Great names of British comedy

It’s fifty years since the first broadcast of that classic of British comedy, Dad’s Army, and this month our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library showcases the life stories of some of our funniest men and women. We have a truly enormous number of books celebrating the comic genius of stand-ups and sitcom stars. With intimate glimpses of the highs and lows of their real lives, we find that the tears of a clown are often a real phenomenon, while some stars have brought their comic talents to their own memoirs so that their trials and tribulations cause tears of laughter as we read.

The vintage funny business is all here – from the Victorian double entendres of Marie Lloyd and the silk dressing-gown cool of Noel Coward, to the surreal capers of ITMA (It’s That Man Again), Round the Horne and The Goons and the even more surreal and subversive – and perhaps also quintessentially British? – comic kaleidoscope of Monty Python.

I wonder if I am alone in finding Private Frazer’s mournful cry of “We’re doomed!” strangely reassuring – it’s interesting that over the years we have loved so may characters who express comic despair at life’s frustrations, with a special place in our collective psyche for the hapless melancholy of Tony Hancock, the car-thrashing frenzy of Basil Fawlty, the tightlipped defeatism of Victor Meldrew and the wailing lament of Steptoe junior as his father greets another faux pas with a malevolent toothless grin. There’s that traditional strand of social competitiveness, snobbery and one-upmanship to relish in many of our best loved characters too (Fawlty and Steptoe’s anguish has a lot to do with this, and think also of Hyacinth Bucket, Rigsby,and Margot). The “saucy” humour of the seaside postcard resonates in the Carry On era and Benny Hill, and British comedy has also always had a healthy disrespect for the institutions of authority, taking the wind out of the sails of power in Yes, Minister and of the criminal justice system in Porridge.

Through the alternative scene of the 80s, shows like The Kenny Everett Video Show, Not the Nine O’ clock News, The Young Ones, The Comic Strip Presents and Three of a Kind all represented seismic shifts in comedy styles and pushed the boundaries of what made us laugh.

More recent faces feature in our display too, like Walliams and Lucas, Mitchell and Webb, Miranda Hart, Michael McIntyre, Sarah Millican and James Corden – and there is no shortage of hilarious women – Wood, Windsor, and Walters; Lipman, Tate, French and Saunders, and many more.

There are so many, many great names of British comedy, that I am already wondering how I could have written this blog piece without mentioning by name, for example, Tommy Cooper, Kenneth Williams, Spike Milligan or June Whitfield – and you will doubtless have your favourites who you can’t believe I have not included! I am glad to say this embarrassment of comic riches is reflected in our Biography Collection, with our display representing the tip of an iceberg of hundreds or comic biographies. If you can’t find your favourite, just ask.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Advertisements

Civil rights movement: leaders and activists

On 4 April it will be 50 years since the world was shocked by the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Memphis, Tennessee. Our display of books from the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library this month is about the African-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, in which he was one of the key figures.

When the movement began there already existed certain civil rights for black people in the US at a federal level; an issue was ensuring their enforcement by the federal government against the wishes of state governments in the South controlled by (rich) white people. These civil rights included various amendments that had been made to the US federal constitution following the American Civil War. These had ended slavery and given African-Americans citizenship and the vote (the last for males only, in line with the law for whites at the time).

However, these legal equalities between blacks and whites could only be effectively imposed in the South by the use of force by the federal government in the face of fierce resistance, and once troops were withdrawn in the late 1870s , black people were gradually intimidated out of political participation, leading to a simmering compromise whereby slavery had been ended but Southern states passed local laws denying equal civil rights and imposing segregation, which were not effectively opposed at federal level.

In the 1950s, this still unresolved conflict led to the civil rights movement. Segregation and systematic abuse continued to degrade and brutalise black people in the South; lynchings went uninvestigated, corrupt authorities advanced a racist agenda, and black people who had fought in the armed services during World War II against the most racist of fascist ideologies found on their return that they were treated as second class citizens in their own country. The civil rights movement achieved limited legalistic effects – limited, certainly with hindsight, because massive inequality in access to material resources partly along racial lines persists in the US as in all of human society at present.

