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Category Archives: History

Winning the Grand National – Life Imitating Art

 

The Smile of Triumph

Saturday’s historic Grand National win by Rachel Blackmore on Minella Times, making her the first female jockey to win the race since it began in 1839, was thrilling in so many ways.

‘Now girls can dream’ Blackmore said afterwards in one of many press conferences.

But in fact Enid Bagnold, the novelist, had already had that dream, a dream which she wrote about in her 1935 classic novel National Velvet. Nine years later in wartime Hollywood, with palm trees appearing on the imagined Aintree racecourse, MGM turned the book into a hugely successful film, a box office hit that set the then unknown child actress Elizabeth Taylor firmly on the path to stardom. Taylor was a horse mad English child who happened to be living in America at the time. She was little more than ten when she first auditioned for the role and told me, 40 years later, when I was writing the biography of Bagnold, why getting the part had meant so much to her.  

I have interviewed Elizabeth Taylor twice and in November 2020, mid lockdown, I was asked by the BBC (with full Covid restrictions in force) about my memories of meeting the iconic actress.

Both my interviews were many years ago, ten years apart, but five minutes with Elizabeth Taylor is something never to be forgotten. I had fifty minutes twice. My reflections will appear, with impeccable BBC timing, this Saturday https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000vc82

Rachel Blackmore’s win is a triumph but it is worth also remembering that sometimes Life imitates Art and Enid Bagnold had imagined just this scenario almost ninety years ago, when no female jockeys were allowed. Another triumph, but of the imagination.

 

The Press Release for Ethel Rosenberg

The Press Release of Ethel Rose

After five years work the moment you read the press release is when you know it’s real … you still don’t have an actual book in your hands, the excitement of which for me has never lessened from that first book, with my name on the spine, many years ago. But the piece of paper announcing to the world what a great book is on its way is almost more important. This is the document that will decide its fate. An advance guard, leading from the front, the harbinger of bestsellerdom, the spearhead that will go ahead of you trumpeting to potential readers what they are about to discover. Read More

How to save Children from Warzones. Not by Boat

How to save Children from Warzones. Not by Boat

It’s a beautiful sunny day as I write this, one of the last of the summer’s blue sky weekends with many families outdoors making the most of the fine weather. But, just before the weather deteriorates and winter descends, everyone knows that hundreds more migrants will attempt to make the dangerous journey from Northern France to Southern England, across the Channel, some of them children apparently literally forced on to boats, not wanting to come and with no idea where they are when they get to the UK, because, it turns out, the organisers don’t get paid until they’ve put their human cargo on that last leg of the journey. Some of these refugees will die in the attempt.

The Home Office estimates that more than 5,600 migrants, most having fled some of the most desperately impoverished and war torn areas of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, have crossed the English Channel from France by sea in small boats already this year. The number has risen sharply over the summer and one young man was tragically found drowned after trying to leave the French coast even though he could not swim. Read More

A Room of one’s own… or not?

Some reflections on needing space to write, written before lockdown…

Published by Aurora Metro

By Anne Sebba

A Room of one’s own… or not?

Sitting, standing, working or simply being alone is a necessary condition for any writer. At least relatively alone. Some journalists are able to block out the background noises of a hectic newsroom and be alone in their heads to find the stillness and stimulation necessary to create. Luckily I trained in such a noisy, frenetic newsroom in the days when Fleet Street was synonymous with such places. I worked alongside reporters, often called firemen, never firewomen, who really did wear trench coats and dangled cigarettes as if they had just emerged from the set of a Hollywood detective movie. There were no remotely female friendly shops or cafes, just smoky pubs, where ‘a lead’ or ‘a scoop’ was discussed. It was the early 1970’s, less than 30 years after the end of World War 2. Yet I failed to realise how close it was to that War until I had to do nightshifts and would park just below St Paul’s in a bomb crater repurposed as a large open car park. On those occasions, the graveyard shift, the news floor was truly silent. But the rest of the time the shouting and bustle, fury and adrenaline (or was it testosterone?) trained me not to be precious about needing silence. But silence is precisely that: precious. Read More

Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago which I am reposting to mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR holds the hand of his granddaughter during the annual ‘March of the Living’ at Auschwitz in May 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)

A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR holds the hand of his granddaughter during the annual ‘March of the Living’ at Auschwitz in May 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)

What makes two people with identical backgrounds turn in completely opposite directions?  I have just finished a fascinating book called The Horror of Love by Lisa Hilton about the relationship between Nancy Mitford and her French lover, Gaston Palewski. I thought I knew all I ever needed to know about the Mitford sisters (and perhaps I did) but reading it made me struggle with this question once again? Of course with the Mitfords – Unity and Diana, the Hitler worshippers and Jessica, the communist – the problem is writ larger than in most families. Nancy vehemently opposed both extremes and devoted herself to writing (Love in a Cold Climate) not politics (Palewski was one of General de Gaulle’s closest advisers). Read More