Andrew Watson’s father, Peter Miller Watson, was the manager of a sugar plantation in British Guiana while his mother was a local woman called Anna (or Hannah) Rose. Having been born illegitimately, accurate details of Watson’s early life are virtually non-existent. It was only after his father moved the young Andrew and his sister Annetta to Scotland in the early 1860s that any reliable evidence began to appear.
Peter Watson died in 1869 while his son was enrolled at a boarding school in Halifax in West Yorkshire. He and his sister inherited a significant amount of money that secured their financial futures and, after attending King’s College School in Wimbledon, Watson took up a place to study mathematics, engineering and natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. With his existing interest in football flourishing and, having left university after just one year to take up an engineering apprenticeship, Watson’s talents as a full back saw him join a succession of increasingly bigger clubs.
By 1880 Andrew Watson was playing for Queen’s Park – Britain’s leading team – and the next year he was called up to captain the Scottish national side in a match against England on 12 March 1881. Played at the Oval in London, which currently serves as an international cricket venue, the Scots defeated England by an incredible 6 goals to 1 in a match that is still the heaviest defeat ever suffered by England on home soil. He later moved to London where he became the first black player in the English FA Cup when he joined Swifts in 1882.
On the 23rd February 1455, tradition dictates that Johannes Gutenberg published his printed Bible – the first book to be produced with moveable type in the West. Although there is no definitive evidence for this publication date, numerous secondary sources state it and therefore it is accepted by most people.
Gutenberg was not the first person in the world to use moveable type, and nor was the Bible his first foray into printing with it. He didn’t even produce that many copies, with estimates ranging from 160 to 185 Bibles of which only twenty-three complete copies survive. However, the process with which Gutenberg printed his Bible revolutionised the production of books and is viewed by many as crucial to the developments that followed in the Renaissance and the Reformation.
The earliest examples of moveable type – the use of individual components that can be ordered to produce a printed document – date back to China’s Northern Song Dynasty at the turn of the last millennium, but the enormous number of characters in scripts based on the Chinese writing system made the system unwieldly. Gutenberg therefore benefited from the much smaller number of characters in the Latin alphabet, but also invented a reliable way to cast large numbers of individual metal letters using a device called the hand mould. Furthermore, he developed an oil-based ink that was optimised for metal-type printing onto paper.
With 1,286 pages a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible is now estimated to be worth up to $35 million dollars, but the value of the printing press itself is immeasurable. Gutenberg’s creation was responsible for an intellectual revolution.
On the 19th February 1985, the BBC’s flagship soap opera EastEnders was broadcast for the first time. Now airing four episodes a week, the series has been broadcast continuously ever since and remains one of the most popular television shows in the United Kingdom.
EastEnders was created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland, a producer and script editing partnership who had previously worked together on long-running police drama Z-Cars. In March 1983 they were asked to come up with a bi-weekly evening television drama by David Reid, the BBC’s Head of Series & Serials, who wanted a new show to run 52 weeks a year.
Smith and Holland were both from London, and opted to set the soap in the East End. They based the original twenty-four characters on their own families and people they had met in London’s ‘real’ East End, and contacted casting agencies in search of actors to fill the roles. Their repeated phone calls asking for ‘real East Enders’ provided Smith with the idea for the show’s name.
The show required a huge set to be built at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire. Meanwhile, composer Simon May created the now-iconic theme tune. This was to play over an aerial view of London pieced together from 800 separate photographs taken from an aeroplane flying 1000 feet over London.
The show was first broadcast on the 19th February 1985 as part of new BBC One controller Michael Grade’s ‘relaunch’ of the channel. The first episode secured an audience of 17 million, which increased to 23 million by the end of the year.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, under his pen-name Mark Twain, had previously published the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which the character of Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is introduced for the first time. Eight years after its release, the sequel was published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and was followed by the American version two months later.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was originally published without the definite article at the start of its title, is set in the antebellum South when the economy was fuelled by plantations using slave labour. The novel follows Huck’s journey down the river Mississippi with Jim, a slave who ran away from his owner Miss Watson.
