1914-2014: The Brits with a stamp of greatness


Blackleaf
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A fearless British secret agent in occupied France, a drunken poet and the man who dreamed up Desert Island Discs. At first glance, they may not have had much in common, but the ten men and women commemorated in a new set of Royal Mail stamps would all have celebrated their 100th birthdays this year, had they lived. Each made a remarkable contribution to British society. Here, to celebrate the centenary, CHRISTOPHER STEVENS tells their stories ...

From the bard of binge drinking to the grocer who won the cup, the Brits with a stamp of greatness


By Christopher Stevens
24 March 2014
Daily Mail

Agent the Gestapo feared


Officer: Inayat Khan became a heroic and highly decorated wartime spy for Britain behind enemy lines and was named the most wanted Allied agent while on the run in Paris

Born in Russia to royal exiles from India, Noorunissa Inayat Khan became a heroic and highly decorated wartime spy for Britain behind enemy lines.

She was 27 when, as a radio operator, she was given the codename ‘Madeleine’ and, because she was a fluent French speaker, sent to join the Resistance.

She lived on the run in Paris, for a while the only wireless operator able to get messages to Britain. The Gestapo named her the most wanted Allied agent in the city.

When she was captured, Khan fought so fiercely that her jailers were terrified of her. During a month-long brutal interrogation she refused to talk. She was murdered at Dachau concentration camp in 1944.

Star whose gamble paid £56m


Actor: Oscar-winner Sir Alec Guinness was a stage, film and TV giant, working for six decades

Alec Guinness was a stage, film and TV giant, working for six decades. After stunning pre-war London as Hamlet in 1936, he joined the Navy. British audiences would have to wait until after the war in 1946 for his return to the boards.

As a boy he had suffered at the hands of a brutal step-father who used to hold a loaded revolver to the boy’s head and hang him upside-down from a nearby bridge.

Guinness won an Oscar for The Bridge On The River Kwai, but sci-fi fans remember him best as Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. He cannily demanded a percentage of the profits, instead of a flat fee — it has worked out at £56 million, to date.

Radio's Mr Unflappable


Broadcaster: Roy Plomley will always be remembered as the interviewer who invited guests to choose eight favourite records to console them after a shipwreck on Desert Island Discs

Roy Plomley was a playwright, novelist and performer, but he will always be remembered as the interviewer who invited guests to choose eight favourite records to console them after a shipwreck on Desert Island Discs.

He dreamed up the format after he and his wife were forced to abandon all their possessions in 1940 and flee as the Germans invaded France where he was working.

In the Seventies, the unflappable host asked screen siren Brigitte Bardot what luxury item she would take to her desert island, and barely flinched when she seemed to say: ‘A p enis.’ Plomley guessed she was trying to say in her French accent ... ‘happiness’.

The show is still broadcast today on BBC Radio 4.

The bard of binge drinking


Talented: Swansea-born Dylan Thomas was just 20 when his first volume of poetry was published. Critics compared it to a bomb blast

Swansea-born Dylan Thomas was just 20 when his first volume of poetry was published. Critics compared it to a bomb blast.

His rich baritone voice became well-known to wartime radio listeners, but it was his play Under Milk Wood that cemented his reputation.

It nearly didn’t see publication after Thomas left the manuscript in a bar. A wild drinker, he died aged 37 after an epic binge in New York — legend says his last words were: ‘I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record.’

Director MI5 spied on


Controversial: Joan Littlewood was so Left-wing the security services kept her under constant surveillance

Foul-mouthed, tyrannical and bolshie, theatre director Joan Littlewood was so Left-wing that MI5 kept her under constant surveillance and she was banned from broadcasting on BBC radio for two years during the war.

Having set up a theatre company in East London in the Fifties, she launched the career of composer Lionel Bart with his musical Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be and A Taste Of Honey, the taboo-smashing story of a teenage single mother.

She is perhaps best known for Oh What A Lovely War! about World War I — which started, of course, in the year of her birth.

Grocer who won the cups


Clean sweep: Joe Mercer won the first division, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup during his managerial career

In four years as manager of Manchester City, from 1967 to 1970, Joe Mercer won the first division, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup — a clean sweep of football’s silverware.

Yet when he had retired as a player 15 years before, after breaking his leg playing for Arsenal, he had quit the game to become a grocer. Lured back to be a manager, he led Aston Villa from the bottom of the first division to a league cup victory.

Disdaining the yobbishness of some footballers, his motto was: ‘Football With A Smile.’

From usher to screen idol


Heart-throb: Kenneth More was one of Britain's great movie stars in the Fifties

Kenneth More was one of Britain’s great heart-throb movie stars in the Fifties, in Doctor In The House and as tin-legged RAF hero Douglas Bader in Reach For The Sky.

But his first job in showbiz was less glamorous. As an usher at Soho’s Windmill Theatre his tasks included throwing out customers who used binoculars to take a closer peep at the famous nudes.

He was discovered by playwright Noel Coward, who once tried to seduce him. More fended off the playwright politely, protesting: ‘I couldn’t — you remind me of my father!’

Green pioneer


Visionary: Barbara Wood started pleading with people to save the planet back in the Sixties, when she coined the phrase 'Spaceship Earth'

Barbara Ward was an economist, journalist and the grandmother of the environmental movement.

A passionate lecturer and broadcaster, she started pleading with people to save the planet back in the Sixties, when she coined the phrase ‘Spaceship Earth’.

In 1974 she was honoured by the Queen, being made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire.

Graphic genius


Inspiring: Abram Games designed posters during WWII, including the 'bomb bombshell', which encouraged women to join the Army auxiliaries

Designer Abram Games created many of the most eye-catching, morale-boosting posters of World War II — including the famous ‘blonde bombshell’ in an ATS uniform that inspired thousands of young women to join the Army auxiliaries.

Later he designed the iconic logo for the 1951 Festival Of Britain.

Our Nobel 'enemy'


Genius: Max Perutz had been interned as an enemy alien at the start of World War II, before being freed to work on secret projects


The Nobel-prize winner Max Perutz was regarded as a genius in both chemistry and biology — making major discoveries about blood.

Yet he had been interned as an enemy alien at the start of World War II, before being freed to work on secret projects, such as unsinkable aircraft carriers made out of ice and wood pulp.

FACT

As the country which invented the postage stamp, Britain is the only country in the world which does not have its name on its postage stamps.


Read more: From the bard of binge drinking to the grocer who won the cup, the Brits with a stamp of greatness | Mail Online
Last edited by Blackleaf; Mar 30th, 2014 at 12:35 PM..
 
BaalsTears
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I remember Alec Guinness. To many Americans in the era following WWII Guinness seemed like the quintessential British actor. His performances in The Bridge On The River Kwai, Tunes of Glory, and The Prisoner were memorable.
 

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