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Archive for July, 2012

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Counting the financial cost of staging the Olympic Games

Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport on Tuesday, 31 July 2012

This edited article about the Olympic Games originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 757 published on 17th July 1976.

Olympics, picture, image, illustration

The Magic of the Olympics by Ron Embleton

When the Olympic flame fades and finally dies at the Closing Ceremony of the XXIst Olympiad in Montreal’s huge new stadium on August 1, marking the end of the world’s biggest sports occasion, Canada will be left with memories – and a bill for about £650 million.

Of this, only about £200 million will have already been accounted for, and the Canadian taxpayer will be paying for the rest until well into the 1980s.

They are not the first people to discover that the golden dream of an Olympics has turned into a nightmare of expense. Their neighbours, the United States, had a shattering experience of this in the previous decade.

The VIIIth Winter Olympic Games (the Winter Games began in 1924 – 28 years after the summer event started) were held in Squaw Valley, California. Twelve years later, people living in the state were still paying for them.

Staging the modern Olympics has nearly always resulted in financial loss for the organisers. The first, held in Athens in 1896, would not have been held had not a rich Greek businessman personally paid for the building of the main stadium. All he got in return was a statue erected to his memory on the site – he was too ill even to attend the Games himself.

At that first Olympics there were 285 competitors from 13 nations taking part in 10 sports. At Montreal, there will be over 9,000 competitors and officials from probably nearly 100 countries and 21 sports spread over as many venues.

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Alexander the Great and the legendary city of Alexandria

Posted in Ancient History, Architecture, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Sea, Trade, War on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about Alexandria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

Pharos at Alexandria, picture, image, illustration

The Pharos at Alexandria

It was an Egyptian donkey who rediscovered the long-lost catacombs of Alexandria. Bound for the local market, both the donkey and the cart it had been pulling quietly vanished into a hole that had suddenly appeared in the road. Peering over the edge of the opening, the startled owner discovered that his animal had dropped through the crumbling roof of ancient funeral chambers. They dated back two thousand years and archaeologists had long given up hope of seeing them again, for the remains of Alexander the Great’s legendary city lie entombed beneath the concrete foundations of its modern counterpart.

Alexander of Macedon was 24 years old when he decided to found a city that would be a centre of Greek culture in Egypt and would also provide a secure naval base for his planned attack on Persia. The position he chose was ideal, for the site lay on a narrow strip of land separating Lake Mareotis from the Mediterranean, with two fine natural harbours. It was a position that would prove equally suitable for a trading centre and as a base in war.

Like the invasion of Persia, the founding of a city was a massive project for a young man in his early twenties, but Alexander already had an amazing record of achievement that forced older men to take him seriously. As the son of King Philip of Macedon, he had never had to work his way up the military ladder and had commanded his first expedition at the head of an army when he was only sixteen. Even if he had not been a prince, Alexander must still have climbed to the top in a very short time, for he was a born leader of men.

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Arctic explorer Baron Nordenskjold and his famous ship, the Vega

Posted in Exploration, Historical articles, History, Ships on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about the Vega originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

Baron Nordenskjold, picture, image, illustration

Baron Nordenskjold, the great Arctic explorer, with the Vega

Nils Adolf Eric Nordenskjold, stands out as one of the great giants of Arctic exploration. Equally famous is his ship, Vega, which took him on his famous voyage through the North-East Passage to the Pacific.

He was born a Finn, but because of his political activities, he had to leave his native home in his mid-twenties. From then on, Stockholm became his adopted city.

He soon became obsessed with the idea of arctic exploration, and spent several years exploring those hostile regions.

By 1864, he had become well known enough to be made the leader of an expedition, equipped to winter on Spitzbergen. The occasion produced the most comprehensive data so far on any arctic land. He made two attempts on the Pole, using Spitzbergen as a base, and in 1868 reached the farthest point north yet attained by a ship. Four years later he tried again, this time using reindeer-drawn sledges. Unfortunately, he smashed the runners on the rough ice and had to give up.

