On this day in history….29th March 1912

On this day in history : 29th March 1912 – Captain Robert Falcon Scott records the last entry in his diary before succumbing to the elements on the ill-fated British Antarctic Expedition….

Scott writing his journal, winter 1911 – Public domain

“Last entry. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more – R.Scott – For God’s sake look after our people”….

The British Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Terra Nova Expedition, after the ship – an old converted whaler – that carried them there, was Scott’s second trip to the Antarctic…. The aim was to be the first team to reach the South Pole – his rival, Ernest Shackleton, had recently returned after narrowly failing to reach the Pole…. This would certainly have spurred Scott and his team on (which comprised of Scott himself, Lawrence Oates, Edward Adrian Wilson, Edgar Evans and Henry Robertson Bowers) making them even more determined…. Scott kept a detailed account of the expedition, enabling historians to gain an insight into this extraordinary two-year journey….

terra Nova, held up in pack ice, December 1910 – Public domain

The team arrived at the South Pole on the 17th of January 1912 – only to be devastated to find that a Norwegian team, led by Roald Amundsen had reached the Pole 33 days before…. Scott’s diary entry for the day read : “The worst has happened”…. He described the Pole as : “Great God! This is an awful place”….

Scott’s team at the South Pole : Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson, Evans – Public domain

Two days later, on the 19th of January, the team began the return journey…. Scott wrote : “I’m afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous”…. At first the going was good, despite poor weather…. But the weather was to deteriorate even further and the team were suffering with exhaustion, hunger, snow blindness and frostbite….

Scott first noted in his diary on the 29th of January that the health of Edgar Evans was declining…. He had suffered a fall and then on the 17th of February, after a further fall, he died….

On March the 2nd Lawrence Oates began to suffer from the effects of frostbite…. He was only too aware that he was slowing the team up…. His toes became so frost bitten that he had to drag himself along…. On the 16th of March, whilst they were all huddled in their tents, he told the others “I am just going outside and maybe some time”…. He wandered off into the snow to his death….

The remaining three men carried on but on the 19th of March they were to make their final camp…. For 9 days they were forced to take refuge in their tents whilst a blizzard raged outside…. Their supplies were fast running out….and Scott recorded : “The end cannot be far”….

As well as his final pencil written entry into his diary Scott left letters for the mothers of Wilson and Bowers – and for his own mother and wife…. He also wrote to his former Royal Navy Commander Sir George Everton….and left a message to the public….

“We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last…. Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for”….

It is thought Scott died later that day or the day after…. His body was discovered, along with those of his companions, eight months later by a search party…. Their camp became their tomb and permanent resting place….

The grave of Edward Adrian Wilson, Henry Robertson Bowers and Robert Falcon Scott – Public domain

Before the Terra Nova left for home in January 1913 a cross was made by the ship’s carpenters….a wooden cross with the names of the dead men and a line from Tennyson’s poem ‘Ulysees’ inscribed upon it…. It was erected as a memorial on Observation Hill….

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”….

Observation Hill Memorial Cross – Barneygrumble – CC BY SA 3.0

On this day in history….28th March 2004

On this day in history : 28th March 2004 – The death of actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, novelist, raconteur and humanitarian – Sir Peter Ustinov….

Sir Peter Ustinov – Image Credit : Allan Warren – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Born Peter Alexander Freiherr Von Ustinov on the 16th of April 1921 in Swiss Cottage, London, Peter once said of himself “I am an international citizen conceived in Russia, born in England, working in Hollywood, living in Switzerland and touring the world”…. It could perhaps be said his global diversity started with the blood in his veins…. His father was half Russian, part African-Ethiopian, Polish and German….whilst his mother was also half Russian but part Italian, French and German…. The family had ancestral connections to Russian nobility and the Ethiopian royal family…. Not surprisingly Peter was brought up in a multi-lingual family – he spoke fluent English, Russian, French, Italian, German and Spanish and could get by in Greek and Turkish….

Peter attended Westminster College between 1934 and 1937 before joining the London Theatre Studio until 1939…. He made his stage debut in 1939…. His film debut came in 1940 with ‘Hullo, Fame!’

From 1942-1946 he served with the Royal Sussex Regiment as a Private…. It was during this period that he was to form a life long friendship with the actor David Niven…. Peter spent most of his service making recruitment films…. He also co-wrote the 1944 World War 2 drama ‘The Way Ahead’ starring David Niven…. After the War Peter himself was to appear in a catalogue of films, from the acclaimed ‘Lola Montes’ in 1955 to ‘The Comedians’, 1967 and ‘Robin Hood’, 1973 and ‘Logan’s Run‘, 1976 – and a whole host of other films in between…. He was awarded two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, one for ‘Spartacus’ in 1960 and ‘Topkapi’ in 1964…. He received a further two nominations both as an actor and writer…. His play ‘The Unknown Soldier and His Wife’ was the first play to be performed at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane, on its opening in 1973….

