St George: Let's Hear it For England!
by Alison Maloney
Pope Gelasius, who canonized St George in 494, described him as one of those 'whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.' The story of England's Patron Saint is so encased in myth and legend that the truth of his remarkable life is unknown to the great majority of us.
In many ways the attitude of the English, reflects the many contradictions in the story of St George and the growth of his legend worldwide. A Christian martyr, murdered by a Roman emperor in Palestine, he is a legendary dragon-slayer who saved a virgin princess from sacrifice - but not before insisting her entire town converts to Christianity. Yet he is also the model for mythical Islamic hero Al Khidr. He is the Patron Saint of England but never set foot on English soil and the legend of his knightly deeds came from the imagination of a bishop in Italy.
In recent years, through national pride more than religious fervour, the popularity of St George's Day has risen sharply, with more parades, parties and pub get-togethers than we saw in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Steaming to Victory: How Britain's Railways Won the War
by Michael Williams
In the seven decades since the darkest moments of the Second World War it seems every tenebrous corner of the conflict has been laid bare, prodded and examined from every perspective of military and social history.
But there is a story that has hitherto been largely overlooked. It is a tale of quiet heroism, a story of ordinary people who fought, with enormous self-sacrifice, not with tanks and guns, but with elbow grease and determination. It is the story of the British railways and, above all, the extraordinary men and women who kept them running from 1939 to 1945.
Churchill himself certainly did not underestimate their importance to the wartime story when, in 1943, he praised the unwavering courage and constant resourcefulness of railwaymen of all ranks in contributing so largely towards the final victory.
And what a story it is.
The railway system during the Second World War was the lifeline of the nation, replacing vulnerable road transport and merchant shipping. The railways mobilised troops, transported munitions, evacuated children from cities and kept vital food supplies moving where other forms of transport failed. Railwaymen and women performed outstanding acts of heroism. Nearly 400 workers were killed at their posts and another 2,400 injured in the line of duty. Another 3,500 railwaymen and women died in action. The trains themselves played just as vital a role. The famous Flying Scotsman train delivered its passengers to safety after being pounded by German bombers and strafed with gunfire from the air. There were astonishing feats of engineering restoring tracks within hours and bridges and viaducts within days. Trains transported millions to and from work each day and sheltered them on underground platforms at night, a refuge from the bombs above. Without the railways, there would have been no Dunkirk evacuation and no D-Day.
Michael Williams, author of the celebrated book On the Slow Train, has written an important and timely book using original research and over a hundred new personal interviews.
This is their story.
The Animals' VC: For Gallantry or Devotion: The PDSA Dickin Medal Inspiring stories of bravery and courage
by David Long
The first recipients of the Dickin Medal in December 1943 were three pigeons serving with the Royal Air Force, all of whom contributed to the recovery of aircrew from ditched aircraft. The most recent to be honoured is Treo, a black Labrador, awarded for his 'heroic actions as an arms and explosives search dog in Afghanistan'. These true tales of heartrending devotion and duty are told from first hand accounts and from the citations themselves. There's Rip the terrier who is credited with saving upwards of 100 lives sniffing out survivors buried after bombing raids in WWII. Judy the pointer, hero of a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp. Simon the ship's cat who, though injured, continued to stay with his crew under fire. G.I. Joe the pigeon who saved the inhabitants of a village in Italy when she flew twenty miles in twenty minutes with a message to evacuate prior to a bombing raid. There's Buster, a spaniel who located an arms cache in Afghanistan saving the lives of countless soldiers.
Written in a spirit of celebration, and intended to provide a lasting memorial to these remarkable animals and the men and women who came to rely on them, these tales of courage and devotion will stay with the reader long after they have closed the book.
The Clue Bible: The Fully Authorised History of 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue', from Footlights to Mornington Crescent
by Jem Roberts
'It's a great missing piece of the jigsaw - people go on endlessly about Python and Peter Cook, which is all well and good but there's basically this great corpus of work stretching for decades - and consistently good. I mean very very few traditions ... I can't think of one! I mean, Christ, it's forty-five years! A major piece of work, and universally loved.'
So says John Lloyd, brains behind Blackadder, QI, Spitting Image, and so much besides - all shows with a massive debt to I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Together they form a body of work stretching across five decades, from Cambridge in 1960 to today's world-beating Antidote to Panel Games, a laughter-bringer which has inspired unparalleled adoration in millions over fifty series. The Clue Bible tells the whole story, from Footlights to Broadway to the ferret-filled madness of Radio Prune - comedy's answer to the rock & roll revolution of the sixties. Offering an exhaustive guide to the comedy world that brought us Mornington Crescent, besides episode guides, glossaries and rare facsimiles, the book will take the story right up to the present day, celebrating the lives of Willie Rushton, Sir David Hatch and of course, the irreplaceable Humphrey Lyttelton. With exclusive input from the Teams, plus Bill Oddie, Stephen Fry and many more, this is the long overdue authoritative, entertaining and above all, very silly lasting celebration of an unsung comic legacy that both shows so richly deserve.
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton
by Diane Atkinson
Westminster, London, 22 June 1836. It is a fine, fresh morning that will become hot as the day progresses. Crowds are gathering at the Court of Common Pleas.
On trial is Caroline Sheridan, a beautiful and clever young woman who had been manoeuvred into marrying the Honourable George Norton when she was just nineteen. Ten years older, he is a dull, violent and controlling lawyer but Caroline is determined not to be a traditional wife. By her early twenties, Caroline has become a respected poet and songwriter, clever mimic and outrageous flirt. Her beauty and wit attract many male admirers, including the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. After years of simmering jealousy, Norton accuses Caroline and the Prime Minister of a 'criminal conversation' (adultery) precipitating 'the scandal of the century'. In Westminster Hall that day is a young Charles Dickens, who would, just a few months later, fictionalise the event as 'Bardell v. Pickwick' in The Pickwick Papers. After a trial lasting twelve hours, the jury's not guilty verdict is immediate, unanimous and sensational. Norton is a laughing stock. Angry and humiliated he cuts Caroline off, as was his right under the law, refuses to let her see their three sons, seizes her manuscripts and letters, her clothes and jewels, and leaves her destitute.
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton is the extraordinary story of one woman's fight for the rights of women everywhere. For the next thirty years Caroline campaigned for women and battled male-dominated Victorian society, helping to write the Infant Custody Act (1839), and influenced the Matrimonial Causes (Divorce) Act (1857) and the Married Women's Property Act (1870), which gave women a separate legal identity for the first time.