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David Astor
David Astor
by Jeremy Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars THE OTHER LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, 5 Mar. 2016
This review is from: David Astor (Hardcover)
THE OTHER LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME. In his new biography of David Astor (Observer editor 1948-1975), Jeremy Lewis has 'air brushed' the story of Astor's relationship with the singer Elisabeth Welch. In the 1930s, Astor was a member of one of the world's wealthiest families & the son of the formidable Tory MP, Nancy Astor. Elisabeth was the most famous black woman in Britain, a sophisticated, stylish interpreter of popular songs. They fell in love, but the upper class Astor family would not permit a marriage & risk a 'scandal'. When he was researching the biography, Jeremy Lewis interviewed Elisabeth's biographer Stephen Bourne about the relationship, but Lewis has now said to Bourne, 'I'm sure you're right in suggesting that his family were embarrassed by the whole business - hence her being, as it were, written out of the story. I'm all for the story being more widely known.' A MISSED OPPORTUNITY.
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Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War
Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War
by Stephen Bourne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black Poppies...a summary, 1 Aug. 2014
Stephen Bourne, author of Black Poppies, says: "Though I am not a military historian, when the opportunity came to me to write a book about the contribution of black soldiers to the First World War - to coincide with the 2014 centenary - I was extremely eager to extend the story of the First World War.

My intention was to include Britain's wider black community. My publisher - The History Press - were in agreement, and so I divided Black Poppies into three sections: military, home front and the 1919 anti-black `race riots' when returning white servicemen clashed with black communities in some of our seaports, such as Cardiff and Liverpool.

Before embarking on this journey, I already had some knowledge of the lives of black servicemen and the experiences of the black community in the First World War. These included memories of my adopted aunt, Esther Bruce, a mixed race Londoner born in 1912. When I was younger, she shared with me many anecdotes about her early childhood. However, in spite of the restrictions imposed on me by the absence of funding from cultural and research bodies, further research did enable me to uncover some extraordinary stories that I had not been aware of.

For example, I was deeply moved by the tale of Private Herbert Morris, a sixteen-year-old Jamaican lad who joined the British West Indies Regiment but was traumatised by his exposure to the noise of guns on the front, where he stacked shells. Consequently he was executed for desertion, though pardoned in 2006. Also moving is the story of Isaac Hall, another Jamaican, working in Britain, who was imprisoned as a conscientious objector when conscription was introduced in 1916. He suffered bullying and horrific injuries during his internment at Pentonville Prison but was saved from his ordeal by the pacifist, Dr Alfred Salter.

Apart from Aunt Esther's stories, first hand testimonies have been almost impossible to find, though I did manage to access Norman Manley's memoir of his experiences after he enlisted as a private in the British army in 1915. Fortunately it was published posthumously by the Jamaica Journal in 1973. Sweet Patootee's superb documentary Mutiny (1999) includes interviews with survivors of the British West Indies Regiment. I also found an interview with the acclaimed British-born singer Mabel Mercer in a 1975 edition of Stereo Review in which she recalled her career on the British stage as a music hall entertainer during the First World War. It was a tough life for young Mabel, and contrasted with her later career as a glamorous star of New York cabaret from the 1940s.

Black Poppies concludes with a `snapshot' of Britain's black community in 1919, a watershed year which witnessed, amongst other things, the beginnings of jazz music in Britain and the influential work of some of our earliest black-led publications and organisations, including the African Progress Union. Though black settlers have been part of our landscape since at least the 15th century, it is generally accepted that the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948 marked the beginning of the modern black community in Britain. It is possible that 1919 will now stand out as another landmark year."
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2015 7:12 PM BST


The Motherland Calls: Britain's Black Servicemen & Women, 1939-45
The Motherland Calls: Britain's Black Servicemen & Women, 1939-45
by Stephen Bourne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is available now!!!, 4 Oct. 2012
The publication of The Motherland Calls has been brought forward to September 30 2012 and so it is available now. Professor Ashley Jackson in BBC History Magazine (January 2013) describes it as "an attractive book from an expert on the participation of non-whites in Britain's war effort...Using historical narrative and facsinating oral testimony, it paints an intimate portrait of the war experience of people from the colonies."


Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters
Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters
by Donald Bogle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.56

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another brilliant book from Bogle!, 11 Feb. 2011
Donald Bogle, who should be crowned the King of African American Cinema/Theater Historians, has written another mammoth, exhaustive and fascinating tome. The subject this time is the legendary but forgotten singer and actress Ethel Waters. In the 1920s she was a GIANT among jazz singers, and helped to create the sound of popular jazz singing. She influenced almost everybody, inlcuding Ella, Billie and Lena, who described her as "the mother of us all." When Ethel expanded her repertoire in the 1930s to include popular songs, she influenced the young Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra (who sent her a telegram on her 80th birthday in 1976, that's how much Sinatra revered her). "Stormy Weather" was written fo Ethel (NOT Lena). In the 1940s Ethel became a Hollywood star. In the early 1950s she triumphed as a dramatic actress on Broadway. Then America - Black AND White - turned its back on her. Unemployed, unemployable and rejected, she turned to Jesus (and Billy Graham's Crusades) and preached the word of God till the day she died (in 1977). I'm an aetheist, but I'm thankful somebody in America, in this case Billy Graham's devotees, embraced her, loved her and gave her support when she most needed it.

Bogle's book is thoroughly researched, insightful and definitive. Mr Bogle clearly loves his subject but it is a pity his lack of generosity has excluded any mention of Ethel's previous biographer, the London-based Stephen Bourne, whose modest, but informative biography, "Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather", was published by Scarecrow Press in 2007. Bourne's earlier version of Ethel's life and career, which offers a short but useful introduction to Miss Waters (and one that gives generous praise to Mr Bogle's ground-breaking work) is no competition to Bogle's book.

In spite of the absence of any mention of Mr Bourne's name (and book), it is hoped Mr Bogle's biography will be widely read.


Mother Country: Britain's Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45
Mother Country: Britain's Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45
by Stephen Bourne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mother Country breaks new ground, 9 Sept. 2010
MOTHER COUNTRY unearths a hidden history of Britain and the Second World War. This new book by Stephen Bourne highlights the contribution to the British war effort made by black Britons. These include community leaders Dr Harold Moody, Learie Constantine, BBC broadcaster Una Marson, London air raid warden E. I. Ekpenyon, fire watcher Esther Bruce (an adopted aunt to Bourne), singers Adelaide Hall and Elisabeth Welch, bandleader Ken Snakehips Johnson and black senior citizens who have been interviewed by Bourne about their memories of the home front in West Africa and the Caribbean. Very little attention has been given to black British and West African and Caribbean citizens who lived and worked on the front line during the Second World War. Yet black people were under fire in cities like Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Manchester, and many volunteered as civilian defence workers, such as air-raid wardens, fire-fighters, stretcher-bearers, first-aid workers and mobile canteen personnel. Many helped unite people when their communities faced devastation. Black children were evacuated and entertainers risked death when they took to the stage during air raids. Despite some evidence of racism, black people contributed to the war effort where they could. The colonies also played an important role in the war effort: support came from places as far away as Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Nigeria. Mother Country tells the story of some of the forgotten Britons whose contribution to the war effort has been overlooked until now.

Says playwright & critic Bonnie Greer: "Stephen Bourne brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate, and surprising. You always walk away from his work knowing something that you didn't know, that you didn't even suspect. Mother Country is quite simply a home-grown triumph."


Coming Out of the Blue: British Police Officers Talk About Their Lives in "The Job" as Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals (Lesbian & gay studies)
Coming Out of the Blue: British Police Officers Talk About Their Lives in "The Job" as Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals (Lesbian & gay studies)
by Marc E. Burke
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book, 27 Mar. 2010
I am thankful for Marc E Burke's brilliant book Coming Out of the Blue because it is an important record of the experiences of gay police officers in a particular time in history. Thank goodness it isn't a dry, academic study, full of theoretical jargon. Marc's book is full of revealing testimonies of brave men and women who made history, and some of this is painful to read, because their lives were made difficult, and sometimes unbearable, by homophobia in the ranks. I am a historian by profession, and I avoid the academic/theoretical approach, preferring to interview those who made history, and publish their testimonies for everyone to share.


Butterfly McQueen Remembered
Butterfly McQueen Remembered
by Stephen Bourne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solidly crafted work on an enigmatic Black woman, 13 Aug. 2008
Butterfly McQueen's biographer Stephen Bourne may not "know nuthin' `bout birthin' babies" but delivers a damned good biography on the neglected Afro-American actor who is finally receiving the critical attention for her unique contribution to American cinema.

Solidly written with meticulously researched information, rare stills and personal correspondences, Bourne maps Thelma, alias "Butterfly" McQueen's life from her humble beginnings in the pre-Civil Rights South, to a brief Hollywood career in the 1940s, historical neglect, and her tragic death in 1995.

Bourne pulls all into perspective and reveals a talented but unfulfilled actor who was frustrated and denied by larger systems and institutions, an altruistic survivor who later became anti-poverty activist.

