On this day in history….19th May 1932

On this day in history : 19th May 1932 – The birth of singer Alma Cogan – the highest paid British female entertainer of her era and dubbed the ‘girl with the giggle in her voice’….

Alma Cogan, 1963 – Public domain

Alma was born in Whitechapel, East London to Jewish Russian/Romanian parents…. She was one of three children, with a sister Sandra, who was to become a successful actress – and a brother, Ivor…. The family moved around quite a bit due to their father’s work as a haberdasher – but settled for a longer spell in Worthing, Sussex…. Even though Alma came from a Jewish family she was educated at St. Joseph’s Convent School in Reading….

Alma’s father sang but it was her mother who had show business dreams for the children…. Alma’s first public performance was at a charity show held at the Palace Theatre, Reading…. Then at the age of 11 she won £5 at a singing contest in Brighton…. When she was 14 Vera Lynn recommended her to perform in a variety show…. She was then to audition for the then band leader (later to become Prime Minister) Ted Heath when she was 16…. Only he was to tell her that although she had a good voice she was too young for the business and should come back in five years time…. He was later to say letting her go was one of the biggest mistakes of his life….

After leaving school Alma was to study fashion design at Worthing Art College – at the same time she sang at tea dances…. She went on to sing in a couple of musicals and then in 1949 became the resident singer in a hotel…. It was there that she was spotted by EMI producer Walter Ridley, who began to coach her and signed her to EMI….

Her first release ‘To Be Worthy Of You’ was recorded on her 20th birthday….. It was to gain her a regular spot on Dick Bentley’s BBC radio show ‘Gently Bentley’’…. She then went on to be the vocalist for radio comedy ‘Take It From Here’ between 1953-1960…. It was during 1953, whilst recording ‘If I Had A Golden Umbrella’ that she gave a little giggle – and this was to become her trademark, earning her the name the ‘girl with the giggle in her voice’….

Although she wrote some of her own songs Alma would often cover American hits – she would frequently be compared to Doris Day…. Her first chart success was with ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ which reached No.4 in April 1954…. She was to appear in the UK charts 18 times during the 1950s, including a No.1 with ‘Dreamboat’ in 1955….

By the early 1960s the British public had begun to find her music too tame and unfashionable – her highest chart position in the 60s reaching just No.26 with ‘We Got Love’…. However, she maintained her popularity abroad, especially in Japan, Germany and Scandinavia…. She reached No.1 in Sweden in 1965 with ‘The Birds and The Bees’….

After the death of her father she continued living with her mother in Kensington – and she would often entertain famous friends at home…. The likes of Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Roger Moore, Michael Caine, Frankie Vaughan, Bruce Forsyth, Noel Coward – and even royalty – Princess Margaret all visited…. She became close friends with John Lennon after meeting him on TV show ‘Ready Steady Go’ in 1964…. Her sister believes they had a secret romance….

By the mid 1960s her record label was becoming unhappy with how her releases were performing – her health was also beginning to fail…. During a tour of the North of England in 1966 she collapsed – and had to receive treatment for stomach cancer…. Her final TV appearance was in the August of 1966 – and she was to collapse again whilst in Sweden…. Alma died in London’s Middlesex Hospital on the 26th of October 1966 of ovarian cancer…. She was only 34 years old….

On this day in history….18th May 1909

On this day in history : 18th May 1909 – The birth of English tennis player Fred Perry who – until Andy Murray in 2013 – was the last British player to win the men’s Wimbledon Championship….

Fred Perry – Public domain

Fred was born in Stockport – his father, Samuel Perry, was a cotton spinner but also a Labour Co-operative politician…. Due to his father’s political career the family moved around in Fred’s early years, living in Bolton, Lancashire and Wallasey in Cheshire…. When Fred was 11 they settled in Brentham Garden Suburb, Ealing, West London as Samuel had become the National Secretary of the Co-operative Party…. He then came to serve as the Labour Co-op Member of Parliament for Kettering in 1929….

