Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quote for the Day: Karen Lamb

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”

Karen Lamb

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New Year Trivia

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The custom of first footing is observed in Scotland and Northern England. It holds that the first visitors one sees or the one who first steps into the house after the clock strikes midnight is considered to bring either good luck or bad fortune. Although it is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a resident of the house, they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight in order to first-foot (thus going out of the house after midnight and then coming back in to the same house is not considered to be first-footing). It is said to be desirable for the first-foot to be a tall, dark-haired male; a female or fair-haired male are in some places regarded as unlucky. The first-foot usually brings several gifts, including perhaps a coin (silver is considered good luck), bread, salt, coal, or a drink (usually whisky), which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, and good cheer respectively.

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From donuts to more traditional cakes, round or ring-shaped sweets are popular on New Year’s Day. Many people believe round foods symbolize a full circle and bring good luck that the coming year will go well and come “full circle” around to this same point in time the following year. 

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Tmes Square as it was in 1908, the newly finished New York Times buidlking being the tall thin building in the centre.

The first New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square was held on December 31, 1903; The New York Times’ owner, Adolph Ochs, decided to celebrate the opening of the newspaper's new headquarters, One Times Square, with a New Year's fireworks show on the roof of the building to welcome 1904. Close to 200,000 people attended the event, displacing traditional celebrations that had normally been held at Trinity Church. However, following several years of fireworks shows, Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle at the building to draw more attention to the area. The newspaper's chief electrician, Walter F. Painer, suggested using a time ball, after seeing one used on the nearby Western Union Building. Ochs hired sign designer Artkraft Strauss to construct an electrically lit ball for the celebration; it was built from iron and wood, lit with one hundred incandescent light bulbs, weighed 700 pounds (320 kg), and measured 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. The ball was hoisted on the building's flagpole with rope by a team of six men. Once it hit the roof of the building, the ball was designed to complete an electric circuit to light a 5-foot tall sign indicating the new year, and trigger a fireworks show. The first ever "ball drop" was held on December 31, 1907, welcoming the year 1908. In 1913, only eight years after it moved to One Times Square, the Times moved its corporate headquarters to 229 West 43rd Street. The Times still maintained ownership of the tower, however, and Strauss continued to organize future editions of the drop.

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The first month of the year in the Gregorian calendar, January, has been named after God Janus, who holds two faces. One face of the God looks backwards while the other one look towards the future and represents the ‘spirit of the opening’.

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In Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico, some families stuff a large doll, which is called Mr. Old Year, with memories from the past year. They also dress him in clothes from the outgoing year. At midnight, he is set ablaze, thus burning away the bad memories.

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People in Mexico, Bolivia and Italy also follow a New Year tradition of wearing red underwear on the eve of the New Year. It is said to bring good luck for the entire year, while yellow underwear is also worn on the New Year’s Day as it symbolizes money. 

(That's Sean Copnnery above, btw, from the fiilm Zardoz, a dated but quite god sci fi flick).

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The common belief behind lighting up fireworks in some countries on New Year’s Day is that it not only illuminates the sky but also dispels bad spirits and unpleasant memories of the past. 

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For new year it is good luck to eat foods such as black eyed peas, ham and cabbage because it is thought they bring prosperity. Avoid lobster and chicken. Lobsters can move backward and chickens can scratch in reverse, so it is thought these foods could bring a reversal of fortune.

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Chinese New Year is celebrated the second full moon after the winter solstice.

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Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. Apples and honey are traditionally eaten.

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In ancient Rome the new year began on March 1.

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The traditional New Year’s song, “Auld Lang Syne,” means, “times gone by.”

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Using a baby to signify the New Year began in ancient Greece around 600 B.C.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Quote for the Day: Thomas Fuller

"Health is not valued till sickness comes."

Thomas Fuller

Thomas Fuller (1608 – 1661) was an English churchman and historian. He is now remembered for his writings, particularly his Worthies of England, published after his death. He was a prolific author, and one of the first English writers able to live by his pen (and his many patrons).

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Monday Miscellany: A Collection of Odds, Ends and Personals

I am aware that today isn’t Monday but the explanation is that I lost a day when I came down with a bout of gastro. Except for some small waking periods I slept for 36 hours and still feel lousy. But that’s enough of me.

Some Monday Miscellany items . . .

