Sunday, 27 February 2022
Saturday, 26 February 2022
Corona Typewriter in a Shower
It's still supposed to be summer in Australia, but with La Niña giving large parts of the country an almost unrelenting drenching, it feels like we won't see much sunshine until September (and only then if we're lucky). The wet weather has reminded me of this rather strange photograph in the United States Library of Congress collection. It was taken 100 years ago, but I don't know that anyone out there in the wide, wide typewriter world has yet been able to work what it's all about. If someone has, please let me know. There doesn't appear to any caption with it, other than to state it is a Harris & Ewing photo. This Washington studio was a diversified photographic service founded in 1905 by George W. Harris and Martha Ewing to give the US capital a world-class organisation for producing civic portraiture and photojournalism. Welsh-born Harris was the principal photographer from its founding until his retirement in 1955. Californian Ewing, a fine artist and photographer with entrepreneurial instincts, great social skills, some money and an interest in color process photography, arranged the financial backing and managed the concern.Given that in 1922, the year the Corona typewriter in the shower photo was taken, the Corona Typewriter Company ran in Typewriter Topics two full-page adverts relating to Corona portables being dropped in water but later found to be still workable, maybe the shower scene was someone's idea of a Corona publicity shot. A "typing on a Corona underwater" sort of thing. The second Topics ad, above, was run in September and told the tale of US Marine Talmadge Taylor's Corona being dropped overboard from a transport ship. The earlier ad, below, published in the May edition of Topics, relates a story fleshed out on this blog some time ago, about George Russell's canoe trip from Seattle to Alaska. Could these two examples of the Corona's durability and "waterproofness" have inspired a test in a Washington DC shower room? Just a thought ...
Thursday, 24 February 2022
Howard Carter’s Portable Typewriter – Naturally, it’s a Royal
stumbled across the intact tomb of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Events associated with this centenary already offer clear evidence that Tutankhamun still holds enormous fascination for people of all ages, all around the world. In The New Yorker’s books section this week, Casey Cep has written about Christina Riggs’s work Treasured: How Tutankhamun Shaped a Century, which came out on January 18. Cep starts out by saying, “Not long ago, in my sister’s elementary-school classroom, I met a second grader who seemed well on his way to a doctoral degree in Egyptology. After describing the mummification process in recondite detail - not only why the brain was removed through the nose but how exactly natron dried out the rest of the body - the child drew an elaborate cartouche with the hieroglyphs used to spell my name. He then proceeded to tell me more about the pharaoh Tutankhamun than most of the other students could tell me about their own grandfathers. It makes sense that a boy king would have an enduring hold over boys, but it is less clear why so many of the rest of us are still enthralled by Tutankhamun more than 3000 years after he ruled over the New Kingdom and 100 years after the excavation of his tomb … Tutankhamun represents an extremely narrow slice of Egyptian history; imagine if, in the year 4850, the world understood the United States largely through the Presidency of Millard Fillmore. Yet the anniversary of the excavation has occasioned everything from new histories and documentaries to travelling exhibitions and children’s books, each of which contains its own implicit argument about Tutankhamun’s appeal.”
Reading this, I could picture myself as the New Zealand approximate equivalent of an American second grader, in primary class four in 1957, when my constant stream of corrections led our teacher to ask me to take over her class talk on Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic. Much easier, one might argue, for a child to be knowledgeable about someone who had only been dead 45 years than someone who had reigned between 1332 and 1323 BC. Still, there are statues one can stand before and touch and be inspired by, and then there are mummified corpses in tombs. I’m happy to say my interest in history, sparked by the tragedy of Scott, eventually led me to both. Like Scott, I was doomed to chase cold climates. Like Tutankhamun, I grew up in a place rich in nephrite and gold. But while such mineral wealth was beyond our reach, it still fostered an enthrallment with stories about people drawn to these valuables.
I was in Egypt in late 1978 and spent time in both Luxor and Cairo, long before Thebes and Karnak became the tourist magnets they are now. Luxor was a shabby town in those days, and sadly Castle Carter, the museum dedicated to Carter in his former home on the hill of Elwat-el-Diban, was not open to the public. In fact, back then it was derelict. It had been left to rack and ruin for 36 years, since being abandoned by French Egyptologist Étienne Marie Felix Drioton, Director-General of Antiquities of Egypt at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and Alexandre Stoppelaëre, head of archaeological research at Luxor and in charge of the restoration of Theban necropolises.