After making a trip to the ice-cap of Northeast Land and the ice-cap of Greenland, he became interested in the activities of the whaling ships, and then by the vast expanse of unknown water along the Siberian coast.

He did not see it as the romantic route to Cathay as others had done, but rather as an advantageous trade route.

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Peg Woffington was Garrick’s Cordelia and England’s greatest actress

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Theatre on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about Margaret Woffington originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

Peg Woffington, picture, image, illustration

Peg Woffington by William Hogarth

All day long the little girl had trudged the streets of Dublin, cold and weary with fatigue. No-one, it seemed, wanted to buy her wares that day, and home she went yet again without a penny in her pocket to show for the long, hard day’s work behind her.

With aching feet, she left the house for the second time that day, and walked down to the River Liffey, a pitcher on her head, to fetch some water.

As she made her way back, she heard footsteps following and quickened her pace. Back inside the house, the child heard a knock at the door and when her mother had opened it, she could hear a strange voice. It was a foreign lady asking if she might be allowed to come in and have a talk.

So began the career of one of the world’s finest and most beautiful actresses. The story of Margaret Woffington, the little girl from the slums of Dublin who grew up to become queen of the English stage, astonished and delighted even the tempestuous world of the 18th century theatre.

Peg, as she always called herself, would become a legend in her own lifetime. She has remained one ever since.

The strange foreign lady who had watched the pretty dark-haired girl walk through the city with such elegance and natural grace, selling her bunches of watercress and lettuce, was the famous Madame Violante, renowned for her troupe of Lilliputians – child actors who played all the roles in famous plays and operas.

What she offered Peg’s poor, widowed mother that evening seemed like riches beyond compare. For 50p a week Peg became a Lilliputian, excelling in the parts of old women and in delighting audiences with her charming little dances between acts.

She was an ideal apprentice, and it was not long before she had learned stage presence and mastered every act and trick of her profession.

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Charles I and the Royalist cause were fatally wounded at Marston Moor

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about the Battle of Marston Moor originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

Prince Rupert, picture, image, illustration

Prince Rupert at Marston Moor

The battle of Marston Moor was the most important of all the battles of the English Civil War. The battle of Naseby which followed sealed the fate of King Charles I, but the victory of the Parliamentary army at Marston Moor was the turning point. From then onwards, the king’s cause rapidly declined, and although the struggle continued for another four years, its ultimate failure was never in doubt.

Yet at the beginning of the year of 1644, the outlook for the Parliamentary party had been a gloomy one. Except for the Eastern counties, where they held undisputed sway, and in the Midlands, where the two parties were evenly divided, the Royalist power was everywhere predominant. Charles I was, in fact, master of two-thirds of the country.

If Charles, who was holding Oxford in the latter part of 1643, had advanced on London then, he might have ended the war with a single blow. Partly because of his own hesitation and partly because the Royalists in the west and north were too involved in their own military operations to help, the opportunity was lost. In the meantime, in London and in Essex, recruits to the Parliamentary Army were pouring in. By the January of the following year, the king’s position was further weakened when Parliament persuaded the Scottish Presbyterians to join their cause, an event which was marked by the crossing of the Tweed by 21,000 Scotsmen, fortified for the coming battles with the firm conviction that they were embarking on the Lord’s work.

It was perhaps one of the most humourless armies ever to go on the march. Each regiment had its own minister, and besides morning and evening prayers, long sermons were delivered twice daily every Sunday. Plundering, and drunkenness while on guard duty, were punishable by death, and soldiers who swore on the Sabbath were forced to make their repentance in front of the whole army.

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BOAC and civil aviation’s fleet of famous Comets

Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Technology, Transport, Travel on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about civil aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

BOAC Comet 4, picture, image, illustration

BOAC’s Comet 4 by Roy Cross

On May 2nd, 1952, BOAC made commercial airline history when the de Havilland Comet I, its first jetliner, left London Airport for Johannesburg and inaugurated the world’s first pure jet passenger service. BOAC began to leap triumphantly ahead of its competitors on the South African and then the Far East routes. Comet Is took over the London-Tokyo link slashing 50 hours off the Argonaut’s time.

