a theme there!)


St Mary’s House, Bramber

Now, at St. Mary’s House Toby and I made brief speeches and I then invited everyone to collect a copy of Dud’s book of his blog (‘Have you got the T-Shirt’ .. still available on Amazon by the way) and an ‘I am Spartacus’ badge.  Why the badge I hear you ask…?

Well, to keep up the blatant publicity for earlier blogs by Dr Dud, there was one on, yes you’ve guessed it, Spartacus.  In fact under the category of ‘Hollywood Fact or Fiction’ just one area that Dud was interested in.  Under these categories, he would take a well-known Hollywood blockbuster and see if there was any connection between what you saw on the silver screen and reality – or if indeed there was ever any reality anyway!

Anyhow, the reason for the badges was only loosely based on the person of Spartacus, or even the film with Kirk Douglas (those of you who read Dud’s blog will know there are often only loose, or tenuous at best, connections!)

The real story is that some years ago, we went on holiday to Greece with our good friends Laurance and Jackie and visited the site of Argos (situated in the Peloponnese and near to Mycenae, Tiryns and Midea, which we also visited).  Anyhow, whilst in the ancient theatre of Argos (originally built in the 5th century BC and updated in the 3rd), Dud and Laurance decided to ‘play’ being Emperors at the gladiatorial games, giving the thumbs up or down (I’m sure they were not the first, nor the last to do this!).  Alongside the thumbs down, were also cries of “I’m Spartacus”  (as only men on holiday can do …..)


Dud and Laurance in the theatre at Argos

Fast forward two years to 2010 when we again went on a holiday adventure with Laurance and Jackie, this time to Turkey.  We covered almost the entire west coast of Turkey from Istanbul down to Bodrum in 9 days!  The main purpose of the trip was a visit to the site of Troy, which held much fascination and interest for Dud and so it was long overdue that we go there.  I could tell you the story about how we arrived at the ‘hotel’ just by the site of Troy only to find that the description of ‘hotel’ was a slight exaggeration! Or I could tell you that when we went down to get some supper, we asked the young lad there if we could see the menu….   He duly handed out menus and then 5 minutes later collected them in again without a word about whether we wanted to order anything or not.  Well, I suppose we had only asked to ‘see’ the menu!  However, the reason for mentioning the trip is that at the very start, Laurance presented us each with an ‘I am Spartacus’ badge which we all wore for the duration of the trip and the phrase was often recounted, usually over, or after, a glass of wine!


The ‘original’ badge (now only 3 in existence)

It was only right, therefore, that Dud should wear his ‘I am Spartacus’ badge for his final journey, and in memory of many great times with many, many friends we decided that everyone present at St. Mary’s on 19th February should have their own badge too! I know, it sounds strange, but after a couple of glasses of wine, my sister and her friend thought it sounded a fantastic idea and I got a phone call to tell me that 150 badges were ordered and on their way to me!


Newer version, but less rare …..

Anyhow, it seemed to work and almost all of the badges that were made were taken and worn…some were even found on the floor of the pub next door by rather surprised bar staff!

So, there you have it….and if you do happen to find an orange coloured ‘I am Spartacus’ badge then you will know where it came from and can think of Dud.

Next time … … ..  I’m not sure at the moment, but hopefully something you will find interesting!

Custer of the West: Hollywood fact or fiction?

CUSTER OF THE WEST starred Robert Shaw in the lead role in 1967 and was a vague representation of the facts of the ‘Battle’ of the Little Big Horn and Custer’s last stand. There was also a rather less factual Errol Flynn version in 1941 called They Died with Their Boots on.  What the 1967 version sadly lacked, which the 1941 version seemed very proud of, was the tune ‘Gary Owen’ which was taken up by Custer as the 7th Cavalry’s march – to hear it  Click here (need sound of course).

custer film            boots11

George Armstrong Custer was born in December 1839 in New Rumley, Ohio. He went to West Point in 1857 and graduated last in his class in 1861 just in time for the commencement of the American Civil War in April of that year. He performed courageously under the command of General George McClellan who saw to his promotion to acting captain but when McClellan was relieved of his command, Custer was reverted back to lieutenant.  General Alfred Pleasonton took over from McClellan and under him came Custer’s introduction to the world of extravagant uniforms and political maneuvering, and the young lieutenant became his protégé and soon regained his rank of (full) captain. Custer distinguished himself by fearless and aggressive actions in some of the numerous cavalry engagements and he was rewarded (and so not by mistake as in the Errol Flynn film!) with promotion as the youngest brevet [1] brigadier of the volunteers at the age of 23.


Cadet George Custer at West Point, c 1859 – to be last in his class on graduation in 1861

Whilst on leave during the Civil war he married Elizabeth ‘Libbie’ Bacon in February 1864. Her father was Judge Daniel Bacon who, initially, had not approved of Custer as a match for his daughter as he (Custer) was the son of a blacksmith. Well, this all changed when Custer had become a hero of the Civil War ….. oh,  and a brigadier general.


Brevet Brigadier General Custer, 1865

When the war ended, Custer was returned to his rank of captain but it was not long before he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel and assigned to the newly formed 7th Cavalry based at Fort Riley in Kansas where he joined the General Winifred Scott Hancock campaign against the Cheyenne ‘Indians’/Native Americans (see last post –  I need to call them ‘Indians’ for context purposes). However after the Hancock campaign, Custer was court martialled for going absent without leave (AWOL) – he had become indifferent and frustrated with the campaign and abandoned his post to go and see his wife – and he was suspended from duty for one year. He returned to duty before the suspension had expired at the request of General Philip Sheridan who wanted Custer for the Indian campaign.


Libbie Custer (1842-1933)

Now the Indian campaign took a bit of a turn when gold was found in the Black Hills of Dakota. These hills were owned by the Lakota Sioux Indians headed by Chief Sitting Bull as a result of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. The government needed to control them because of the gold and the fact that 15,000 miners had moved into the Hills setting up towns such as Custer and  Deadwood (remember that place from Wild Bill Hickok post August 23, 2014). So, in the autumn of 1875, the government offered Sitting Bull $6 million for the land but the sum was turned down.  President Ulysses Grant then made two fateful decisions: (1) he would not stop miners flooding into the Black Hills; and (2) all Lakota and Cheyenne Indians must report to the reservations by January 1876 or be treated as hostiles (thus reneging on the Fort Laramie Treaty). The Indian tribes refused to comply.


Sitting Bull portrait

This seemed to be a great opportunity for more glory for Custer. By now he had been gambling and making bad business decisions and was in severe financial difficulties and needed a ‘way out’. A campaign against the Lakota Indians was a good option. Unfortunately he was called to Washington to give evidence at the Congressional Committee trying to discredit President Grant’s Administration’s handling of contracts with the Indian Agencies on the frontier. Custer managed to try and implicate the President’s brother, Orvil, which was a mistake. The President was furious and decided to keep Custer on the sidelines of the Indian war and ignored all requests from Custer to see him to apologise.  Eventually, General Alfred Terry, who needed Custer, eventually got him re-instated. So, in 1876, he headed to the Back hills in search of redemption and glory.


President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85)

By January 1876 the Lakota Indians under Sitting Bull had not moved to the reservation and General Terry had orders to force him and his followers to do so or destroy them in the process. The plan was a three pronged assault on the Indian village of Sitting Bull’s alliance of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne around Yellowstone River and four of its close tributaries, the Bighorn, Rosebud, Tongue and Powder (see map below). Terry (and Custer), with 1200 men, would approach from the east from Fort Lincoln; Colonel Gibbon, with 440 men, from the west from Montana; and General Crook, with 1100 men, from the south from Wyoming.  Terry and Custer left via separate routes to clear up any Indian stragglers. Apparently Terry had said to Custer that if he (Custer) got there before him to leave him some action. Custer allegedly replied, simply, “No” (but I have no source for that…).  Custer was a ‘dog off the leash’.


