English Eccentrics and Eccentricities
My favorite English eccentrics and eccentricities
Don't worry, I can write about the peculiar English for a good reason.
I live in Florida now but I was born and brought up in England and lived there until that year when 'life begins'. And in a way, I suppose it's looking back on those years that made me realize just how many peculiarities and how many, shall we say 'unusual', people there are.
There are some magnificent examples in history too and here I'm compiling the articles I have already written about them.There's such a wealth of material though so I'm sure that I'll be adding to this page often.
It's not just the people either - some of the traditions and events that we have in the UK are a little weird when looking from the other side of the Atlantic. And if the people give me ample material, believe me, some of our customs certainly do. This could end up being the longest webpage in history! Now the question is, where do I start?
Fabulous Fanny and her doughnuts
Yes, I've decided to start with one of my favorite characters.
Fanny Cradock was one of the first celebrity cooks to appear on television in England. Her show started round about the time I was born so I don't remember her early days. I do remember though that my gran used to love watching her cook. She was a bit like my old gran in many ways but that's a story for another day.
Fanny was ably (or rather, inadequately) assisted on her cooking show by her husband, Johnny. Except he wasn't ... Fanny was actually a bigamist.
What I mainly remember about her was that she used to cook wearing a ball gown, furs and tiara whilst Johnny wore a dinner jacket and a monocle and almost always had a glass of wine in his hand. Fanny reputedly fertilized her kitchen garden herself ... and I don't mean that she shoveled out the horse manure, if you see what I mean... Oh, you want to know about those doughnuts?
Learn more about this eccentric cook
Her life was almost destined to be somewhat curious. She came from a rather bizarre family background and it was almost inevitable that she would make her mark on the world, one way or another. Her appearance always made me laugh when I was a child, especially when she was cooking in her finery, but nevertheless she was the first in a long line of celebrity chefs and paved the way for others. Find out more about this bizarre life.
What on earth is the Denby Dale Pie?
The English are very fond of pies.
So much so that there's a small village near my hometown in Yorkshire whose fine people, once every twenty years or so, decide to make a giant version.
This doesn't just feed everyone in the village; it also feeds the huge crowds that gather for the festivities and to celebrate Pie Day. I've been to two of them. The second I don't remember too well because being adult by that time, the beer tents were more fascinating than some old pie malarkey.
This all started way back in history. You'll remember that King George the Third was, to put it bluntly, as mad as a hatter. At one point he appeared to regain his sanity and the good folk of Denby Dale decided to celebrate this fact with something that seemed pretty mad in itself - a humongous pie.
As far as I'm aware, the reasons for this decision are lost in the mists of time. Although bearing in mind the booziness of subsequent pie festivities I imagine that good Yorkshire ale played its part in the decision making.
Maybe it's paranoia, but sometimes when I tell my American friends about some of these weird and wonderful English people and traditions, I get the feeling that they sometimes think I'm inventing them. I'm not, I promise. This is a real event that happens in Yorkshire every generation or so. There's no real set pattern - I think that the good people of the village just realize that they've not had a pie extravaganza for a while and then look round for a reason to do so. Find out more.
A prince - and a god?
Here we have a true English eccentric.
They say that as we get older, we get weirder. (That certainly seems to be the case with me, I've noticed).
The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, definitely qualifies. And yes, he is a British subject. He was born, it's true, on Grecian soil on the island of Corfu but when he married the royal Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen, he became a British citizen and a duke to boot.
He is known for being - shall we say - somewhat outspoken.I've looked into this and it seems that many of his verbal 'gaffes' have been misinterpreted or it been simply a case of those 'damned foreigners' not quite appreciating English humor. (Sorry, humour).
Nevertheless, it seems that there is a remote tribe is some far-flung part of the world whose members believe that Prince Philip is a deity and so they worship him and hold feast days and other nonsenses. If that wasn't enough to grant him eccentric-hood then the fact that he says that his daughter isn't interested in anything that 'doesn't fart and eat hay' certainly does.
Can you imagine being married for over sixty years? I can't imagine being married for half hat time. Nevertheless the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have achieved this and what's more, their lives have been largely in the public eye. Dutifully, they produced heirs to the throne and their legacy and bloodline is assured for generations to come. Learn more about the monarch and her husband - and of course, their lives together.
Attention all shipping
I'm very prone to this particular English eccentricity myself.