Fred Perry’s birthplace – 33, Corrington Road, Stockport – Image credit : Zzztriple2000 – own work- public domain

Fred was educated at Ealing Grammar School for Boys and first began to play tennis on the public courts near to the family’s housing estate…. However, his first taste of sporting success was as a table tennis player – winning various titles and medals and eventually the world table tennis singles title in Budapest in 1929 – when he was 19-years-old….

Using the speed and aggressive techniques he had learned during his table tennis days Fred developed his own unique style of tennis…. At first his approach was not appreciated by the Lawn Tennis Association – who regarded him as being rather hot-headed…. There was also a certain degree of stuffiness from them because of his working-class background….

Considered one of the greatest tennis players ever it is no surprise that Fred was to become the first player to win all four singles titles in a Career Grand Slam…. He was to win ten Majors, including Grand-Slam and Pro-Slam singles…. He also won six Major doubles titles – and won the Wimbledon Championship three years running, 1934-36…. Always at his side through his sporting career, lending her support, was his sister Edith…. They also had a half-sister, Sylvia….

Fred Perry (right) with Pat Hughes, Sydney, Australia, 1934 – Public domain

During the 1940s he teamed up with Austrian footballer Tibby Wegner and the Fred Perry clothing brand was formed…. Starting out with the creation of the wrist worn sweat band – then going on to the classic Fred Perry sports shirt, which when launched at Wimbledon in 1952 became an instant success…. The brand’s laurel wreath logo is based on the original Wimbledon symbol….

Classic Fred Perry design – Image credit : Stylecountz CC BY-SA 2.0

Fred also had a colourful life off of the court and was popular with the ladies…. He was romantically linked with actresses Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow and Bette Davies and in 1934 announced his engagement to Mary Lawson – however the relationship ended after his move to the US….

He was to have a trio of unsuccessful marriages…. He married American movie star Helen Vinson in 1935 but they divorced in 1940…. He then married model Sandra Breaux in 1941 but that was to be short-lived; as was his marriage in 1945 to Lorraine Walsh…. Finally in 1952 he found ‘the right one’, when he married Barbara Riese – a marriage that was to last until his death in 1995…. The couple had two children, Penny and David….

Fred died in hospital in Melbourne on the 2nd of February 1995, after a fall in a hotel bathroom in which he broke his ribs….

On this day in history….17th May 1978

On this day in history : 17th May 1978 – The intact coffin of Charlie Chaplin is found after it had gone missing from his grave over two months before….

Charlie Chaplin – Public domain

Chaplin had died at his home in Switzerland, at the age of 88, on Christmas Day 1977…. He had been buried four days later in the cemetery of the village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, in the hills above Lake Geneva….

On the 2nd of March 1978 his grave was found empty…. Massive media speculation followed; had Chaplin been dug up by fans – or anti-Semites objecting to a Jew in a Christian burial ground – or even pro-Nazis taking revenge for the film ‘The Great Dictator’….

Chaplin satirising Adolf Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator’, 1940 – Public domain

A ransom demand of 600,000 francs (£400K) had been made to Chaplin’s widow, 51-year-old Lady Oona Chaplin, for the return of her husband’s body…. It appeared the kidnappers were willing to negotiate, as in all 27 phone calls were made to Oona and to her lawyer…. What they didn’t know was that Oona had no intention of paying up – saying “my husband is in Heaven and in my heart”…. She added “Charlie would have thought it rather ridiculous”…. However, by keeping the dialogue open police were able to watch some 200 telephone kiosks in the area….

Chaplin, Oona and 6 of their children, 1961 – Public domain

On the 16th of May 24-year-old Roman Wardas, a Polish refugee car mechanic was arrested in a phone booth…. His accomplice, 38-year-old Bulgarian Gantscho Ganev was arrested shortly afterwards…. Chaplin’s coffin was found the following day buried in a corn field about a mile from the Chaplin family home…. It was reburied in a more secure concrete grave….