Like all campaign movements, the civil rights movement encompassed various strands, organisations, and personalities: Martin Luther King, with his Christian and pacifist tinged political strategy; the more militant Malcolm X, joining King’s organisation from the Nation of Islam; bodies of the organised working class and university students (these two in particular encompassing many whites); and many more.

We have aimed in the books we have chosen to go beyond the better known figures, exploring the stories of many people associated with the civil rights movement in many ways.  So, as well as biographies of King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, we have books on performers like Nina Simone and Paul Robeson,  whose commitment to the struggle was interwoven with their art, and sports stars like Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson, who refused to separate their identities as world famous sportsmen from the injustices inherent in their experiences as black citizens.

In the realm of very personal stories, we have James McBride telling the story of the marriage of his white mother to his black father against the backdrop of racial intolerance, Jan Carew recalls travelling with Malcolm X and their intimate discussions about his world view, and Charles Denby’s Black Worker’s Journal gives a detailed and evocative picture of life in a Detroit car factory negotiating the assaults of race and class prejudice.  We hope this display will deepen and broaden our perspective on a movement which continues to reverberate.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Post-war British actors

This month the theme of our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library is ‘Post-War British Actors’.  From the iconic glamour of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to the compelling stories of more recent stars like Emma Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch, we have a range of fascinating biographies which give an insight into the worlds of film, theatre and TV as they have evolved over the last seven decades.

It’s a huge field, but we are putting particular emphasis on actors who have written their own memoirs – several, like Dirk Bogarde, were gifted writers whose reminiscences have become classics, and Rupert Everett’s beautifully written memoirs contain some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read! As it is Oscar season, we’ll also be including as many UK actors as possible who have been honoured with one of the world’s most famous trophies.

If reminiscences of stage and screen interest you, you are sure to enjoy hearing actor Robert Gillespie read from his new memoir ‘Are You Going to Do That Little Jump?’ A hilarious, poignant, and at times provocative assessment of the profession that has been his life’s work. Join him on Tuesday 20 March 2018, 6.30 to 7.45pm at Kensington Central Library. Book your free place via Eventbrite

The Biography Store team at Kensington Central Library

Vote 100 2018

This month’s display of books at Kensington Central Library from our Biography Collection is to mark that 100 years ago today women got the vote for the first time.

 

On 6 February 1918, royal assent was given to the Representation of the People Act, and for the first time over 8 million British women were entitled to vote. The original legislation enfranchised only those women who were over 30 and owned property above a certain value, or who were university graduates still living in the constituency of their university. (It took another decade for women’s eligibility to vote to be based on the same terms as men’s.) It was widely considered to be a recognition of women’s role in the First World War (as almost thirty years later, their role in the Second led to women being given the vote in France), but the change in the law was also preceded by several years of increasingly militant protest and agitation by women determined to end their exclusion from the democratic process.

This month, we mark the centenary of this momentous legislation with a special display of suffragette and suffragist biographies from our special Biography Collection in Kensington Central Library. From the most famous names of the movement, like the Pankhursts, to working class women like Annie Barnes, campaigners for the female franchise left fascinating accounts of how they struggled and why. Picking up the resonance of the bitter conflicts of a century ago, we can also hear the voice of Mrs Humphry Ward, a passionate opponent of women’s suffrage.

I was unable to put down, amongst others, the memoir of Lady Constance Lytton, who created an alter ego, complete with physical disguise, so as to serve her sentence in Holloway Prison without deriving any benefit from her aristocratic status. Her intimate, immediate account of the conditions of the suffragette prisoners as they were force fed, tortured by being hosed with water, and degraded with filthy clothes and bedding, is a deeply shocking reminder of how much was endured for the cause.

