26 January 2021

7 UP: the best longitudinal TV series ever!

The Up series of documentary films followed the lives of 14 Britons since 1964, when they were 7 years old. The first film was titled 7 UP and the series has had 9 episodes, one every 7 years, spanning 56 years. The series has been produced by Granada Television for ITV, when Australian journalist Tim Hew­at organised the World in Action documentaries for Granada Television.  

girls from a working-class East London school, 1964

boys from a wealthy prep school in Kensington London, 1964

The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain back then, with the expect­ation that each ch­ild's social class would determine his-her future. Can­ad­ian direc­t­or Paul Almond wanted to test how pre­det­ermined were the lives of children in postwar UK, studying the Jesuit maxim, Give me a child until he is 7 and I will give you the man.

Cambridge researcher Michael Apted (1941–2021)’s role in the in­it­ial programme incl­uded searching the nation's schools for chil­dren at the extremes. The sub­jects were first seen on a group visit to London Zoo in 1964, including Bruce Balden, Jackie Bass­ett, And­rew Brack­field, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Fur­n­eaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk, Symon Basterfield,  Neil Hugh­es and Tony Walker.

Be­cause the show was never in­tended to become a rep­eating ser­ies, no long-term con­t­racts were sign­ed. Then in 1971 a producer casually mentioned to Apted that it must be 7 years since “they did those kids for 7 Up”. From then on, Director Apted continued the series with new instalments every 7 years, asking "Why did we bring these together? Because we wanted a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The union leader and the busin­ess executive of the year 2000 are now 7 years old." The last instalment, 63 Up, premiered in 2019. 

The 14 participants:
Andrew was one of 3 boys chosen from the same prep school in wealthy Kensington, London. The three were introduced in 7 Up! Sing­ing Wal­tz­ing Matilda in Latin. At 7, when asked what news­paper he read, Andrew stated he read The Financial Times! All 3 boys named the prep schools, public schools and universities they planned to attend! Andrew's academic career culminated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He became a fine sol­icitor, married with 2 suc­cessful sons.

7-year-old John announced that he read The Times and insisted that people should pay for their educ­ation otherwise school would be so nasty and crowded. John’s life path was Cambridge and Trinity Hall. But his life was not totally priv­il­eg­ed. His father had died at  9 and his mother had to work to put him through private school. He went to Oxford Uni on a scholarship, became a bar­rister and is now a successful QC. John married Claire, daughter of an ambass­ador to Bulgaria. They devoted themselves to Bulgarian charities and as of 56 Up, he was still very pleased with his life.

Charles did not get into Oxford, saying in 21 Up he was glad to have avoided the prep school–Marlborough–Oxbridge conveyor belt by going to Durham University instead. Charles has worked in jour­n­alism over the years, including as a producer for the BBC and in doc­umentary film making. When contacted to appear in 28 Up, he decl­ined; Apted went so berserk, Ch­ar­les refused to participate again. 

a reunion in their early 20s

Suzy came from a wealthy divorced background, a student in an independent Lon­­don day school.  In 14 Up she stated that she was an unwilling participant. She dropped out of school, travelled to Paris and by 21, had formed a neg­ative opinion about marriage and babies. By 28 Up, Suzy was married with sons, and credited her marr­iage with bringing the optimism she’d missed earlier. Husband Rupert was a solic­it­or in Bath where she raised the children and be­came a grief counsellor. At 49 Up she thought she wouldn't part­ic­ipate again. 

Jackie was one of three girls who were chosen from a primary school in working-class East London. Then she went to comp­reh­ensive school and married at 19. Jackie worked jobs, div­orc­ed, remarried, moved to Scotland, divorced again and raised her 3 sons alone. As of 56 Up, she was rec­eiv­ing medical disability bene­fits. This battler lived in a flat in Mother­well, 20km east of Glasgow, near her close family. The second of her 3 children was tragically killed but thank­fully Jackie has 5 adored grand­children. The women were offend­ed that all the quest­ions con­cern­ed domestic affairs, marriage and ch­ildren, not pol­it­ics, and reviewers ag­reed that Apted was pat­ron­ising toward his working-class women. So Jackie chastised Apted for his sexist questions. I agreed!