I drove past Carter’s house on my way to the Valley of the Kings, but barely gave it a second glance. Carter had died of Hodgkin’s disease at his London flat almost 40 years earlier, leaving the house and the artefacts within it to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. When the MET’s expedition house in Egypt was closed in 1948, the pieces were sent to New York. By 1940, discussions about whether they should go to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo were left unresolved, but it was decided in November 2010 to return the more valuable items.
Egypt’s former Minister of Antiquities and director of the Cairo Museum, Zahi Hawass, came up with the plan to restore Carter’s house and after some years of work, under the direction of architect Hany El Miniawy, it was opened to the public on November 4, 2009, 87 years to the day after Carter’s discovery of the first step leading to Tutankhamun's tomb, and more than 70½ years after Carter had died. Egypt Today says, “The house is still in its original state and is home to maps, old books, writings by carter, as well as antique furniture and a replica of Tutankhamun's tomb.” The house, sometimes also called Carter House, stands on the west bank of Luxor, north of Assassif, at the crossroads of the road that leads to the Valley of the Kings.
One of the items now on display in Castle Carter is Carter’s portable typewriter. It is a Royal model P, introduced to the United States market in October 1926. However, the Royal factory at Hartford, Connecticut, which had just produced its one-millionth standard size typewriter, quickly fell behind with pre-Christmas orders for the portable, so it wasn’t until 1927 that these machines became more readily available in the US and overseas.
Carter, above, was born in Kensington, London, on May 9, 1874. At age 25 he was appointed inspector of monuments for Upper Egypt in the Egyptian Antiquities Service based at Luxor. He oversaw excavations and restorations at Thebes, while in the Valley of the Kings he supervised the systematic exploration of the valley by the American archaeologist Theodore Davis. In 1907 he began work for Herbert George Edward Stanhope Molyneux, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who employed Carter to supervise the excavation of tombs in Deir el-Bahri, near Thebes. Carnarvon sponsored Carter’s work in Egypt for the next 16 years, until Carnarvon’s death on April 5, 1923. Carnarvon had gained the concession to dig in the Valley of the Kings in 1914 and Carter led the work. Excavations were interrupted by the First World War, but Carter resumed his task towards the end of 1917.
Wednesday, 23 February 2022
When Typewriters Made the World a Whole Lot Funnier
This was the time of classic British comedy shows on radio and TV, such as Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son. Vertue later said she understood the power of such television when the British government asked the BBC not to air a show on which she was working – Hancock’s Half Hour – because it might keep people away from polling booths at the 1959 general election. Tony Hancock’s show had successfully moved from radio to TV, and so had Vertue.
For Vertue her involvement in radio entertainment had been an accident. She’d known the scriptwriter Alan Simpson (1929-2017) from school days, after which he contracted tuberculosis. In hospital Simpson met Ray Galton (1930-2018), who also had TB. While recuperating the pair did spots on the hospital radio system, and then became comedy writing partners for 50 years. They wrote many BBC shows together, including BBC sitcoms Hancock's Half Hour (1954–1961), Steptoe and Son (1962–74) and the first two series of Comedy Playhouse (1961-63).
Galton and Simpson at Orme Place.
Needing someone to type their scripts, in 1955 Simpson called Vertue, but it was another writer who interviewed her for the job – Spike Milligan (1918-2002). He was wearing braces but no shirt and asked her what made her laugh and what tea she preferred. She didn’t want the job, it was on the other side of London. Milligan asked how much she would want to be paid each week. She decided to “price herself out of it” by asking for £10. “That’s £2, 10 (shillings) each,” Milligan said (comedian Eric Sykes was also there). “My whole life was transformed from that day,” Vertue said later.
Simpson and Galton with a Sperry-Remington101.
The writers' cooperative became known as Associated London Scripts. Johnny Speight (1920-98) joined in at the time he wrote Till Death Us Do Part (1965-75). Another member of the collective was Terry Nation (1930-97), who created the Daleks and Davros for Doctor Who and Blake's 7 in 1978. Many of the writers lacked confidence in dealing with BBC management, so Vertue found herself an “accidental agent”, renewing and renegotiating their contracts as their shows, many of which she produced, became firmly ensconced in English popular culture. She also represented comedians Tony Hancock and Frankie Howerd.