Chaplin’s grave, Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland – Silk Tork CC BY-SA 3.0

Wardas claimed he had been inspired by a similar case that he had read about in an Italian newspaper…. As the mastermind behind the crime he received four and a half years hard labour…. Ganev was given an eighteen month suspended sentence….

On this day in history….16th May 1862

On this day in history : 16th May 1862 – The death of Edward Gibbon Wakefield – the British politician who in 1827 abducted a 15-year-old heiress and forced her into marriage, leading to the Shrigley Abduction case….

Edward Gibbon Wakefield by Benjamin Holl – Public domain

Wakefield was a key figure in the establishment of the colonies of South Australia and New Zealand and had involvement with Canada…. In 1816, at the age of 20 he eloped with 17-year-old wealthy heiress Miss Eliza Pattle…. They were married in Edinburgh; it appears to have been a marriage for love and her mother, being a party to it, settled a sum of £70K on the couple…. They were to have two children, a daughter in 1817 (who was to die later from TB) and a son in 1820…. But Eliza was to die 4 days after giving birth….

Although wealthy by normal standards, it was not enough for Wakefield – he wanted an estate and an open door into Parliament…. He began to hatch a plan….

Ellen Turner was the only child of wealthy mill owner William Turner, who lived at Shrigley Hall near to Macclesfield…. Wakefield, twice her age, decided he was going to marry the 15-year-old for her inheritance – he enlisted the help of his brother, William….

Shrigley Hall

Ellen was at boarding school in Liverpool…. On the 7th of March 1827 Wakefield sent his servant, Thevenot, with a carriage to the school…. He was to deliver a message to say that Ellen’s mother was gravely ill and wanted to see her daughter…. Thevenot took the girl to a hotel in Manchester where Wakefield was waiting – and who then told her that her father’s business had collapsed and that he had fled to escape his creditors…. Wakefield said he had been instructed to take her to her father in Carlisle….

They travelled to Kendal – and on arriving Wakefield put the next part of his plan into action…. He explained to her that although her father was now a fugitive two banks had agreed to transfer part of his estate to her – providing she was married…. Therefore, if she were to marry him, Wakefield, then her father could be saved…. He then took her to Carlisle, where they were met by William Wakefield who said he had seen Turner and who had agreed to the marriage…. Ellen consented and the couple continued over the border to Gretna Green, where they were married by blacksmith David Laing….

After returning to Carlisle Ellen asked to see her father and Wakefield promised to take her to Shrigley…. However, he took her to Leeds instead…. He claimed he had a meeting in Paris that he simply had to attend – but they would go via London so she could see her father there…. He then sent his brother to ‘invite’ Turner to London…. But on arriving at Blake’s Hotel, where the supposed rendezvous was to take place, a message had been left for them saying that William and Turner had already departed for France and that they should follow…. So, Wakefield took Ellen to Calais….

A few days later Ellen’s parents received a letter from Wakefield saying that he had married their daughter…. His line of thinking was that rather than face public scandal they would accept the marriage – but he was so wrong! Turner went to London to seek the help of the Foreign Secretary…. On learning that Ellen had been taken to France Turner despatched his brother, along with a police officer and a solicitor to find her…. It didn’t take long, Ellen and Wakefield were found in a hotel in Calais….

Although Wakefield claimed they were legally married and nothing could be done about it, after being interviewed by the French authorities Ellen was permitted to return home with her uncle…. Wakefield, after making a statement to say the marriage had not been consummated, carried on his way to Paris…. He probably thought that was the end of the matter….