To tie in with this display, we are delighted to be marking the service to that cause of a local woman, Kate Parry Frye, with a talk by her biographer Elizabeth Crawford . Elizabeth Crawford will be focusing on the biographies of this Kensington activist and of some of her fellow suffragists, and author Sonia Lambert will be reading excerpts from fictionalised accounts of women’s experiences that she has created based on extensive reading of the testament of suffragettes. The event will take place at  Kensington Central Library on Monday 26 February, 6pm – 7.45 pm. Book your free place via Eventbrite

One of the challenges we face with our Biography Collection displays is that some of our most fascinating books are hiding behind some of our least alluring bindings! Although we’re all familiar with the adage “never judge a book by its cover”, we are always looking for ways to entice potential readers to overcome their resistance to borrowing these less than beautiful-looking volumes. This has proved particularly true this month, with some of our truly compulsive suffragette memoirs looking, frankly, a little unglamorous. Our solution is to enhance these with a wrapper showing a picture of the author, and a quote from the text which will hopefully whet your appetites.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

Musical anniversaries 2018

This month’s display of books from the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library showcases musicians with significant anniversaries in 2018. Those we have most books on in the collection are Leonard Bernstein (born 1918), Claude Debussy (died 1918), and Gioachino Rossini (died 1868), but we include many others.

Gioachino Rossini

Other hard copy resources for music in our libraries are:

• Scores in at Kensington Central Library’s store

• CDs at Kensington Central Library

• DVDs of operas, shows etc and books on music, across all all our libraries

• A special collection of music reference books at Kensington Central Library

All these can be looked for on our library catalogue

We also have resources online:

Naxos Music Library – we have a workshop about using this music streaming service, more details below

Biographical and newspaper online resources useful for musician biographies and performance and recording reviews

Naxos Music Library workshop

Naxos Music Library workshop
Friday 26 January
2 to 3pm
Kensington Central Library

Come along to our workshop to find out more about the Naxos Music Library, the music streaming service which is free for library members. You will be shown how to:

  • Access the service
  • Find the sort of music you are interested in
  • Find multiple recordings of a work, or all the recordings available on the site by one recording artist or composer
  • Put together a playlist of your favourite music
  • Share your favourite tracks or albums

This event is free, no need to book – just turn up.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

The Reformation

In the run-up to the major Christian festival of Christmas, the display of books from the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library is focusing on the period of rapid change in Western European Christianity known as the Reformation, in the year that marks 500 years since the events traditionally taken as being the starting point for the process.

Martin Luther

The main emphasis, inevitably, has to be on Martin Luther and other dissident thinkers in the German-speaking world, the traditional starting point for the Reformation being the nailing by Luther, to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, of his Ninety-Five Theses. This notwithstanding, it does appear that, although nailing notices to church doors was a regular practice at the time, there is no direct evidence that Luther actually did do this in this particular case. What is certain is that the theses were circulated in the context of debate at a private university (i.e. not a church institution) which was supported by Luther’s local secular lord, and that Luther’s personal arc and the Reformation more widely were partly given impetus by local and wider conflicts between church and secular state.

This factor is arguably even more straightforwardly to the fore in events in England: the conflict between state and church authority over the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon; the dissolution of the monasteries; the establishment of what amounts to a national catholic church in England, i.e. one which on the one hand does not acknowledge the international authority of the Pope, but on the other maintains the episcopal system and stops short of the much wider structural and theological changes that characterise Lutheranism, Calvinism, and other nonconformist denominations.

Whatever your belief system, the Biography Collection team wish you celebration and recuperation over the period of holidays following the northern-hemisphere winter solstice.

Midnight’s Parents – The Partition of India in 1947

This month’s display of books at Kensington Central Library from the Biography Collection store comprises works by and about figures who shaped events leading up to and during Partition.

While many of us will be familiar with major actors such as Gandhi, Jinnah, Mountbatten, and Nehru, staff researching for the display this month discovered that, for example, in 1905 Curzon, as viceroy, divided Bengal into two administrative divisions along roughly religious lines, though the resulting political crisis led to re-unification in 1911.

 

Also on the British ‘side’, a new viceroy, Minto, took over in 1906, and Kitchener was also involved in events around this time as British military chief in India.

Edwin Montagu, as Secretary of State for India, was responsible in 1919 for several reforms that gave Indians more influence in India.

Atlee and Cripps of the post-War Labour government were also involved, the former having been a supporter of Indian independence for years.

There were also many less well-known politically active individuals from the Indian ‘side’ at the time, including one woman, Sarojini Naidu, a poet, and the first woman to become the governor of an Indian state (United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, 1947-49).