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From son Thomas:

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The Germans have words that in most cases do not have an English equivalent. Instead they have to explained in a number of words.  Here are some of them:

1) Weltshmerz: mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state

2) Kummerspeck: excess weight gained from emotional overeating

The literal translation is “grief bacon” although in our culture I believe “grief chocolate would be more appropriate.

3) Torschlusspanik: the fear, usually as one gets older, that time is running out and important opportunities are slipping away.

The literal translation is “fear of the gate closing”.

4) Fremdschamen: the almost-horror you feel when you notice that somebody is oblivious to how embarrassing they truly are.

Watching someone else make a fool of themselves.

5) Backpfeifengesicht: a face in need of a fist.

I have posted about this previously and used Adam Sandler as my example.

6) Erklarungsnot: the state of having to quickly explain yourself

Caught in the act or, to use an expression when I was young, “sprung red hot”. What to say?

7) Treppenwitz: the things you should have said but only occur to you when it is too late

Remember the Seinfeld episode about George Costenza coming up with great responses after everything was done? 

8) Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung: the struggle to come to terms with the past

Who better to have a word for this than the Germans?

9) Handschuhschneeballwerfer: a coward willing to criticize and abuse from a safe distance

Talking behind someone’s back instead of to their face.

10) Allgemeinbildung: everything that any adult capable of living independently can reasonably be expected to know.

The meaning is approximately equivalent to our words “common sense" but how much more is expressed?

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Quote for the Day: George S Patton

“We could have bagged the whole German army. I wish Ike were more of a gambler, but he is certainly a lion compared to Montgomery. Monty is a tired little fart. War requires the taking of risks and he won’t take them.”

- General George S Patton
American General George S Patton writing in his diary about English military leader in WW2, Field Marshall Montgomery, following the Battle of the Bulge. 

Montgomery’s delay and caution in commencing the counter-attack, and in counter-attacking at the wrong spot, had allowed the Germans to pull their tanks out of the Bulge and back to the Rhine, and allowed the German troops to retreat, rather than cutting them off, thereby allowing them to fight another day. Montgomery incensed Patton, Bradley and Eisenhower further by declaring at a press conference that American soldiers fought well when given the proper leadership, ie. himself. According to Robert MacDougal in "Leaders in Dangerous Times: Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D Eisenhower”, “Not only had Monty not directed the battle, he had simply gotten in everyone’s way and made a mess of the counterattack.”

General George S patton

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery

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4 Ships That Torpedoed Themselves

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Hello Byters. I hope you all enjoyed the Christmas days. We now begin the countdown towards 2015 and in the coming days I will have a look at some item on a new year theme.

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In the meantime, I came across a reference to a ship that sank itself during WW2 and, on looking into it a bit deeper, found that a number of ships actually either torpedoed themselves or had near misses from torpedoes that circled back at them. It must be terrifying to see your own torpedo heading back at you, or to hear it if you are submerged, and know that disaster is likely.

According to Roger Branfill-Cook in “Torpedo: The Complete History of the World’s Most Revolutionary Naval Weapon”, “Two French destroyers, a British cruiser and at least two US submarines managed to torpedo themselves.”

WW2 Mark 14 torpedos suffered from a number of flaws and defects: they ran deeper than the depth for which they were set, there was often premature firing, the contact exploder often failed to fire the warhead and they also ran circular on occasion.

The last problem, being torpedo guidance failure, was associated with the gyroscopes and rudders of the torpedoes. When torpedoes were fired out of the tubes, they did not necessarily head for their targets in a straight line. A submarine might not, for instance, be lined up for a straight shot, hence torpedoes could be programmed to curve and then straighten towards the target, Sometimes because of gyroscope failure, rudder failure or bad programming, the system did not operate properly and the torpedo did not straighten, Instead it travelled in a circle to arrive back at its point of origin.

Some examples follow.

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HMS Trinidad:

A British cruiser launched in 1941, HMS Trinidad was taking part in Arctic convoy duty in1942 when she engaged the German destroyer Z-26. Although she sank the destroyer, one of the four torpedoes launched by Trinidad had a faulty gyro mechanism (possibly having been affected by the icy waters), causing that torpedo to make a circular run and strike the Trinidad. 32 men were killed.

