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Sunday, 21 July 2019

The 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing and two Royal Express Typewriters

The restored Empress
This 50th anniversary of the Moon landing has been both a joyous and eerie time. The eeriness is mostly typewriter related.
Some weeks ago an older lady I only know as Mrs Miller (with no connection to a McCabe, as far as I know) contacted me out of the blue with the offer of a “fairly modern” Royal typewriter. Given that description, I was expecting a Nakajima portable, but Mrs Miller’s gift turned out to be a hefty 32lb standard – which I soon discovered to be a mid-60s Empress.
Mrs Miller's gift
The machine was in serious need of restoration, so I took it completely apart, repainted it and reassembled it. It now looks absolutely splendid, but the tab set and tab clear buttons were missing when I took possession of it, plus the small knob on the ribbon colour selector switch. As well, the two ends of the platen knobs were broken. I attached some ad hoc buttons and repaired the platen knobs as best I could, but it still seemed a pity the gorgeous-looking restored Empress was not as manufactured and sold in every way.
I had photographed the typewriter in the shabby state I received it, throughout the restoration process and the finished – or so I thought at the time – product. I was planning to publish a blog post on the work, but Instagram was as far as I got. I would probably have got around to posting in the next week or so.
In the meantime I have come down to the town of Kyneton in country Victoria for a family gathering. On Friday, the eve of the Moon landing anniversary, I popped into the Salvation Army op-shop to see it had any typewriters – as one always does - and lo and behold there was another Royal Empress. It has all the buttons and knobs intact, so naturally I’ve grabbed it as a spare parts machine.
The Kyneton Empress
Mrs Miller’s gift was the first Empress I’d ever seen – and, as I thought back then - the first time I had ever even been aware of the Empress (there’s a very interesting story behind its production, by the way). Anyway, upon researching the model, I discovered that three years ago I had identified it for Steve Kuterscz (“writelephant”) in Western Australia. Steve had written a blog post about a 1968 episode of Star Trek, “Assignment Earth”, in which the Enterprise time travels back to Earth and an interstellar agent called “Gary Seven” (Robert Lansing) plans to intervene in 20th Century events. Incidentally, that blog post was only added to a month or so ago, with a comments exchange between Steve and Ted Munk. (Incidentally, Ted’s online repair manual for the Empress was really helpful when it came to me reassembling my machine – for once, not a single spare screw was left over!)
A scene from Star Trek.
The missing buttons and broken knobs aside, there was only one problem with my restored Empress – the carriage lever wasn’t turning the platen as it should. One part of the eeriness of all this is that a small part of the platen assembly had fallen off. Mysteriously, it suddenly turned up on one of my typewriter workshop benches weeks later, but I’ve yet to work out exactly where it fits to make the Express fully operational. I’ll be able to do that when I take my latest Empress apart.
The clincher in this series of weird but happy events is that, with the Moon landing anniversary in mind, I looked up my blog post from August 2015 – about the tracking stations in the Canberra area which were used to transmit images from the Moon on July 20, 1969. The key – and almost universally forgotten – link in the transmission was Honeysuckle Creek. And on my post from four years ago was an image of a station support worker.
What typewriter was she using?
Yes, you guessed it – a ROYAL EMPRESS!!!
To add to all this spookiness, we found a great urban winery in Kyneton yesterday (July 20) and sampled red wine with labels showing the Earthside and Farside of the Moon. What else were we to do?
The Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, such an important part of the first successful Moon landing, is no longer. The facility which received the first 8½ minutes of footage of Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon has sadly been dismantled.
Honeysuckle Creek came into being when, on March 6, 1963, the Australian and United States governments jointly announced a deal to construct three US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) deep-space tracking stations just outside Canberra, in what was then termed the Tidbinbilla Valley. These stations would be at Tidbinbilla itself, completed in 1965 on the edge of the national capital, Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley. All that remains of the three stations is what is now called the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, centred at Tidbinbilla. It is part of the Deep Space Network run by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is the only NASA tracking station still in operation in Australia. Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) manages most of NASA's activities in this country.
Honeysuckle Creek as it was.
Honeysuckle Creek was completed in 1967 and was built primarily to support the Apollo Moon missions, mainly communications with the Apollo Command Module. It was home to the antenna which received and relayed to the world the first historic television images of Armstrong setting foot on the Moon.
Image received at Honeysuckle Creek.
At least in the initial 8½ minutes of Armstrong's descent from the lunar module and his walk on the Moon, Honeysuckle Creek was able to receive and send (to Sydney and through Sydney to Houston) far clearer images than the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. However, nearby Parkes in New South Wales was then able to provide the better images.
Honeysuckle Creek and Tidbinbilla also had voice and telemetry contact with the lunar and command modules. After the Apollo Moon missions ended in 1972, Honeysuckle Creek began supporting regular Skylab passes, the Apollo scientific stations left on the Moon by astronauts, and assisting the Deep Space Network with interplanetary tracking commitments, in support of the Viking and Voyager projects.
Honeysuckle Creek was closed in 1981 and its 85-foot antenna was moved to Tidbinbilla.
Honeysuckle Creek as it looks now.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