However, there was a warrant out for his arrest…. A few days later, on his arrival back at Dover, he was detained and taken to Cheshire to be held at Lancaster Castle to await a court appearance…. He was later to be released on bail of £2K plus a further a further two sureties of £1K each…. When the case came to be heard on the 23rd of March 1827 at Lancaster he, his brother and their stepmother, Frances, who had also been indicted as an accomplice, all appeared…. They all pleaded not guilty…. Thevenot, who was still in France, was indicted in his absence…. All were found guilty….

On the 14th of May they appeared before the Court of the King’s Bench at Westminster Hall, London…. The brothers were each sentenced to three years imprisonment – Edward served his in Newgate, whereas William was sent to Lancaster Castle…. Frances was released….

The marriage between Wakefield and Ellen was annulled by an Act of Parliament…. She went on to marry a wealthy neighbour but died in childbirth at the age of 19…. Her daughter survived….

As for Edward Gibbon Wakefield – despite all of this he went on to have a successful career…. He became involved in prison reform and then continued his leading role of the development of Australia, Canada and New Zealand….

Wakefield circa 1850-1860 by Albert James Allom – Public domain

On this day in history….15th May 1909

On this day in history : 15th May 1909 – The birth of British actor James Mason – who was to appear in more than 80 films, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Julius Caesar….

James Mason – Public domain

James was born in Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire…. He was the youngest of the three sons of Mabel Hattersley and John Mason, a wealthy textile merchant…. After attending Marlborough College James was to go on to graduate from Cambridge with a degree in architecture…. It was whilst at university that he got involved with the theatre, purely for enjoyment, he never trained as an actor….

He was to make his stage debut in 1931, in a production of The Rascal in Aldershot…. He went on to join the Old Vic theatre in London, appearing in stage productions such as Henry VIII, The Importance of Being Earnest, Measure for Measure, The Tempest and Twelfth Night among others…. He became a prominent stage actor….

James Mason – Image credit : John Irving via Flickr

James made his film debut in 1935 in Late Extra…. He was to make a lot of minor ‘quota quickie’ films – as at the time in an attempt to counter American dominance a certain percentage of films shown in cinemas in the UK had to be British made…. As a result James was to become one of Britain’s major film stars of the 1940s….It was also in the late 1930s that he appeared in early television productions of plays….

Being a strong pacifist meant James was to become a conscientious objector during WW2 – which caused a long-lasting rift between him and his family…. He married his first wife, Pamela, in February 1941 and they were to have two children, a daughter, Portland, in 1948 and a son, Morgan in 1955…. Morgan is incidentally married to singer Belinda Carlisle….

James Mason and his family from the 1957 TV program Panic!

James was very much an animal lover and in 1949 he and Pamela published a book ‘The Cats in our Lives’…. Mostly written and illustrated by James he tells the mostly humorous but sometimes sad tales of the cats he had known – and the occasional dog….

His first Hollywood film, Caught, came in 1949…. However, it wasn’t until 1951, when he was cast as General Rommel in The Desert Fox, that his Hollywood career was to really take off…. His contract with 20th Century Fox was for 7 years with the stipulation of making one film per year….

In 1952 he bought the Hollywood mansion that had once belonged to Buster Keaton….. Whilst carrying out renovation work he was to discover reels of Keaton’s films that had previously been thought lost…. Realising their historical importance James had them transferred on to cellulose acetate film, thus saving them….

James Mason in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, 1959 – Public domain

Not everything was rosy in life for James…. In 1959 he suffered a major heart attack and continuing troubles in his personal life were a persistent blight on his happiness…. His wife was particularly fond of the Hollywood social scene and was reputedly frequently unfaithful…. However, it was eventually she who sued for divorce in 1962 accusing him of unfaithfulness…. It led to her receiving a $1 million divorce settlement….

In 1963 James made his home in Switzerland, commuting transatlantic to continue his career…. He married Australian actress Clarissa Kaye in 1971 and they were on occasion to work together…. James was to suffer a further heart attack, which proved to be fatal on the 27th of July 1984, whilst in Lausanne, Switzerland….

James Mason in The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964 – Public domain