Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Boom! Free Comic Book Day arrives once again…

Free Comic Book Day is an international celebration of all things comics – taking place on the first Saturday in May – tomorrow – it is a day where new titles are released and shops offer a giveaway of free issues – our libraries are taking part, courtesy of those lovely folks at Forbidden Planet

The day is perfect for both collector fanatics and those who are picking up a comic for the first time.

We will also be hosting two special events on the day –

St John’s Wood Library make superhero masks and stick figures, 10.30am to 12pm . This free event is open to children of all ages.

Maida Vale Library – learn how to draw your own cartoon characters, 2.30pm to 4pm. Free event which is suitable for children aged 5 and over.

Queen’s Park Library – create your own mini comic, a superhero (or a super-villain!) and we’ll display the best, 2pm to 4.30pm. This free event is open to children of all ages.

Explore all this and more at one of our libraries and don’t forget to ask staff for your free comic book. We have three titles to give out, while stocks last – head on in before missing out. You’ll discover characters from the DC Universe including Superhero girls, Doctor Who, plus look out for the exclusive DC Nation!

Why not also check out the graphic novel selection? or the new release DVDs available while you are there and see what else your local Westminster  library has to offer?



Calling all comic fans!

Free Comic Book Day 2016Save the date –
Saturday 7 May is
Free Comic Book Day

Across North America and around the world, comic shops will be giving away free comics. And Westminster Libraries are taking part, courtesy of the lovely folks at Forbidden Planet who are providing the comics.

You can collect yours from your local library (see list of participating libraries below). One title per customer, while stocks last – which won’t be long!

There is a Doctor Who title, a Superhero Girls title and selected libraries will also have Suicide Squad (suitable for teens and over only).

Doctor Who for Free Comic Book day 2016 DC Superhero Girls for Free Comic Book day 2016 Suicide Squad for Free Comic Book day 2016

“Free Comic Book Day is the perfect occasion for newcomers to comics as well as those who have been reading them for years to celebrate comics and discover new titles that debut on the first Saturday in May”
– Free Comic Book Day spokesperson Dan Manser

Why not check out the graphic novel collection while you are there and see what else your library has to offer?


Participating libraries in Westminster:

2015 – Anniversaries Are Go!

As has become traditional (see 2014 and 2013), here’s our choice of one anniversary for each month to look forward to in 2015…


Books about mobile phones and the mobile phone industryA few seconds past midnight on 1 January 1985, Sir Ernest Harrison received a phone call from his son to wish him a Happy New Year. A few hours later, he received another call, this time from comedian Ernie Wise who, for reasons unknown, was dressed in Victorian costume and riding on a nineteenth century mail coach. So far, so dull, but these were actually the first two calls made on mobile phones in the UK, Sir Ernest Harrison being the chair of Vodaphone.

If you’d bought a mobile phone in 1985, it would have set you back £3000 and you’d have been able to talk for 20 minutes before the battery ran down. Though you’d have been unlikely to be calling another mobile since by 1995 only 7% of the UK population had them. Still, you’ve probably got one now: by 2004 there were more mobile phones in the country than people. For more about the mobile phone industry, see our online business resources


Long walk to freedom - the autobiography of Nelson MandelaOn 11 February 1990, after 27 years imprisonment, mostly on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela was finally released and took his Long Walk to Freedom. The event was captured by the cameras and broadcast around the world. You can read contemporary reports in our newspaper archive and also read biographies of the great man who died in December 2013.


Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang, by Terrance DicksOn 26 March 2005 came the television event that some of us had been waiting for since 1989 and, frankly, for most of that time had never believed would happen. Doctor Who returned to our screens after a hiatus of 16 years and was an instant success, spawning two spin-offs (Torchwood and the Sarah-Jane Adventures) as well as making us more familiar with both John Barrowman and Cardiff Bay than we had ever thought possible. Check out one of the many hundreds of books on the most famous time traveller of all, and explore some of the obscure links between the Doctor and our very own detective, Sherlock Holmes


Anthony Trollope24 April 2015 sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Anthony Trollope, prolific novelist and long time post office employee. His novels aren’t read as much as they should be nowadays, which is a shame, and it may be that he is destined to be best remembered as the inventor of the pillar box, first installed in Jersey in 1852. The first ones were set up in England in 1853 – at first there were only five – in Fleet Street, The Strand, Pall Mall, Piccadilly and Rutland Gate. The early ones were green – they didn’t assume their familiar red colour until the 1870s. See The British Postal Museum and Archive for more history.