Plan of assault on the Indian camp at Little Big Horn

On the 25th June 1876, Custer, indeed, arrived about a day before Terry. Crook had arrived first and camped by the Rosebud River only to be attacked by a large force of alliance Indians under Crazy Horse and only just managed to avoid total defeat and retreated south. He reported this disaster to General Sheridan but made no effort to notify Terry.  Custer wanted glory for himself alone and, despite the tiredness of his soldiers who had been on the move all day, he insisted on going into action immediately.  As a result he split his force into three battalions, one under himself, another under Major Marcus Reno and the other under Captain  Frederick Benteen. Neither of these officers liked Custer and the feeling was mutual, particularly as Reno was an alcoholic.  Benteen was sent south and west, to cut off any attempted escape by the Indians; Reno was sent to charge the southern end of the encampment; and Custer rode north, hidden to the east of the encampment by bluffs, planning to circle around and attack from the north.  This split was to prove fatal.


Major Reno (1834-89)

Custer had 208 officers and men under his command (including his two brothers, Tom and Boston, his nephew, Henry ‘Autie’ Reed, and his brother-in-law, Lt Calhoun), with an additional 142 under Reno, just over 100 under Benteen, 50 soldiers with Captain McDougall’s rearguard, and 84 soldiers under 1st Lieutenant Edward Gustave Mathey with the pack train. The Lakota/Cheyenne coalition may have fielded over 1800 warriors (although reports on this number vary).


Capt. Benteen, c1865 

Reno was the first to encounter resistance when he was attacked some 500 yards from the village. He was forced to retreat back up into the hills having lost a quarter of his battalion.  Here he met up with Benteen who asked where Custer was. By this time Benteen had received a note from Custer to come quick (see below) but he did nothing. In fact he and Reno sat and talked for about one hour and a half.  A Capt. Thomas Weir, a friend of Custer, was so frustrated with Reno and Benteen’s inaction, particularly as they could all hear gunfire in the distance, that he rode off to investigate. Benteen was shamed into following him.


Capt. Thomas Weir (1838-76)

In the meantime Custer had arrived on the hill north of the Indian camp and saw it for the first time and realised how mistaken he had been about the number of hostiles involved. He sent the above mentioned note to Benteen, “Benteen, come on. Big village. Come quick. Bring packs.” He then waved hist hat and shouted, “Hurrah boys, we’ve got them. We’ll finish them up and then home to our stations” (bearing in mind there were no survivors I’m not sure of the source of this alleged quote – although one source suggests that a couple of Custer’s Indian scouts were sent away before the final battle). What followed was a complete massacre of Custer’s force. The precise details of Custer’s fight are largely conjectural since none of his men (the five companies under his immediate command) survived the battle. The accounts of surviving Indians are conflicting and unclear.  Custer, himself, died with bullet wounds to the chest and head. With him on the hill were both his brothers, his nephew and his brother-in-law as mentioned above). This was indeed Custer’s last stand on ‘Last Stand Hill’ (as it is known today) as depicted in both Hollywood films, but not the last stand of his whole force.


Custer’s note to Benteen


There has been an archaeological survey of the battlefield which has produced some interesting results, including around 5,000 artifacts. The finds consist mainly of spent cartridges. It is known that the soldiers used the 1873 Springfield breach-loading ‘trapdoor’ carbine (a point the 1967 film fails to accept as, in the last stand, its soldiers use repeating Henrys/Winchesters), so finds of cartridges belonging to this gun indicate positions of Custer’s soldiers. Any other rifle cartridges indicate the positions of the Indians. It was discovered that the Indians were using 47 different types of guns from muzzle-loading ‘antiques’ to the modern repeating Henry rifle (similar to the famous Winchester). From such finds it is believed that at least 800 Indians were armed with a rifle of some description. Henry rifles had been given to the Indians by the government to shoot buffalo – there’s irony for you!


Above and below: the 1873 Springfield single-shot breach-loading ‘trapdoor’ carbine


It was these rifles that gave an idea as to why Custer failed in his encounter – other than being hopelessly outnumbered that is. Simply he allowed the Indians to get too close. The Springfield carbine is great at a long distance skirmish as it has an accurate range of around 600-700 yards, whereas the Henry repeater has an effective range of only 200 yards. However, once close-in the advantage reverses. The Henry can fire 13 rounds in 30 seconds compared with only 4 rounds from the single-shot Springfield. It doesn’t take  rocket science to work out who the odds are against at short range affrays.


The 1860 Henry repeating rifle

The distribution of the cartridges indicated that something like a third (or more) of Custer’s men had been separated from Custer and killed before being able to join him on ‘Last Stand Hill’ (where Custer was found), about a third were killed on the hill and a third (perhaps less) killed trying to escape down the hill to Deep Ravine near the river Bighorn.


On top of Last Stand Hill near where Custer fell (see his marker) looking to Deep Ravine in the distance


In the distance from Last Stand Hill can be seen more markers of those who fell trying to escape to the river through Deep Ravine



[1] A brevet was a warrant giving a commissioned officer a higher rank title as a reward for gallantry or meritorious conduct, but without receiving the authority, precedence, or pay of real rank.


One year after the battle, Custer’s remains and those of many of his officers were recovered and sent back east for reinternment in more formal burials. Custer was buried again with full military honours at West Point Cemetery on October 10, 1877 – a great honour for someone who finished last in his graduation class! The battle site was designated a National Cemetery in 1876.

Major Reno was dismissed from the army in 1880 due to alcoholism and died 9 years later. Benteen lasted a little longer but was suspended from duty due to being drunk and disorderly. He retired in 1888 but his inactivity at Bighorn continually hung over him.

Sitting Bull did not take a direct military role in the Battle of the Little Bighorn; instead he acted as a spiritual chief. He escaped to Canada but later found himself working for Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show. He died in 1890 aged 58/59.


Sitting Bull (1831-90)

You can visit the site of the battle and it has a Visitors Centre (of course). But I did read a guide to the site which said, ‘Where ever you go, watch out for rattlesnakes!’


P.P.S.  Finally, I always find these topics difficult because I love the Wild West and it’s ‘heroic’ characters.  They are part of the ‘Great American Way’,  However, the the more I read about Custer, the more I dislike him.  Accepted, he was very courageous but that was part of his ego, arrogance and flamboyance – which got him the nickname ‘Lucky’ (he should never have lasted as long a she did with his crazy military antics).  But that luck was to run out. I’m an avid supporter of the Native Americans and believe they were treated very badly by the US government and this leaves an imbalance with the ‘heroic romanticism’ of How the West Was Won. But that’s just my opinion.


That Hamilton Woman: Hollywood fact or fiction?

WHEN I SAY ‘that Hamilton woman’ I don’t mean Emma Hamilton in connection with Lord Nelson, I mean Vivien Leigh in connection with Lord Olivier. Yes, they appeared together in the film That Hamilton Woman! but, of course, they ‘appeared together’ in real life.  And, as with Hamilton and Nelson, it did not end well.

that hamilton-woman-poster

The film poster

As in the film between Hamilton and Nelson, the relationship between Leigh and Olivier was frowned upon as both were married but not to each other – Leigh to Herbert Leigh Holman and Olivier to Jill Esmond, whilst Hamilton was married to Sir William H and Nelson to Francis (nee Nisbet).

 1572620d0ca7bab3ba3b4a02573ef333Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier in the film (trivia: Nelson never wore an eye-patch, just a sun visor on his hat)

Hollywood dalliances were frequent but taboo amongst already married couples as the public did not approve. It could mean the end of both party’s careers. Leigh and Olivier got away with it for awhile having begun their affair in 1936. Olivier later said that “I couldn’t help myself with Vivien. No man could. I hated myself for cheating on Jill, but then I had cheated before, but this was something different. This wasn’t just out of lust. This was love that I really didn’t ask for but was drawn into.”  Oh, well that’s okay then!! The public didn’t realise the affair was going on because Leigh and Olivier were both in Hollywood for other reasons – Olivier was making Wuthering Heights (which he didn’t enjoy doing but that’s another story) and Leigh was seeking the Scarlett O’Hara role in Gone with the Wind.


