Marianne North – Globetrotting Flower-painter

Nige pays tribute to the extraordinary Victorian spinster, globetrotter, botanist, artist and 'very wild bird', Marianne North... Tomorrow marks the birthday of the brilliant flower painter and tireless traveller Marianne North (born 1830), who, even by the standards of intrepid, globetrotting Victorian spinsters, was pretty extraordinary. In an age before jet ... Read More...

Christopher Ricks on Keats and Embarrassment

Nige salutes the extraordinary lit-crit of Christopher Ricks... Despite the heat having knocked out most of the thinking parts of my brain, I've been reading (technically re-reading, as I read it when it came out some 40 - 40! - years ago) Christopher Ricks's Keats and Embarrassment. It presents the poet's ... Read More...

John Newton – Amazing Life

Today is the 189th birthday of John Newton, a man whose life, even in outline, reads like fiction. Born on this day in 1725 into a family of merchants, John Newton went to sea with his father at the age of 11, was later press-ganged into the Royal Navy, attempted to ... Read More...

Dame Barbara Cartland: Pioneer of Aerotowing

It's Barbara Cartland's birthday! Nige celebrates Britain's most multi-'talented' Dame.... Had she not been cruelly plucked from us at the age of 98, Dame Barbara Cartland - socialite, celebrity, figure of fun, self-appointed expert on many things, tireless self-publicist and staggeringly prolific romantic novelist - would have been 113 today. She ... Read More...

George Sanders – Professional Cad

Today marks the 108th birthday of George Sanders, the debonair actor who called his autobiography 'Memoirs of a Professional Cad'... Born on this day in 1906 - in St Petersburg, whence his family wisely returned to England in 1917 - was the actor George Sanders. With his good looks and crisp, ... Read More...

The sheer unlikeliness of CB Fry

'His party trick was to jump backwards onto a mantelpiece from a standing position'. Jon Hotten salutes the incomparable sporting Renaissance man, CB Fry... John Arlott called him 'the most variously gifted Englishman of any age,' and Arlott, conjuring his musty magic from an old typewriter set next a glass of ... Read More...

Jack Buchanan: Last of the Knuts

Nige remembers one of the great entertainers... The Dumbartonshire-born Jack Buchanan (2 April 1891 – 20 October 1957) was one of the great comic actors and song and dance men of his time, and, to quote no less an authority than The Times, 'the last of the knuts'. The what? you ... Read More...

Gustave Verbeek, Upside-down Cartoonist

Brit's Dabbler Diary will return next week. In the meantime, here's a piece discovered deep within the archives about a very unusual cartoonist... I have in my possession a little book, subtly entitled: FOUR CONFUSING TALES each illustrated by six UP-TURNABLE PICTURES from the incredible TOPSY-TURVY world of GUSTAVE VERBEEK. It has to be ... Read More...

Dabbler Heroes – Elizabeth David

It's Boxing Day, and today marks the centenary of the birth of food writer Elizabeth David who, Toby Ash believes, still has more to offer the modern domestic kitchen than all of today’s celebrity chefs put together. I just can’t imagine Elizabeth David stealing from Tesco. No, not Elizabeth. She was ... Read More...

Dabbler Heroes – Zane Grey

Nige on the man's man with the girl's name... Talking of names (as we were last week), I was delighted to learn that Zane Grey, the tough-nut writer of pulp westerns - who died, very rich and famous, on this day in 1939 - was christened Pearl. He soon dropped this ... Read More...