After attending the same primary school as Jackie and Sue, Lynn went on to a grammar school. She married Ross at 19, had 2 daug­ht­ers and became a very happy children's librarian at 21, remaining there until being made redundant by budget cuts. In 56 Up she and her husband-soulmate Russ were doting grandparents to their 3 grand­children, and she served as Chair of Govern­ors of St Sav­iour's Prim­ary in Poplar London for 25+ years. Lynn sadly died in May 2013.

Sue attended the same primary school, then att­end­ed a comprehensive school. Like her East End friends, she assumed her ambitions would be limited by her poor educational options. She married at 24 and divorced at 35, leaving her a single mother of 2. She was happy working as a univ­ersity administrator for Queen Mary, Uni of London. But she was concerned about what the future held. By 63 Up Sue was looking forward to retiring.

Tony was in a primary school in London’s East End. At 7, he wanted to be a jockey and was in stables by 14. By 21 he had rid­den in 3 races bef­ore giving up the dream, but loved com­peting against the great Lester Pigg­ott. He then gained The Know­led­ge, and made a comfortable life for his family as a Lon­don taxi driv­er. His also dreamed of becoming a TV actor and had small parts as a cabbie. In 28 Up, wife Debbie said losing their 3rd child placed great stress on their family. In 35 Up Tony said their mono­gamous relationship was difficult. Yet by 42 Up, they had moved to Essex, and by 49 Up they owned two homes.

Paul was at a charity-based boarding school at 7, his parents having divorced. Soon after 7 Up, his father and stepmother moved the fam­ily to Aus­tralia, and lived in Melbourne. Paul was employ­ed as a brick­layer, then set up his own business and and married Susan; they had two children and are proud grandparents. A shy man, he was a reluctant start­er in the series but he knew it gave his family some wonderful opport­unit­ies. In 49 Up he was working as a sign-maker, and was thrill­ed to reunite with Symon from boarding school days. By 56 Up Paul & Susan were working at a local retire­ment vill­age, doing maintenance.

Symon, in the same charity home as Paul, was the only mixed-race participant. Bright and shy, Symon never knew his fath­er and had left the charity home to live with his moth­er by 14 Up. Mum’s depres­s­ion had been the cause for his being there, and tragically she died early. Symon vowed to be a bet­ter father than his own; in fact he married early and soon had 5 children. Not­withstanding the unhappy start to his life, and the lack of educ­at­ion, he was industrious and fulfilled in fact­ory and ware­house work, al­though he knew he could have done better. Symon re­turned for 42 Up and 49 Up, remarried with a son and a step­daughter. And by 63 Up his relat­ionship with his first children, and his 10 grandchildren was good.

Nick grew up on a small farm in the Yorkshire Dales. A thoughtful child, he was educated in a tiny school 4 miles from home, and later at a boarding school. He went to Oxford and then moved to the USA to work as a nuclear physicist. He married Jackie, who part­ic­ipated in 28 Up but was irked by the view­ers. By 49 Up the couple div­or­ced and Nick remarried an academic who taught in Minneapolis. Prof Nick was successfully ensconsed in the Electrical & Computer Engineering Dept, Uni of Wisconsin–Madison since 1982. But by 63 Up, Nick sadly devel­op­ed cancer.

Peter went to the same middle-class Liverpool suburban school as Neil. Peter drifted through uni­versity, and by 28 Up he was an under­paid school teacher. He dropped out after 28 Up, following a tabloid press camp­aign against him aft­er he critic­ised Margaret Thatch­er’s education pol­ic­ies. Comm­ent­ary for 42 Up revealed that he later divorced, stud­ied law, marr­ied Gabrielle, had children and returned to Liverpool. After a 28-year absence, Pet­er returned to the series to prom­ote his country band, The Good Intentions.