Even though I'm in the USA, thanks to the internet we listen to BBC Radio every day. And I'm here to tell you that to English people (of a certain age? Maybe ... ) there is nothing more soothing than their broadcasts of the shipping forecast.
This is exactly what it seems to be - a broadcast that is made several times every day about the sea conditions around the British Isles.What does that have to do with landlubbers? Absolutely nothing at all. But ask any English person (yeah, yeah, of a certain age) about the shipping forecast and the chances are that they will wax lyrical.
Why are we so fond of hearing that there are warnings of storms in Cromarty? Or that there's a danger of ice in German Bight? There are gales in the Hebrides - so what? We are so fond of the shipping forecast that it was even featured in that spectacular opening of the London Olympics in 2012.
I imagine that there have been lots of books written about radio and television programs. But how many have been written about a radio broadcast that essentially is of interest to just a few people? That's the information itself, of course. The broadcast is known and loved by British people throughout the world. Find out more about this phenomenon.
Leaning on a lamppost
George Formby was the 1940s English equivalent of Michael Jackson.
Well, maybe not, but he was the most popular and highest paid entertainer. Was he good looking? Nope. Was he a great musician? Hardly. And yet he made many films and was mobbed by crowds wherever he went.
His songs - which is a quite laughable fact now - we banned by the aforementioned BBC for being a bit on the cheeky side. I loved him to bits when I was a kid and I was too young to see any innuendo.
Always a cheery chappie in public, it turned out that he had a miserable life, despite his fame. He was trapped in a loveless marriage with a domineering woman who ruled him with a rod of iron. It was only after she died that he could look forward to true happiness. But even that was denied to him. Maybe you have to be English to understand George Formby, his bizarre act and why he was so popular?
There are no books in print today that are exclusively and reliable (when it comes to their supply) about George. This is such a shame because the reality of his personal life is amazing. His career is also fascinating. Like many entertainers of his generation, he began in career on the boards - in the music halls. Coincidentally, it was during these years that he first met my dad (see below). His films and his music are still widely available though. The example you see here features many of his most popular - and cheeky - songs.
My own family eccentric
I really can't write about English eccentrics without including my own dad.
Let's see what you think. It's 1963 and you are a businessman with a family. One day, you meet a man who holds the record for driving from London to Cape Town in South Africa. This man challenges you to beat the record. Do you laugh and walk away? Probably most people would.But no. My old man took an ordinary saloon car and took up the challenge.
Remember, there were no cellphones in those days. No GPS. In those days, cars didn't even have seat belts let alone comforts that would have been wonderful in Africa - such as air-conditioning. Oh and there were wild animals to contend with, armed mercenaries and the small matter of a bandit ambush. And that was just one of his many bizarre adventures.
Yep, I'm proud of my dad even if he can be classed as eccentric - I had to get it from somewhere.
My dad wrote his story which has over 350 pages describing his adventures spanning his life. Starting from being born on wheels (in a caravan) the book takes us through to present day.
You'll meet rich, famous and infamous people that he met along the way including racing drivers, British prime ministers, captains of industry and other characters such as a big game hunter, a New York cop and even a mobster. He even mentions me!
There are also lots of photographs, the earliest being from the 1930s. I know I'm biased (extremely) but this is a truly excellent book and is available to order online.
Another royal eccentric
The Queen Mother was much beloved by the British - and probably by people in other countries too.
She lived to the grand old age of 101 and I think that she deserves to be on my list of eccentrics. This first came to light on the first official overseas royal tour that she undertook with the king.
As she was shaking the hands of a bunch of dignitaries, a dog wandered onto the scene and she delighted everyone by also shaking the dogs paw.
Later in life, as the mother of Queen Elizabeth she was known for her love of fly-fishing, flowery frocks and for ... gin. Just like her son-in-law, Prince Philip, she was known for her sharp wit. But I remember her as being invariably smiling and serene.
I love this story. She attended an event where a small group of anti-royalist students in the crowd threw rolls of toilet paper at her. She calmly picked them up, and returned them to the bemused students, smilingly saying 'is this yours, dear?'
It's probably revealing the sneaky side of me but I love reading books that are make up of people's letters and correspondence. I think it's because I feel a little bit like the fly on the wall. I can imagine that person sitting at a desk - and in this case, an antique desk with silver photograph frames and luxury writing equipment. Or did the Queen Mum write her letters when shew was on the lavishly appointed royal train? Wherever it was, this book tells more about her than hundreds of webpages could ever do - in her own words.
© 2013 Jackie Jackson