Beryl Frances Vertue (née Johnson) was born in Croydon, London, on April 8, 1931. After leaving Mitcham county school she began her working life as a typist in a shipping firm. She was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards and the Harvey Lee Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting at the BPG TV and Radio Awards, both in 2012.
Tuesday, 22 February 2022
'How the Typewriter Changed Chinese'
It's rare when a typewriter appears on the cover of Britain's Literary Review, but this month's issue has this striking illustration by Chris Riddell. It relates to a review headed 'How the Typewriter Changed Chinese' by historian Robert Bickers of Jing Tsu's book Kingdom of Characters: A Tale of Language, Obsession, and Genius in Modern China, published last month.
Saturday, 19 February 2022
The Little Prince and the Remington Noiseless Portable Typewriter
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Remington Noiseless portable typewriter
The Remington Noiseless portable typewriter used by French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry went on display this week during an exhibition dedicated to Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. The exhibition is titled “A la Rencontre du Petit Prince” ("Meet The Little Prince") and is being staged at Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
The Little Prince is Saint-Exupéry’s best-known French-language work. Published in 1943 in New York, it is a poetic and philosophical work under the guise of a children's story, self-illustrated in watercolours. Translated into 457 languages and dialects, The Little Prince is the second most translated work in the world after the Bible.
Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, was a successful commercial pilot before World War II, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. He joined the French Air Force at the start of the war, flying reconnaissance missions until France's armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilised from the French Air Force, he travelled to the United States to help persuade its government to enter the war against Nazi Germany.
Saint-Exupéry spent 27 months in America, during which he wrote three of his most important works, then joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa. He disappeared and is believed to have died while on a reconnaissance mission from Corsica over the Mediterranean on July 31, 1944. Although the wreckage of his plane was discovered off the coast of Marseille in 2000, the ultimate cause of the crash remains unknown.
Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyon to an aristocratic Catholic family. He received his pilot's wings after being posted to the 37th Fighter Regiment in Casablanca, Morocco, and became one of the pioneers of international postal flight, working for Aéropostale between Toulouse and Dakar. Saint-Exupéry then became the airline stopover manager for the Cape Juby airfield in the Spanish zone of South Morocco, in the Sahara desert. His duties included negotiating the safe release of downed fliers taken hostage by Saharan tribes, a perilous task which earned him his first Légion d'honneur from the French Government. In 1929, Saint-Exupéry was transferred to Argentina, where he was appointed director of the Aeroposta Argentina airline.
Saint-Exupéry's first novella, L'Aviateur (The Aviator), was published in 1926. In 1929 his first book, Courrier Sud (Southern Mail) was published. The 1931 publication of Vol de nuit (Night Flight) established Saint-Exupéry in the literary world. Saint-Exupéry continued to write until the spring of 1943, when he left the United States with American troops bound for North Africa in World War II.
Following the German invasion of France in 1940, Saint-Exupéry flew a Bloch MB.174 with the Groupe de reconnaissance II/33 reconnaissance squadron of the Armée de l'Air. After France's armistice with Germany, Saint-Exupéry went into exile in North America, escaping through Portugal. He boarded the SS Siboney and arrived in New York City on the last day of 1940. Saint-Exupéry wrote and illustrated The Little Prince there and the village of Asharoken in mid-to-late 1942, with the manuscript being completed in October.
Friday, 18 February 2022
A Lost Time: Deadline Artists with Typewriters as Brushes
What are young print newspaper journalists missing out on these days, stuck at home as they are? Glued to their phones and iPads and laptops, seeing no more of the wide, wide world than the view out of their apartment windows? Perhaps watching the documentary Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists, about Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, might give them some clues. Then again, I have to confess that “shoe-leather” reporters chasing stories were a thing of the past long before the pandemic hit.
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists has been out there more than three years now, and I still haven’t seen it. Shame on me. But a former colleague from my days on The New Zealand Herald in Auckland has just watched it on Sky over the ditch (the Tasman Sea) and posted on Facebook about the doco today. “I've never had much time for aged guys (it's always guys), waxing lyrical about the good old days,” he wrote. “But this doco did stir some surprisingly powerful memories for me of when newsrooms were noisy and often fun, most interviews were face to face, and alcohol was part of the mix.”