Viven Leigh as (appropriately)  Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind

However, the industry was aware of the affair and Leigh failed to be cast alongside Olivier in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca because it was thought a good idea to keep them apart (work-wise anyway) until their divorces came through.  And the same applied to Pride and Prejudice after that. That’s showbiz!

They managed to appear on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet by some chap called Shakespeare but only because they financed it themselves, investing nearly all their savings. It was a commercial disaster.  In August 1940, once their divorces were through, they married – each other. They made That Hamilton Woman! the following year.


Olivier and Leigh – the ‘happy couple’

All went well until 1953 when, according to Olivier, Leigh went into manic depression and became exceedingly difficult to live with.  Michael Munn’s book on David Niven, ‘The Man Behind the Balloon’, makes mention of Niven’s concern over Leigh’s health, “David’s reference to Vivien Leigh’s illness was based on first hand experience of seeing her in the grip of what was once called manic depression but is now known as bi-polar disorder.  He had to called Stewart Granger one night when Vivien became ill while filming Elephant Walk” [1].  Munn then describes Granger’s version of the event (also from Granger’s autobiography ‘Sparks Fly Upward’) which is very similar to Niven’s recollection of an incident with a famous starlet he calls ‘Missie’ in his chapter ‘Our Little Girl (Part 2)’ in his book, ‘Bring on the Empty Horses’.  Niven does not actually say who ‘Missie’ is but, based on Munn’s (and Granger’s) book, she is clearly Vivien Leigh.  Niven doesn’t mention Granger’s involvement and to add to the intrigue, Olivier in his autobiography , ‘Confessions of an Actor’ involves Danny Kaye in the incident.


Olivier and Leigh returning to London after her ‘breakdown’

As a result of Leigh’s illness, Olivier fell into the arms of the English actress, Joan Plowright.  Olivier once said, “Even when Vivien was at her worst [with mental illness], I was never unfaithful to her though she was to me … [but] I became a philanderer through necessity …”.  Oh, again, that’s okay then!  He divorced Leigh in 1961 and immediately married Plowright.  In 1970, Olivier was made a Life Peer – Baron Olivier of Brighton (where he used to live in the Regency built Royal Crescent).  He died in 1989, aged 82 (still married to Plowright).

And Leigh?  She was reported to say she “would rather have lived a short life with Larry [Olivier] than face a long one without him.”  Well, sadly this was to be true – she died of tuberculous in 1967 aged 53.  And Lady Hamilton?  She died of amoebic dysentery at the age of 49 whilst in poverty in Calais in 1815.



[1] This is a bit confusing as the ‘breakdown incident’ happened in Los Angeles, whereas Elephant Walk was being filmed in Colombo, Ceylon.  Also, Leigh was indeed ill during filming and Olivier flew out to see her, but as she was obviously ‘involved’ with Peter Finch, her co-star (and had been since about 1948), Oliver was supposed to have flown back alone. Leigh did return home as her part was taken over by Elizabeth Taylor. Oh well, that’s Hollywood I suppose.

Matinee idols: a role for men – but is it worth it?

CARRYING ON WITH the Hollywood theme from last week (‘Sir’ Douglas Fairbanks Jr), in case you didn’t know, the term ‘matinee idol’ is always connected with male actors. Quite conceivably the term could also apply to an actress – but it does not. This may (and probably does) upset feminists, but in saying that, it’s not really a term used to describe movie stars today.  But why does (did) it only relate to men?


Douglas Fairbanks Jr – matinee idol

Well, back in the good old ‘hey-days’ of Hollywood of the 1920s-50s, the majority of ‘middle class’ women  were homemakers who had more time on their hands than men to go out during the day to the cinema (I know that’s not the case today so don’t shout at me, I’m just reporting on the origin!).   Accordingly, midweek matinee audiences tended to be 90% female – simply because men were at work and children at school.  As a result, movie producers and theatre owners used them to measure an actor’s popularity.  The actors, in this case, were obviously men. When an actor proved that he could draw a large crowd of women he was considered a matinee idol.  This was because – and I say, rightly or wrongly – in those days, the practice was based on the assumption that women were interested in only one thing – men.


Don’t ‘shoot the messenger’ – this information is taken from a book I read by Warren G. Harris.  However, what I have read about matinee idols, the assumption works both ways.

I can tell you from experience that matinee idols do not exist today. A few years ago I was up at Oxford when the film Troy was first released. This will be popular I thought, so the day before my viewing I went into the cinema and bought a  ticket for the following afternoon – being a student I had an afternoon free. Well, when I went along the next afternoon the cinema was completely empty – I had it entirely to myself!  Sorry Brad Pitt, you are not a matinee idol.

Anyway, I digress.  So ‘matinee idol’ came to signify an actor with exceptional sex appeal.  For that he had to be handsome, romantic and, as Harris added, “not a boy, but not too blemished by age either.”

man 4

“Hi, I’m a film star”

Now, as a 1920s-50s matinee idol you might think you had it made in Hollywood.  Yes and no. A number of such idols did not make old age. This was usually due to alcohol or drug abuse, or overdoing in other ways leading to heart failure of some sort.  For example, Gig Young (64 -alcohol/suicide (64 ain’t old!)), William Holden (63 – alcohol/accident ), Douglas Fairbanks Sr (56 – heart attack), Gene Lyons (53 – alcohol),  Alan Ladd (50 – drugs and alcohol), Errol Flynn (50 – heart attack/alcohol), Montgomery Clift (45 – drugs), Tyrone Power (44 – heart attack), John Gilbert (38 – heart attack/alcohol),  Robert Walker (32 – drugs), Wallace Reid (31  – drugs).

montgomery-clift2      Tyrone_Power_-_still

Montgomery Clift                                                     Tyrone Power 

It’s a bit pointless having all that fame and money only to die prematurely (although Errol Flynn was practically penniless when he died).  Mind you, I suppose you are remembered for your good looks.


Errol Flynn died penniless just as he was forced to negotiate the lease to another of his beloved yacht Zaca in 1959

Gary Cooper made it to 60 before dying of cancer 1961, but in 1931/32 and again in 1951, handsome, rich and famous,  he  suffered a nervous breakdown.


Gary Cooper – nervous breakdown at High Noon

Cary Grant fortunately did not die young (he was 82 when he died in 1986) but in commenting on a question about stardom in 1938 he said, “Does it bring you happiness? Yeah, for a couple of days. And then what happens? You begin to find out that your life is not your own any more, and you’re on show every time you step out on the street.”  He suffered depression on-and-off for several years (particularly badly in 1933/4).   Stewart Granger said to Betsy Drake, Grant’s third wife  (he had five), “Cary Grant is exactly not what he appears to be. He isn’t carefree, debonair and relaxed at all; In fact he’s the opposite” [1]. To the average cinema-goer, the knowledge that Grant was a bad-tempered depressive, and by 1957, experimenting with LSD for psychotherapy purposes, would have come as rather a shock.  In his book on Grant, ‘Haunted Idol’, Geoffrey Wansell observed that Grant’s fourth wife, the 25 yr old Dyan Cannon (Grant was then 60), “… discovered what perhaps she should have guessed before, that her husband’s only too famous public charm was left at the parties or the dinners they sometimes went to; it seldom accompanied him home.”  But that’s showbiz.


Cary Grant  – bad-tempered depressive …..

And many of these ‘popular’ stars struggled with their marriages. Between top matinee idols Douglas Fairbanks Sr & Jr, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Powell, Clarke Gable, Cary Grant, Gig Young and Tony Curtis, they had 33 wives.

