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Archive for April, 2012

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The noble art has attracted some phenomenal fighters

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about boxing originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Jack Johnson, picture, image, illustration

Jack Johnson gives a hammering to Jim Jefferies

The publicity drums are due to start beating again soon for what must certainly be the most criticised and yet the richest event in sport – the heavyweight boxing championship of the world.

For 2,000 years, boxing has had its critics, Greek historians condemned it as “a barbaric spectacle.” The bare-knuckle prize-fighters of the 18th and 19th centuries ran the risk of interruption by the police and, even today, strict rules about the use of gloves and duration of rounds have to be observed if a fight is not to be considered illegal.

Those with no interest in sport will suddenly find themselves caught up in discussing Joe Bugner’s chances of taking the title from the mighty Muhammad Ali, and providing there are no last-minute snags, thousands more will flock to cinemas all over the world to watch the screening of an event which could last an hour or a few seconds.

World championship boxing, and particularly heavyweight boxing, has become big business, and it is not a logical case of the best meeting the next best to sort out who should have the rightful claim to be world champion. No single ruling body governs boxing and, only recently, we had 19 world champions in 11 weight divisions being recognised by the two ruling bodies.

While champions in the lower weights can always protect their title by taking on lesser rivals in over-weight contests, a heavyweight, logically, puts his title at stake every time he enters the ring.

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On August 6, 1945 a single atom bomb laid waste Hiroshima

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Hiroshima originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Hiroshima, picture, image, illustration


The citizens of Hiroshima were worried. And with good cause. For weeks now, the American bombers had carried out massive air raids on every major city and town in Japan with the exceptions of Kyoto and their own city.

It was possible, they knew, that Kyoto might continue to be spared because of its historical place in Japanese culture. But a commercially important town like Hiroshima, with its busy seaport, which was, moreover, being used as a transport base, could expect no such mercy. Soon now, therefore, it was inevitable that the bombers would come with their incendiaries which could wipe out half the town in a single raid.

The Government had done everything in its power to reduce the horrors that would follow in the wake of the bombers. Thousands had been persuaded to move into the country, and thousands more were packing their belongings to follow them, the schools had been closed, and the pupils had been set to work helping in the massive task of pulling down every building that constituted a fire hazard. Wide swathes, making natural fire breaks, now intersected the city at all points, a visible proof of their efforts.

Everything that could be done, had been done. But everyone knew in their hearts that it was not enough. It was the day of August 5th, 1945, the day before Hiroshima died.

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The perilous journey from tadpole to frog

Posted in Animals, Nature, Rivers, Wildlife on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about frogs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

frog, picture, image, illustration

Frog on a lily pad by Nadir Quinto

As winter slowly draws to an end and the first signs of spring appear, many members of the animal world begin to wake from their hibernation. Among these is the frog which emerges from its six-month sleep in its dark, muddy home at the bottom of a pond or of a ditch, to prepare itself for the busiest time of the year.

This begins in the middle of March which is the frogs’ pairing season. All over Britain, these remarkable-looking creatures, with their smooth, moist skin, and bulging eyes perched on top of the head, start to congregate in ponds to select their mates.

They return to the same ponds, and to the same part of the pond, year after year. The males arrive first and wait for the females to follow. The female lays her eggs a few weeks later and it is at this time that the males find their voices. They swell their throats and croak loudly, while the females chirp and grunt in reply.

While the male lies on her back, the female sheds her eggs, often totalling many thousands, and the male fertilises them as soon as they are laid. At first, the eggs sink to the bottom of the pond and are only about three millimetres in diameter. But their gelatinous covering soon absorbs the water, swells up to about seven millimetres, rises to the surface of the water, and there floats in a giant mass of spawn. Each of the jelly spheres has a black centre, which is the egg-proper.

It takes four weeks for these to develop into brown larvae or tadpoles. The head, body and tail, like those of a fish, merge one into another and bear no resemblance to the adults.

