On this day in history….9th May 1935

On this day in history : 9th May 1935 – The birth of author and illustrator of children’s books, Roger Hargreaves – best remembered for his much loved Mr Men and Little Miss series of stories….

Charles Roger Hargreaves was born in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire and attended Sowerby Bridge Grammar School…. He then spent a year working in the family laundry and dry cleaning business before going to work in advertising….

Roger wrote his first Mr Men story – ‘Mr Tickle’ – in 1971…. It came about when his 8-year-old son asked him what a tickle looked like…. In response he drew a figure with a round orange body and long bendy arms – and so the first Mr Men character was born….

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At the time Roger was the Creative Director of a London advertising company…. He had some difficulty in initially finding a publisher for his books but once he did success came quickly…. In three years more than one million copies had sold…. 1974 saw the BBC animated Mr Men series, narrated by Arthur Lowe – and by 1976 Roger had given up his advertising career to concentrate on his writing…. The Little Miss books were launched in 1981 and they too were made into a TV series in 1983 – this time narrated by husband and wife team John Alderton and Pauline Collins….

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In all there were 46 Mr Men and 33 Little Miss books…. With over 100 million books being sold Roger was to become Britain’s third best selling author of all time…. His other works included the 25 book series ‘Timbuctoo’, ‘The Roundy and Squary’ books, ‘John Mouse’, ‘Hippo Potto and Mouse’ and the ‘Veggie Fruits’ – but it is undoubtedly the Mr Men and Little Miss stories that won so many hearts….

Between 1975 and 1982 Roger and his wife Christine lived on Guernsey with their four children – Adam, Giles and twins Sophie and Amelia – upon whom ‘Little Miss Twins’ was based…. The family then moved to Cowden in Kent…. On the 11th of September 1988 Roger was to die suddenly following a stroke – he was aged just 53…. After his death his son, Adam, continued his work – and in April 2004 Christine sold the rights to the characters to the Chorion entertainment group….

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On this day in history….20th April 1912

On this day in history : 20th April 1912 – The death of Irish-born writer Bram Stoker, author of the 1897 gothic horror ‘Dracula’….

Bram Stoker – Public domain

Born on the 8th of November 1847 in Clontarf, Dublin, Abraham (Bram) Stoker was the third of seven children and his father worked as a senior civil servant….

Bram was a sickly child and spent many of his early years bedridden and was not expected to live – although nobody seemed to know exactly what ailed him…. He would entertain himself by ‘people watching’ through his bedroom window and listening to the stories and legends of Irish history told to him by his mother…. No doubt these pass-times helped fuel his creative imagination….

By the age of seven Bram had recovered from his mystery illness and was able to start his formal education, attending a private school run by Reverend William Woods…. Despite his frailty during his early childhood Bram was to go on to thrive both physically and academically…. He grew into a tall strapping young man and after being admitted to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1864 he even excelled at sporting activities…. He was recognised as Dublin University’s Athletic Sports Champion in 1867 and played rugby for the University…. He was President of the University Philosophical Society and auditor of the College Historical Society…. He also became interested in the theatre….

After graduating Trinity with a Bachelor of Arts in 1870 Bram was then to go on to gain a Master of Arts in 1875…. He was to embark on a career path which followed in his father’s footsteps as a civil servant, taking a position at Dublin Castle…. He also took an unpaid role as theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail – and in December 1876 gave a favourable review for actor Henry Irving’s ‘Hamlet’ at the Theatre Royal, Dublin…. This review was to change Bram’s life…. Henry Irving was Bram’s idol – and he would no doubt have been delighted when he received an invitation to dinner from Irving…. The two were to become firm friends….

Sir Henry Irving as ‘Hamlet’ from a painting by Sir Edwin Long – Image from the Wellcome Collection

Bram had started to write seriously in his twenties; his story ‘Crystal Cup’ was published in 1872 by the London Society and he followed it up with his four-part ‘The Chain of Destiny’…. He also wrote a non-fiction book, ‘The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland’, which was published in 1879….

In 1878 Bram married Florence Balcombe, who was a renowned beauty and had formerly been romantically linked to Oscar Wilde…. Bram counted Wilde amongst his friends having met him during his student days…. The friendship was tested as Wilde was initially upset that Florence had chosen Bram over him – but eventually differences were overcome and Bram and Wilde resumed their friendship….

