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Beside the seaside: Blackpool and national biography

By Sue Arthur
Memories of your summer holiday may be fading, but the latest update of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography seeks to rekindle the summer—or at least summers past—with one of the new additions from its latest update, published today. For forty years Reginald Dixon (1904-1985) played the Wurlitzer at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, turning a former cinema organist into a recording star, known worldwide for his signature tune, ‘I do like to be beside the seaside.’ Here Dixon’s biographer, Sue Arthur, describes the man who became ‘Mr Blackpool’, and the interwar resort he helped to make a national attraction.

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International Women’s Day: Mona Caird

These days, not many people outside of academia seem to know who Mona Caird was. I certainly didn’t until I was studying for my Masters degree and decided to write on the New Woman writers of the late 19th century. Through that I came to read her novel, The Daughters of Danaus (1894), which is the story of Hadria, a girl from the Scottish Borders who wants to be a composer. However, the pressure to fulfil the traditional roles of wife and mother is insurmountable and her musical ambitions are ultimately sacrificed to her family obligations. The book is rightly regarded as something of a feminist classic, and it has become one of my very favourite books.

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Dictionary Day is Coming…

We’re just five days away from Dictionary Day, the annual celebration of all things lexicographical held every 16th of October. Commemorating the anniversary of Noah Webster’s birth in 1758, it’s largely an opportunity for US school teachers to organize classroom activities encouraging students to build their dictionary skills and to exult in the joy of […]

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Five facts about Thomas Bodley

This week marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir Thomas Bodley, diplomat and founder of the Bodleian Library. After retiring from public life in 1597, Bodley decided to “set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose, than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students.”

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Friday procrastination: M(o)ustache edition

By Alice Northover
It’s the close of WOTY week everyone and I’m GIFed out. Welcome new followers! And goodbye to those who quickly OD’ed on Oxford content. You will be missed.

First off, it’s Movember, when men around the world sprout moustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Our own Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is presenting a moustachioed man (no women) every day this month on Twitter.

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British Olympic lives

By Mark Curthoys
The London Games have unsurprisingly stimulated renewed interest in Britain’s Olympic heritage. The National Archives has made available online records of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Games. Chariots of Fire (1981), the film which tells the story of the sprint gold medals won in Paris in 1924 by Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, has been re-released. English Heritage commemorative blue plaques have recently been unveiled in London at the homes of Abrahams and his coach Sam Mussabini.

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Rosalind Franklin: the not-so-dark lady of DNA

By Jenifer Glynn
If Rosalind Franklin had lived, she would have been 92 today. But she died at 37, five years after the discovery of the structure of DNA had been announced by Watson and Crick. As Crick confessed later (but never confessed to her), “the data which really helped us to obtain the structure was mainly obtained by Rosalind Franklin”.

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Was Elizabeth I Richard II?

The Kent Archives have a cache of Dering letters — begging letters, affectionate letters, letters full of gossip and news. One of them came with an enclosure that caught my attention: it was the handwritten transcript of a conversation, almost a playlet. It rang bells; I remembered reading it years back, although most of the details were beyond recall. The document recorded an encounter between Queen Elizabeth I and William Lambarde, a legal theorist and pioneering antiquarian

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Timeliness, timelessness, and the boy with no birthdays

By Geraldine McCaughrean


By Geraldine McCaughrean
As Captain Scott sat in his tent in the Antarctic in 1912, pinioned between the dead bodies of Birdie and Uncle Bill, he wrote countless valedictory notes to people he would never see again, in places half a world away.  One was to the godfather of his son, expressing his love and admiration for the man and asking him to look after the boy.  A hundred years ago that letter was lying unread in the death tent.  But eventually, of course, it was delivered – to J. M. Barrie, foremost playwright and author of his day.

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A Child of the Jago, Freud, and youth crime today

By Peter Miles
As every schoolchild knows, never give more than one explanation: rather than uncertainty, it suggests a conscious or unconscious smokescreen. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Sigmund Freud demonstrated as much by reference to a “defence offered by a man who was accused by his neighbour of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition. In the first place, he said, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all.”

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