More Brief Lives

Charles Brooke: deemed jam effeminate, had albatross’s eye

Following last week’s startling (and succinct) biographies of, among others, John Lennon and Franz Schubert, Frank provides more exclusive extracts from his forthcoming reference work, a modern Brief Lives…

Anderson, John Henry (British magician, 1814 – 1874). The first magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat, Anderson also did a trick which he described as “a Grand Ambidexterological Illusion with 12 Handkerchiefs, into which will be introduced the Enchanted Loaf and Learned Bottle, the Animated Orange and the Invisible Pigeon”.

Brooke, Charles (British, Rajah of Sarawak, 1829 – 1917). An austere character, Brooke deemed jam “effeminate” and replaced his glass eye with one taken from a stuffed albatross.

Callaghan, James (British politician and Prime Minister, 1912 – 2005). When Tom Driberg married Ena Binfield in 1951, Callaghan gave them as a wedding present four ashtrays, two of which were broken.

Charles I (British king, 1600 – 1649). According to John Selden, during Charles’ reign, there was “nothing but Trenchmore & the Cushion dance, Omnium gatherum, tolly polly, hoyte come toyte”.

Gibson, Willie (Irish, 2nd Baron Ashbourne, 1868 – 1942). An enthusiastic Gaelic nationalist, Gibson was rumoured to keep a tortoise in his sporran.

Leopold II (Belgian king, 1835 – 1909). King Leopold’s daily breakfast consisted of six poached eggs, an enormous number of slices of toast, and an entire jar of marmalade.

Russell, Ken (British film director, 1927 – 2011). According to Glenda Jackson, the only direction Russell ever gave to his actors was to say “It needs to be a bit more … urrrgh”, or “a bit less hmmm”.

Stein, Gertrude (American writer, 1874 – 1946). Stein liked to write while looking at cows. She and Alice B Toklas would drive around until they found a suitable spot, then Stein would sit on a campstool armed witb pad and pencil, while Toklas coaxed a cow into her line of vision.

Wesley, Samuel (British clergyman and poet, 1662 – 1735). On Christmas Day 1716, Wesley was haunted by an apparition of a badger with no head. It was called Jeffrey.

ADDENDUM : There was a grave and inexplicable omission from last week’s entry for Bernard Levin. The correct version is as follows:

Levin, Bernard (British writer, 1928 – 2004, also a refrigerator) Massive, unflagging, moral, exquisitely shaped, enormously vital, enormously funny, strong, supple, human, ripe, generous and graceful. For the refrigerator, see Tippett, Michael.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

7 thoughts on “More Brief Lives

    Daniel K
    September 13, 2013 at 13:33

    I like this idea a lot.

    September 13, 2013 at 15:04

    Missing from Jim Callaghan’s kennel club pedigree is the fact that he barked, mostly when presented with facts.

  3. Gaw
    September 13, 2013 at 17:16

    Wonderful stuff, Frank. I feel you may have struck on what could be a perfect Christmas stocking filler. Someone tell someone who can do something about it about it.

    • Frank Key
      September 13, 2013 at 17:33

      The proposed book will require hundreds of entries, and will take years to compile.

      • Gaw
        September 13, 2013 at 20:59

        ‘Hundreds of entries…years to compile’ – so lots of sequels that you could string out for an indefinite period. Could be a nice earner.

      September 13, 2013 at 17:54

      I’ve already offered to publish it under the Dabbler Editions label. Frank’s sitting on a goldmine.

    September 15, 2013 at 20:31

    I agree, I see commercial potential here. Maybe not one huge book, but as Gaw suggests, a series of smaller ones. Like Ruskin’s Modern Painters crossed with John Lloyd’s Meaning of Liff.

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