RIP Gloria Vanderbilt (1924-2019)

Gloria Vanderbilt had her Hermes Baby portable typewriter.
Green Bay Press-Gazette, March 16, 1946
Gloria Laura Vanderbilt died yesterday, aged 95, at her home in Manhattan, after having been diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier in the month. Vanderbilt was an American artist, author, actress, fashion designer, heiress and socialite. She was a member of the Vanderbilt family of New York and the mother of CNN television anchor Anderson Cooper.
In the 1970s, Vanderbilt became known through a line of fashions, perfumes and household goods bearing her name. She was particularly noted as an early developer of designer blue jeans.
She is believed to be one of the many inspirations for Holly Golightly in Truman Capote's 1958 Breakfast at Tiffany's, along with Onna O'Neil, Carol Grace, Maeve Brennan, Doris Lilly, Dorian Leigh and Leigh's sister Suzy Parker.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Eurovision's Oz Songbird and Her Red Remington Portable Typewriter

I’d never heard of Kate Miller-Heidke until she became Australia’s representative in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. How does Australia, which is in Oceania, come to compete in a European music event? Good question. Not sure I can answer. But Israel, which isn’t in Europe either, hosted this year’s edition, in Tel Aviv. Miller-Heidke came ninth with Zero Gravity, but Australia won the artistic award (apparently the singing, dreadful as it usually is, isn’t enough, and visuals also count). Holland, which is in Europe, won the overall contest through a singer with the distinctly Dutch name of Duncan Laurence, and will stage the event next year. Go figure.
So why is all this on a typewriter blog post? Well, in discovering our latest songbird Kate Miller-Heidke, I was made aware of a 2007 minor hit of hers called Words, the video of which featured a repainted (in bright red) Remington portable typewriter. I can’t recommend the song, but the video is worth watching, if only for the typewriter.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

RIP Doris Day (1922-2019)

Doris Day was my childhood sweetheart. She was born in Cincinnati. Naturally, therefore, there are two photographs of her at a typewriter, albeit an IBM Selectric I.
Cincinnati Enquirer, October 15, 1937

Friday, 10 May 2019

'Pulsating Life' of the 'Sinister' Imperial Good Companion Portable Typewriter: 'Infused With Malice' in The ABC Murders

The soundtrack on the BBC TV’s three-part series based on Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is music to the ears of typewriters lovers. By soundtrack, I don't mean Isobel Waller-Bridge’s efforts in putting together a handful of tunes ranging from Cole Porter to Woody Herman, a harpsichord suite from Barry Lyndon and a touch of what could be a Handel chaconne. No, I’m referring to that wonderful grating noise that a typewriter carriage makes when it is moved back over the escapement rack and the star wheel’s dogs flick past the cogs. Or the slap of the typeslug on ribbon and paper, or the gears on the key rods clicking back to lift the typebar. Imagine all that amplified to the max, and accompanying the movement of a microcamera as it snoops in under the typebasket and ribbon capstan,  and forages among the levers and switches and springs.  That’s what one gets aplenty, at least in the first episode of the series (the only one I’ve seen so far). I wish I could download that soundtrack, but unfortunately I’ve thus far been unable to do so.
        This BBC TV version of The ABC Murders makes the Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter of leading character Alexander Bonaparte Cust  (played by Eamon Farren) the star attraction. It has the main role. As Jonah Benjamin put it on the "Thoughts in Digital" website, "Ever wondered what a typewriter looks like really close up? Well, wonder no more, as BBC's latest Agatha Christie adaptation spends most of its running time next to, on top of, or inside a typewriter."
 Agatha Christie at her Remington portable typewriter.
The Radio Times, however, reveals that Christie’s champion detective Hercule Poirot (played by John Malkovich) "matches the 'unknown fingerprints' on Cust’s typewriter with [spoiler alert, someone else’s] prints, as collected from his brandy glass. This is used as part of [the killer’s] conviction." Now, we all know that’s not quite how things work when convicting killers on evidence gathered from typewriters – and one would expect Christie knew better, too. After all, fictional detectives had been applying forensic science to typescripts since Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes at the end of the 19th Century. And, as it turns out [another spoiler alert] Poirot had been bluffing when he suggested to the killer that he had a matching fingerprint from the typewriter. The Radio Times points out that in Christie’s novel, Poirot says, "Most damning of all - you overlooked a most elementary precaution. You left a fingerprint on Cust’s typewriter - the typewriter that, if you are innocent, you could never have handled."
Sarah Phelps, who faithlessly adapted the novel to the small screen, was asked by the "BBC Writers Room" website about director Alex Gabassi stressing the significance of two machines, a train and the typewriter, in the story. She answered, "The whole point of the typewriter is that the letters are not written by hand. You can feel the human behind a written hand and there is an identity to it; you can see character in the way someone writes his or her name. Whereas a typewriter is like being hate tweeted, because it’s just text and there could be anybody behind it. The only thing is that this typewriter does have a tiny ghost in a setting which gives it its own character, but even that is sinister. So as the railway has its own pulsating life, I wanted to feel that the typewriter has its own pulsating life. There’s almost this symbiosis between technology and our killer. I like that sense of anonymity but a sense of profound identity as well; the typewriter is just an object but then suddenly it’s infused with malice. Like the train is innocent, you get on it to go to the seaside or to get to work and you know every inch of it and then suddenly it’s a terrifying thing."
It’s great that the BBC has found the right typewriter for the time. The TV series is set in 1933 (the book in 1935) and the first model of the Imperial Good Companion came out in 1932. The one used by the character Cust looks as though its innards need cleaning, but it’s the appropriate model for the period and locality. The book was first published in Britain on January 6, 1936. The TV series was broadcast in Britain over three consecutive nights after Christmas last year and started on ABC TV in Australia last Sunday. It was released on DVD through Universal Pictures UK on March 11.