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Emperor Mitsuhito, the divine moderniser of class-riven, feudal Japan

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Emperor Mitsuhito originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Emperor Mitsuhito, picture, image, illustration

Mitsuhito, Emperor of Japan

Emperor Mitsuhito entered the council chamber in the slow-moving, dignified fashion that tradition required of him. His face wore the expression an Emperor was required to wear in public, the stern, haughty look the Japanese recognised as a sign of power and authority.

He swept a disdainful gaze over the group of government ministers who were making obeisance before him. As soon as he had appeared in the doorway, they had averted their eyes, dropped to their knees and placed their foreheads on the floor. There, they squatted doubled over in a pose of complete humility. Now, they addressed the Emperor in reverential tones.

“Divine one,” the ministers murmured. “Inviolable divinity of Japan. We exist to serve and obey the Emperor’s infallible will!”

“Rise, lowly servants!” the Emperor intoned in reply.

The ministers got up and stood with heads bowed, still not looking directly at the emperor as he moved towards his chair round the council table. Then, after a suitably respectful interval, they took their seats. Prince Ito Hirobumi, the prime minister, took his place next to the emperor and opened the file of government documents he had brought with him.

Inside the file, for discussion during the council meeting, were papers dealing with the formation of the first Japanese parliament, the setting up of European-style law courts, the formation of a modern, mechanised Japanese army and navy and also longer term plans for providing Japan with railways, electric lighting, tramways and telephones.

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Zola railed against the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about the Dreyfus Affair originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 695 published on 10 May 1975.

Alfred Dreyfus, picture, image, illustration

The humiliation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus

As he stepped into the courtyard, the drums began to roll.

The courtyard was packed with soldiers standing stiffly to attention, and as he walked past them between his escort, he wondered if they all really believed that he was guilty. If they did, he supposed it was not surprising. The press had reviled him throughout the trial, and the court martial had found him guilty. His own voice, protesting his innocence, had been ignored throughout the whole affair. Why should they not think anything but the worst?

The drums stopped rolling as he was led before General Darras. White faced, he listened to the sentence being read. Then the General was standing close to him, shouting in his face. “Alfred Dreyfus. You are unworthy to bear arms. In the name of the French people we degrade you!”

Alfred Dreyfus looked wildly around him. “Soldiers! An innocent man is dishonoured. . . . ” He was still protesting his innocence as the warrant officer stripped off his badges and buttons. Finally, the warrant officer removed the sword from its scabbard and broke it across his knees.

Outside the wall, the mob was howling for his blood.

This agonizing moment of shame was only the beginning.

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Fog in the country, smog in the town

Posted in Geography, London, Science, Sea on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about fog originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 695 published on 10 May 1975.

London fog, picture, image, illustration

A scene in London fog, once known as a pea-souper

With very little warning, fog will settle over land or sea. At sea, ships have to reduce speed and run the risk of collision, and on land, rail and road transport is reduced to a crawl.

It has been estimated that one day of heavy fog in a city like London costs over one million pounds. This huge bill is made up of delays to transport, working time lost through people being late for work, charges for extra lighting, and damage to goods.

If fog could be done away with, the gain to a country’s health and wealth would be enormous.

A great deal of Britain’s fog begins far out in the Atlantic. There currents of air warmed by the Gulf Stream take up water moisture from the sea.

The water is in the form of vapour, rather like the steam produced by water boiling in a kettle. But unlike steam from a kettle, the water vapour is invisible.

When the stream of warm air carrying the water vapour meets a cold layer of air or passes over cold ground, the water vapour in the air condenses. This means that it turns into water again.

The same thing happens when steam from a kettle strikes against the comparatively cold wall of the kitchen and trickles down as water.

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Montacute House – a masterpiece of late Elizabethan architecture

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Montacute House originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 695 published on 10 May 1975.

Montacute House, picture, image, illustration

The East facade of Montacute House

If you are spending a holiday in this area of Somerset, this splendid country mansion 5 miles from Yeovil, is well worth a visit. It has a magnificent frontage and is built of the local Ham Hill stone. It dates from about the year 1595, and is now the property of the National Trust.