Flying by Comet was air travel at its best. Inside the cabin there was hardly any noise and no vibration whatsoever. Passengers could stand a pencil upright on the table in front of them. It was almost like magic – it just stayed upright! The cruising speed was over 450 mph when flying at around 40,000 feet, and everyone who flew in the Comet, both crew and passengers, agreed that this was the finest aircraft in the world – and it was British.

BOAC were optimistic. With the introduction of the Comet, which would halve the times of current schedules, the Management stated in the report for 1952/53: “To halve the travel time across the world . . . is the most signal advance in international transport that we and our predecessors in title have been privileged to make in our history. BOAC has fathered the jet age in civil aviation, as in the past we pioneered the Empire routes and as in the future we intend to girdle the earth with all-British air services.

“. . . the first phase of the jet age is now over, with the Comet I established in service and extending its operations along the main arteries of the Commonwealth. The second phase is soon to come with the Comet 2s and the Britannia in partnership providing express jet and tourist services. We plan a third phase in the battle for supremacy of equipment to bridge the Atlantic with long-range jets flying in step with time.”

Within twelve months of this report, in May 1953, a Comet met with disaster near Calcutta. The crew of six and the 37 passengers were killed. In January 1954 another accident occurred off the island of Elba. The crew of six and 35 passengers lost their lives. The Comets were temporarily taken out of service for modifications. In March the same year, after a machine of South African Airways exploded off Naples killing the crew of seven and 14 passengers, all the Comets were grounded. The aircraft’s certificate of airworthiness was withdrawn.

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Boys became heroes during the Luftwaffe’s Blitz on British cities

Posted in Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about the Home Front originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

London Blitz, picture, image, illustration

Firefighters during the London Blitz by Harry Green

In blinding, choking dust, air raid wardens crawled over the mass of brick, masonry and wood that, five minutes before, had been an underground shelter in Manchester.

Suddenly, someone called for silence and a stillness filled the dust laden air. Through it the faint sound of knocking and muffled shouts could be heard. The wardens at once began to shift the rubble frenziedly with their bare hands.

For two hours they toiled with frantic effort while the raid went on with unabated fury. The whine of falling bombs and the vivid flashes as they exploded sometimes seemed near enough to be touched. At last a hole was made leading down through the debris. It was only a small hole and it needed someone small to struggle into it.

Ronald Orme, aged 16, was the immediate volunteer, and he was in the hole in a trice. More frantic digging – then he reached the imprisoned men and women, blackened faces staring out in disbelief at him and the small ring of daylight beyond. Bearing the weight of the mass of rubble on his shoulders, Orme helped them out one by one.

There were babies in the shelter, too, babies whose thin wailing was drowned in the smash of bombs, the ugly droning of the enemy planes overhead and the bark of the anti-aircraft guns.

Slowly, painfully, young Ronnie Orme lifted the first of them to the surface. Then he took off his helmet and, holding it over the baby, ran with it to safety. He returned for another and another, and still another.

For eleven hours that night, the Germans raided Manchester and for eleven hours Ronnie Orme worked without a break. It was 7 a.m. before he decided to call it a night and go home for breakfast.

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How the Hohenzollerns forged the destiny of Europe in their imperial ambitions

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, War, World War 1 on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about the Hohenzollerns originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

Frederick the Great, picture, image, illustration

Frederick the Great by Dan Escott

On 9th November, 1918, when the roar of the guns along the Western Front was succeeded by the roar of rebellious crowds in the streets of Berlin demanding an end to war, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany slipped across the frontier into exile in Holland. His abdication ended the rule of the Hohenzollerns, a dynasty whose destiny it was to furnish a line of princes in the state of Brandenburg from 1415 to 1701, a line of kings in Prussia, beginning in 1701, and a line of emperors of Germany, beginning in 1871.

Where did they come from, these harsh, military men? From Swabia, which was in the Middle Ages a dukedom lying in southern Germany. There, from a castle on a hill (hence their name) the Hohenzollern counts began to build up their power. By conquest and by marriage they extended their state to such a degree that Duke Frederick VI was appointed governor of the province in northern Germany called Brandenburg and in 1415 became one of the ‘electors’ of the Holy Roman Emperor.