Liverpudlian Neil was the least predicable. At 7 he was happy and cute, but by 14 Up he was agitated. By 21 Up he was sleep­ing rough in London, struggling with mental health issues. Having drop­p­ed out of Aber­deen University, he was finding menial jobs on build­ing sites. By 35 he was living in a council house in the Shetland Islands. By 42 Up he was living in Bruce's London flat. Since 21 Up his restlessness pushed him to local council politics in Hackney, church and vol­untary work. He comp­let­ed a BA from the Open Uni­versity, then in 2013 and 2017, he was elected to Eden Lakes Cum­b­ria. Sadly by 63 Up, Neil still viewed his life as a failure. 

In 1964 the children wanted to be astronauts, bus drivers, police, lawyers and jockeys. But Bruce, as a child in a respected boarding school, was con­cerned with poverty and racial discrimin­at­ion, and wanted to be a miss­ionary in Africa. Art­iculate, lonely Bruce studied math­ematics at Oxford Uni, then taught child­ren firstly in London’s East End, then Bangladesh and then in a prestig­ious public school in St Albans Herts. By 42 Up, he was married; he and teacher Penny had two loved sons and great jobs. 

Of the original 14 participants, 11 turned up for the 63 Up reunion in the UK

The original 1964 hypothesis was that class was so strong in the UK that a person's life path would be set at birth. This idea mostly held up, except ? for Tony, over the series. But the series also honoured the complex­ity, humanity and grace of ordinary lives. This longitudinal study was unmatched in tv history, so see the series on SBS On Demand.

23 January 2021

Stella Tennant: friend or relative of famous Cavendish, Mitford, Kennedy, Guiness and Mosley families

Stella Tennant was born (1970-2020) in London, the youngest of 3 children to the Hon Tobias Tennant, son of 2nd Baron Glenconner, and Lady Emma Cavendish. Tennant rose to fame in the 1990s while mod­el­ling for Versace, Al­exander McQueen and other designers. Although she was the grand-daughter of a Duke, Tennant didn’t become one of the leading Brit­ish models until her 20s. 

Karl Lagerfeld signed Stella Tennant to an exclusive contract 
to make her the face of the Chanel fashion house, 1990s

Clear, androgynous looks must have been highly desirable back then because Stella was in hot demand. Lagerfeld announced her as the new face of Chanel with an exc­lus­ive modelling contract, and she became a muse to the designer. And from then, she defined 1990s fashion. It was a busy decade; in 1999 Stella married French photo­grapher David Lasnet and soon had 4 children. She was also in ad­vertising campaigns for Calvin Klein, Chanel, Hermes and Burberry

In 2016 Stella co-designed a collection with Lady Isabel Cawdor for the Chanel-owned, London-based brand Holland & Holland. She also ran Tennant & Son, a line of hand-knitted cashmeres and a luxury home wares company with her sister. For her last decade, she devoted her time to environmental and climate change causes.

This aristo­cratic British model who was a muse to great designers died suddenly at 50. The family said arrangements for a memorial service would be ann­ounced but they did not disclose her cause of death till now - suicide. Police Scotland said there were no suspicious circumstances.

Stella McCartney wrote beautifully about her late friend. Fashion house Versace paid tribute to Tennant, saying: “Versace is mourning the death of Stella Tennant. Stella was Gianni Versace’s muse for many years and friend of the family. Gianni’s sister Donatella Ver­sace, who inherited the company on her brother's 1997 death, post­ed a photo of Tennant in a tribute to the model. Fashion de­signer Marc Jacobs said her beauty, style and body language combined with her man­n­ers and personality were like no oth­er.

Family History
Stella Tennant was a granddaughter of 11th Duke of Devon-shire Andrew Cav­en­dish and his wife Deborah Mitford who also came from a stylish, eccent­ric, aris­t­o­cratic family. The Mitfords were a family this blog was very familiar with. The Mitford sisters, Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah, were all born in the early C20th to Lord Redes­dale and his wife Sydney, and raised in the Cotswolds. They had a bro­t­her Tom who later died in action in Burma in 1945.

Jessica & Deborah later married nephews of prime ministers Winston Churchill & Harold Macmillan respectively, and Deborah and Diana both married wealthy aristocrats (Cavendish and Guinness respectively). But despite their privileged upbringing as members of the arist­oc­racy, some of the daughters went on to shock society with their extreme politics and lifestyles .