On the subject of Tony Curtis, he was one of the more lucky ones. He managed to live until the age of 85 despite having been a  cocaine addict and suffering advanced cirrhosis due to alcohol abuse, and he also survived a heart attack.


Tony ‘Lucky’ Curtis

Needless to say in the 1930s Clark Gable was a matinee idol and, apparently, his female fans were the most demonstrative since Rudolph Valentino’s in the 1920s. However,  in 1935 he was running neck-and-neck with  Shirley Temple for the No 1 spot in the box-office popularity stakes.  But Shirley Temple was not a matinee idol …….


Shirley Temple – matinee idol?

Despite this popularity,  Gable only won one  Oscar for best actor – not for Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind (he was nominated but lost out to Robert Donat in Goodbye Mr Chips) – but for his portrayal of Peter Warne in It Happened One Night in  the 1935 Academy Awards.  Depressed and drunk after the tragic death of his actress wife, Carole Lombard, he gave the Oscar away to his godchild, Richard Lang.  Several years later, shortly after Gable’s death, Lang returned the Oscar to Gable’s last wife, Kay Williams, with a note addressed to John Gable (the then newborn son of Clark and Kay, born 5 months after Clark’s death) saying, “It is only in your possession. The real Oscar is your Father’s alone forever from all those people who gave it to him with supreme thanks for giving us a part of himself.”   Nice touch Rick.

gable oscar

Clark Gable with his Oscar for It Happened One Night

And the postscript to this Oscar: In adulthood John Gable experienced financial problems (he had inherited a fortune but it was tied up in bonds and annuities).  So in December 1996 he put his father’s Oscar up for auction at Christie’s much to the great dismay of the Hollywood establishment and the Academy of Motion Pictures.  This was not the ‘done-thing’ as Oscars were earned by merit not purchased.  Fortunately it was bought by Steven Spielberg at the auction for $607,500 and he presented it to the Academy for display in its museum in Beverly Hills.  Good old Steve!


Nice one Steve!

That’s enough Hollywood trivia …. and doom and despondency (sorry about that) for one week.



[1] What is it with these ‘perfect’ Hollywood stars?  Robert Lacey in his biography of Grace Kelly says, “But the truth about Grace Kelly was that she was, in some very important respects, quite the opposite of what she seemed.”  (She was a very naughty girl).

kelly grnt2

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – both quite opposite from what they appeared to be ….

Whilst on the subject of Grace Kelly, let’s move from ‘doom and despondency’ and finish on a lighter note which also comes from Lacey’s book.  At  a pre-wedding party Prince Rainier was perhaps feeling over-exuberant  with the love of his wife-to-be. He said to his priest, Father Tucker, “Isn’t it amazing how fluently Grace speaks French?”  Tucker replied, “My Lord Prince, I knew love was blind, but I didn’t know it was deaf as well.”


I told you last week I had come to the end of vol 2 of Artemus Smith’s notebooks …….


Non-national Knighthoods

HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN can confer knighthoods to non-British nationals known as honorary knights (and honorary dames for females) but such honoured individuals cannot prefix their names with ‘Sir’ (or ‘Dame’) but can add the appropriate letters after their names (usually KBE – Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – or DBE – Dame Commander ……).  Nor do they go through the accolade or ceremony of having the sword touched upon each shoulder.


No sword tapping for non-British knights

Now, I knew all this but until I recently read the wonderful Douglas Fairbanks Jr’s biography I wasn’t aware as to why (mainly because I had never bothered to think about it). Fairbanks Jr was suitably honoured in 1949 – and rightly so. We all know him as a swashbuckling Hollywood action man actor but there was much more to him than that.  He was awarded his knighthood for his tireless efforts to gain US support for Great Britain during the early years of the Second World War (before Pearl Harbour of course) and, among other things, for his services to the Co-operative for American Remittances to Europe (C.A.R.E.), a war relief organisation.  But, being an American he could not call himself Sir Douglas.  Why not?

dg jr

Highly-decorated Commander Fairbanks Jr., KBE, DSC, etc, after the war – and wife, Mary Lee

Well, as his biography says, “Membership in an order of chivalry is one thing and the accolade another; they go together but they are separate.” The reason is historical – it would be if it’s British.  In the good old medieval days when the king relied on his landowners for military support (which included a supply of soldiers), such a landowner would give allegiance to the Crown and, if he didn’t already have one , he may be granted a knighthood (and possibly more land if the war was successful). This was fine when he was a British national but that was not always the case.  For example, in the days of the Crusades (which particularly involved English and French) a man could be a member of an order of chivalry and become a knight of that order (Knights Templars, etc), but he could not swear allegiance to a foreign sovereign if he still owed a loyalty to his own feudal monarch, regardless as to whether that monarch was involved in that crusade. The accolade had only indirectly to do with becoming a member of the order. This meant that as the knight had no bond to the sovereign, as a liege lord, that sovereign could not demand that the knight present himself with his sword and armour (and soldiers) to fight the king’s cause.  Okay, the romantic days of chivalry are gone but the accolade still has implication in law.  With non-British honorary knighthoods the principles remain the same and a foreign citizen has no allegiance to the British monarch and so is not required to respond to the sovereign’s call to arms – and so have no right to the accolade of the prefix of ‘Sir’ to his  name.  Got it?


That’s the idea in principle.  In practice, this day and age, it also applies to British national knights of course as, bearing in mind the age, etc, of many British knights, they are not going to be very useful if called to arms by the sovereign today (and none of them should have soldiers at their beck and call – well, I hope not).  But that’s not the point.

a rm roger    a mcaine    a elton

To battle  Sir Roger,  Sir Michael,  Sir Elton …. hmm, perhaps not

There are quite a few non-national knights, from arts and entertainment, professional, humanitarian and exploration, politics and government, diplomatic, military, business, religion, and royalty.  As well as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., you might recognise names such as Bob Hope (USA), Steven Spielberg (USA), Edward Kennedy (USA), George S. Patton (USA), Bill Gates (USA), J. Edgar Hoover (USA), Angelina Jolie (USA), Magnus Magnusson (Iceland), Spike Milligan (Ireland), Bob Geldof (Ireland), Bono (lead singer of U2 – Ireland), Terry Wogan (Ireland – although he took British nationality in 2005 and the knighthood became substantive, i.e. he can use ‘Sir’).


Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire


Douglas Fairbanks Jr is one of the few non-national knights who devised his own coat-of-arms with the motto Fides, Conatus et Fidelitas – ‘Faith, Effort and Loyalty’.  Being a Hollywood actor he was rather an exhibitionist – it goes with the job –  and so it was acknowledged by the College of Arms.  I’ve not been able to find a copy of it but below is a Fairbanks Jr bookplate which sort of resembles it:


Fairbanks Jr bookplate

Another example of his exhibitionism:  He joined the US Navy as a reservist before America entered the war. One of the first orders that the US Navy issued was that officers were not to wear swords.  In fact, if they owned them they were encouraged to hand them in for the scrap metal promotion.  Not Douglas.  He arrived at the house of the Hollywood film producer, Darryl Zanuck, one night for a dinner party with his boat cape and sword.  His excuse was that he had just come from a drill at the Armoury.  The narrator of the tale said, “Well, I know that no one in the whole of California, if they went to a drill hall, would have a sword.  But he thought he looked like Lord Nelson or something. That is the ham in him, unfortunately.”


Douglas Jr. coming to dinner


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

This is the last extract from the 2nd volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction) – I’ll let you know if I come across any more volumes or extracts of Artemus’ notebooks:

During a physical examination, a doctor asked my good friend, Sir Alfred Cucumber-Smythe, retired professor of archaeology now living in Canada, about his physical activity level.