In May it will undoubtedly be quite hard to avoid the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.
Zeppelin nights, by Jerry WhiteHowever, rather closer to home was an event at 16 Alkham Road, Stoke Newington, which has the unenviable distinction of being the first house in London to be attacked from the air. Nobody in the house was hurt but the Zeppelin went further east and seven people were killed during the one raid. In all, nearly 700 Londoners were killed by air raids in the First World War. You can read more about it in Zeppelin Nights by Jerry White or check out some contemporary accounts in our newspaper archives with the Illustrated London News being particularly interesting for photographs of the aftermath of raids.


Books by and about the Women's InstituteA happier First World War centenary is celebrated on 16 June with the centenary of the foundation of the Women’s Institute in the UK.  The movement (which started in Canada in 1897) first met here in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll and its original aim was to get women involved in growing and preserving food in wartime. By the end of 1919 there were 1405 women’s institutes across the country. They are currently enjoying a resurgance and do rather more than make cakes, though it seems to be compulsory to use the phrase ‘jam and Jerusalem’ in every article about them.

They now campaign on many issues, including Love Your Libraries. You can read up on their history in A Force to be Reckoned With by Jane Robinson and the splendidly named Jambusters: the story of the Women’s Institute in the second world war by Julie Summers.


Books about Ruth Ellis13 July will mark 60 years since Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Born in poverty in Rhyl, Ruth was determined to escape her background but her first attempt – a romance with a Canadian serviceman – left her an 18-year-old unmarried mother when her lover proved to have a wife and children back home. She did marry in 1950 but the relationship soon ended and Ruth was left to support her two children by the most lucrative work she could find – acting as a hostess in Mayfair nightclubs.

By 1955 she had two lovers – David Blakely, a hard-drinking racing car enthusiast and Desmond Cussen, a former bomber pilot whose family owned a successful chain of tobacconists. The relationship with Blakely was violent, with Ellis having a miscarriage after he punched her in the stomach, and the two men were jealous of each other. On Easter Day, 10 April 1955, Cussen gave Ellis a revolver, showed her how to use it and drove her to Hampstead Heath where she, high on drink and tranquillizers, shot and killed Blakely as he left a pub.

There was no real doubt of the outcome of the trial – Ellis didn’t mention Cussen’s involvement to her solicitor until the day before her exection. The jury took only 20 minutes to convict her and she was sentenced to hang. There was considerable interest in her case with a petition for clemency signed by more than 50,000 people. You can follow the debate in our newspaper archives and there are several biographies of Ellis available in Westminster Libraries


Guinness World Records (Guinness Book of Records)A less tragic event in 1955 was the publication on 27 August  of the first edition of the Guinness Book of Records (now known as Guinness World Records). According to publishing legend, Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness Breweries, wanted to settle an argument about which was the fastest game bird, the golden plover or the red grouse, but couldn’t find an appropriate reference book to answer the question.

The runner Christopher Chataway, who worked for Guinness, recommended the twins Norris and Ross McWhirter who, as well as being sports journalists themselves (Norris was the time-keeper when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile) ran an agency which provided facts and figures to Fleet Street. They were commissioned to write the Guinness Book of Records and it became an instant hit with the annual revisions appearing in time for Christmas. The twins made regular appearance on the BBC children’s programme Record Breakers which ran for 276 episodes between 1972 and 2001 and which was presented for most of that time by Roy Castle. Readers of a certain age are probably humming the theme tune to themselves right now…

You can borrow the latest edition of the  book  from your local library – current random records include the Wolf of Wall Street winning the prize for the most swearing in one film with an average of 3.81 expletives per minute and Daniel Fleming of Cleethorpes holding the world record for greatest number of playable bagpipes (105). Oh, and the fastest game bird in Europe? It’s the plover.