His career, as an actor, slowed down a little during the 1970s but 1978 saw him back in the role of Hercules Poirot in Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’…. The 1980s saw him in several strong TV film roles such as ‘Evil Under the Sun’ with Maggie Smith in 1982 and ‘Appointment with Death’ in 1988…. 1992 saw him in the epic film ‘Lorenzo’s Oil’ with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon….

Peter as Hercule Poirot with John Gielgud in ‘Appointment with Death’, 1988 – Image credit : Yoni S. Hamenahem CC BY-SA 3.0

His writing career included his autobiographical books ‘Dear Me’ in 1977 and ‘My Russia’ in 1996…. With his wit and humour he was a popular choice for TV chat shows – he was also a TV journalist himself…. His 1986 BBC TV series ‘Russia’ saw him visit more than 30 Russian cities during this well-received series….

In 1975 Peter received a CBE for his services to drama and in 1991 he received his knighthood…. He was a Humanist Laureate and from 1968 until his death a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF….

Peter was father to four….he married three times…. His first wife Isolde Dunham, who he married in 1940 and with whom he had a daughter, was the half sister of Angela Lansbury…. The marriage ended in divorce in 1950…. Peter then married Suzanne Cloutier in 1954 and they had two daughters and a son…. This marriage ended in 1971….

With Suzanne Cloutier and their daughter during the 1950s – Public domain

It was in 1971 that Peter moved to a chateau in the village of Bursins in Switzerland…. In June 1971 he married Helene du Lau d’Allemans…. He died of heart failure in a clinic in Genolier, Switzerland on the 28th March 2004…. His funeral was held at Geneva’s Cathedral of St. Pierre – he is buried in the cemetery in Bursins….

Peter Ustinov – Image credit : Alberto Botella via Flickr

On this day in history….27th March 1927

On this day in history : 27th March 1927 – The birth of voice actress, writer, TV and film producer Sylvia Anderson – who with her then husband, Gerry Anderson, created the cult series “Thunderbirds”….

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Sylvia was born in South London, the daughter of boxing promoter and gym owner, Sidney Thomas….and Beatrice, a dressmaker…. She attended the London School of Economics, where she gained a degree in Sociology and Political Science….

She married her first husband, American golfer Jack Brooks, in 1946 and they had a daughter…. The couple lived in the US, where Sylvia worked as a journalist…. The marriage ended in divorce but Sylvia remarried in 1952, to George Thamm – only this marriage too was to break down…. It was in 1955 that Sylvia returned to the UK – and in 1957 she joined Polytechnic Films as an office assistant – and it was then that she met Gerry Anderson…. They were married in late 1960….and went on to have a son, Gerry Anderson Jr….

Following the collapse of Polytechnic Films Gerry Anderson formed AP Films with Arthur Provis…. Sylvia joined the board of directors, along with colleagues John Reed and Reg Hill….

Sylvia Anderson (with puppet Dr. Venus from Fireball XL5) – Fair use

The Andersons worked as a team…. In the early 1960s Sylvia and Gerry created ‘Thunderbirds’…. The groundbreaking puppetry sci-fi exploits and adventures of the Tracy family set in the 2060s…. American ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy, a widower, living on Tracy Island with his five grown up children:- Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan…. The family make up ‘International Rescue’ – a secret organisation set up to save human life….each of the Tracy brothers having their own Thunderbird machine…. Then there is undercover agent Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, one of the show’s most popular characters – and her chauffeur, Parker….driving around the British countryside in the FAB 1 pink Rolls Royce….

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Sylvia’s role was to create the characters, devise the storylines and design the costumes…. She was well aware that the show was intended for an American audience and wanted characters that would appeal…. The result was a fusion; an American central family with a strong British flavour to the show…. Lady Penelope, the poised, elegant aristocrat – based on Sylvia herself and who provided the voice for the the puppet – and the Cockney Parker…. “Yes, M’Lady”….

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Two series of the show were filmed, giving 32 fifty-minute episodes…. Two feature films were released ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ in 1966 and ‘Thunderbird 6’ followed in 1968…. Sylvia and Gerry created the series ‘UFO’ during 1969-70, which she co-produced and designed the costumes for…. However, by the early 70s cracks were beginning to appear in the marriage and Sylvia and Gerry’s creative partnership ended in 1975, when the marriage broke up…. They divorced in 1981….

Sylvia’s semi-autobiographical novel ‘Love and Hisses’ was published in 1983 – followed by her autobiography ‘Yes, M’Lady’ in 1991 – which was republished in 2007 as ‘My FAB Years’…. For some 30 years Sylvia was to work as a talent scout for American TV network HBO….and then in 2013 she began work with her daughter Dee, a jazz singer, on an idea for a new TV show – ‘The Last Station’….

Sylvia died on the 15th of March 2016, aged 88….

