June 1st 1967: Sgt. Pepper released

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The final version of the Sgt. Pepper album cover – which has now become famous

On this day in the 1967 the British band The Beatles released their iconic album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Their eighth album, Sgt. Pepper was an experimental piece as one of the world’s first concept albums, and represented a marked break from the Beatles’ earlier work. The concept of the album came from bassist Paul McCartney and is that the album is being performed by a fictional band – the titular ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Each Beatle took on a new persona in the band, most prominently drummer Ringo Starr as Billy Shears.

 

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The picture of the band in the album (from left: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison)

 

Having decided to stop touring in 1966, the band were freer to write songs that would be difficult to play live, including the famous ‘A Day In The Life’. Other songs on the album have acquired equally legendary status, including ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. The album cover was designed by artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth based on a sketch by McCartney, and featured cut-outs of famous figures. The figures depicted include Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Peel, Stuart Sutcliffe, Laurel and Hardy, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde and wax versions of the Beatles themselves; John Lennon was denied his request to feature Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ. This article gives a great account of the reasoning behind some of the choices and includes a handy chart to help identity the figures behind the band. Sgt. Pepper was an instant success, spending 22 weeks at the top of the UK album chart and winning four Grammy Awards; it is still considered one of the band’s best albums and one of the greatest albums of all time.

 

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Outtakes from Sgt. Pepper cover shoot (source, and for more of the alternate covers: http://www.thatericalper.com/2014/02/24/outtakes-from-the-beatles-sgt-pepper-cover-shoot/)

 

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May 20th 1806: John Stuart Mill

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John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)

 

On this day in 1806, the British philosopher John Stuart Mill was born in London. Mill hailed from a prominent family, and received a stellar education in his youth; he was reading Herodotus and Aesop by the time he was eight years old. This strenuous study later contributed to a nervous breakdown he suffered in his early twenties. Mill spent some time working for the East India Company, all the while developing his Utilitarian philosophy which was inspired by the works of Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism is the philosophy that the moral course of action is the one which would bring about the most total pleasure and minimise suffering; it is essentially the doctrine of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’. Mill’s Utilitarianism took a more qualitative approach to pleasure in comparison to the quantitative Bentham. Having published his important work ‘On Liberty’ in 1859, Mill became an MP for Westminster in 1865, and was actively involved in liberal politics. In 1869 he published ‘The Subjection of Women’, a statement of feminism which was considered radical at its time, and was the first MP to call for female suffrage. Along with his wife Harriet, who was a huge influence on Mill’s thinking, he was a prominent advocate of social reform and left behind a great corpus of philosophical writings and social commentary. Mill died in 1873, and was buried alongside his wife who had died in 1858.

 

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Mill’s grave in Avignon, France – his wife Harriet is also buried there

“It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”
– John Stuart Mill in ‘Utilitarianism’ (1861)

May 14th 1881: Mary Seacole dies

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Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881)

 

On this day in 1881 the nurse Mary Seacole died in London aged 76. Originally from Jamaica, the young Mary was taught her nursing skills by her mother. When war broke out in the Crimea, she applied to give medical assistance to wounded servicemen but was refused, and so gave treatment independently. Her patients admired ‘Mother Seacole’ and helped raised money for her after the war when she was left destitute. Despite her exemplary national service and popularity in Britain, Seacole faced discrimination at home due to her race and was unable to vote or hold public office.

 

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Blue plaque outside Seacole’s London home

 

She has often been forgotten and placed in the shadow of famous Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale, a phenomenon which some critics consider a ‘whitewashing’ of British history. Seacole should be the household name that Nightingale is – they each were heroines of the Crimean War who put themselves in danger to help their country. However it should be noted that in 2004 Seacole was voted the greatest Black Briton, so she certainly is beginning to receive the attention a woman like her deserves.

May 12th 1937: George VI crowned

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A stamp commemorates the coronation

 

On this day in 1937, the coronation of King George VI of the United Kingdom was held at Westminster Abbey, London. He became King upon the abdication of his older brother Edward VIII who left the throne in order to marry the divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. George never expected to become King, but when the role was thrust upon him became one of Britain’s most loved monarchs. A resurgence of interest in the life of George VI occurred after the release of the Oscar-winning 2010 film ‘The King’s Speech’ which detailed the reluctant King’s struggle with his crippling stutter.