ThunderbirdsScott, John, Virgil, Alan, Gordon – also unforgettable to people of a certain age – are the five Tracy brothers, who, with their father Jeff, formed International Rescue, a top secret organisation dedicated to saving lives whose adventures were chronicled in Thunderbirds, first broadcast on 30 September 1965. The series used puppetry combined with scale-model special effects in a technique that producer Gerry Anderson called Supermarionation.

The show was an instant hit and characters such as Lady Penelope and her annoyingly nasal butler Parker became household names. The Tracy brothers were named after the Mercury Seven astronauts, while the puppets were modelled on leading actors such as Sean Connery and Charlton Heston. You can read more about Thunderbirds and other Anderson series such as Captain Scarlet and Stingray in Supermarionation Classics and don’t forget that the original series as well as its cinema incarnations are available on DVD.


AgincourtOctober sees the 600th anniversary of one of the most celebrated battles in English history, Agincourt. Made famous by Shakespeare in Henry V, the battle, on St Crispins Day 1415, is well documented with several contemporary accounts surviving. While the English were heavily outnumbered, the use of the longbow against the French soldiers seems to have been a decisive fact in the English victory. Shakespeare’s play is still a favourite with theatre producers and there have been two notable cinema films – both great – one with Laurence Olivier, made during WW2, and more recently with Kenneth Branagh.


1940s cinema will be celebrated again, as 26 November sees the 70th anniversary of the release of Brief Encounter, the beloved romantic tragedy  based on Noel Coward’s Still Life. The film tells the simple story of Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson), a middle class housewife in a rather dull marriage who meets doctor Alec Harvey in a railway station restaurant and finds that what starts out as a casual chat soon develops into an intensely emotional relationship. There have been other versions of the original play – one with Jane Asher and John Alderton plus Joan Collins as a slightly unlikely tea-shop manageress was broadcast by the BBC in 1991 and there was a simply terrible film version with Sophia Loren and Richard Burton – but none have matched the simple beauty of the original. that said, do check out Victoria Wood’s splendid parody (“I’ve a tin of orange pekoe I keep for the middle classes”):


Finally on 28 December 2015 we will have an anniversary that is central to the life of our city as we mark 950 years since the consecration of Westminster Abbey in 1065.

Westminster AbbeyIt was founded by Edward the Confessor (the only English king to be canonised), who died on 5 January 1066, only a week after the consecration. It was the first church in England built in the Norman Romanesque style and has been the traditional site for coronations ever since William the Conqueror. However, only a few arches and columns survive of Edward’s church – the current one dates from the thirteenth century and the reign of Henry III.

If you want to know what St Peter’s Abbey, as it was originally known, used to look like, you’ll have to check out the Bayeux Tapestry which features its only known picture. For more about the Abbey, check out some of the many books about it and of course, it’s there to visit too!

These are just some of the anniversaries that will be commemorated next year – no doubt we’ll also be hearing about the first ascent of the Matterhorn (14 July 1865), the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815), VE Day (8 May 1945) and as if that wasn’t enough… there’s another three years of the Great War centenary to work through!


Irregular Observations: ‘Who’ is Sherlock Holmes?

All consuming fire, by Andrew LaneA few months ago we recalled that Peter Cushing had played both Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. In honour of this month’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Irregular Observations takes a closer look at the many links and parallels between the two iconic series.

Cushing is rather the forgotten Doctor Who, being the one cinematic Doctor.  One other actor has played both roles – Tom Baker. The fourth Doctor (1974 to 1981), Baker played Sherlock Holmes in a BBC television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1982, with Terence Rigby as Dr Watson. Sadly, it is not generally regarded as one of the better versions, though did have a splendid villain in Christopher Ravenscroft’s Stapleton.

Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang, by Robert HolmesBaker’s Doctor Who emulated Sherlock Holmes, however, in a much better regarded 1977 story entitled The Talons of Weng-Chiang, adapted as a novel by Robert Holmes in 1989. Encountering mysterious murders in Victorian London, Doctor Who adopts the classic deerstalker and cape (not garb actually very appropriate at the date for town wear) to investigate in a story which takes one of Dr Watson’s Untold Cases as its inspiration. To say more would give the game away, but other explanations for the particular Untold Case are available.

The Doctor uses Holmesian turns of speech, even to the point of saying to Professor Litefoot “…elementary my dear Litefoot” (Holmes in the original stories never actually said “Elementary, my dear Watson” of course). Litefoot’s housekeeper is called Mrs Hudson.

If we stay with novels for a moment, Andy Lane’s 1994 All Consuming Fire matches Dr. Who and Holmes, the cover showing Doctor Who number seven Sylvester McCoy (1987 to 1996) with Basil Rathbone’s Holmes.

A much later Doctor Who, number eleven, Matt Smith (2010 to 2013) also dressed up as Holmes in the 2012 Christmas special, “The Snowmen”.  Given that Doctor Who now comes from the same stable as Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch with Steven Moffat at the helm, this is perhaps less surprising than back in 1977.  Interestingly, the villain was played by Richard E Grant, who had played Stapleton in the 2002 BBC Hound of the Baskervilles, opposite Richard Roxburgh.

Docto Who number two provides our next link. Patrick Troughton (1966 to 1969) was one of our best character actors and, while he never played Sherlock Holmes, he did play the part of Mortimer Tregennis in the BBC 1965 version of “The Devil’s Foot”, starring Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson.

Even Doctor Whos numbers three and five give us small links. Jon Pertwee (1970 to 1974) has not played Sherlock Holmes, but his son Sean is Insp. Lestrade to Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes in Elementary. Peter Davison (1982 to 1984) again has not played Holmes – he was one of the great detectives of the Golden Age, Albert Campion – but he did, it seems, provide an uncredited voiceover for the Planetarium in “The Great Game”, a 2010 episode of Sherlock.

There is one actor who links Sherlock Holmes’ brother Mycroft with Doctor Who. Mark Gatiss, who portrays a rather slim Mycroft in Sherlock has turned up, unsurprisingly, in Doctor Who. Most memorably he was Lazarus in “The Lazarus Experiment” in 2007 and was also Gantok in the 2011 episode “The Wedding of River Song”. He also provided the uncredited voice of Danny Boy in “Victory of the Daleks” (2010) and “A Good Man Goes to War” (2011).

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes - audiobooksEver-present through the life of The Doctor has been his arch-enemy – his Moriarty, if you like – The Master, in this particular context as portrayed by Sir Derek Jacobi (“Utopia” 2007).  In 2011 and 2012 Sir Derek recorded a number of the original stories for BBC audiobooks.

But we must look to the future as well as the past.  Doctor Who number twelve, Peter Capaldi, has already played Sherlock Homes. A small assay at the part, it must be conceded, but unquestionably Sherlock Holmes. We will leave you with this clip from The All New Alexei Sayle Show –  a look at the past of the future:


Irregular Observations is an occasional series of musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster Libraries.  The Collection started life in 1951 and is now one of the most comprehensive in the world. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and want to learn more, have a look at our website or get in touch.

Irregular Observations: an elementary centenary

Irregular Observations
– musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection.

This is the first in an occasional series of musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster Libraries.  The Collection started life in 1951 and is now one of the most comprehensive in the world.  If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and want to learn more, have a look at our website or get in touch.

The hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan DoyleSunday 26 May 2013 is the centenary of the birth of one of Britain’s best-loved actors and one who ranks high in the lists of those who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes, Peter Cushing.

Cushing first donned the deerstalker for the 1959 Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles – the first Holmes film to be made in colour. Portraying Sir Henry Baskerville was his usual Hammer co-star Christopher Lee (who would himself go on to play both Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft Holmes, though closer to the former than the latter in physical appearance).

