Sunday 21 July 2019

175 Years of Spoonerisms

This week sees the 175th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (22nd July 1844). OK, so it's maybe not the most exciting historical fact you may have come across, but please bear with me and let me explain….

Oxford don Spooner was notable for his absent-mindedness and propensity to mix up his syllables and words, often to comic effect. These are now popularly known as spoonerisms.

Born in London and educated at Oswestry School, he went on to study at New College, Oxford where he remained for more than 60 years serving as a fellow, lecturer, tutor, dean and warden. He lectured on ancient history, divinity and philosophy. 

He was a very popular and amiable man, being highly respected by his peers. Described as “an albino", small with a pink face and having exceptionally poor eyesight, it is said that he had a head rather too large in proportion to the rest of his body.

He died in 1930 at the age of 86 and is buried in Grasmere Cemetery in Cumbria.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Sir Edmund Hillary - First Man to Conquer Mt Everest

100 years ago today, Sir Edmund Hillary - the first of two people (along with Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay) confirmed to have conquered Mount Everest - was born. 

Born in Auckland on July 20th, 1919, Hillary was part of the ninth British expedition to the World’s highest mountain, which was led by John Hunt (1953).

In NZRAF uniform
He first became interested in mountaineering at secondary school, making his first major climb in 1939 (Mount Ollivier in his native New Zealand) and after 2nd World War service in the NZ Royal Air Force, he was part of a British reconnaissance expedition to Everest in 1951, culminating in conquering the summit 2 years later.

Hillary talks of the 1953 Everest expedition

In future years he was to travel overland to the South and North Poles, becoming the first person to reach both poles and climb Everest. He also dedicated himself to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through his Himalayan Trust, which he led until his death.

Sir Edmund died of heart failure at Auckland City Hospital in January 2008. Flags were lowered to half-mast on all NZ public buildings and he was given a state funeral by his adoring nation.

Friday 19 July 2019

Seasons in the Sun

Terry Jacks’ 1974 hit “Seasons in the Sun” was a no.1 smash on both sides of the Atlantic and all around the world. 

Still heard on the radio on occasions, it was an English language adaptation of the song “Le Moribond” (The Dying Man) by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, with re-written English lyrics by American poet/singer Rod McKuen. It tells the story of an old man who is dying of a broken heart because of his unfaithful wife.

Originally released as far back as 1964 by the Kingston Trio, the song was latterly covered by Westlife in 1999, becoming a UK Christmas no.1.

Jacks’ version was originally meant to be released by the Beach Boys who had started to record the song with Jacks as producer. But when that version was abandoned, Terry Jacks decided to record the song himself in Vancouver, along with his then wife Susan in 1973. After an original release put out on his own Goldfish records label, Bell Records got hold of the track, promoting it to become a worldwide mega-hit.

“Seasons in the Sun” was followed up by another Brel/McKuen collaboration “If You Go Away” (previously “Ne Me Quitte Pas”) which was a minor hit in the UK. Subsequently, although he remained successful in his native Canada, his popularity waned elsewhere.

As the 1970s came to a close, Jacks withdrew from the music industry to become involved in environmental issues, focusing on pulp mill production in Canada earning him several awards. 

In the intervening years he has made the occasional foray back into the music world producing work for other artists and working with friend Alan Jardine and other members of the Beach Boys. In 2015 a double cd-set containing 40 of his favourite hits from the last 40 years was released.

Now 75 years old, Terry Jacks has not been in the best of health in recent years, suffering a stroke in 2016. Earlier this year there was a hoax report of his death, but as of writing he is alive and well.