On 28th August 1972, at the Goodyear International Air Trophy at Halfpenny Green Airport, in the village of Bobbington, Staffordshire, a crowd of nearly 30,000 people had gathered to watch a dashing pilot put on a skilled display in his Piper Cherokee. Within minutes of take-off, the aircraft began to lose altitude at an alarming rate; clipping a tree, one of its wings was torn off, causing it to crash before it was engulfed by flames.
Horrified spectators raced towards the burning wreckage, but were overcome by the heat, leaving the pilot and his single passenger trapped inside and facing certain death. The passenger was Vyrell Mitchell, an experienced airman and demonstrator pilot who had worked for Piper Aircraft since 1967; the pilot, Prince William of Gloucester, also a highly competent aviator, was ninth in line to the British throne.
Born in Hadley Common, Hertfordshire on 18th December 1941, William was the son of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V, and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, the daughter of John Montagu Douglas Scott, the 7th Duke of Buccleuch. As a member of the Royal Family, he served as a page boy for the wedding of his cousin, The Princess Elizabeth, when she married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 20th November 1947 and also attended her coronation on 2nd June 1953.
Above: Prince William prepares for the Royal Wedding (1947)
Born in Buffalo New York on 20th February 1929, Beverly Louise Neill was a descendent of Kate Berry, the celebrated American Revolutionary War heroine, who warned the Continental Army that the British were approaching shortly before the Battle of Cowpens in 1871. Relocating to California with her parents, she started a course at Pomona College, but decided to quit a year later to pursue a career as an actress after becoming involved with a local community theatre.
At the age of 20, having changed her name to Amanda Blake and touted as ‘the young Greer Garson,’ she won her first movie role in Stars in My Crown (1950) a drama about a Civil War Veteran’s who becomes the gospel minister of Walesburg, a lawless town where he struggles to gain acceptance. In 1950, she also featured in Duchess of Idaho with Esther Williams and Lena Horne, as well as the film noir Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard. A string of minor film and television appearances ensued in productions such as Scarlet Angel (1952), Sabre Jet (1953), A Star is Born (1954), The Glass Slipper(1955) and High Society (1955). It seemed that in spite of her feline beauty and seductive husky voice, Blake was never to be a major leading lady or a huge Hollywood star.
Above: Gunsmoke – Miss Kitty Season 7 Episode 3 (1961)
In 1955, she accepted a part on a new television series called Gunsmoke. Originally a radio programme, set in Dodge City, Kansas during the 1870s, Blake was cast as Miss Kitty Russell, the feisty dancer and later, the proprietor, of the Long Branch Saloon. She would appear on small screens across America as Miss Kitty for nineteen seasons until she asked to be written out in 1974, remarking that, ‘nineteen years is a hell of long time for someone to be stuck behind a bar.’ The show ran for one more season after Blake’s departure, with the final episode airing on 31st March 1975. Continue reading →
On 25th October 1931, 22 year-old Elena de Hoyos finally succumbed to the tuberculosis that had already killed several members of her family. Her remaining relatives were not alone in mourning the loss of Elena, an exceptionally beautiful and talented young woman who, before her illness, had a bright future ahead of her as a singer and entertainer. Eighteen months before her death, Elena had come to the attention of the eccentric Count Carl von Cosel. He was no genuine aristocrat, but von Cosel had arrived in Florida from Dresden in Germany in 1927, when he was 50. In America, he changed his title and name from the more humble Tanzler, after abandoning his German wife and their two children. Immediately smitten with Elena, von Cosel believed she was the striking dark-haired woman he later claimed to have been haunted by dreams and visions of.
Never short of suitors on account of her dazzling looks, in 1926 Elena married Luis Mesa, a local man who, like herself, was of Cuban origin. The marriage broke down soon after when Elena suffered a miscarriage and was then diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was during one of her hospital stays that Elena first met von Cosel, who was working as a radiologic technologist at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West. Befriending Elena’s parents, von Cosel promised them that he would be able to cure their daughter, even though doctors had warned them there was little hope that she would recover. As he treated her using his own outlandish methods involving x-rays and other machines, as well as tonics containing specks of gold, von Cosel professed his undying love to the dying Elena and brought her extravagant presents. Uninterested, she routinely snubbed his advances, and von Cosel failed in his quest to heal the object of his affection.
A devastated von Cosel offered to pay for Elena’s funeral and also had an elaborate mausoleum built for her at the Key West Cemetery, which he visited on a nightly basis. He also built an airship that he christened ‘The Countess Elena,’ and expressed his wish that some day, he and his dear departed one might travel to the stars in it, where they would be ‘high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form.’Continue reading →
On Friday 5th December 1952, a dark cloud descended over London. Billowing smog, known as pea-soup on account of its density and sometimes slightly yellow colour was a fairly common sight and few initially believed it to be a cause for major concern. However, it soon became clear that, as a Ministry of Health report would later claim, ‘In a city traditionally notorious for its fogs there was general agreement on its exceptional severity on this occasion.’
During the preceding weeks, the British weather had been unusually chilly, even for the time of year. Consequently more coal was being burnt both commercially and by London residents. Severe winds had also contributed by blowing industrial smoke from Europe all the way across the English Channel.
It was as if London, one of the world’s busiest cities, had come to a complete halt. All public transport, with the exception of the London Underground ceased and vehicles were left discarded on the roads, visibility being so poor that driving was hazardous. There was even a report that a performance of La traviata at Sadler’s Wells was cancelled after the first act as the theatre gradually filled with black smoke. It was even claimed that cattle being brought to Smithfield Market died from asphyxiation. Many of London’s schools were forced to close, with one pupil, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, gleefully remembering how he ‘didn’t have to go to school for a few days.’ Those who did venture out covered their faces in an attempt to prevent themselves from breathing in the harmful pollutants. Continue reading →