Notable as one of the first American novels to be written in vernacular English, it is told in the first person by Huck himself. This is said to have revolutionised American literature, with Ernest Hemingway later claiming that “All modern American literature comes from…Huckleberry Finn.”
Despite such later acclaim, the book was greeted with mixed reviews on its release and within just a month it had been banned by the library in Concord, Massachusetts for being “trash…suitable only for the slums.” Other libraries in the late 19th and early 20th century followed suit, and the novel continues to divide opinion due to its frequent use of the n-word and its portrayal of black characters. However, defenders of the book instead interpret Twain’s creation as a masterpiece of American literature that uses satire to present a powerful attack on racism.
On the 17th February 1966 Brian Wilson, the co-founder of the Beach Boys, began the first recording session for the song Good Vibrations at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles. Part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, Good Vibrations arguably established the recording studio itself as an instrument and secured the Beach Boys their first million-selling single.
The Beach Boys were recording their eleventh studio album, Pet Sounds, when the instrumental parts for the first version of the song were recorded on the 17th February. Originally logged as part of the Pet Sounds sessions, recording of Good Vibrations was put on hold while the album was completed. However, following the release of Pet Sounds a reported further 90 hours of recordings were made that were gradually edited into the three minutes 35 seconds that make up the final song.
Referred to by Wilson as a “pocket symphony”, the modular process used for Good Vibrations involved the recording and re-recording of individual sections of the song using the Wall of Sound formula, that had originally been developed by record producer Phil Spector. The sporadic sessions for instrumental sections alone lasted until August, after which the vocal parts were recorded. The final mix was completed on the 21st September, after a final Electro-Theremin overdub was added.
Finally released on the 10th October 1966, Good Vibrations reached the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It had cost up to $75,000 to produce, making it at that time the most expensive single ever recorded.
George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was performed for the first time at a concert by Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra called An Experiment in Modern Music.
Whiteman had previously worked with Gershwin when he conducted the original performance of Blue Monday, a one-act ‘jazz opera’ composed by Gershwin with lyrics by Buddy DeSylva. Although it was a Broadway flop, Whiteman was impressed by Blue Monday and had a conversation with Gershwin in which they discussed the idea of composer writing a jazz concerto.
According to legend Gershwin forgot about the conversation until early January 1924 when his brother, Ira, read an article in the New York Tribune that said Whiteman would perform a jazz concerto by Gershwin at a concert on 12 February. His musical Sweet Little Devil was due to open in Boston at the end of the month, yet Whiteman was able to persuade Gershwin to write the piece after promising he only needed to submit a piano score. Whiteman’s arranger Ferde Grofé orchestrated the piece, while the band added their own touches such as clarinettist Ross Gorman who turned the opening solo into an extended glissando that has since become the accepted way to open the piece.
Gershwin himself played piano when the piece was premiered at Aeolian Hall in New York City. He hadn’t scored the piano part and so performed from memory, improvising some parts. The audience, which included composers such as John Philip Sousa and Sergei Rachmaninoff, responded enthusiastically to the piece but critics were divided. It has since gone on to become one of Gershwin’s most famous pieces and a vital part of American musical history that proved how jazz elements could be used in so-called ‘serious’ music.
On the 7th February 1964, the Beatles visited the United States for the first time. Their welcome at New York’s Kennedy Airport by 3,000 screaming fans was unprecedented, even for a band that had already become accustomed to hordes of followers at home in Britain and in Europe. Within two days, their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show had put them in front of around 40% of the entire population of the country – an estimated 73 million people.
1963 had seen the release of the Beatles’ first two albums – Please Please Me and With the Beatles – as well as five number one singles including She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand. The latter, released in the UK on the 29th November was kept from the number one spot for two weeks due to a resurgence in the popularity of She Loves You amidst the media storm that kick-started Beatlemania. A few weeks later, on the 26th December, I Want To Hold Your Hand became the first Capitol Records Beatles release in the USA, selling a quarter of a million copies in the first three days and finally hitting the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on the 1st February.
