Category Archives: popular culture

The Magnet

I gave my Magnet talk at Manchester yesterday. That’s one I really enjoyed researching, but I ought to move on now. I had intended to publish the paper on this blog, but I now think I’d rather wait, and incorporate it into a longer piece of writing about ways in which popular culture found ways […]

Talbot Mundy… and the Magnet again

It’s India month at the Sheffield Popular Fiction Reading Group, and my report on Talbot Mundy’s King of the Khyber Rifles can now be read online on the group’s blog. Like Buchan’s Greenmantle, also published in 1916, this is a story about one man sent to combat a Turkish plan to inflame the Empire’s Muslims […]

‘Dawn’: Edith Cavell and the censors

On Saturday, at the splendid Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, we had a rare chance to see the 1929 film Dawn, about Edith Cavell. It’s a remarkable film, and it was made more enjoyable by the four short talks that preceded it.

Who read the ‘Magnet’?

In its heyday the Magnet sold over 200,000 copies a week. Since many copies were likely to have been shared, passed around or swapped the readership would have been higher than this. In 1916, the magazine printed this page of readers’ photos. One wears a a straw boater and one a yarmulke; others wear cloth […]

A Pacifist at St. Jim’s

The most famous protest against the war in 1917 was Siegfried Sassoon’s. Much less well-remembered is the sudden and vocal conversion to pacifism of Skimpole, of St Jim’s School, as recorded in the Gem comic.

Billy Bunter versus the Suffragettes

This November I’ll be giving a talk on the wartime Magnet comics to the Being Young in World War One conference in Manchester. I’ll be arguing that the comics had a nuanced approach to the war, remaining firmly patriotic while suggesting that the demands of war should not make people forget the civilised decencies of […]

On the night that the old cow died

You look for one thing and find another. I was checking a reference in the New Statesman of 1917 (in the pleasant Archive Room of the newly restored Central Reference Library in Manchester), and flicked through the rest of the bound volume to see what else was interesting. Much was – a grudging review of […]

Who’s the man with the big red nose?

The most enigmatic of the songs collected in F.T. Nettleingham’s Tommy’s Tunes (1917) is, in its entirety, this: (Click the picture for a better view) Wondering what this was about, I’ve searched the Internet, and found an Australian drinking song – I think the sort where you have to down the pint before they end […]

Square jaws, trench music and a grim Christmas story

I’m still looking for, and finding,  anecdotes about British soldiers and their songs and music. Here’s a story from The Square Jaw, the English translation of La Mâchoire Carrée (1917), an account of fighting in the British part of the line, by the French journalists Henry Ruffin et André Tudesq. It compresses a lot of […]

Unfair to Bloomsbury

In yesterday’s episode of Life in Squares, the BBC drama serial about the Bloomsbury Group, the First World War came and went. It incommoded them slightly, one gathered. The chaps had to get themselves muddy on a farm, pretending that they were doing work of national importance to avoid conscription, and all of them got […]


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