The death of the astronaut Neil Armstrong has set me thinking about moon stories and the fact that there are still many conspiracy theorists who do not believe that anybody has really landed on it and the whole story is simply an elaborate fabrication. I firmly believe that Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but a story I was told many years ago by a journalist I worked with illustrates the fact that lunar fakery did happen. I was in my twenties, a junior reporter chatting late in the evening to an experienced editor who was seeing out his last days as a kind of executive. He was in a confessional mood, told me about the break up of his marriage, the guilt he felt and many other stories. He had worked in Africa editing a group of newspapers ( I do not remember which country ) and thought he would make a special splash with the first photographs of the surface of the moon sent back from one of the unmanned craft that preceeded Armstrong's historic first steps on the rocky ...Read more
When the obituaries of those who perished on the Titanic began to appear in the newspapers in April 1912 there were many column inches devoted to the life and work of W.T.Stead who was still then a very famous journalist. And there was no doubt that Stead's most celebrated campaign had been the investigation in the Pall Mall Gazette he called The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. Stead himself had written that he would be happy with a memorial which read: " Here lies the man who wrote the Maiden Tribute". As it happened, Stead disappeared in the Atlantic and he was one of many victims of the disaster whose bodies were never found. But there was a tribute of a kind which even he, with his legendary foresight, could not have anticipated. It came in an oblique and satirical form from his old adversary the playwright George Bernard Shaw.
It so happened that Shaw was working on the script of his play Pygmalion at the time the Titanic sank and the Stead obituaries appeared. ...Read more
I have learned that the Chartered Institute of Journalists is to lay a wreath on the Memorial to W.T.Stead on London's Embankment on 15 April, the centenary of this famous editor's death on the Titanic.The same Institute raised the money for the Memorial to honour Stead's campaigning journalism, particularly his alleged exposure of the "white slave trade" and child sex abuse. It would be interesting to know what a modern journalist, or the Leveson Inquiry into Press malpractice, would have made of Stead's "investigative" methods. As someone who has studied in some depth Stead's most celebrated campaign into vice in London I would say that what he did would not only be judged illegal, as it was in 1885, but utterly reprehensible.
Stead's account in his evening paper, the Pall Mall Gazette, of how he had witnessed the purchase of a 13 year old girl with the full knowledge of her mother and her sale to brothel was entirely fabricated. The closest modern analogy ...Read more
Reading a review at the weekend of the book The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake reminded me of a very pleasant afternoon I spent with the author a few years ago. My book about early wireless, Signor Marconi's Magic Box, came out at more or less the same time as his Seven Experiments that could change the world.
We ended up in the studio of BBC radio London talking together on the day time show hosted by Robert Elms http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/radio/presenters/robert_elms/. It turned out we both had an interest in homing pigeons, not as bird fanciers but from the point of view of science and history. His publisher had ordered a cab to take him back home to Hampstead and I shared it with him. We ended up having a drink in his back garden and later exchanged books.
I had always been fascinated by the ability of homing pigeons, all descendants of the wild blue rock dove, to find their way back to a loft, though they might be flying over land that was quite unfamiliar to them. ...Read more
I wonder how many of those who are preparing to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic realise that the only reason any lives were saved, and that we know anything about what happened to it, was the use then of what was regarded as a miraculous invention: wireless. The discovery of how electromagnetic waves could be used to send messages without any wires was truly astonishing in the early 1900s, and would still cause wonder today if we were not so familiar with the reality. After all, these waves are both invisible and inaudible and they can travel great distances and fly through solid walls.
When Guiglielmo Marconi was developing his primitive wireless system the world was already wired up with electric telegraph cables: by 1870 the Atlantic had been crossed and most of the British Empire was in touch by telegraph. How could wireless compete? It might be cheaper to run than the cable networks, certainly, but not until the technology was much more advanced. ...Read more