Maulana Azad, the senior Muslim leader of the Indian National Congress, promoted Hindu-Muslim unity, secularism, and socialism, and was prominent in the development of education in India after independence.

Subhas Chandra Bose, another senior Congress politician, later fell out with other Congress leaders and tried to end British rule in India with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

The Kennedys at Kensington Central Library

Did you know that Kensington Central Library is home to the Biography Collection? It contains approximately 80,000 books with over 1,000 new titles added each year. One of our readers has said that it ‘equals the British Library.’

It began as part of the Metropolitan Special Collection which was set up among the London boroughs in the 1950s. Every title in the collection is available to view and borrow.

Every month, the library staff put together a display from the collection; this month’s display features the Kennedy family to mark the centenary of the birth of the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy on 29 May.

JFK display

Click here for  more information on the collection.

 

Tim Reid, Kensington Central Library

 

 

Kensington Central Library – September 2013

Kensington Central Library
Kensington Central Library

Hello to you all from the staff at Kensington Central Library – we hope you’ve had an enjoyable summer. We’ve got that ‘back to school’ feeling with lots of new things happening at our library – from new events to new displays.

Bye bye to the Summer Reading Challenge

It’s been a fantastic summer for the kids at Kensington Central Library – along with our normal regular events for our youngest library members we had a weekly story and craft session on Thursday afternoons to support this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. During the last session – the kids made some great creepy houses out of a tissue paper which they really enjoyed.

We’re really proud of the children who’ve taken part in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge – at the last count over 250 children took part and just over 100 of them completed. That mean’s they read six or more books each – in fact we’ve worked out that over 660 books have been read!

Story and craft sessions
Story and craft sessions

As our story and craft sessions are so popular – we’ll now be having a regular weekly session every Saturday. So if your kids enjoy listening to stories and like to get creative – bring them along on Saturdays at 2pm!

New displays

We’ve got some new and diverse books on display at the moment – right by the library entrance so they’re easy to find:

  • A new series of The Great British Bake Off has recently started on BBC 2 so we have an amazing display of books for  anyone who’s been inspired to bake. (there’s more information about The Great British Bake Off on the BBC website)
  • To carry on the food theme – we’ve a healthy eating book display. We’ve included Jamie Oliver’s latest book which is to do with healthy eating on a budget – just perfect timing for students off to university.
  • We were very sad to hear about the death of Seamus Heaney so it was important for us to pay tribute to this important poet.
  • And finally some more treasures from our biography collection – this time we have some unpleasant characters for you to find out about.

New events

We have two new events programmes that can be collected from the library – events for all ages in September to December and the London History Festival. All of the events are also listed on our news and events page. Here’s a quick summary of what’s happening at Kensington Central Library in the next month or so:

Arthritis Care
Arthritis Care
Arthritis Care talk
Thursday 19 September, 1 to 2pm

Do you suffer with arthritis? Arthritis Care will give a talk on arthritis and pain – why you get pain and how to cope with it. There will also be a chance to ask questions.

Fashion event
Fashion event
Fashion – Press the Fast Forward Button
Tuesday 24 September, 6.30 to 8pm

Are you interested in the fashion industry? Thinking of starting a fashion business as a designer, retailer, importer or exporter? Then don’t miss this opportunity to hear from expert fashion management consultant David Jones and successful designer and entrepreneur Francesca Marcenaro. This session is in partnership with Colin Rutt from Portobello Business Centre.

Business information session
Business information session
Business information: professional resources made available for free from your library
Thursday 26 September, 2 to 4pm at Kensington Central Reference Library

At this session we will guide you through how to use two great business research websites which are available free through your library: Mint UK and also Cobra. Mint UK provides access to a wealth of company information including company data, directors, news and market research. Cobra is a continually updated information resource for anyone who is running a small business or thinking of setting up a business.  Here you will find practical information and advice such as start-up business ideas and profiles, guides to business support in different areas of the UK and much more.

You can book  a FREE place to any of these events at Kensington Central Library in person, by calling 020 7361 3010 or emailing libraries@rbkc.gov.uk

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
Jodie Green

Jodie Green

Lending Librarian, Kensington Central Library