An actor and a rare one: Peter Cushing as sherlock Holmes, by Tony EarnshawIn 1968 Cushing took up the deerstalker again for the 16 episodes of the BBC’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, some of which have survived. The series included The Hound of the Baskervilles in two parts, the first version of the novel to be filmed in part on location on Dartmoor and one which is still regarded as one of the most successful adaptations. Cushing made suggestions and insisted on removing lines or details that he felt were not in keeping with the original stories. He asked that all his costumes be based on original drawings published with the stories in The Strand Magazine.

His final leading role was again as an elderly Sherlock Holmes, in the 1984 television film The Masks of Death.  A sequel, The Abbot’s Cry, was planned for 1986, but was never made due to his failing health.

Houdini and Conan Doyle, by Christopher SandfordPeter Cushing shared a rare distinction with Peter O’Toole – both played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Sherlock Holmes. Cushing portrayed the writer in the 1976 film The Great Houdini. Conan Doyle knew Houdini and the two men were close friends before a disagreement about Spiritualism. You can read more about their friendship in biographies of Conan Doyle and books which focus on the two men. Oh, and Peter O’Toole also played Conan Doyle in Fairytale: A True Story and provided the voice for Holmes in an Australian animated television series.

The actor married Helen Beck on 10 April 1943 at Kensington Registry Office. He was awarded an OBE in 1989 and died on 11 August 1994. Cushing wrote two volumes of autobiography, An Autobiography in 1986 and Past Forgetting: memoirs of the Hammer Years in 1988.

We should also note, in view of the 50th anniversary celebrations due later this year, that Cushing is one of two actors to have portrayed both Sherlock Holmes and Docto Who. In 1965 he stepped into the Tardis in the film Dr Who and the Daleks and the following year in Daleks’ Invasion Earth.  The other is… Who?  (No – we don’t count Matt Smith’s Doctor dressing up as Holmes in The Snowmen).

Starring sherlock Holmes, by David Stuart Davies     Sherlock Holmes on screen

Come into the Sherlock Holmes Collection at Marylebone Library to find out, look at some of the scripts from that other Doctor Who’s Sherlock Holmes production and read the reviews.


Onwards to 2013

Another year has come and (almost) gone, and what a splendid year it was – scarcely a month went by without a major anniversary. If it wasn’t Dickens, it was Captain Scott and if doomed explorers weren’t your scene, there were doomed Titanic passengers to read about. So let’s have a look forward to what we will be commemorating in 2013…

Titles by Jane Austen28 January sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. If your knowledge of the book is confined to seeing Colin Firth in a wet shirt, then you’re in for a real treat. It’s much funnier and more knowing about human nature than any novel has any right to be. And if you have read it, why not try one of the many, many spin-offs and sequels, some by very famous writers indeed. You can find all of Jane Austen’s books in Westminster Libraries as well as many biographies and volumes of criticism.

Giant molecules: from nylon to nanotubes, by WB Gratzer   24 February gives us an opportunity to celebrate the 75th birthday of nylon. The first commercial product made with nylon was not, as one might expect, stockings but a toothbrush. Previously, toothbrushes had been made with animal bristles so it’s a cause for celebration for pigs and badgers too. You can find out more about looking after your teeth on our Health page, including finding your nearest dentist via NHS Direct. For everything you could possibly want to know about nylon, have a look at the excellent HowStuffWorks via the Science Gateway page.

Books about David Livingstone19 March brings us the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone. You can read  about his life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your Westminster Library card). It’s hard not to be impressed by the determination of young David who at the age of 10 worked for 12 hours a day in a Clydeside factory and studied for 2 hours every night at the village school, where he developed a lifelong interest in geology and herbal medicine.
One of the favourite heroes of the Victorians, Livingstone’s achievements in exploration (though he failed to locate the source of the Nile), anti-slavery work and promoting Christianity were considerable and, unlike many Victorian heroes, no scandals have been unearthed posthumously. Check out the Themes section of the ODNB for other Imperial Lives, some rather less attractive than Livingstone.