Monday, 29 April 2019

RIP Les Murray, Australia's Typewriting Poet Laureate (1938-2019)

Les Murray, the Bush Bard of Bunyah and Australia's unofficial Poet Laureate, died today at a nursing home at Taree in New South Wales, aged 80. One of his peers said tonight that Murray was not just Australia's greatest poet, but its greatest writer in any literary genre. He had used a Brother portable typewriter for many years.
Leslie Allan Murray (1938-2019) was a poet, anthologist and critic. His career spanned more than 40 years and he published 30 volumes of poetry as well as two verse novels and collections of his prose writings. His poetry won many awards and he was rated by the National Trust of Australia as one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures. In 2007, Dan Chiasson wrote in The New Yorker that Murray was "now routinely mentioned among the three or four leading English-language poets". Murray was often talked of as a possible winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Latest QWERTY 'News' (sic) = Quite Wrong Error Riddled Twaddle Yada-Yada

Oh dear, how wrong can the overnight typewriter “experts” be? How many more times are we going to have to set the QWERTY record straight before some of them can start to grasp the truth?
Never before in one single week has some much rubbish been written and published about the origins of QWERTY.
OK, let’s start with Wednesday’s pile of nonsense headed “How did the qwerty keyboard become so popular?” by Tim Harford of the BBC World Service.
1. “The father of the qwerty keyboard was Christopher Latham Sholes, a printer from Wisconsin who sold his first typewriter in 1868 to Porter's Telegraph College, Chicago. That bit's important.”
WRONG: In the summer of 1868 James Densmore, Samuel Willard Soulé and Edward Payson Porter had machines made in Chicago which Porter tested with students at his school for telegraphers. None were "sold" and Sholes had no direct involvement in the exercise. The machines used bore only a passing resemblance to the typewriter we know today as the Sholes & Glidden, and were little more than early prototypes of the typewriter.
2. “The qwerty layout was designed for the convenience of telegraph operators transcribing Morse code …”
WRONG: The first machines employing the QWERTY configuration were sold to a variety of people, including Chicago detective Allan Pinkerton, Wisconsin attorneys the Dawes Brothers and stenographers Walter Jay Barron and James Ogilvie Clephane, the latter using them for his commercial typing service. They were not specifically designed to be used by telegraph operators, although some were.
3. “It wasn't the only typewriter around …”
WRONG: Discounting the still then little known Hansen Writing Ball, the Sholes & Glidden/Remington was on its own until 1881.
Now let’s look at the next heap of misguided codswallop, “The truth about the QWERTY keyboard” by Graham Lawton, which appeared yesterday in – of all places – the New Scientist!
1. “Why are we stuck with the QWERTY keyboard? The history of the most commonly used keyboard layout is a sometimes murky story of commercial opportunism, critics with ulterior motives and the stubborn persistence of an idea that's seen off hundreds of supposedly superior competitors.”
WRONG: There is absolutely nothing murky about the story of QWERTY, it’s a clear as crystal. There was no commercial opportunism involved (there were no rivals at the time). QWERTY has seen off just two semi-serious challengers, Blickensderfer’s Scientific and Dvorak - two, not hundreds.
2. “What happened next is a little murky … almost out of the blue, QWERTY (almost) appeared. In August 1872 Scientific American published a glowing article about the “‘Sholes’ Type Writer”, illustrated with an engraving of the machine showing a four-row keyboard with a second row starting QWE.TY [my italics].”