I will only look at three of the daughters. Unity Mitford (1914-48) was a staunch supp­orter of the Fascist movement and an intimate of Adolf Hitler. It was Unity who had introd­uced her sister Diana Mit­ford to the Fuhrer back in March 1935. Having become disapp­oint­ed with mainstream British politics, Sir Oswald Mosley became the leader of the Brit­ish Union of Fas­c­ists in 1932. So it was not a surprise that when Diana and Mos­ley married in Joseph Goeb­bels’ draw­ing room in Oct 1936, Unity and Hitler were there to celebrate.

The Duke of Windsor married Wallis Simpson in June 1937 in France. But cut off from the British royal family, the new Duchess of Windsor became the closest friend of Diana Mit­ford, wife of Fas­cist leader Os­wald Mosley. The Wind­sors, Mosleys and Goebbels must have been very cosy together.

All the siblings together, 1935  
Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy and Pamela 
Daily Mail

Deborah Mitford married Andrew Cavendish (later Duke Devonshire) 
in 1950  

In 1939 Hitler warned Unity & Diana that war with Britain was inevitable and imminent, and they should return to the UK. So after 5 years in Hitler's inner circle, Unity’s love for the Fuhrer had to end. On the day war was declared, Unity shot herself in the head in Munich. She survived, returned to Britain and spent her last years on Inch Kenneth island

Deborah Mitford (1920–2014) was an Eng­lish aristocrat, writer & socialite. She was the youngest & last surviving of the 6 Mit­ford sister. She married Lord Andrew Cavendish, younger son of 10th Duke of Devonshire in 1941. Older brother William Cavendish was married to Kathleen Kick Kennedy, sister of the future president, a connection that placed Deborah in the Kennedy circle!! When older brother Marquess William Cavendish, was killed in action in 1944, Andrew Cavendish became heir to the title; in 1950, on his father’s death, he became 11th Duke of Dev­on­sh­ire. The Duch­ess remained the main public face of Chatsworth House for decad­es, supervising the restoration of paintings and furniture to the state rooms and the creation of a farm shop, restaurant and gift shop. What a family Stella Tennant came from!!

Chatsworth House and bridge over the River Derwent
Cavendish family home in Derbyshire

20 January 2021

Life & death in early English plagues; Covid is "just another" pandemic

The first confirmed outbreak of sweating disease arrived in England in 1485, to­w­ards the end of the Wars of the Roses (1455–87). This led to spec­ul­ation that it may have been brought over from France by the French mercenaries used by Henry Tudor to win the English throne. Major ep­idemic waves followed in 1508, then 1517, 1528 and 1551. After that, it disappeared.  

The English Sweating Sickness

Henry VIII and Catherine married in 1509 and had a daughter, Mary, but no surviving sons to follow Henry on the throne. Henry fancied a courtier, Anne Boleyn, and asked the pope for a divorce. Rejected by the pope, he broke with Rome, created the Church of England, and named himself head. After Anne also did not produce a male heir, she was later beheaded for treason.

The Sweating Disease in 1528 was ident­ified in Calais  (an English territory then), which was experiencing another horrid outbreak. When the disease reached epidemic proportions, it broke out in London and speedily spread over the whole of England (but not Scotland). The victim began with fever and pains in the neck, back and abdomen, vomit­ing and extremes of chills and fever. It ended with strong sweat and ghastly smell, just before the victims’ deaths. Note that it was fatal for up to half the population and at all levels of society - from the poor to royalty. 

The worst sickness showed itself again in London by April 1536. In May, men of the Inner Temple died from the sickness; the Abbot of York was excused from attending Parliament because of the plague which has visited his house near St Paul’s. The election of knights to serve in Parliament for Shropshire could not be held at Shrewsbury because of the plague locally. Before the suppression of the abbeys, one of the king’s visi­tors of the abbeys found hardly any place clear of the plague in Somerset, and was much impeded in his work. In Sept one of the frequent coron­ations of new queens in Henry VIII’s reign was like to be postponed.