Florence Balcombe – Public domain

Following their marriage the Stokers moved to London as Irving had invited Bram to manage his Lyceum Theatre – which Bram continued to do for the next 27 years (1878-1904)…. On the 31st of December 1879 Bram and Florence became parents to a son who they named ‘Irving Noel Thornley Stoker’ – he was to be their only child….

Inevitably Bram was to make many connections in his role as manager of the Lyceum…. He was to become well-known in theatrical circles and included amongst his friends and acquaintances people such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Buffalo Bill (Cody) and Mark Twain…. He was acquainted with William Gladstone, Theodore Roosevelt and Lord and Lady Randolph…. One of his closest friends was British novelist Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine (usually known as Hall Caine) – Bram dedicated his masterpiece ‘Dracula’ to his friend….

Hall Caine from a portrait by R E Morrison – Public domain

Henry Irving received a Knighthood in 1895 – he was the first actor to be knighted…. Bram accompanied Irving on many of his tours, particularly America but also to other parts of the world…. However, surprisingly, he never visited Eastern Europe – the setting for his masterpiece novel…. He was to set two of his novels in America and further novels in the small Scottish village of Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire – a place dear to him and where he would spend month long holidays…. It was here that he began to write ‘Dracula’ in 1895 – it is believed Dracula Castle may have been inspired by the nearby ‘Slains Castle’…. Further inspiration for the novel had already been received by a previous visit in 1890 to the North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby (which had also provided inspiration for another of his novels ‘The Snake’s Pass’ in 1890)…. ‘Dracula’ was finally published on the 26th of May 1897….

Slains Castle

The story of ‘Dracula’ involves Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, who when on a business trip stays at the Transylvanian Castle of Count Dracula…. Harker discovers that Dracula is a vampire and flees…. The Count follows him to England and begins to terrorise Whitby…. A group form, led by Abraham Van Helsing, to hunt Dracula down – which they eventually succeed to do and manage to kill him…. The book itself is written in the format of the diary entries and journals of the main characters….

Bram had met a Hungarian-Jewish writer, traveller and expert in Turkic languages and culture by the name of Armin Vambery…. Some say Vambery’s tales may have given Bram the idea for ‘Count Dracula’ – but there are others who dispute this…. Bram’s original idea as a title for his novel was ‘The Un-Dead’…. His Count was going to have been from Austria – and was to have been called ‘Wampyr’…. However, he found the name ‘Dracula’ whilst browsing in Whitby Library and thought it a more suitable name…. After its publication ‘Dracula’ was immediately well received – and has become one of the most successful literary works of all time…. Since publication it has never been out of print…. There have been several play versions of the novel and a film….

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, 1931 – Public domain

After a series of strokes Bram was to die at 26, St. George’s Square, his London home…. He was cremated and his ashes rest at Golders Green Crematorium, North West London…. An annual festival to honour the literary achievements of Bram Stoker is held in Dublin….

On this day in history….19th April 1989

On this day in history : 19th April 1989 – The death, in Cornwall, of English author and playwright Dame Daphne du Maurier – perhaps best known for her novels ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’….

Daphne du Maurier, Schiphol 1947 – Image credit : Ben van Meerendonk / AHF, collectie IISG, Amsterdam.

Daphne was born in London on the 13th of May 1907, into an artistic family…. Both of her parents were actors, her father being Sir Gerald du Maurier, the actor and manager…. She was educated at home by a governess, along with her two sisters – the eldest of which also became a writer and her younger sister, an artist….

The girls were brought up in a social household, where influential friends such as Edgar Wallace and J.M. Barrie would often visit…. The sisters were cousins of the Llewelyn-Davies boys, on whom Barry drew the inspiration for Peter Pan from….

Daphne, an avid reader from an early age, began to write in her teens…. Her love affair with Cornwall no doubt began in childhood, as the du Mauriers would often holiday there as a family…. There were indications that whilst growing up she was confused about her own sexuality – and it has been suggested since her death that she may have been bi-sexual…. In her own memoirs she talks of her father’s desire for a son – Daphne was always a bit of a tomboy and had said that she wished she had been born a boy…. There are those who take these notions even further to claim she had an incestuous relationship with her father and that he was an abusive alcoholic….