SupermanOn 18 April comics fans everywhere will be celebrating the 75th birthday of Superman and waiting patiently for the summer release of the latest movie retelling of the story: Man of Steel. You can find plenty of the graphic novels and films in Westminster libraries but even if cartoons aren’t your scene, you might want to try Michael Chabon’s masterpiece The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a fictional look at the lives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the original Superman artists.

StravinskyHigh culture will be celebrated on 29 May when it is the centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Riots at the ballet are, fortunately, quite rare, but the police had to be called, so outraged were the audience at the unusual  movements of the dancers and musical harmony (or lack of it). Log into Oxford Music Online to find out more about the piece and listen to it at Naxos Music Online (though if you think you won’t be able to refrain from throwing the furniture about, we’d rather you listened at home!)

Books about the SuffragettesMore controversy will be commemorated on 8 June, the centenary of the death of Emily Davison, the brave Suffragette who disrupted the Derby in 1913 and was tragically killed. You can read more about her life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and watch the British Pathe newsreel of the event.

The BeanoRather more cheerfully, on 30 July, we wish a Happy 75th Birthday to The Beano, greatest of all comics and home of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Rodger the Dodger, Billy Whizz, the Bash Street Kids, Lord Snooty and many another childhood favourite. How many of these can you remember?

The Great Train Robbery8 August sees the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery, not perhaps an event  to celebrate but certainly one that looms very large in the British public consciousness. The are no shortage of books on the subject as well as a number of films. You can see how newspapers at time reported the story by logging in to their online archives (The Times initially reported the theft as totalling £500,000 but it is now thought to have been nearer £2.6 million)

Books about Jesse Owens12 September brings the centenary of the birth of the great Jesse Owens, the outstanding athlete of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, whose achievement in setting three world records and tying a fourth at an athletics meet in 1935 is unlikely to be bettered any time soon. You can read contemporary newpaper accounts of  his winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics and even see the events themselves in archive footage on YouTube.

One on every corner- Westminster pubs26 October sees the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Football Association, supposedly formed at a meeting in the Freemason’s Arms in Long Acre,  Covent Garden. Prior to that, different clubs, schools and colleges used their own rules which presumably led to some amusing complications when they played each other. Eleven London clubs and schools sent representatives to the meeting though, ironically, many of them now play rugby union. If you want to take up football yourself, why not check out some of the listings on the Sports page of the Gateway to websites. Or maybe you’re more of a pub person – Westminster Archives have published a splendid history of West End pubs called One on Every Corner.

Doctor Who books23 November is already marked as the key event in the Treasure Hunt Towers 2013 diary: the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who. We don’t know yet what producer Steven Moffat has planned  – look at the BBC Dr Who site for the latest info, but also check our newspaper archives to  look back at its past history: The Times’ Toyshop Roundabout (22/11/65) suggested that the must-have Christmas toy for boys was the Anti-Dalek Neuron Exterminator, though it reported with some disappointment that another anti-Dalek weapon, the Fluid Neutralizer was just ‘our old friend the water-pistol’.

Crossword booksEverything will be a bit of an anti-climax after that excitement but, on 21 December, cruciverbalists everywhere will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first ever ‘wordcross’ puzzle being published in the New York World, created by a British journalist called Arthur Wynne (you can try it here). The first crossword in a British paper was published in the Sunday Express on 2 November 1924 with cryptic crosswords following soon after (though the Americans didn’t take to them until they were introduced to the New York Magazine by composer Stephen Sondheim in 1968).
Why not have a browse among some of the language resources on the Westminster site? Check the Oxford English Dictionary to find out where the word ‘cruciverbalist’ comes from and check Oxford Dictionaries Pro for help with grammar and punctuation as well as some more word puzzles. And if you go to Naxos Music Library, you can listen to some Sondheim while you solve The Guardian’s latest teaser.

There may be some other anniversaries coming up (we’ll all be very familiar with the works of Benjamin Britten by the end of the year) but I’m sure they won’t be as much fun as these…


Brush up your Shakespeare!

Shakespeare by Bill BrysonWhile it may seem as if 2012 is the Year Of Dickens, he’s not the only great British writer to have helped the Doctor fight alien invasion and it’s only right that so many arts organisations should be devoting the rest of the year to celebrating his 448th birthday (if you want to send him a card, his official birthday is actually the 23rd April though we don’t know for sure whether he was born then.

