December 18

Amber pages

Joseph Grimaldi, the "greatest clown in history", born today in 1778. The title-claim should be regarded as a conscious act of self-publicity rather than a factual statement (though who knows, maybe it is also a factual statement). At least three recent American Presidents could also be awarded this title, and Ned Alleyn, the John Cleese, or was he the Charlie Chaplin, the Grock, the Oleg Popov, the Karan d'Ash, the whoever it was that starred in those wonderful comedies by Aristophanes, of his day ("discovery is the key to quality education", as I wrote on the previous page; so I am leaving you to "discover" all of these names that mean nothing to you for yourself)

Joseph Thompson, discoverer of the electron, born today in 1856

Saki (H. H. Munro), British short story writer, born today in 1870. Several of my English teaching colleagues at Clifton taught Saki, and regarded him as the greatest short-story writer England had produced. I sometimes wondered if this was just an act of sycophancy to our Headmaster, who bore the same last name, spelled the same way, but apparently the threesome had been teaching him for years before Hugh arrived.

Paul Klee, Swiss modernist painter, born today in 1879 (I have looked for the title of the painting on the right, but can't find it anywhere; do you think, from the above, that it might be "Portrait of Grimaldi"?)

Edwin Howard Armstrong, inventor of FM radio, born today in 1890

Christopher Fry, the man Margaret Thatcher's scriptwriter was cleverly mis-quoting when she insisted that "the Lady's not for turning", born today in 1907

Willy Brandt, West German chancellor, born today in 1913

And the end of an extraordinary epoch, the death, today in 1737, of the Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari

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