McQueen admits that in her early years she knew little about slavery or Black militancy. Like many other Black actors of the period, she was compliant with the Hollywood system, not militant, or always critically conscious of Hollywood's filmmaking practices. Thus, like many other Black actors, she became complicit and "trapped" within the white hegemonic constructs of Hollywood filmmaking. She could not see, of course, the long-term ideological effects her performances would have on future actors and Black female representation.

Bourne openly discusses Hollywood racism and white privilege that limited McQueen's Hollywood chances and those of contemporaries Theresa Harris and Jeni Le Gon.

Bourne discusses in substantial length Gone with the Wind's troubled production history, the behind-the-scenes of Black resistance, and the critical reception of "Prissy", McQueen's controversial character. Bourne uses this chapter to make poignant statements about Black - Jewish race relations in America.

All Black actors working in Hollywood should read Bourne's biographies on McQueen and Ethel Waters (2007). Film historians and anti-racist educators should place these works as staples on Black History booklists.

It is a solidly crafted work on an enigmatic Black woman.

Joseph Worrell

Toronto, Canada


Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates
Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates
by Donald Spoto
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A sad story, 9 Sept. 2007
Donald Spoto's biography of Alan Bates starts off well, but disintegrates into a boring catalogue of his stage, film and television appearances (who cares if he appeared in twelve plays by Simon Gray?), and a seemingly endless list of reassurances from family and friends that Bates was a kind, lovely chap. In reality, like most actors, Bates put his career ahead of his ethics. After finishing the book, my overriding memory was his twin sons, as small boys, neglected and half-starved, existing on a diet of beans and cabbage leaves with an unhappy, unwashed Mummy, and a Daddy who prefers to play Chekhov or Ibsen than footie with his boys in the park. No wonder one of the twins tragically died from a drugs overdose at the age of nineteen. The worst moment in the book is Spoto's description of a dinner party in the 1970s with Bates, his male lover Nickolas Grace, and the weird film director Lindsay Anderson. Bates's mentally unstable and vulnerable wife Victoria (who is the real subject of the book) is also at the party, hiding under the table, and yet Spoto expects the reader to sympathise with Bates. If I'd come from Victoria's messed up background, married a handsome, charismatic and famous chap like Bates, ignored the fact that he is gay, and ended up at a dinner party with him, one of his male lovers and Lindsay Anderson, then I would definitely hide under the table! Though Spoto goes to great lengths to be inclusive, by mentioning or interviewing a succession of Bates's male lovers, I am deeply disappointed the author makes no mention of Bates's reluctance to 'come out' publicly during the years of Gay Liberation and gay politics. No mention of the Wolfenden Report or the 1967 Sexual Act Act when homosexuality was partially decriminalised. In short, the book lacks a gay historical context. To conclude, this biography reinforces the view I've always had about Britain's middle-classes: that they keep their secrets firmly behind closed doors, and when biographers attempt to bring them out into the open, they rally round and call the shots. Bates's family and friends call the shots here. They agree to interviews, but only if the mythical Bates is reinforced. The neglect of his young sons was child abuse, nothing more, nothing less.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 3, 2011 10:17 PM BST


A Young Man's Passage
A Young Man's Passage
by Julian Clary
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

9 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 10 Nov. 2006
This review is from: A Young Man's Passage (Paperback)
I borrowed Julian Clary's autobiography - A Young Man's Passage - from my local library. I'm glad I didn't buy it. We're about the same age, we're both gay, and his journey through life has been quite different to mine. I expected to enjoy this book but, though I liked the first third, the rest of the book was shallow, and ended with a series of dull diary extracts (how lazy is that), closing in 1993. What a rip-off! No doubt Mr C's agent is busily negotiating big bucks for his client for a second instalment. His fans are being cheated. I used to be a fan. No longer. It sickens me that publishers collude in this kind of thing: chucking money at media celebrities to write their "autobiographies" with no thought given to the ability of the "author" to put something decent and worthwhile together. Mr C isn't the first to do this, and he won't be the last. My copy of Wendy Richard's autobiography (which I DID pay for) ended up in a local charity shop (though I nearly chucked it down the chute).


Twin Town [DVD] [1997]
Twin Town [DVD] [1997]
Dvd ~ Llyr Ifans
Price: £3.90

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Twin Town deserves better, 15 Aug. 2006
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Twin Town [DVD] [1997] (DVD)
I enjoyed Twin Town. If this film had been made in Italy, or Spain, or France, it would have been acclaimed as a great "foreign" black comedy, and won a BAFTA or two. Because it was made in a "foreign" part of the United Kingdom, British film critics damned it. Well, what do you expect?


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