He replied that he spent three days a week, every week, in the outdoors, and went on to give an example:

“Well, yesterday afternoon was typical; I took a five hour walk about 7 miles through some pretty rough terrain.   I waded along the edge of a lake.  I pushed my way through 2 miles of brambles.  I got sand in my shoes and my eyes.  I barely avoided stepping on a snake.  I climbed several rocky hills.  I went to the bathroom behind some big trees.  I ran away from an irate mother bear and then ran away from one angry bull Elk.  The mental stress of it all left me shattered.  At the end of it all I drank a scotch and three glasses of wine.

Amazed by the story, the doctor said,  “You must be one heck of an outdoor man!”

“No,”  Alfred replied,  “I’m just a really very bad golfer.” 


Outlander – and the Jacobite Rebellion

HAVE YOU been watching Outlander?  It’s on Amazon Prime and I don’t normally watch Sci-Fi but I sort of got drawn into this one. It’s about a woman who, on her honeymoon in Scotland just after the 2nd World War, visits a mysterious ancient stone circle and is transported back to 1743 (I’m sure it happens all the time). She finds herself embroiled in the build-up to the Jacobite Rebellion. Coincidently (or not) she meets up with an ancestor of her husband’s who turns out to be a nasty piece of work (the ancestor not the husband). She ends up with a motley bunch from the Clan Mackenzie but marries Jamie, a member of the Clan Fraser (it’s complicated). The lawyer in me idly wondered if you could be guilty of bigamy if you married ‘again’ but some 250 years before your first husband was born ….

Now, about the future …. 

Just in case one or more of you may also have recently appeared from another time warp, the Jacobites (Jacobus – Latin for James) were supporters of Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie [1]) and his desire to regain the English/Scottish throne for the Stuarts. The Stuarts came to the English throne under James I (formerly known as James VI of Scotland) following the death of Elizabeth I (who left no Tudor heirs). The Stuarts reigned until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when Parliament passed legislation prohibiting Roman Catholics from the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland [2]. James II was accordingly deposed as king as a result. The Stuarts sort of continued (as queens) with James’ daughter, Mary (II) and her husband, William III (of Orange) (both Protestants) and thereafter Anne II (Mary’s sister). The Stuart line then came to an end on Anne’s death in 1714 and along came the House of Hanover with George I.  At the time of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, George II was on the throne.

Lost Portrait of Charles Edward Stuart.jpg

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-1788)

Anyway, back to Outlander. I think I can see where this is all going (although I have not yet finished the 1st series and the 2nd series has not been completed and I have not read any of the 8 books – yes 8!). At some point it’s going to encounter the infamous Battle (or massacre) of Culloden in April 1746 …. and will reflect on who of our Scottish ‘heroes’ gets killed. Will Jamie or wont he?  Will any of the motley Mackenzies survive?  Bearing in mind that the total number of Jacobites killed was between 1500-2000 out of some 6000 (compared to the Government losses of about 50) you may want to work out the odds. There’s just one issue – and I don’t want to spoil it for you so, SPOILER ALERT – for those of you who have not turned away:  none of the Mackenzies were at Culloden. This was because they had already been attacked and defeated by the pro-British Government force, the Mackay and Sutherland Independent Highland Companies, at the Battle of Littleferry (aka skirmish at Golspie). This prevented the Mackenzies from an appearance at Culloden (probably just as well for them). Soon after the Littleferry fracas, George Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromartie, and his son were captured at Dunrobin Castle and the Earl was sentenced to death but pardoned with his title forfeited. Some other Mackenzies, including a Kenneth Mackenzie, Lord Fortrose, actually took the side of the British Government.  No mention of Outlander’s Colum or Dougal Mackenzie.


George Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromartie (1703-1766)

The Frasers of Lovat were at Culloden. The Chief, Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, was captured, tried for treason and executed in London the following year. His son, also Simon, escaped and was later pardoned (then joined the British forces in the fighting in Canada in 1750 – a ‘turncoat redcoat’).  Charles Fraser was killed at Culloden; David Fraser of Glen Urquhart (who was deaf and mute) was captured and died in prison; John Fraser (‘McIver’) was wounded and put before a firing squad but a sympathetic British officer, Lord Boyd, who had seen enough killing, rescued him. Good man, Boyd. The Fraser’s residential home, Castle  Dounie, was burnt to the ground.  But no mention of Outlander’s Jamie Fraser …..

Stone memorial to the Frasers at Culloden

What do you mean, didn’t I know it’s only fiction? The Jacobite Rebellion was not fiction; Bonnie Prince Charlie was not fiction; time-travel was not ….. okay, some of it may be fiction.



[1] My maternal grandmother was convinced that she was a distant relative of Bonnie Prince Charlie – along with hundreds of others I suspect – but I can’t remember why she had that belief (I thought you would like to know that – now you know were I get it from ….).

[2] The monarchs of England and Scotland came together as monarchs of Great Britain under the Acts of Union 1707 (but you knew that).



When I wrote the above post I was about three-quarters the way through the series of Outlander and it was plodding along quite slowly but quite amicably. I have now seen it to the end. Really, the last two episodes are rather unnecessary and not recommended viewing in my opinion. It all ends with somewhat of an anti-climax and we are not yet at Culloden. And yes, our heroine is intent on trying to change the future (or is that the past?); and no, I probably won’t bother with the 2nd series.


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have found a scrap of paper which may have fallen from Artemus Smith’s notebook as it relates to another of his tales (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction):

A police officer colleague of mine told me of a time when he was waiting in a lay-by on the A22 ready to catch speeding drivers. He saw a car puttering along at well under the 30 mile per hour limit. Says he to himself: “This driver is just as dangerous as a speeder!” So he went in pursuit of the car and pulled it over.

In the car he noticed that there are five old ladies, two in the front seats and three in the back …. all wide eyed and white as ghosts. The driver, obviously confused, said to him, “Officer, I don’t understand, I was doing exactly the speed limit! What seems to be the problem?”

“Ma’am,” he replied, “you were not speeding, but you should know that driving slower than the speed limit can also be a danger to other drivers.”

She responded proudly, “Slower than the speed limit? No sir, I was doing the speed limit exactly, 22 miles an hour!”

My colleague, trying to contain a chuckle, explained to her that A22 is the road number, not the speed limit. A bit embarrassed, the lady grinned sheepishly and thanked him for pointing out her error.

He then said, “But before I let you go, Ma’am, I have to ask, is everyone in this car OK? Your passengers seem awfully shaken, and they haven’t made a sound this whole time.”

“Oh, they’ll be all right in a minute officer. We’ve just come off the A120.”


300 [Spartans]: Hollywood fact or fiction?

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas of Sparta in 300

The 2014 film 300 relates to the tale of the 300 Spartans who fought and fell at the hands of the Persians. How much of the film was fiction? Well, the inclusion of the ‘monster rhino’ in the battle towards the end rather gave the answer to this question away! And the portrayal of Xerxes, the king of Persia, was a bit ‘punk rock’ to say the least. However, the film did have some truth in it – somewhere. What ‘truth’ of the conflict we may know comes from the 5th century BC Greek historian, Herodotus and his Histories.

Herodotus (485-425 BC)

The 300 Spartans (see also the rather less bloody-thirsty 1962 film version of that name) is about the Battle of Thermopylae (‘The Hot Gates’ in the film) which enjoyed a cameo role in the second Persian invasion of Greece in the 5th century BC. But that is not where it all began. The small island of Naxos in the Aegean is where it all began. During most of the 6th century BC (and before) Athens had been controlled by oligarchs – aristocratic families. Then around 510 BC, it became a democracy courtesy of a chap called Cleisthenes. The democratic rule spread among the colonies of Athens – except the island of Naxos. There the oligarchs hung onto power until they were finally thrown out by the democrats in 503 BC. And rightly so.

The less blood-thirsty 1962 film version of the events

That’s when the trouble started. The Naxos oligarchs headed in search of sympathy to fellow Ionians (Greeks) on Miletus (Myletus) on the east  coast of Persia (now Turkey). This place was governed by Aristagoras who sought assistance for his beleaguered oligarchs from Artaphernes, the Persian satrap of Sardis. Artaphernes saw ‘£ or $ signs’ (actually darics) and control of Naxos ahead so he sent a Persian fleet to give Naxos a seeing-to. The Naxians were expecting the intrusion and defeated the Persian invaders.