Daphne du Maurier circa 1930 – No copyright restrictions

Her first novel ‘The Loving Spirit’ was published in 1931…. She is often categorised as a romantic novelist – a label she despised…. Indeed her work is often moody, deep, dark, full of suspense and sometimes even includes the supernatural…. ‘Jamaica Inn’ was published in 1936 and ‘Rebecca’, perhaps her most successful novel, was published in 1938 – and was an instant best-seller…. Between 1938-1965 it sold some three million copies and has never been out of print…. Her other notable works include ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ (1941), ‘Hungry Hill’ (1943), ‘The King’s General’ (1946), ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (1951), ‘The Scapegoat’ (1957) and ‘The House on the Strand’ (1969)…. Several of her books have been adapted for stage or screen – or indeed even both…. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 production of ‘Jamaica Inn’ gave actress Maureen O’Hara her first major screen role, whereas his 1940 adaptation of ‘Rebecca’ was his first American film…. His 1963 film ‘The Birds’ was adapted from one of Daphne’s short stories of the same name…. She was also to write three plays….

Reconstruction of Daphne du Maurier’s study at the Smugglers Museum, Jamaica Inn, Cornwall – Image : Martinvl – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1932 Daphne married Frederick Browning, a senior British Army Officer, often referred to as the ‘Father of the British Airborne Forces’…. With the marriage came the title ‘Lady Browning’ – but Daphne continued to write under the name du Maurier….

Sir Frederick Browning, October 1942 – From the collections of the Imperial War Mueseums

The story goes that Browning had read Daphne’s ‘The Loving Spirit’ – and so impressed was he by her description of the Cornish coast that he had to see it for himself – which he did so, by visiting it onboard his boat…. He decided to leave his boat moored in Cornwall over winter and returned in April 1932 to collect it…. On hearing that Daphne was in Cornwall, convalescing from an appendix operation, he invited her out for a day’s sailing…. What followed was a whirlwind romance and he proposed….only for Daphne to decline- as she did not particularly believe in marriage…. However, it appears she was quite happy for them to cohabit – until it was pointed out to her by Browning’s friend and fellow senior officer, Eric Dorman-Smith, that simply living together would be disastrous for his career…. So Daphne then proposed to Browning – and the couple were married at the Church of St. Willow, Lanteglos-by-Fowey, South Cornwall on the 19th of July 1932…. They were to have three children – two daughters, Tessa and Flavia and a son, Christian, who was known as Kits…. It was sometimes a difficult marriage – Daphne had a tendency to distance herself from her family, especially when she was immersed in her writing….

Daphne du Maurier – Image credit : gnovi via Flickr

Browning died in 1965 of a heart attack – and Daphne moved to Par in Cornwall…. She was awarded Order of the British Empire as Dame Commander in 1969…. She passed away at the age of 81 at her Cornish home…. Her cremated ashes were scattered off the cliffs of Cornwall….

On this day in history….31st March 1981

On this day in history : 31st March 1981 – The death of author and playwright Enid Bagnold – best known for ‘National Velvet’, which was later to be made into a highly successful film….

Enid Bagnold – Public domain

Enid, the daughter of Arthur Henry Bagnold, an army colonel and his wife Ethel, was born in Rochester, Kent on the 27th of October 1889 – but she spent much of her childhood in Jamaica…. On her return to England she attended art school in London and was to mix with artists such as Walter Sickert and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska; she was to be romantically involved with Frank Harris, the Irish-American novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher – with his well-connected circle of friends and 34 years her senior….

During World War 1 Enid trained as a nurse but after complaining about the hospital administration she was dismissed and spent the rest of the War as a driver in France…. Her first books – ‘A Diary Without Dates’ in 1917 and ‘The Happy Foreigner’ in 1920, tell of her wartime experiences….

Enid was always a bit of a rebel…. Virginia Woolf once called her ‘a scallywag who married a very rich man’…. In 1920 she married the chairman of Reuter’s News Agency, Sir Roderick Jones – and became Lady Jones – although she continued to write under her maiden name…. The couple were to have four children – their great grand-daughter is Samantha Cameron, wife of the former Prime Minister David Cameron….