In the sixteenth century the house produced few great rulers but many who were sufficiently astute to extend their lands by marrying into the ruling families of the states around them, by skilful bargaining at conference tables and, during the Reformation, by adopting the Lutheran faith. Indeed, they changed to the still more extreme faith of Calvinism in order to strengthen their claim to some nearby territory.

It was in the seventeenth century that the first major Hohenzollern emerged – Frederick William I, the ‘Great Elector’. He came to power in 1640 and, playing off the great powers around him against one another, added considerable tracts of land to his province, particularly the dukedom of Prussia. At the same time he began to build an efficient army and also enriched his lands by inviting foreigners to settle there and practise new industries; Huguenots fleeing from France were especially welcome.

He left his successor, Frederick III such an impressive legacy that the new elector successfully demanded for Brandenburg-Prussia the status of a kingdom. In 1701 Frederick became Frederick I, ‘King in Prussia’.

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The historical geography of East Africa and the Great Rift Valley

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Exploration, Geography, Historical articles, History, Wildlife on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about East Africa originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

Stanley meets Livingstone, picture, image, illustration

H M Stanley found Dr Livingstone living near the shores of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa by Severino Baraldi

Once a favourite field of adventure for explorers who took their lives in their hands; now the home of newly emergent nations, and a paradise for tourists and naturalists – that is East Africa. It owes its special character largely to a geological “accident”.

Most of Africa originally consisted of a vast plateau. This can be recognised even now from a relief map; though the huge tableland has been cut by rivers, and at various points, especially round the rim, mountains have appeared.

At one point in time there was an exceptionally violent disturbance of the pattern in the east, as can be seen by the tangled network of mountains, valleys and lakes that exist there. This extends about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from north of the Zambezi River as far as the Red Sea coast.

This subterranean disturbance caused deep faults, or fractures, in the rock strata. When two such faults happen to run parallel, or approximately so, the earth’s crust between them tends to sink as a solid block, while the broken edges on either side frequently tilt upwards. In this manner a deep, steep-sided valley is formed, known as a “rift valley”.

The Great Rift Valley which is such a striking feature of East Africa is not really a single valley, despite its name. Nor is it confined to Africa. The Red Sea itself is part of the system, and it continues northwards, through the Gulf of Akaba, to the valleys of the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, on Israel’s eastern borders.

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Colonel Blashford-Snell’s thoughts on the explorer’s most useful qualifications

Posted in Adventure, Africa, Exploration, Historical articles on Monday, 30 July 2012

This edited article about modern exploration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 756 published on 10th July 1976.

Blashford-Snell's Congo expedition, picture, image, illustration

Colonel Blashford-Snell’s Congo Expedition by Graham Coton

The massive hippo watched the approaching rubber boat with interest. Her tubby six-month-old calf nuzzled against its mother’s muddy side. As the craft got nearer, the noise of the outboard motor worried the hippos. Indeed, to them it looked as if a strange, bulbous, grey animal, making a buzzing noise, was coming to attack.

The hippo mother decided she must act. Pushing her youngsters firmly aside, she opened her great mouth, revealing sets of enormous teeth – and charged!

The men in the boat had only wanted to get a close look at this interesting African river beast, but now to their horror they found themselves gazing straight into its awful jaws as it bore down on them with frightening speed.

The hippo’s first bite tore a wide hole in the bow, releasing the air that kept the tubes of the rubber boat inflated. The hissing effect angered the beast even more, so she bit her enemy again. This time she destroyed the boat’s stern, and with her next attack, she demolished what remained of the craft.

But by now the hippo had swallowed so much of the escaping compressed air that she backed away and gave a long burp! Very luckily another boat was nearby and the men were rescued in the nick of time! Everyone was very shaken and the boat was destroyed.

This was just one of the many exciting incidents that happened to members of a large British expedition that travelled down the 2,700-mile (4,300-km) Zaire River last year.

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