It was erected for Sir Edward Phelips, a West Country lawyer, speaker of the House of Commons and Master of the Rolls during the reign of James I. It is obvious from even a cursory glance that no expense has been spared on the house and surroundings.

Outside the beautiful oriel windows, the open balustraded parapets which have statues of the Nine Worthies carved on them, are of unusual interest. The interior is fascinating because it retains much contemporary decoration. Heraldic glass, plaster work and panelling and a fine collection of tapestries, paintings and furniture are sights worth seeing.

Samurai swords have morphed into bamboo shinai

Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport, War, Weapons on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Kendo and the Samurai originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 695 published on 10 May 1975.

Samurai warrior, picture, image, illustration

Samurai warrior by Dan Escott

Karate, judo and kung-fu have been improved and adapted over the years, but they still exist in what is recognisably their original form, Kendo, “the way of the sword”, had very different beginnings, for it springs from an armed instead of an unarmed martial art.

“The way of the sword” was a vital phrase in a samurai warrior’s life, for it summed up the almost mystical feelings he had about his weapon. His own swordsmanship and the reputation of his terrible, two-handed fighting blade were all important, for to a samurai his sword was not just something to fight with. It was a prized family possession, an heirloom to be passed reverently from father to son and generally considered to have a “spirit” of its own.

Not surprisingly, the business of ordering a sword in old Japan was a serious matter, and the price was unimportant so long as the workmanship was of the best. But how did a samurai decide what was the best? Usually a new sword was subjected to very stringent tests. A famous warrior is said to have visited the workshops of many of the great 13th century swordmakers in search of a flawless weapon, and at each he was given an impressive demonstration of what each blade could do.

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Sir Walter Raleigh – poet, historian, explorer and scapegoat

Posted in English Literature, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Sir Walter Raleigh originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 695 published on 10 May 1975.

Execution of Walter Raleigh, picture, image, illustration

The execution of Sir Walter Raleigh by Oliver Frey

A grey-headed man in his middle sixties climbed on to the scaffold, where the executioner waited with his axe. The victim limped from an old leg injury, sustained in fighting for his country. Far from jeering, the watching crowd pitied the man who had been a soldier and sailor for England, a poet, and explorer, a queen’s favourite, but also regrettably a king’s enemy. The man in question was Sir Walter Raleigh. For twelve years he had been in the Tower, under sentence of death for plotting against James I. Although released to command a fruitless expedition to America, he had returned in disgrace, to suffer the fate which had hung over him for so long.

As he stood there, perhaps his last thoughts were not of courts or battles, but of the Devon lanes where he had spent his boyhood, and the village church where he had knelt beside his father so long ago.

Walter Raleigh’s father married three times, and had two daughters and four sons by different wives. The youngest son he named Walter, after himself. The boy could claim kin with some famous names through his relations – the Drakes, for instance, the Grenvilles, and the Gilberts, all Devon men. These uncles, cousins, and half-brothers became the young Walter’s boyhood heroes, and he often met them in his family circle.

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Cornwall is a remote land of Arthurian legend and heartless wreckers

Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Historical articles, History, Legend on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Cornwall originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 695 published on 10 May 1975.

Cornish smugglers, picture, image, illustration

Cornish smugglers

In a county in which smugglers once crept ashore with their contraband goods stands a symbol of the space age – a satellite communications station which is Britain’s electronic link with the world beyond the oceans.

Her decks awash, her holds filled with casks of Spanish wine, a storm-battered sailing ship groped her way through a swirling sea mist along the English Channel.

High above her decks, a lookout searched anxiously for a glimpse of lights that would mean a harbour and safety.

Suddenly through the mist, a light appeared and the ship quickly altered course towards it. A few moments later, with a crash of rending timbers, the ship broke her back on a rocky Cornish headland.

How was it that, guided by the light that should have led to safety, she had gone aground on that frightening night?

The answer is that the ship had been a victim of the dreaded Cornish wreckers – gangs who for centuries used lights to lure countless fine sailors and their ships to their doom so that they could steal the cargoes from the wrecks.

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