‘National Velvet’ was first published in 1935; the story of 14-year-old Velvet Brown – who trains her horse, ‘The Piebald’ and then rides to victory in the Grand National…. Enid was an accomplished horsewoman herself….and in her writing she created strong roles for women….

1st edition cover – fair use

In 1944 ‘National Velvet’ was made into a film with a 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor playing the part of Velvet…. It also starred Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp and Angela Lansbury….

Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and The Pie in National Velvet – Public domain

A 1978 sequel, ‘International Velvet’, was to follow, starring Tatum O’Neal as orphaned American teenager Sarah Brown…. After coming to England to live with her aunt, Velvet Brown – played by Nanette Newman – the pair purchase ‘Arizona Pie’, a descendant of the horse Velvet once owned….

Enid and her family lived at North End House, Rottingdean, near to Brighton…. It was the garden of her home that inspired her award winning play ‘The Chalk Garden’, which premiered on Broadway in 1955…. Its London debut, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, took place in April 1956, directed by John Gielgud it starred Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft and Rachel Gurney….

Part of the former home of Enid Bagnold in Rottingdean – Image credit : Luiza Serpa Lopes – own work – CC BY SA 3.0

It was later to be adapted into a film in 1964 – starring once again Edith Evans, with Deborah Kerr, Hayley Mills and John Mills….

Enid died in Rottingdean, aged 91….

On this day in history….30th March 1820

On this day in history : 30th March 1820 – The birth of English novelist Anna Sewell, who brought to us the story of the horse called ‘Black Beauty’….

Anna Sewell c.1878 – Public domain

Anna was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk…. Her father, Isaac Phillip Sewell, owned a small shop and her mother, Mary Wright Sewell, was a successful writer of books for children…. She had a younger brother, Philip and they were educated at home by their mother…. They were a devout Quaker family….

In 1822 Isaac’s shop went out of business and the Sewells moved to Dalton, London…. The family relocated again in 1832 to Stoke Newington – and for the first time in her twelve years Anna went to school…. It was two years later, as she was walking home in the rain, that she slipped and fell…. She injured her ankles so severely that she had to use a crutch for the rest of her life and was unable to walk any great distance…. She took to using horse-drawn carriages for her mobility and this is perhaps where her love of horses came from…. She was particularly concerned for their welfare and whether they were treated well….

In 1836 the family moved again, this time to Brighton with the hope that the climate and sea air would help Anna’s health and then in 1845 they settled in the village of Lancing…. Anna also travelled to Europe around this time to visit spas for treatments…. On her return the family were on the move again, to Wick in 1858 and Bath in 1864…. The family had grown, Philip had married but in 1866 his wife died – leaving him with seven young children to care for…. Anna and her parents returned to Norfolk, to the village of Old Catton, near to Norwich, so that they could help him…. It was here that ‘Black Beauty’ was written….

Anna Sewell’s house in Old Catton – Northmetpit – own work – Public domain

Anna wrote ‘Black Beauty’ between 1871 and 1877, it was to be her only book…. During these years she was often too weak to even leave her bed, she would often dictate her words to her mother…. Once complete ‘Black Beauty’ was sold to local publishers Jerrold & Sons…. The book broke all records for sales – it was the first of its kind, telling a story from the perspective of an animal rather than human….

‘Black Beauty’ tells the story of a black horse from his days as a colt with his mother, through his hard, cruel life of pulling cabs in London, to his retirement in the countryside…. The story deals with the difficulties in Victorian London, particularly amongst the horse-drawn cab drivers and the welfare of their animals…. It is a story of happiness, sadness, joy, fear and pain…. It brought awareness to its readers as to how many of the horses were treated…. Within two years a million copies of ‘Black Beauty’ had even been sold in the United States – where sympathy for these working horses grew….

Back in the United Kingdom animal rights activists widely distributed copies of the book…. It caused outrage amongst the public, many had been unaware of the amount of cruelty these animals had to endure…. Eventually legislation condemning the abusive behaviour was brought in….

On the 25th of April 1878, just five months after the publication of ‘Black Beauty’, Anna died – either of tuberculosis or possibly hepatitis…. She was buried in the Quaker burial ground in Lamas, near to Buxton, Norfolk….

First edition Jarrold & Sons – Public domain