Comments on the post were interesting. One said, “I always thought that if I didn't smoke, drank less and went for the odd walk at lunchtime, I'd likely survive beyond the age of my boomer colleagues.” Another recalled, “My first newsroom experience was as a kid on day experience from college. I sat down, and a young long-haired journo suddenly set into the older bald reporter in the room. Huge screaming match over god knows what. I decided then that this was a job for me.” A reporter from my home town added, “When I started … in 1963 the chief reporter Jim Caffin had a stock whip permanently fixed above his office door. The cigarette smoke cloud hung low from the ceiling. The typewriter clatter and yelling could be deafening. It was only quiet between 5pm and 6pm, when most staffers were in the back bar of the Dominion Hotel. I loved it all. It was just the place for a 16-year-old kid from Greymouth.”
This certainly brought back memories for me. In Townsville I saw a very fat dictionary thrown across a newsroom, hitting a sub-editor square on the head, and on another occasion a metal em rule was flung in the same direction, happily just missing its target. Owen Thomson, the Les Patterson prototype who was my editor on The Australian, told some amazing stories from his time of owning Truth with Mark Day. An old man who was very seriously vertically challenged went into the Truth newsroom one day, saying he and his equally diminutive brother wanted some publicity about reigniting their circus act. For no apparent reason, the “interview” ended with the circus performer and the young reporter assigned to the story wrestling viciously on the floor. On The Australian the acting sports editor Kevin Jones, a former Mr North Tasmania, dumped the greyhound writer, Gary Holloway, head first into a waste paper basket. In Cork I saw a male copytaker talking into his shoe (no kidding). In Dublin a sub called Charlie McCarthy (seriously) blew up big time because someone had taken a copy of the Evening Press into a cubicle in the men’s toilet and left it open at the ‘Dubliner’s Diary’ page. I was once myself called a prima donna. There was ‘Curl’ Menagh’s collapse off the Daily News subs desk in Perth, when ‘Bricky Bill’ Reynolds told the two Scottish subs who’d gone to his aid to leave Curl and get on with subbing, as deadline was fast approaching. There are countless John Camplin stories, including holding Col Allen by the scruff of the neck out of a seventh-floor window at The Crest in Brisbane. In Canberra Bob Macklin lost it when falsely accusing fellow staff members of stealing the bonnet hood logo off his Merc. And then there were the memorable Norman Abjorensen "youse can all ..." departure speeches. Ah, such sweet and sour memories. Of excitable people, living life on an edge and often falling off it. Of tensions tightening as the clock ticked toward deadline. Of offbeat characters drawn into a vertigo inducing profession, never for a second regretting the agnst it wrought. OK, I'll stop there. But I could go on. There are dozens of ’em.
One telling comment on the Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists post came from a very astute media commentator. “In 1998 Pete Hamill wrote a small book titled News in a Verb. He was out in his prediction of the future for newspapers (who in 1998 accurately predicted the effect of the Internet?) but his conclusion was goal-setting: ‘If newspapers do what only they can do, we will have better cities, better citizens, and a smarter, more humane country. At the very least, we will have avoided adding anything more to the appalling history of human lousiness.’”
Oh, how very true that was. Sadly, in the 24 years since Hamill wrote it, the chances have passed us by.
Thursday, 17 February 2022
Rupert Gould's 'The Story of the Typewriter'
- Sign over the workroom when Rupert Gould lived with his mother Agnes Gould at 'Downside', 41 Woodfield Lane, Ashtead, Surrey. Fearing his mother’s objections to additions to his typewriter collection, Gould codenamed them “lobsters”.
It’s a little more than seven years now since I wrote what I thought was a definitive post about typewriter history books. By chance I found today that I’d missed one: The Story of the Typewriter: From the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuries by the famed British polymath and horologist Rupert Thomas Gould (1890-1948), who started collecting typewriters in 1927 and for more than two decades made an intense study of typewriter history. On my list, Gould’s book, published in 1949 by the London-based journal Office Control and Management, should slot in between those two extremely valuable works, Ernst Martin’s updated edition of The Typewriter and its Development History and Richard Current’s The Typewriter and The Men Who Made It.