Map of Aegean showing Naxos (centre) 

Aristagoras panicked as he thought Artaphernes would be severely vexed and take it out on him, so he called for Athenian help. Cleisthenes sent a force and took Sardis but, hearing of a large Persian army heading their way, the Athenians hastened home. This was the Ionian revolt of 500 BC and the remaining Ionian fleet was defeated by the Persians at Lade off the coast of Miletus (see map) in 495 BC. So ended the revolt.

1st Persian invasion

Darius I, king of Persia was none too pleased with the Athenian interference and so began the 1st Persian invasion in 490 BC . Now, looking at the map below, who do you think is going to be victorious?

 The Persian Empire is shaded brown. Greece is up there top left (in white) opposite Lydia – William Hill were offering odds 300 to 1 against a Greek victory

Darius’ force, under Artaphernes and Datis, first overpowered Naxos (well, it started it) then landed at Marathon, on the Greek mainland (see 1st map above) with about 600 hundred ships and some 30,000 soldiers (estimates vary). There were only around 9,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans opposing this Persian force. This is where the marathon runner comes in. He, Phidippides (or Philippides), was sent to summon Spartan assistance [1]. Unfortunately Sparta was otherwise engaged in a religious festival and declined the summons until the festival was over (in about 10 days). The battle could not wait that long but it is not entirely clear why the engagement then took place. The odds were certainly against the Greeks. Herodotus makes no mention of Persian cavalry, so one suggestion is that they (the cavalry) were embarking onto ships to sail around to attack an undefended Athens. The Athenian generals, Callimachus and Miltiades, took advantage and attacked the Persians whilst they were preoccupied with this manoeuvre. Whatever the strategies, the Athenians were victorious with only 192 losses (plus 11 Plataeans) to some 6,400 Persians. The Spartans turned up the next day! [2].

Darius I

2nd Persian invasion

After Darius’ death, his son Xerxes decided that it was time the Greeks were punished for their audacity at Marathon. In 481 BC he set out with another vast army of possibly 150,000 men (we don’t know the exact figure), under Mardonius. In fact, there were two Persian forces – one travelling by land and one by sea. The latter sailed towards Athens and the former came around the mainland and crossed the Hellespont by way of a ‘bridge’ of ships – the first was destroyed by storm but Xerxes persevered and built another. Then the land force marched into Greece and headed for Thermopylae.

Xerxes’ bridge of ships across the Hellespont

At Thermopylae, in 480 BC, Xerxes came up against Leonidas, king of Sparta, along with 300 Spartans, 4,500 Peloponnesians, 1,000 Phocians and 1,000 Lacedacmonians. For several days Leonidas held the pass at Thermopyae to allow the remaining Greeks to gather forces to defend Athens. Eventually, a treacherous Malian, Ephilialtes, led 10,000 of Xerxes ‘immortals’ (his top soldiers – sort of ninjas in the film) around a goats’ path in the mountains and came up behind the Spartans. Leonidas had been aware of this track and had position the Phocians to defend it but they were surprisingly surprised by the Persians and fled.  Great!  (Leonidas had sent the other Greeks away by now realising his task was doomed and was just a delaying tactic). Leonidas and his fellow Spartans were all killed at Thermopylae (all except one, Aristodemus who let the field with an eye infectious – bless – but you knew that if you had seen the film [3]) and Xerxes marched into Attica and to Athens.

Persian routes 480 BC

Xerxes entered Athens unobstructed and burned the city to the ground. Believing the Athenians to be in a state of despondency he then attacked their fleet in the Salamis. To his surprise the Athenians were ready and waiting for him. Themistocles was able to keep the Athenian fleet together, engaging the enemy within a confined space, cancelling out the Persian superior number advantage (3:1 advantage over the Greeks – even though a large portion of the Persian fleet had been destroyed by storm on route to Athens – just not their day!). The Greek ships, although smaller in size were less crowded and more skilfully managed. This resulted in the defeat of the Persian fleet, watched by the anxious Xerxes. Retreating Persian ships collided with each other and those soldiers/sailors that managed to escape sought refuge on Psyttaleia, the only Persian occupied island in the vicinity. The Athenian, Aristides, was able to land on the island and disposed of these survivors. As with the previous invasion, Greek loses were small compared to the enormous loses from the Persian camp. A touch of deja vu for the Persians. The Persian land force under Mardonius was finally defeated at the battle of Plataea in Boeotia by the Greeks under Pausanias (not the Greek traveller – he was much later, in 2nd century AD). Plataea, although the major victory by the Greeks over the Persians, does not get the same press as Thermopylae as it does not conjure up the same heroic imagination as Leonidas and the 300 Spartans. Such is life ….. or death.

Leonidas I of Sparta.jpg

Leonidas, king of Sparta

Statue of Leonidas at Thermopylae – the mountains in the background show the barrier the Persians were up against

The remainder of the Persian fleet was destroyed at Mycale, in the eastern Aegean, rumoured (by Herodotus) to have taken place on the same day as the battle at Plataea. It was, in fact, a battle on land not sea, as the Persians, worried about their naval defeat at Salamis, beached their ships at Mycale and awaited the Greeks. The ensuing fight resulted in the total destruction of the Persian force, ending the Persian threat against the Grecian states …….. all because of Naxos.

So all’s well that ends well …… if you were Greek. Under Pericles, Athens went on to build the Parthenon and associated buildings on the Acropolis as a result of Xerxes’ destruction of the city. This, of course, led on to another battle – that of the ‘Elgin’ Marbles (sorry Greek Marbles) which is yet undecided (see post in February).



[1] The actual marathon running race was introduced to the first modern Olympics Games in 1896. It gets its length of 26 miles (around 40 km) from the distance from Marathon to Athens – the other story is that the runner ran this route to announce the Athenian victory at Athens, then dropped dead. The distance from Marathon to Sparta is 150 miles (240 km) which is pushing it a bit even for an Olympic race, so the Marathon-Athens story is the link the Olympic ‘authorities’ stick to.

[2] Whilst visiting Athens in 1972, I dragged my parents and brother to the Marathon site. There is just a mound and a monument there. “We’ve all this way for this!” complained my brother.

[3] In fact, Herodotus tells us that two were sent away with eye infections but one, Eurytus, returned to the battle and his death.

Homer and the Bagpus theory

NO, NOT Homer Simpson, but Homer the 8th century BC oral poet who composed the Iliad and the Odyssey. So what were those poems really all about? Well, about a war and a warrior’s belated return home – not much else really. Or was there? If you want to believe all that has been written about Homer and his ‘philosophy’ in the last few decades you might be surprised. However much scholars want to write about, analyse and interpret Homer and his Trojan War, at the end of the day he was a creative poet intending to entertain his audience. homer

Homer – see, not Homer Simpson

Trevor Bryce (The Trojans and their Neighbours, 2006) commented, “… he [Homer] himself may well have been amused, or bemused, at how much scholarly ink and breath have been expended on the search for the truth behind his tales.”

Sometimes writers make ideas up for controversial purposes or just for something to publish. Others genuinely believe their theories (and in many cases, justifiably so). With Homer we’ll never know the truth as he has been dead for nearly 3000 years – and, of course, some rely on that!


“What shall I concoct today?”

An interesting example of a writer’s philosophy is the anonymous researcher who considered the truth behind the children’s character, Bagpuss and his acquaintances (reference to this and Oliver Postgate’s end comment were from ITVs 100 Best Children’s Programmes). The researcher was of the learned opinion that Bagpuss is the existentialist hero and a dreamer; Professor Yaffle represents the intellectual (as a carved wood figure he shows that traditional forms of knowledge are stagnant); the mice and the organ mouse are the proletariat; Madeleine the rag doll is the maternal figure representing folk wisdom; Gabriel the toad sings songs containing messages, perhaps associated with Gabriel, the messenger from God (maybe telling us that religious teaching is far removed from the truly spiritual); and Emily is frequently associated ‘by critics’ with God or at least a ‘Godot’ type figure.