WRONG:  There is nothing murky about it. Sholes and Densmore settled on the QWERTY configuration on Thursday, November 7, 1872. Densmore was the first to test it, in the early hours of the next morning, writing two letters to his stepson Barron. Scientific American of August 10, 1872,  DID NOT show a keyboard layout, with QWE.TY or any other combination. QWE.TY is a configuration which appeared on a February 1873 "axle machine" prototype. As such is it irrelevant to the QWERTY story, as QWERTY had already been settled on four months earlier. Regardless, this "axle machine" was not patented until 1878. 
3. “Remington put its No 1 Type Writer on to the market in 1874 …”
WRONG: The Sholes & Glidden was marketed in 1874, the Remington No 1 came out the next year.
A lot of this balderdash has been picked up and repeated from an article by Trevor English published last June. “The story of how the modern keyboard came to be involves Morse code, marketing, and a little bit of luck.”
“Back in the 1860s, a man named Christopher Latham Sholes was busy developing ways to make offices more efficient. Notably, he spent his time developing all different kinds of typewriters (!) and key layouts to improve how people wrote and communicated. Working with others in the field, he patented the first typewriter in 1867. Previous to this invention, there were other machines used for writing, but none were standard (?) … After working continuously to come up with new designs, in 1873 Sholes landed on one that had a similar layout to the modern QWERTY, but with a few keys switched. It would've been known as the QWE.TY …”
Where this idea of QWE.TY appearing in Scientific American in August 1872 comes from I have no idea. Even Scientific American more lately has mentioned it – maybe the magazine ought to check this out have a look at its own back issues? QWE.TY only ever appears on an 1873 prototype. How can anyone get so confused?
“Right after Sholes and his partner Carlos Glidden patented the QWERTY design …” Sholes alone took out the 1878 patent which showed the QWERTY configuration.  
It seems most of this poppycock started back in January 2012 with a “Today I Found Out’ article called “The Origin of the QWERTY keyboard” by someone called Samantha. “The first typewriter was introduced to the United States in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes ... In 1868, in collaboration with educator Amos Densmore, Sholes arranged the letters on the keyboard for better spacing between popular keys used in combination.”
Well, just how many times can I write WRONG? Amos Densmore could be described, at best, as a businessman, the educator was Alexander Davidson, and Davidson worked on the Caligraph, not the Sholes & Glidden. What’s more, QWERTY was FIRST settled on in November 1872. “The first typewriter machine found its way on the market in 1874 through Remington & Sons. The device was called the Remington No 1.” No it wasn’t. It was called the Sholes & Glidden.
No wonder there’s so much fake news around when people can’t even get a few simple facts right. Anyone wanting to find out the real story behind QWERTY, and the Sholes & Glidden itself, should take the time and make the effort to read Richard Nelson Current’s The Typewriter and The Men Who Made It (first published 1954, republished 1988). It’s all there, in plain black and white. Or is picking up a real, tangible book, reading it and taking in what it says just too much bother these days? And the Scientific American of August 10, 1872, is readily available online, if anyone cares to have a look:

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Typewriters at Gallipoli: Did They Cover Glorious Sacrifice or Sheer Senseless Slaughter?