The Beatles’ arrival in America six days later couldn’t have been any better timed, despite their Ed Sullivan Show appearance being booked before the single was even released. By the time they performed their first live concert to 20,000 fans at the Coliseum in Washington D.C. on the 11th February, Beatlemania had taken a firm grip on America.
The 3rd February 1959 was the Day The Music Died, when rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The disaster gained its name twelve years later as a result of Don McLean’s hit song American Pie.
On the 23rd January 1959, Buddy Holly began the headline Winter Dance Party Tour of 24 cities in the American Midwest with support from Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Dion and the Belmonts. Touring was a very profitable activity for musicians and Holly – recently married and with a pregnant wife at home – was keen to pack in as many performances as possible.
However, the tour involved covering gruelling distances in a bus that soon developed a fault with its heating system. The situation was so bad that Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch was hospitalised with frostbitten feet. The bus was promptly replaced, but with less than half the dates already covered the musicians were frustrated and tired.
After playing a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on the 2nd February Holly opted to charter a plane to get him to the next venue. The plane, contrary to popular opinion, was not called American Pie and was only identified by the serial number N3794N. In addition to Holly and the pilot, 21 year-old Roger Peterson, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper took the remaining seats following some negotiation and a coin toss. They took off at 12:55am on the 3rd February, but flew only 6 miles before crashing amidst deteriorating weather.
Desert Island Discs is Britain’s longest-running radio programme.
Devised by the English radio broadcaster and producer Roy Plomley in November 1941, each episode of Desert Island Discs features an interview with a celebrity who imagines that they have been cast away on a desert island with only a limited number of home comforts. In the early years they were permitted to choose eight songs to take with them, although a few years after the programme’s inception castaways were also allowed to take one book and one luxury item, in addition to a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare and an appropriate religious or philosophical work such as the Bible.
Plomley was commissioned to create the new radio programme by the BBC’s Head of Popular Record Programmes, Leslie Perowne. Just two months after he pitched the idea, he found himself in the bomb-damaged studio at Maida Vale conducting the very first interview with popular entertainer Vic Oliver who chose Chopin’s Étude No.12 in C minor, “Revolutionary”, as his first piece of music.
The first series was originally commissioned to run on the BBC Forces Programme for eight weeks but, excluding a break between 1946-51, has remained on air for 42 weeks a year ever since. Plomley himself presented the programme until his death in 1985, in which time he recorded 1,791 episodes. He was succeeded as presenter by Michael Parkinson.
Desert Island Discs still features the same theme music, “By the Sleepy Lagoon” by Eric Coates which is overlaid with sounds of herring gulls to conjure up the feeling of being by the sea. Some listeners, however, continue to take issue with this sound effect since herring gulls are not known to congregate near tropical islands.
Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr was the director of research at DuMont Laboratories in New Jersey where he was exploring the use of cathode ray tubes in television sets. It was during this period that he and Estle Ray Mann created their game, which was directly influenced by Second World War radar displays. The two scientists combined a cathode ray tube with an oscilloscope to allow a player to simulate launching an explosive shell at enemy targets in what they called The Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device.
The patent stated that targets needed to be physically positioned on the screen of the device using transparent overlays. The player then used the controls of the oscilloscope to position a spot of light created by the CRT, much like the controls on an Etch A Sketch toy, in order to hit the target. When a switch was flicked the spot would move in a parabolic arc, mimicking the flight of a shell, at the end of which the light would become unfocused in imitation of an explosion. If the spread of the beam hit the target, the player scored a hit. Additional controls allowed the player to change the angle and trajectory of the light beam, and change the time delay before detonation.
Despite securing a patent for the device, the game never went into commercial production. The parts were too expensive and DuMont Laboratories were more interested in advancing television technology. Consequently The Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device’s place in video game history is negligible, and it is likely that later developers created their own games without any knowledge of the work done by Goldsmith and Mann.