On this day in history….26th March 1839

On this day in history : 26th March 1839 – The first Henley Regatta is held; it was originally initiated by the Mayor and residents of Henley-on-Thames to attract tourism….

An 1877 painting of Henley Royal Regatta by James Tissot – Public domain

In 1829 a boat race was held between Oxford and Cambridge Universities along the stretch of the River Thames upon which the Oxfordshire town of Henley-on-Thames lies….So many visitors were attracted to the race that the people of Henley realised a similar, regular event could be very lucrative for the town….

The first ‘Regatta’ was essentially a single afternoon race, accompanied with a fair and other entertainment…. Being a huge success the following year it became a two day event…. The focus quickly changed to competitive amateur rowing…. In 1886 it grew to three days and four days in 1906…. Finally in 1986 it became a five day regatta and has been held every year since 1839 – with the exception of the years during WW1 and WW2….

During the Victorian era the Regatta became a major social event and in 1851 Prince Albert became the first Royal Patron…. Since then the reigning Monarch has always been its Patron, thus meaning it has remained being known as ‘Royal’….

Regatta participants in the 1890s – Public domain

Nowadays Henley Royal Regatta is held at the beginning of July and is a highlight of the English social sporting calendar, attracting top rowing teams from all over the world…. Having been established since before national and international rowing federations it operates under its own rules – although it is recognised by the International Rowing Federation and the Amateur Rowing Association in England….

Green Lake Crew, USA racing in 2007 – Image credit : Tgamen – own work – Public domain

It is now the largest racing regatta in the world…. There are sixteen separate trophies…. Races take around seven minutes each with start times at five minutes apart – meaning there are usually two races happening at the same time…. Whilst races are fiercely competitive there is a strong protocol of politeness….both from spectators and competitors alike…. Each boat is applauded by those watching and each team gives the other ‘three cheers’ just after crossing the finishing line…. The winning crew congratulates the losing crew and vice-versa….

Racing in 1979

Henley Royal Regatta remains a major part of the English social calendar….it has the atmosphere of a giant garden party…. For many it is a chance to gather with friends- whether onboard a boat on the river itself or in the enclosures and marquees along its banks…. Admission to the prestigious Steward’s Enclosure is at a premium and limited to 6,000 Members…. Champagne and Pimms flow, picnics are enjoyed and strawberries devoured in abundance…. There are most certainly those socialites who attend annually and have quite possibly never even witnessed the rowing! The dress code is formal…. For ladies skirt lengths should be to the knee or longer, trousers should be full length…. Hats, although not obligatory, are customary…. The traditional attire for a gentleman is a striped blazer and straw boater…. But a lounge suit, or blazer with flannel trousers is equally acceptable – teamed with a collared shirt…. Neck ties or cravats are not essential but are encouraged…. Jeans, shorts or trainers are not permitted for anybody….

This year’s Henley Royal Regatta is scheduled to be held from Wednesday 1st July to Sunday 5th July – but obviously in these times of uncertainty we will have to wait and see what happens….

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On this day in history….25th March 1811

On this day in history : 25th March 1811 – Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from Oxford University for publishing the pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism”….

Portrait of Shelley, by Alfred Clint (1829) – Public domain

Shelley, one of the major English Romantic poets, held radical political and social views which were to be, inevitably, reflected in his poetry and writing….

He was born in Broadbridge Heath, near to Horsham, West Sussex on the 4th of August 1782 and was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, a Whig MP…. After attending the Syon House Academy, Brentford, Middlesex and Eton College, Shelley entered University College, Oxford on the 10th of April 1810….

His first novel was published anonymously in 1810…. ‘Zastrozzi’, a Gothic novel, which through its characters indicated its author’s atheist views…. Other publications followed, ‘St Irvine; or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance’, and ‘Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire’, which he wrote with his sister Elizabeth…. He also published a collection of verses ‘Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson’, with his close friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg…. Then in 1811 he anonymously published the pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism’ – which saw him hauled in front of the College Dean, George Rowley…. His refusal to admit as to whether he had or had not penned the publication saw his expulsion from Oxford…. It is widely believed Hogg helped him to write the pamphlet….

1811, Title Page – Public domain

‘The Necessity of Atheism’ was first published around the 14th of February 1811…. Few original copies remain as most were destroyed shortly after publication…. At the time its content was deemed to be so shocking….

“As a love of truth is the only motive which actuated the Author of this little tract, he earnestly entreats that those of his readers who may discover any deficiency in his reasoning, or may be in possession of proofs which his mind could never obtain, would offer them, together with their objections to the Public, as briefly, as methodically, as plainly as he has taken the liberty of doing”….

At the end of the pamphlet Shelley writes…. “the mind cannot believe in the existence of a God”…. He signed it…. ‘Thro’ deficiency of proof, AN ATHEIST’….

A page from the 1811 Worthing Printing – Bodleian Library