 

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The royal family (Queen Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and King George VI) wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

 

He ruled during the Second World War, and he and his wife Elizabeth were a great morale boost for the nation. However the war was not the only monumental event that took place during the reign of George VI; it was under his rule that the British Empire mostly dissolved, with independence movements in India and Ireland leading to a transition from empire to Commonwealth. George VI died on 6th February 1952 with his oldest daughter Elizabeth becoming Queen – she rules as Queen Elizabeth II to this day.

May 11th 1812: Spencer Perceval assassinated

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Depiction of the assassination of Spencer Perceval

On this day in 1812 Spencer Perceval became the first and only British Prime Minister to be assassinated when he was shot by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons. Perceval became Tory Prime Minister in 1809 (replacing the Duke of Portland) and his administration had to deal with economic depression, Luddism and the ‘madness’ of King George III. He had initially been considered a weak Prime Minister, but things had been looking up for his administration until he was shot. Bellingham was a merchant with a grievance against the government for supposedly not freeing him when he was imprisoned in Russia. The assassin was hanged on 18th May.

 

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John Bellingham (1769 – 1812)

 

“I am murdered…I am murdered”
– Perceval’s last words

May 9th 1671: Blood tries to steal the Crown Jewels

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Thomas Blood (1618 – 1680)

 

On this day in 1671 the Irish colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal England’s Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Blood, who was a Parliamentarian during the Civil War, was disaffected with the monarchy after losing his Irish estate after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The theft of the Crown Jewels was one of many attempts at insurrection by the colonel. In 1671 Blood, disguised as a priest, and some accomplices subdued Master of the Jewel House Talbot Edwards after he showed them the jewels and then tried to steal them. Blood flattened the St. Edward’s Crown with a mallet and hid it under his coat, another filed the Sceptre with the Cross in two and a third stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.

 

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The British Crown Jewels

 

The alarm was soon raised with cries of “Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!”. Blood and his men were soon caught and the Jewels recovered. Blood was taken before King Charles II who, to the surprise of many contemporaries and continued puzzlement of historians, pardoned Blood and then gave him land in Ireland. Since then, the Crown Jewels have been kept under armed guard in the Jewel House of the Tower of London.

 

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Record of Blood’s pardon by the King

“It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful! It was for a crown!”
– Blood upon his capture

May 4th 1979: Thatcher becomes Prime Minister

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Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013)

 

On this day in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She is known for her conservative policies which are now commonly referred to as ‘Thatcherism’.  Her Conservative party’s victory in the 1979 general election came twenty years after she was first elected to Parliament to represent Finchley. Upon becoming Prime Minister, Thatcher had to deal with high employment and financial problems that crippled the country, to which her government responded with deregulation, privatisation and reducing the power of trade unions.

 

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Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan, a close friend and ally during the Cold War

 

She also led Britain during the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982, which propelled her to re-election in 1983. Thatcher’s popularity waned and she was eventually challenged for the Conservative leadership by others in her party and thus resigned as Prime Minister in 1990. Known as ‘the Iron Lady’, Thatcher was the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th Century. She died from a stroke in 2013 and remains a very controversial and divisive figure in British history.

 

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Thatcher’s 2013 funeral procession in London

 

I am going to say right off the bat that I am no Thatcher fan. I believe she ultimately harmed our country with the excessive deregulation and attacks on trade unions which crippled our working class. However, I still have a great deal of respect for Mrs. Thatcher for her strong leadership and shattering the glass ceiling of politics. The vitriol that is often spewed about her, especially by my peers at university ( which is always going to be left-wing) in Sheffield (a city whose mining industry was hurt by Thatcherite policies), irritates me. The incredibly personal and insensitive attacks which call her – what I consider an incredibly misogynistic choice of words – a ‘witch’, are uncalled for. She was a politician who was popularly elected by the majority of the country whose policies you disagree with, not an inherently evil woman hell-bent on destroying the nation and the working class especially. But this debate will continue to be had, in the pages of the history books, on the floor of the House of Commons, in university seminars and in Sheffield pubs, and it is certainly a debate worth having about a crucial figure in our history.