In Oct the plague was at Dieppe, thought to have been brought over from Rye. In Yorkshire also, the Duke of Norfolk was sent to put down the rebellion in Nov 1536 and came into close contact with plague. Many were dying in Doncaster, including 9 soldiers. At Oxford the plague was active, and the scholars had be sent into the count­ry. In London in Nov it was dangerous to be in Lincoln’s Inn.

Unlike nowadays, when most people can’t think of any pandemic before Covid, literature from previous plagues WAS republished. In 1536 a small essay on plague by the C14th bishop of Aarhus was reprinted in London, as the title declares having been “of late practised and proved in many places within the City of London, and by the same many folk have been recovered and cured.” Beyond 1538, the domestic records of State only mentioned plagues from time to time eg 1540’s summer was a sickly one throughout Britain; it introduced a different (?new) type of disease, dysenteries.

Plague had returned in the spring 1537, just months before Jane Seymour went into labour, and Henry was naturally concerned. The disease had spread rapidly across the south, reaching London and the Home Coun­ties in the summer months. Appropriat­ely Henry’s decided to withdraw him­self, family and court from the city’s hot summer and fetid air.

Henry VIII had finally produced the legitimate son he craved. In Oct 1537, Prince Edward/King Edward VI, was born at Ham­p­ton Court Palace, west of London, on the River Thames. Henry had only taken Hampton Court from Cardinal Thomas Wol­sey in 1525. The new mother Jane Sey­mour, wrote to the chief minister, Thomas Crom­well, to in­form him of the birth of a son conceived in lawful matrimony!

Edward’s christening was indeed a moment of great promise and relief for Henry, finally confirming his family’s succession. Thus the ch­ristening demanded all the splendour of the royal court and involved the attendance of elite nobles from across the kingdom, including the princesses Mary and Elizabeth. Prin­c­ess Mary and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, were two of the godparents.

Three days after Edward’s birth, the infant prince was christened in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, attended by c400 people. Edward in a white christening gown was collected from his mother’s palace rooms and carried to its chapel under a royal canopy by prominent members of the English nobility. The prince was greeted by 24 trum­peters on his arrival at the chapel.

A mandate was issued to London’s sheriffs, placing plague restrict­ions on those who could attend court on that day. The nobles chosen to carry the prince at his christ­en­ing remained where they were in Croydon Palace, 20 ks east of Hampton Court, rather than travelling to Hampton Court and risking carrying infect­ions with them.

Following the ceremony, Edward was returned briefly to his parents in the queen’s private apartments, before being taken by his nurses to be kept in isolation in his own lodg­ings in Chapel Court, to protect the precious boy. Only those with royal approval were all­owed near the child to pro­tect him from possible infection or harm. This all revealed the tangible anxiety around the welfare of the child, parents and court in the context of a national health crisis.

It wasn’t until 1539 that Parish Registers of the births, marriages and deaths began to be kept, at least irregularly. By their means it was possible to trace the existence of epidemic disease in the country, which might not have otherwise been reported.
The Monk, by Hans Holbein, depicting death
The New Yorker.

The Black Death of the late C14th killed more people than the 1536-7 plague, as did the great influenza pandemic in the early C20th, and the disease that struck Tudor England was just as terr­if­ying. But nothing is new under the sun and we moderns still have a lot to learn. Pandemics still arrive freq­­uently, still spread quickly and still kill randomly. In every century and in every country, isolation must be mandatory and vaccinations urgently supplied.

17 January 2021

Boston's Molasses Disaster of 1919: accident, negligence or Italian anarchists?

Thank you to History and Will. When the United States Industrial Alcohol Company/USIA decided to build a huge molasses tank, they put it smack in the mid­dle of Boston’s North End, a community made up largely of Italian immigrants in a densely populated neighbourhood.

Pulling victims out

21 people were killed on Commercial St in the North End 
when the tank of molasses ruptured and exploded. Wiki.