Bagpus – existentialist hero and a dreamer?

The intrepid researcher concludes: “So far we have only examined one possible deconstruction of Bagpuss. Bagpuss himself could be seen as inhabiting the earthly realm, while Emily moves on the divine plane, but this is a very traditionalist view. A modern, more psychoanalytical interpretation might be that the ‘real’ world as we know it is the outside world inhabited by Emily. Bagpuss and his friends occupy the inner world of consciousness, and represent not forces within society but within the mind of a human being. Not just one human, in fact. Bagpuss could be said to exist within the mind of each one of us, a creative force that lies dormant but full of potential. He only needs to be awakened. Or something.”

Yeah, or something. If you don’t believe me (or didn’t see the programme – it was a few years ago) it can be found on Google – click here


Professor Yaffle –  the intellectual, “as a carved wood figure he shows that traditional forms of knowledge are stagnant”

So what d’yer reckon? A possible analysis? Well, unlike Homer, the creator of Bagpuss, Oliver Postgate, was still alive at the time of this ‘research’ (sadly he died in 2008) and the producer of the programme asked him to comment on this interpretation and reveal the truth behind his tales of Bagpuss.  He said the tales were simply about a stuffed cat and his friends …. !!

 Oliver1Oliver Postgate (1925-2008) – remember ‘The Clangers’?

What say you, Homer?


Next week:  The Grand Tour – let’s go for a ride …

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My very good friend, Professor Izzie Goldberg, was telling me of his worries about his son’s gambling and lack of attention to his religious commitments. He told me that he said to his son the other day, “Don’t forget Yom Kippur starts on Sunday.”  His son shouted back as he left the house, “Put £20 on it to win for me, Pops.”


Gladiator: Hollywood fact or fiction?


THIS WAS, indeed, a good yarn.  Well, actually, it’s practically just a remake of The Fall of the Roman Empire with Stephen Boyd (in Crowe’s role) as the hero Roman General-come-gladiator called Livius (who?), Christopher Plummer as Commodus (yes, Sound of Music’s Capt von Trapp as the baddie!), and Alec Guinness as the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius.


‘NEVER BEFORE …’ maybe – but certainly again

So, back to Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic and reality: both Marcus Aurelius and Commodus were father and son and real Emperors of Rome but that is really where facts stop – oh, other than Commodus was certainly a nasty oik, but that’s about it. As for Crowe’s Maximus Decimus Meridius, well,  there was a Maximus (of the Quintilian family) who, along with his brother, Condianus, were two of Marcus Aurelius’ favourite and most virtuous generals in the war against Germania. They were both consuls and Aurelius entrusted them with the civil administration of Greece.  Unfortunately, Commodus murdered both Maximus and Condianus, but that doesn’t make for such a good Hollywood yarn (and the film wouldn’t have lasted as long).

Marcus_Aurelius_Metropolitan_Museum       Marcus Aurelius AD 121-180

Alternatively, Crowe’s character could have been based on Marcus Nonius Macrinus who was also a general and favourite of Marcus Aurelius but he died in later years and a wealthy man. No other comparisons there then. Meridius tomb was found in 2008 on the banks of the Tiber near the via Flaminia, north of Rome.

tomb Tomb of   Marcus Nonius Macrinus

However, Marcus Aurelius never offered Maximus (or anybody) the protectorate of Rome, nor did he consider returning it to a republic (in fact, he gave Commodus joint imperial power at the age of 14/15!).  Aurelius died of an illness in Vindobona (Vienna) and there was never any suggestion that he was killed by Commodus.


Commodus AD 161-192 

Commodus often fought in the gladiatorial arena but was not despatched there by an heroic avenger (his opponents were never allowed to actually kill him!).  He was poisoned by his favourite concubine, Marcia (a woman scorned!), and thereafter strangled by a ‘robust youth’ (believed to be a chap called Narcissus, another of his favourites – he was obviously a serious bad judge of character).  His sister, Lucilla, as she did in the film, did not live to witness his death, she had already attempted to do away with him but failed and so he had her exiled, then killed.  That’s show business …. or not.


Thumbs up forJoaquin Phoenix as the beastly Commodus in the film

At the beginning of the battle scene , Quintus comments to Maximus of the Germanic ‘barbarians’: “People should know when they’re conquered.” Then in true Hollywood style they are conquered. In fact, the Germanic tribes were never conquered by the Romans. If you look at a map of the Roman Empire (below), Germania is conspicious by its absence from within its Empire boundaries – the boundary is the Rhine.


Map of the Roman Empire at its height circa 2nd century AD

Talking of the battle scene, it was a real forest fire and filmed in the UK at Bourne Wood near Farnham in Surrey. The Director, Ridley Scott, heard that the men from the Forestry Commission were planning to remove the forest and so he persuaded them to let him do it for them!


And there was the forest …. gone

P.S. If you want to understand the ending of the film better – the Elysium Fields – have a read of Virgil’s Aeneid (book 6).


 Maximus in Elysium Fields


Next week: Homer and the Bagpus theory

 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My good friend Sir Humphrey Bottleneck arrived at my rooms yesterday in a state of shock having nearly been killed in an automobile accident. He had caught a taxi cab from the station and leaned over to ask the driver a question and gently tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.

The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the kerb and stopped just inches from a large plate window.

For a few moments everything was silent in the cab. Then the shaking driver said to Sir Humphrey, “Are you OK? I’m so sorry, but you scared the daylights out of me.”

Sir Humphrey apologised to the driver and said, “I didn’t realise that a mere tap on the shoulder would startle someone so badly.”

The driver replied, “No, no, I’m the one who is sorry, it’s entirely my fault. Today is my very first day driving a taxi cab. I’ve been driving a hearse for 10 years.”

Art Smth

Spartacus: Hollywood fact or fiction?

“I’M SPARTACUS.  No, I’m Spartacus …. and so is my wife”.  So who was Spartacus? First of all I’m not talking about the TV series – which, what little I have seen of it, is a load of hocus pocus – but that’s only to be expected. I’m talking about the 1960 Hollywood film. Did Spartacus actually exist or was he  just a character of Hollywood invention to boost Kirk Douglas’ macho image? (see film trivia at the end for this latter observation).

spartacus poster

Admittedly the film was based on a novel, Spartacus, by Howard Fast (in fact, there have been at least five novels about him – Spartacus, not Fast) but, yes, Spartacus existed but he wasn’t THE leader of the slaves – there were at least two others, Crixus and  Oenomaus, and possibly two more,  Gannicus and Castus, but none of them had such a good PR agent as Spartacus.


Howard Fast (1914-2003)

We have three main ancient sources of Spartacus: Plutarch (c. AD 46 – 120), see his Crassus; Lucius Annaeus Florus (c. AD 74 – 130), see his Epitome of Roman History; and Appian of Alexandria (c. AD 95 – 165), see his Civil Wars. According to these chaps, Spartacus was from Thrace (present day Bulgaria) and either an auxiliary in the Roman Legions or a captive from Romans wars around Thrace. Whichever, he was sold into slavery (for some misdemeanour if an auxiliary) and ended up training as a gladiator at a camp near Capua belonging to Lentulus Batiatus (wonderfully played by Peter Ustinov in the film).


Peter Ustinov (Batiatus) and Charles Laughton (fictional Gracchus) – what a great pairing!