This incredibly detailed sculpture of a Corona 3 portable typewriter is the work of Jane Estelle Bailey and Mark Andrew Snell of the Lavaworx Art Studio in Coolum, Queensland. The sculpture represents the typewriter used by Australia's official war correspondent and war historian Charles Bean when he covered the Gallipoli landings in 1915. The sculpture is part of the Gallipoli to Armistice Memorial in Maryborough, Queensland.
Bailey and Snell.
At a time when senseless mass killings seem to be part of our weekly life, Anzac Day will yet again be marked by many tens of thousands of New Zealanders and Australians tomorrow. Anzac Day has become much more than the simple, muted show of respect for the war dead that it was in my younger days; now it's an annual ritual which almost appears to macabrely celebrate the slaughter that occurred on the beaches of Turkey in 1915. On its fringes, it's a touchstone for espousing the worst kinds of nationalism.
Indeed, the pilgrimage to Gallipoli has itself turned incendiary, with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque murders - saying, “Your grandfathers came and saw that we're here. Then some of them walked back, while others left in coffins. If you come with the same intention, we'll be waiting for you."
A 1916 recruiting poster.
Erdoğan later, allegedly, backed away from that veiled threat, and about 700 Australians and 500 New Zealanders will attend dawn commemorations at Gallipoli. But, for me at least, it's not a healthy sign that Erdoğan's Government has barred Turks from attending. "Nothing is left to chance and keeping every Turkish person out eliminates a lot of risk," said an official. The Turkish military has imposed the lockdown after a huge security sweep.
A 1915 recruitment poster.
It's exceedingly sad that this has become a necessity. When, 104 years ago, Australian invaders on Turkish sovereign soil exchanged deadly gunfire with Turkish defenders, there was, oddly enough, still a small spark of humanity left. There was a truce on May 24 to collect and bury the bodies which carpeted no man's land, and as this image shows, Australian Diggers came to the aid of wounded Turks in the foothills of Achi Baba, the height dominating the Gallipoli Peninsula.
A 1915 H.J. Watson recruiting poster.
Many of these acts of compassion were written about by the typewriter-wielding journalists who covered the Gallipoli campaign, notably Charles Bean, his fellow Australian Phillip Schuler (who also used a Corona 3), and the Englishman Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett (Empire lightweight). But it was, in the main, these three men with their portable typewriters who created the enduring Anzac legend, a story of "glorious sacrifice" in the cause of British imperialism. As that same Britain now heads toward the self-imposed catastrophe of Brexit - rendering the nation a friendless orphan rather than a "mother" land - marking Anzac Day should perhaps be seen more and more as outdated, irrelevant and inconsequential. Or just plain silly. Strangely enough, however, quite the opposite is the case. Has our growing fascination with killing fields become so great we can't let go of Gallipoli? Are we now so imbued with mass murder that we need to continue to "celebrate" atrocities from more than a century ago? It would seem so. Certainly Anzac Day is being marked with increased passion as each year goes by.
Schuler at Mena Camp, Egypt, Christmas Eve 1914, with his Corona 3 in its case.
Charles Bean's photo of Schuler aboard the army transport the Orvieto
on his way to Egypt in October 1914.
One of my former editors at The Canberra Times, Mark Baker, now in charge of the Melbourne Press Club, in 2016 published a biography of Schuler, Phillip Schuler: The Remarkable Life of one of Australia's Greater War Correspondents. Unfortunately, it is laced with typographical errors (why do writers waste space thanking editors who have so badly let them down?), but the book is nonetheless an interesting read, including as it does intimate details of Schuler’s two love affairs – and the child about which he knew nothing. His lovers were Mrs Nelly Rossi (above left) in Cairo and Mrs Polly Howard (above, right) in Victoria, Australia. Canberra writer and historian Kristen Alexander, in her Honest History review of Baker's book, felt that given this purported to be a biography of one man, far too much space was devoted to Schuler's fellow war correspondents. She said the book showed an "apparent bias against Keith Murdoch ... Murdoch and his Gallipoli letter [typed on a Corona 3] are savaged. The prejudice continues throughout, on occasion verging on the vindictive." Personally, I felt Baker's rancour toward Murdoch (father of Rupert Murdoch) was more than justified, but Alexander's review remains fair. Still, Murdoch's unreliable "Gallipoli letter" embellishments of Ashmead-Bartlett's criticism of the Gallipoli campaign merely fueled the notion that the Anzacs gave their homelands nationhood, at the cost of oceans of young Antipodean blood. Was it all worth it? In the long run, as Brexit nears, the answer is a most definite no. But history is what it must be, irreversible. 
The Machiavellian and manipulating Keith Murdoch, right - a true inspiration for his son Rupert - with the then Australian Prime Minister, Welshman Billy Hughes, in France in World War I. Both used Corona 3 portable typewriters.
A letter from British Prime Minister Asquith shows what he thought of Murdoch. Nevertheless British military leader Ian Hamilton (below) was removed from the Gallipoli campaign.
Schuler, whose father Frederick (below) was editor of The Age newspaper in Melbourne, returned to Australia from Gallipoli but in 1916 enlisted as a solder and returned to the battlefield, serving on the Western Front. He was killed at the Battle of Messines in 1917, aged 28. 
 Schuler at a Cairo hotel.
Schuler in 1914, far right, with Charles Bean, second from left, Bean's father the Reverend Edwin Bean, far left, and Archie Whyte of The Sydney Morning Herald.