Although she was able to make it to Murmansk and have partial repairs carried out, on the journey home, accompanied by 4 British destroyers, she was attacked by more than twenty German bombers. All attacks missed, except for one bomb that struck near the previous damage, starting a serious fire. Sixty-three men were lost including twenty survivors from HMS Edinburgh, which had been sunk two weeks earlier. The decision was taken to scuttle her and she was torpedoed and sunk in the Arctic Ocean.

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USS Tullibee:

The USS Tullibee was a US submarine launched in November 1942.  She operated out of Pearl Harbour. Whilst on her fourth patrol in March 1944 she came upon a convoy consisting of a large troop and cargo ship, two medium sized freighters, two escort vessels and a large destroyer. After sustaining a depth charge attack, Tullibee launched two torpedoes from her bow tubes. Two minutes later the Tullibee was rocked by a huge explosion, which was found later to have been caused by one of the torpedoes completing a circular run.

Gunner's Mate C.W. Kuykendall, on the bridge at the time, was knocked unconscious and thrown into the water. When he regained consciousness, the submarine was gone. He heard voices in the water for about ten minutes before they stopped. The next day, he was picked up by a Japanese destroyer and made a prisoner of war, being released after VJ Day.

79 men died in the sinking. Kuykendall was the only survivor.

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USS Tang:

The USS Tang was a US submarine launched in August 1943 and sunk on 24 October 1944. In her brief career Tang sank 33 ships and her captain, Commander Richard O’Kane, received the Medal of Honor for her last two engagements on 23 and 24 October 1944.

In her last engagement, Tang sunk a destroyer and a number of freighters, tankers and transports, 13 in total, part of a convoy, using 23 of her 24 torpedoes. The final torpedo was fired but made a circular run and hit the Tang 20 seconds later.

Of the nine officers and men on the bridge, three were able to swim through the night until picked up eight hours later. One officer escaped from the flooded Conning Tower, and was rescued with the others.

The submarine settled in 60 metres (180 feet) of water with the men crowded in to the forward torpedo room to escape. Escape was delayed by depth charges and there were only 8 men who survived from the men who escaped from the sunken submarine. Picked up by a destroyer escort, they were beaten and tortured by survivors of the torpedoed ships. According to Commander O’Kane, "When we realized that our clubbings and kickings were being administered by the burned, mutilated survivors of our own handiwork, we found we could take it with less prejudice."

78 men were lost when the Tang sank itself with its last torpedo.

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The U-869 departs on her only patrol.

U-869 was a German submarine launched in October 1943. It conducted one World War II war patrol without success. It suffered no casualties to its crew until it was lost in February 1945.

For many years it was recorded, and believed, that U-869 had been sunk off Gibraltar in a depth charge attack, with the loss of all 55 officers and crew.

An unidentified U-boat wreck, dubbed U-Who, discovered off the coast of New Jersey in 1991 was established from identifying items and numbers to be U-869. The finders of U-869 have also provided persuasive arguments that the sinking was due to a circle runner torpedo.

Two other German U-boats, U-377 in 1944 and U-972 in late 1943, are known to have been sunk by circular runner torpedoes.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

No Bytes for a Few Days

I'll be away from my computer for a few days so there won't be any Bytes over that period.

I've enjoyed posting the past year's items, thank you to the Byters who sent me items and comments, and a very Merry Christmas to you all.

Enjoy the items below, hopefully you will find them as interesting as I did.

Oh, and my favourite Christmas cartoon . . .


If you enjoyed the Walken in a Winter Wonderland item a couple of days ago, here is another in the same vein . . .

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Quote for the Day: Clement Clarke Moore

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‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

- Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)

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The above lines, the first stanza of “ The Night Before Christmas”, a poem also known as “A Visit from St Nicholas”, date from 1822. The poem is now part of the Christmas, particularly the Christmas Eve, tradition. It is therefore a surprise that the author, Clement Clarke Moore, agreed to publication only on the basis that his identity remained anonymous. As a professor, he believed that the poem was not sufficiently worthy. He relented later as a response to the pleading of his children. It is worth noting that this poem helped establish the modern day image of Santa Claus, who had also never previously been associated with a sleigh or reindeers.

Some other well known verses that you may not have realised come from this poem:

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

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Death of a Footnote to History

Mandy Rice-Davies dies after short battle with cancer

Mandy Rice-Davies, a key figure in the 1963 Profumo affair, has died aged 70 after a short battle with cancer, it emerged this morning. The former model was central to the furore which erupted after John Profumo, then Minister for War, lied in the Commons about his affair with her friend Christine Keeler, who was also sleeping with a suspected Russian spy. The scandal contributed to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in October 1963 and the toppling of his Conservative government the following year.