When USIA’s steel tank full of molasses ruptured in 1919, it was a perfect storm. At lunch time in Jan 1919, a giant tank of molasses burst open; 2+ million gallons of thick liquid poured out rapidly, reaching speeds of c35 mph. The day’s mild conditions prob­ab­ly aided the spread of molasses, which flowed outward for 2 blocks. Condit­ions grew worse that night as temper­at­ures dropped, caus­ing the liquid to be­come increasingly viscous. Already pinned down by fallen build­ings, some victims then became stuck in molasses, 30cm deep in some places. Rescue efforts would have likely been easier if the accident had happened in hot July and the molasses had been able to spread well away from the tank. The molasses flooded streets, crush­ed build­ings and trapped horses in an event that killed 21 people and injured another 150.

Who did it? When the molasses tank burst, the public wondered whet­her Italian anarchists had blown it up, presumably because some of the alcohol produced was to be used in making munitions. USIA’s subsidiary, The Purity Distilling Co., blamed the expl­os­ion on an anarchistic cell who had been send­ing the company letter bombs. The theory was that anarch­ists climbed a ladder and drop­ped pipe bombs into a fermentation vent, caus­ing the tank to explode. The Boston Evening Globe agreed. If it was a terror­ist act, the Boston Company would be absolved of any re­s­pon­sib­il­ity! It was not imposs­ible, as bomb­ings were common at the time. However there was no evid­ence.

Even while the company repeated that the tank failed because it was sab­ot­aged by Italian an­ar­ch­ists, a long investigation involving 1,000+ witnesses deter­mined the case properly. The real culprit was shoddy construction in the beginning, and fermentation in the tank later on. Analyses have since pinpointed the fac­tors that combined to create the disastrous event: flawed steel, safety oversights, fluctuating air temper­atures and the principles of fluid dynamics. The struct­ural problems of the steel tank were devast­at­ing. Designed to hold 2.5 million gallons of liquid, it measured 50’ tall and 90’ in diameter. But its narrow steel walls were too thin to support the weight of a full tank of molasses. Flawed rivet design was another problem and tough stresses on the rivet holes created the first cracks. Although mol­asses had been poured into the container 29 times, only 4 of those refills approached capacity. The 4th top-off was 2 days before the disaster, when a ship arrived from Puerto Rico carrying 2.3 million gallons of molasses.

Structural engineers already knew better, back in Jan 1919. But the tank had been built quickly in winter 1915 to meet rising demand for indust­rial alcohol, which could be distilled from molasses and sold to wea­pons companies to make WW1 dynamite and other explosives. And in­stead of inspecting the tank and filling it with water first to test it for flaws, USIA ig­nored all warnings, includ­ing visible cracks.

When shards of steel from the tank’s walls were brought into the treasurer’s office as evidence of the potential dan­ger, engin­eers did not know that the steel had been mixed with too little mangan­ese. That gave it a high transition temperat­ure, making the metal brittle when it cooled below 15c. The air temperature on the day of the disaster was 4c. Its brittleness might have been a final straw.

When it turned out that the tank failed as a result of neglect, the victims and their fam­il­ies sued. The individual law­suits were com­bined into one big lawsuit, one of the first class-action lawsuits in Mass. In an age when little govern­ment oversight or regulation was normal, the disaster also led to new corporate re­g­ulations imposed upon Boston industries. The trial had gathered input from tons of expert wit­nes­s­­es, producing 20,000 pages of conflicting test­imony. And af­ter 5 years of hearings, the court-appointed auditor found the USIA Company was responsible. Even though many ques­t­ions remained, the company did eventually pay out $628,000 in damages to the victims’ fam­ilies. 

The Molasses Tank built and photographed in 1915
before it collapsed and flooded North Boston in 1919

Throughout, USIA’s famous defence lawyer Charles Choate repeated the company story, bl­aming the disaster on Italian anarchists. Choate's case was designed to prey on Boston’s paranoia over the activities of Italian anar­chists on the wharfs. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the end of WW1 had ushered in the Red Scare in modern American history. In Boston, that anxiety focused on the local Italian immigrants, cul­­min­at­ing with the appalling treatment of Italian anarchists Nic­ola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti the very next year (1920).