I’ve only had a chance so far to take a cursory look through Gould’s The Story of the Typewriter, but from what I’ve read of it I’d highly recommend it to serious typewriter historians. It’s available online here. It’s nowhere near as detailed as Martin’s book – what work is? – nor is it as revealing about Latham Sholes, James Densmore and George Yōst as Current’s wonderful read. To Gould's eternal credit, he gets the inventor of the 1847 Typograph right, when so many other so-called "typewriter historians" (mainly British) got it SO wrong! And Gould does raise some interesting points. For example, he credits the invention of the Caligraph to Franz Xaver Wagner, the man better known for giving us the Wagner typewriter which became the visible writing Underwood. This was a new take for me. I have never believed Densmore or Yōst were capable of developing the mechanics for the Caligraph, though it was probably Densmore’s idea to have space bars on both sides of the keyboard. I do know, however, that Alexander Davidson (left) laid claim to designing the Caligraph, as well as the Densmore and the early Yōst typewriters. Wagner was equally experienced across a range of the earliest typewriters, so the likelihood of his input into the Caligraph cannot be dismissed.
Gould does not mention Davidson at all. Instead his “tiny band of professional typewriter designers” includes Lucien Crandall, Charles Spiro, Wagner, Wellington Parker Kidder and Richard Uhlig. And he does point out that whoever did design the Caligraph was “gravely, though not fatally, handicapped by having to evade the Remington patents”. These were the Sholes patents surrendered to Remington through poor financial management from Densmore and Yōst. Gould appears to have had a soft spot for Wagner, right, possibly because both men were vitally involved with clocks and their escapement mechanisms, as well having an interest in typewriters. Indeed, it seems highly likely that Gould’s involvement with clocks led to his collecting typewriters and researching their history.
Gould’s manuscript was first published as a series of articles in Office Control and Management journal between January and September 1948. After Gould died of heart failure at age 57, on October 5, 1948, his articles were edited into book form by Dudley Wood Hooper (1911-1968), an accountant with training and experience in the use and development of office technology (Hooper helped form the British Computer Society in April 1957).
I came across mention of Gould’s book today when I chanced upon Time Restored: The Harrison Timekeepers and R.T. Gould, The Man Who Knew (Almost) Everything by Jonathan Betts, a senior specialist in horology at the Royal Observatory, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (as in Greenwich Mean Time). This book, published by the Oxford University Press and the maritime museum in 2006, goes into much detail about Gould’s typewriter collecting and his writings about typewriter history. These sections are also available online, here. Betts is decidedly mistaken in saying Gould “had one of the largest collections of typewriters in existence and wrote the first independent history of the instrument.” Carl Dietz’s 113 machines donated to the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1936 easily outbids Gould’s 71 by 1948. As for independent histories, there was one published in Britain by George Carl Mares in 1909, The History of the Typewriter Successor to the Pen being one example of the many independent histories written between Mares and Martin. But we won’t let that detract from Gould’s typewriter book.
Betts did, however, seek the advice of renowned British collector and historian Bernard Williams. The author wrote, “One of the surprising things that [Williams] has noted is that, unlike Gould’s published work in antiquarian horology and in scientific mysteries, his contribution to the history of the typewriter is very little known in the small but enthusiastic world of typewriter collecting.” How true is that!
Rupert Thomas Gould was a lieutenant-commander in the British Royal Navy best known for his contributions to horology (the science and study of timekeeping devices). He was born at Southsea, Hampshire, on November 16, 1890, the son of a music teacher, organist and composer. Rupert was educated at Eastman's Royal Naval Academy, the Royal Naval College, Osborne, and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. He became a midshipman, and thereby a naval officer, on May 15, 1907, aged 16. He chose the “navigation” career track and, after qualifying as a navigation officer, served until near the outbreak of World War I, at which time he suffered a nervous breakdown and went on medical leave. During his lengthy recuperation, he was stationed at the Hydrographer's Department at the Admiralty, where he became an expert on various aspects of naval history, cartography, and expeditions of the polar regions. In 1919 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander. He became a science educator, giving a series of talks for the BBC's Children's Hour starting in January 1934 under the name “The Stargazer”. The first of these talks involving typewriters was given on June 9, 1938, and it was followed by an article in the Radio Times. Ten years earlier, Gould have given a paper to the Royal Society of Arts on the subject of typewriter history.