As our old friend the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography puts it:

Shakespeare, William (1564–1616),
playwright and poet, was baptized, probably by the parish priest, John Bretchgirdle (or Bracegirdle), in Holy Trinity, the parish church of Stratford upon Avon, on 26 April 1564, the third child of John Shakespeare (d. 1601) and Mary Arden (d. 1608).
It seems appropriate that the first of many gaps in the records of Shakespeare’s life should be the exact date of his birth, though that is a common problem for the period. He was probably born on 21, 22, or 23 April 1564, given the 1559 prayer book’s instructions to parents on the subject of baptisms. But, ever since Joseph Greene, an eighteenth-century Stratford curate, informed the scholar George Steevens that Shakespeare was born on 23 April, with no apparent evidence for his assertion, and Steevens adopted that date in his 1773 edition of Shakespeare, it has been usual to assume that Shakespeare was born on St George’s day, so that England’s patron saint and the birth of the ‘national poet’ can be celebrated on the same day.”

Confusingly, if you want to join in the celebrations in his home town (handily accessible via Marylebone Station), the main events are all happening tomorrow, Saturday 21 April.

The Lodger, by Charles NichollBut we Londoners are traditionalists and on Monday 23 April, Shakespeare’s Globe is kicking off its ambitious programme of every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays  in 37 different languages with Troilus and Cressida in Maori (complete with haka!), finishing with Hamlet in Lithuanian. If you prefer your Shakespeare in English, check out the BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked season  schedules for such delights as Twelfth Night with David Tennant as Malvolio and Simon Schama on Shakespeare and Us.

There will be plenty of other productions around London this summer – check out the Stage & Screen section of the Westminster Libraries Gateway to Websites for a look at the excellent theatre listing sites Whatsonstage and London Theatre Guide. And if you fancy treading the boards yourself, there’s the Amateur Theatre Network for all your Amdram needs. Or closer to home, you could check out the Play-reading Group at Maida Vale Library.

Cue for Treason, by Geoffrey TreaseOf course, there have been plenty of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works – a glance at the Internet Movie Database reveals that he was the source for more than 800 films  going back to Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s King John in 1899. Sir Herbert, incidentally, had six illegitimate children, one of whom grew up to be Carol Reed, director of Oliver! and The Third Man. Find out more about the Bard’s cinematic career at the BFI’s Screenonline site. If you access the site on a Westminster Library public computer you will be able to view rare clips and films such as the 1899 King John itself. And don’t forget to check out our catalogue for DVDs, such as 10 Things I Hate About You (a high school Taming of the Shrew) and Shakespeare in Love (from the days when Colin Firth used to play the bad guy!).

Having watched a few plays, you will now want to look at the texts. Check out the Books & Literature section of the Gateway for  Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks – both of them offer downloadable ebooks in a variety of formats. For background information, check out Oxford Reference Online, another of Westminster’s online subscription resources. Here you can read the full text of the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare – everything you want to know about the Bard from Aaron to Zuccaro.

The Road to London, by Barbara MitchelhillHave a look at the library catalogue for some of the many  books on Shakespeare we have. Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare : the world as a stage goes back to the original sources to examine what we know for certain about the man. Which apparently doesn’t include where he was educated, whatever they tell you at King Edward VI School in Stratford. In The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street, Charles Nicholl analyses in-depth a single incident in Shakespeare’s life, giving an insight into his way of life while he was writing his materspieces. Children’s novels, such as Geoffrey Trease’s classic Cue for Treason and Barbara Mitchelhill’s recent The Road to London, have looked at the lives of the Globe Theatre’s boy players.

While you’re reading, why not crank up the Naxos Music Library, another online resource, where you’ll find no less than 544 tracks inspired by Shakespeare.  What better way to celebrate the bard’s birthday than listening to  Cole Porter’s Brush Up Your Shakespeare  (from Kiss Me Kate) performed by the late, great Sid James.