We have no information about Spartacus prior to his escape, so the film was ‘making it all up’ – well, Howard Fast was – Hollywood just followed. In saying that, Hollywood, of course, had  a love interest in the film, Spartacus and Varina (played by Jean Simmons) and this is highly likely as gladiators were allowed female companions. What we do know for sure is that some 70 slaves escaped from the camp and, as previously mentioned, at least three leaders were appointed, Spartacus, Crixus (played by John Ireland in the film) and Oenomaus (sadly for him, ignored in the film – but he was probably killed early on in the revolt). The sources aren’t clear on the actual role of the latter two  but both were Gallic slaves and gladiators.


Nope, no documentary evidence of this fight.

Aside: Of the types of gladiators, it is believed Spartacus was a murmillo who carried 35-40 pounds of arms and armour, wearing a bronze helmet, various arm and leg guards, large oblong shield and a broad straight bladed sword (a gladius – see the sword in the film poster above). His opponent in the film (played by Woody Strode) was a retiarius who fought with a trident and a nest. In ‘real Roman life’ a murmillo usually fought a thraex who was also heavily armoured but had a short Thracian curved sword and a small round or square shield. A retiarius, usually fought a secutores who was very similar to a murmillo but with a special helmet to protect against the trident.


Zliten mosaic AD 200: left to right:  retiariuas (leg wound and broken trident on ground) fighting secutores;  thraex fighting mirmillo;  hopolmachus (with sword and spear) fighting mirmillo (latter surrendering to referee).


Yep, grubby gladiators thinking of escape ……. or looking to see what’s for supper 

The break-out from the Capua camp took place early in 73 BC. What followed was the Third Servile War (the other two were slave related, as the title may reveal, but nothing to do with this one). The gladiators began fighting for their freedom – just like the Texans at the Alamo, a few blogs back, remember? Actually, nothing like the Texans at the Alamo a few blogs back. This was really a fight for freedom.


Cause of the break-out: “I told you I don’t like soup”

 map 2

The Romans didn’t take the rebellion too seriously at first thinking it just an agitation that would soon be put down. They were wrong. Gaius Claudius Glaber was sent to crush the slaves and he besieged them at Mount Vesuvius (just south of Capua). Spartacus was a bit of a tactician (hence leading historians to believe he had had military experience) and he climbed down the mountain (not alone – with his army… ok) and took the Roman camp by surprise killing nearly all in it (I never said this was going to be pleasant). He then defeated another Roman force sent against him under Publius Varinius. By now his own army had swelled to around 70,000 (although we cannot be sure about any numbers). Rome was a bit embarrassed and in difficulties as most of its legions were away fighting in Hispania and the Third Mithridatic War (Asia Minor).

slaves 1

Spartacus winning the gladiatorial relay race

What happened next, in Spring of 72 BC, is disputed by the ancient sources. Appian suggests that Spartacus and Crixus split their forces and headed south to Thuri and Metapontum respectively (we assume Oenomaus is dead by now as he no longer gets a mention by the ancient historians). Then both armies turned and moved northward to march on Rome. If this is true, one can only assume the detour south was to gain more support. Crixus, with an army of 30,000 (or it may have been only 10,000) is defeated by a Roman force under Lucius Gellius Publicola near Mount Garganus (see map below). Spartacus arrived too late to save Crixus, who is killed (in the film he is killed in the final battle – John Ireland obviously had a good agent). Spartacus then defeated another Roman army under Gnaeus Cornelius Lentullus Clodianus (known as Gnat the Clod for short perhaps?) and executed some 300 Roman soldiers to avenge Crixus’ death – I know, Kirk Douglas would not have done that. After a change of mind about an attack on Rome, he headed back south to Thuri with, by now, around 120,000 men (maybe).

john-ireland-spartacus-2 (1)

“What am I doing here?” thinks Crixus played by John Ireland

According to Plutarch, after his victory over Lentullus Clodianus, Spartacus headed north to Mutina (present day Modena) with the intention of escaping into Cisalpine Gaul. This makes some sense. Here he meets, greets and defeats an army of 10,000  under the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, Gaius Cassius Longinius. He and his followers are now free to ‘head for the hills’ – well, the Alps. However, for no explained reason, Spartacus and his crew turned around and headed south again. It may be that crossing the Alps was a too daunting exercise – but why head there in the first place? Spartacus may have been aware that Pompey’s legions were in Hispania and would be heading towards him in due course if he held up in Gaul. But he must have  realised a confrontation with the Romans was inevitable.

AppienSpartacus                 Plutarch 2

The events of 72 BC according to Appian                    The events of 72 BC according to Plutarch

So, who do you believe – Appian or Plutarch? Or neither – perhaps they were both guessing. They were both writing several years after the war and relying on reports given to them and we don’t know how reliable such reports may have been. It really depends on what Spartacus’ motive was. Was he trying to escape or trying to cause as much trouble to the Romans as possible, or trying to end slavery (ambitious or what?!). We don’t know and never will, so not much point dwelling on it.


Kirk Douglas as a determined Spartacus – what was his motive?

71 BC, enter Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Oliver). He is given eight Legions (approx. 40,000 men) and told to sort out Spartacus & Co. By now the slaves are moving south and after several successful on-route skirmishes by the Romans legions, Spartacus set up camp at Rhegium (see map below). Here it’s possible (as seen in the film) he did try and do a deal with Cillician pirates (led by Herbert Lom in the film) to transport his motley mob by ship to Sicily, but he was betrayed – the pirates took his money and ran.


Laurence Olivier as Crassus


           Bust of real Crassus

Spartacus broke out of the, then, besieged camp and headed to the mountains of Petelia (present day Strongoli) near Croton (see map below). The rebel force must have have split at some stage (possible dissension in the ranks) and a group under Gannicus and Castus was defeated at  Cantenna  (modern location unknown) by part of Crassus’ army. Crasssus then turned on Spartacus and the latter soon realised that a fight was inevitable.  We don’t know how many men there were in the rebel army but an estimate of around 30-40,000 may not be far off. It’s not entirely clear where the final battle took place – see map below, but there is another belief that it took place further northwest, at Senerchia/Caposele, in Luciana, evidenced by archaeological finds of armour and weapons. Take your pick!  However, the slaves were defeated and the ancient sources say the Spartacus was killed in the action but his body was never found. Some 6,000 surviving slaves were crucified on the Appina Way (the road from Rome to Capua) as an example to rebellious slaves, but there is no suggestion that Spartacus was one of them (and, sorry, Tony Curtis’ character was Hollywood fiction).



In the film, it is suggested that the main reason for the defeat of the slaves was because Crassus was reinforced  by Pompey and his legions coming from Hispania. It was true that Pompey was on route but he was not involved in the final battle (trivia: filmed in Madrid). Crassus knew he was coming and so had to defeat the slaves before he arrived otherwise the credit for victory would go to the reinforcing general. Pompey did arrive in time to wipe out some 5,000 fleeing slaves. He kindly gave Crassus the credit for winning the battle but he (Pompey) took the credit for ending the war by wiping out the remnants of the slave army. Generous or what?! Needless to say, Crassus was none too pleased and they weren’t to be best pals.


19th century depiction of the death of Spartacus – in battle

Film trivia: Kirk Douglas was intent on making the film because he had failed to get the lead part in Ben Hur (it went to some Heston chap). Douglas was executive producer and had to hurry to find finance for it because Yul Brynner was also planning to make a film about Spartacus. Universal Studios only gave Douglas the money once he had persuaded Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov (no one knew who Tony Curtis was then) to appear in the film. Good reason as any in 1960.

spartacus_95 2012

Kirk Douglas in 2012 – not bad  at 95!


Next week: Tutankhamun – death can be fatal


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My good friend Hamish McCondor had a goodly quantity of fine vintage port which he took esteem pleasure in consuming in not too delicate quantities. I am pleased to report that, occasionally, he would share a glass or two with my good self. Well, my poor colleague took ill and his doctor ordered him off the port. Weeks went by and Hamish’s health began to seriously fade and so his doctor suggested that he had better take up the port again.

“Aye, doctor”, Hamish responded, “but what about the arrears?”

Art Smth