Talking Head: Joseph Faber’s Euphonia

Hailed as the ‘scientific sensation of the age,’ Joseph Faber’s ‘marvellous talking machine,’ known as Euphonia, was first exhibited at the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia in December 1845. Faber, who had settled in America from Germany, had dedicated years of his life to his creation, having destroyed and then rebuilt it several times. The scientist Joseph Henry had been most impressed after seeing Euphonia in Philadelphia, described it as a ‘wonderful invention,’ and stating that whilst he had admired ‘the speaking figure of Mr. Wheatstone of London,’ it could ‘not be compared with this which instead of uttering a few words is capable of speaking whole sentences composed of any words.’

The purpose of Faber’s machine was to replicate human speech, and this was done by using a foot pedal which was attached to bellows via a series of tubes that connected a mechanical glottis to a keyboard. A contemporary science journal described its workings, revealing that a ‘vibrating ivory reed, of variable pitch, forms its vocal chords. There is an oral cavity, whose size and shape can be rapidly changed by depressing the keys on a key-board. A rubber tongue and lips make the consonants; a little windmill, turning in its throat, rolls the letter R, and a tube is attached to its nose when it speaks French. This is the anatomy of this really wonderful piece of mechanism.’

Euphonia’s voice emanated from behind a mask made to represent the face of beautiful young woman; it was designed to speak any European language, although contemporary accounts state that it spoke with a German accent, sang God Save the Queen, and could also mimic human laughter. Continue reading

Carry On Loving: The Careers Of Imogen Hassall

Imogen Hassall was born on 25th August 1942 to a Surrey family of prolific artists and writers. John Hassall, her grandfather, was a noted illustrator and her father Christopher, a poet and lyricist known for his collaborations with Ivor Novello.

With such a background, it seemed natural that Imogen would be drawn to the stage and in 1952, she joined the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park where  would study there for the next six years, before attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In 1963, Christopher Hassall suffered a fatal heart attack on a train from Kent to London; he had been running to catch it, fearing he might not make it in time to see his young daughter’s first ballet performance in Covent Garden. A year after his death, Hassall’s final work, an exhaustive biography of Rupert Brooke, was published and was widely hailed as the most candid and accurate account of the war poet’s life to date.

The sudden loss of her father affected Imogen profoundly and made her even more determined to achieve success and acclaim in her own right. However, she would struggle to make others covet her talent more than her obvious and very striking beauty. With her glossy dark hair and curvaceous figure, Imogen found herself being typecast as a ditzy sex-bomb in popular television series such as The Avengers and The Saint and was increasingly frustrated at being offered parts that, for the most part, belied her fierce intelligence and classical training. Nevertheless, Imogen’s exceptional assets and her love of revealing outfits made her tabloid fodder, earning her the titles ‘Countess of Cleavage’ and ‘Queen of Premieres.’ Continue reading