- News report 21.12.2014

Older Byters will remember the fuss that the Profumo affairl caused back in 1963. Mandy Rice-Davies was a key figure in that scandal.

The Affair. . .

John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in the MacMillan government, had a brief sexual relationship with 19 year old would-be model Christine Keeler in 1961. Keeler was also sleeping with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, causing Profumo to be a security risk. Keeler had met Profumo and Ivanov through her friendship with osteopath and socialite Stephen Ward. Most of the meetings between Profumo and Keeler took place at Ward’s house, where model and showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies, who was also a friend of Keeler’s, was likewise living. Profumo discontinued the affair after being warned of the security risks by security agencies. Upheavals in Keeler’s personal life brought allegations about an association with Profumo into the public domain. In 1963 he denied the affair to Parliament, a dreadful no no in that lying to Parliament is one of the most grievous political offences A few weeks later he was forced to admit the truth of the allegations and was obliged to resign from both government and Parliament. The repercussions of the affair severely damaged Macmillan's self-confidence, and he resigned as Prime Minister on health grounds in October 1963. His Conservative Party was marked by the scandal, which may have contributed to its defeat by Labour in the 1964 general election.

The Players . . .

John Profumo:

John Profumo at the War office in 1960

Profumo maintained silence about the matter for the rest of his life. His wife, the actress Valerie Hobson, stood by him. After his resignation he carried out voluntary charitable work for Toynbee Hall, originally cleaning toilets and mopping floors. Despite his unwillingness, he was eventually recruited into becoming a fundraiser for Toynbee hall, being highly successful through use of his contacts and his communication skills. According to Peter Hitchens, Profumo "vanished into London's East End for 40 years, doing quiet good works". He was able to live off his own wealth and took no money for his work. The award of a CBE in 1975 and an invitation to dine with Margaret Thatcher in 1995, where he sat next to the Queen, signalled that he had been forgiven by the Establishment. Profumo died in 2006, aged 91. Social refiorm campaigner Lord Longford said that he "felt more admiration [for Profumo] than [for] all the men I've known in my lifetime".

At the memorial service for Edward Heath in 2006

Christine Keeler:

At the height of her notoriety in 1963, Keeler participated in a photo shoot with photographer Lewis Morley, who wanted to shoot her nude.  Keeler would not agree. He then posed her in a plywood chair, a photograph which suggested more than it revealed and the image became an icon of the 1960’s. The chair used is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1963 she gave evidence against a person accused of assaulting her. Shown to have committed perjury, she was jailed for 9 months. She was released in 1964 and two failed marriages with two children followed. Living alone thereafter, she has published several accounts of her life. One account included an allegation that she had been made pregnant by Profumo and that she underwent a painful abortion.

Time has not been kind to 72 year old Christine Keeler. Once one of the most beautiful and most photographed women in the world, she now lives in a sheltered accommodation block in South London and is estranged from her two sons, commenting in 2012 that "My children don’t want to be associated with that bloody whore Christine Keeler. It’s awful but that’s the way it is."

Mandy Rice Davies:

After giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward, Davies converted to Judaism and married an Israeli businessman and settled in Tel Aviv, where she opened nightclubs and restaurants. She later remarried and lived happily with an English husband, published her autobiography, Mandy, and published a novel, The Scarlet Thread

Appearances in TV productions including Absolutely Fabulous, her depiction in the 1989 film Scandal about the Profumo affair and her involvement with Andrew Lloyd Webber in the development of his musical Stephen Ward The Musical supported her comment that her life had been “one slow descent into respectability".

"The only reason I still want to talk about it is that I have to fight the misconception that I was a prostitute. I don't want that to be passed on to my grandchildren. There is still a stigma."

Lloyd Webber said that he was deeply sad” to hear of her death.

He commented:

"Mandy was enormously well-read and intelligent, I will always remember discussing with her over dinner subjects as varied as Thomas Cromwell's dissolution of the monasteries and the influence of the artist Stanley Spencer on Lucian Freud. With a different throw of the dice, Mandy might have been head of the Royal Academy or even running the country. She became a dear friend and I will miss her."