 

April 23rd 1616: William Shakespeare dies

 

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William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

 

On this day in 1616, the famous English poet and playwright William Shakespeare passed away on his 52nd birthday. Shakespeare, from Stratford-upon-Avon,  became famous for his plays including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear; he wrote around 38 plays and 154 sonnets. He was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway and had three children. In his will he left most of his estate to his eldest daughter Susanna and to his wife left “my second best bed”. He was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church.

 

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His birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon

 

Today, on the 450thS anniversary of his birth, Shakespeare is still considered one of the greatest writers of the English language in history. School children and university students across the globe study his work, and his plays continue to draw huge crowds. Big-name actors still feel most at home performing a Shakespeare play – just take the recent success of David Tennant’s Hamlet and Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus.

 

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Shakespeare’s grave

 

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake, forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blessed be the man that spares these stones
And cursed he that moves my bones.”
– Shakespeare’s epitaph

April 16th 1889: Charlie Chaplin born

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Charlie Chaplin (1889 – 1977) pictured as ‘The Tramp’

 

On this day in 1889 the famous silent film star Charlie Chaplin was born in London. Chaplin came from a musical family, but his family fell on hard times and he spent his childhood on the streets of London. This hardship did nothing to abate the young Chaplin’s aspiration to be an actor. He began to secure roles on stage, securing a reputation as a fine comic actor. Chaplin moved to the United States in 1913 to embark on a promising film career. Soon after arriving he established the character that would make him famous: ‘the Tramp’. The character, a bumbling vagrant, featured in over 10 of Chaplin’s films.

 

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Chaplin with ‘the Tramp’ merchandise around 1918

 

This role threw Charlie Chaplin to international prominence, and he soon earned a huge salary of $670,000 a year – a vast amount even now; he had come a long way from his poverty-stricken youth in London. He continued to star in films, notably ‘The Great Dictator’ in 1940 which parodied Adolf Hitler.

 

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Charlie Chaplin as Adolf Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator’

 

Chaplin’s popularity waned as he faced controversy in the United States when he was accused of being a communist. However he enjoyed a renewed appreciation by the 1970s, winning an honorary Oscar in 1972. Chaplin died in 1977 aged 88 in Switzerland, where he had moved in the early 1950s after being banned from the States.

April 15th 1989: Hillsborough Disaster

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Liverpool fans lifted to safety by their peers in the stalls to avoid the human crush

 

On this day in 1989, 25 years ago today, the Hillsborough disaster occurred in Sheffield, United Kingdom. A human crush during an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium led to the deaths of 96 people. The victims were mostly Liverpool fans, as the two sides were allocated separate sections of the stadium. The Liverpool area was overcrowded, with the police letting in more spectators than the stadium could contain and making exits into additional entries. The game only lasted six minutes, as the mass of people broke the crush barrier.

 

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Memorial to the victims at Hillsborough Stadium

 

The incident proved very controversial at the time and still today. The authorities initially tried to cover up the police negligence and blamed the fans for the disaster, claiming they were mostly violent drunkards who rushed the field. Stories swirled accusing the spectators of attacking police officers and each other. However, subsequent investigations revealed the level of police culpability. These concluded that: the fans were not responsible for the disaster; the authorities did try to cover-up what happened; many of the deaths could have been avoided if they had received prompt medical treatment (only 14 of the victims went to hospital); and the findings have led to the abolition of standing spaces in British football stadiums.

 

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Liverpool fans’ banner displaying the names of the 96 victims on the 20th anniversary in 2009

 

On the 25 year anniversary, we mourn one of the worst stadium disasters in history and the tragically avoidable deaths of the 96. I am not a Sheffield native, but I attend university in this great city and live there. Hillsborough is truly a disaster which still affects the regional and national consciousness. This is mostly due to the outrage many feel at how the victims and their families were betrayed by the authorities; their deaths could have been avoided if the authorities present had done their jobs better. I had the privilege of being in the House of Commons last year when David Cameron reported on the findings of the latest Hillsborough inquest which confirmed a cover-up had taken place. I was there because a family friend had got us tickets to Prime Minister’s Questions – a great experience in itself – but when it came to the usually quiet section for ‘any other business’ of the PM, he delivered his speech on the disaster. Cameron referred to the ‘double injustice’ suffered by the victims and their families and it was particularly moving to see our Prime Minister (and the leader of the opposition) finally confirming the cover-up. These reports do nothing to console the victims’ families, but they do provide some solace as it seems that we are closer to justice for the 96.