An extract from:

Why women today owe a great debt to Mandy Rice-Davies

She was a trailblazer for sexual liberation, who refused to accept that it’s a man’s world

Richard Davenport-Hines

Mandy Rice-Davies was a pioneer of sexual liberation for young women, too. She was swinging in the early Sixties years before the Swinging Sixties started. In 1960 she met Christine Keeler. They shared flats together, and set out to have a good time. They liked being taken by men to smart restaurants and glitzy clubs, they liked a giggle, they liked sex and they didn’t think much of strait-laced morality. Mandy in particular didn’t see why men should have all the sexual choices and not women. She laughed at the way that men were admired for having sexual experiences, but women scorned for it. 
Prudish old judges and tabloid journalists who liked to cheapen everything pilloried Christine and Mandy as prostitutes, and the rest of it. But they were never anything of the sort, and Mandy was dauntless. When she read An English Affair, my account of the Profumo scandal, there was only one serious point to which she objected. She didn’t want her granddaughter to read historic quotations that called her a call-girl or worse. A generation later, sexually independent young Englishwomen owe more of a debt than they realise to Mandy Rice-Davies for improving attitudes.

Richard Davenport-Hines is the author of 'An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo’ (Harper Press)

Two quick anecdotes:

  • While giving evidence in Ward’s trial, Davies claimed that she had had an affair with Lord Astor. It was put to her by defence counsel John Burge that Lord Astor denied the allegation. Her reply – “He would, wouldn’t he?” (often misquoted as "Well, he would, wouldn't he?" or "Well he would say that, wouldn't he?") – has entered the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. It is today sometimes abbreviated to MRDA ("Mandy Rice-Davies applies") or referred to as the "Mandy Rice-Davies clause".
  • At the height of the scandal, the first prime minister of independent Malaya (now Malaysia) Tunku Abdul Rahman arrived in London for a visit. At a reception at Heathrow Airport, when asked what he wanted to do first, he replied "I want Mandi" which shocked the reception party because they did not know that "Mandi” means "take a bath" in Malay.

Sopme pics:

Stephen Ward:

Ward is another tragic figure in the Profumo affair. Following Profumo’s resignation and with rumours rife of sex scandals in government and high society, Ward was charged with several counts of living off the earnings of prostitution. Little matter that Keeler and Davies were not prostitutes, that their monetary payments to Ward were small contributions for living at the house and in repayments of a loan, and that he was in receipt of a considerable inccome as a leading oseopath, the Establishment went after Ward with a vengeance. According to author Richard Davenport-Hines, "The exorcism of scandal in high places required the façade of [Ward's] conviction on vice charges.” His friends were persuaded (on threats of being charged with criminal offenmces) not to give evidence, information about his assistance to MI5 in seeking to have Ivanov and others defect or roll over was suppressed and both the prosecution and the trial judge, Archie Marshall, were hostile and inflammatory. It was evident to Ward from the judge’s summing up and the portrayal of him as a depraved lecher that he would be convicted and jailed. He overdosed on sleeping tablets and was taken to hospital. Judge Marshall completed his summing-up the next day without him present and the jury found Ward guilty in absentia on the charges of living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and Rice-Davies. Sentence was postponed until Ward was fit to appear but he died without regaining consciousness. He left behind a note with the words "I'm sorry to disappoint the vulture [...] I feel the day is lost. The ritual sacrifice is demanded and I cannot face it."

Famous judge Lord Denning was appointed to carry out an investigation into the whole affair in 1963 and found no security breach. He laid most of the blame for the affair on Ward, an "utterly immoral" man.

Campaigning for the Ward case to be reopened by persons such as Geoffrey Robertson resulted in the case being referred, in January 2014, for consideration by the Criminal Cases Review Commission with a view to allowing an appeal.

Ward was an amateur artist and persons of note sought to be sketched by him. Here are some of his works:

Christine Keeler, portrait in pastels, 1961

Portrait of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 
Charcoal, pastel and watercolour, 1961

Katharine, Duchess of Kent
charcoal on buff paper heightened with white

H.R.H. Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood

Portrait of Yevgeny Ivanov 

Portrait of Lord Eccles

Portrait said to be of Mandy Rice-Davies

Dogls Fairbanks

Also believed to be Mandy Rice-Davies

Stephen Ward at work