Monday, 27 May 2013

Forgotten aviation pioneer’s aircraft to take to the air once more

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Forgotten aviation pioneer’s aircraft to take to the air once more

History can be a fickle thing at times, as these two recent articles about a previously unheard-of 1900s Welsh aviator show.  While the names of Wright, Alcock & Brown, Lindbergh and Earhart will forever be writ large in the annals of aviation those who came before even them, the "nearly men" of powered flight - John Stringfellow, George Cayley, Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute to name but a few - remain obscure at best.  The subject of this story, Welshman Christopher Carlyon, would likely have remained buried in that same list were it not for the efforts of the aviation enthusiast and fellow countryman mentioned in the articles who is determined to see a replica of Carlyon's aeroplane built - and more importantly, fly.

The eccentric engineer and the 'pioneering' Valleys flight that never was

Although his design came after the Wright brothers' famous flight at Kitty Hawk Carlyon's aircraft apparently contained several features far in advance of the Wright Flyer, which there is little doubt would have had a positive effect on its flying ability.  That Christopher Carlyon was just a 17-year old colliery worker at the time, with little experience of the mechanics of flight, makes his attempt to fly all the more remarkable and the unfortunate destruction of the machine during a heavy storm in 1910 particularly heartbreaking. 

Christopher Carlyon: Pontycymer's unsung aviation pioneer

Reading these two pieces one thing that strikes me is how easy it is to forget just how new and unknown powered flight must have been at the turn of the last century.  The Wrights had the earlier works of glider pilots like Lilienthal and Chanute to use as a basis plus the mechanical know-how gleaned from their experience with bicycles, printing presses and so on.  But even a large chunk of their research was based on studying pictures and reports of the early gliders and it seems this is what Carlyon did when news of the Wright's breakthrough flight reached Pontycymmer - plus he also travelled to see the Flyer when it came to London in 1904.

It is a strong reminder, over a century later and with powered flight now utterly commonplace, of just how thrilling, exciting and inspiring mankind's sudden ability to travel through the skies was at the time.  I can imagine a young Christopher Carlyon being one of thousands to go up to London to see this amazing new machine, being moved to build one of his own and damn well nearly succeeding too.

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While the events that led to the destruction of the Carlyon glider and Carlyon's own life after this remain tragic it is splendid to see that there are those out there intent on seeing that his achievements are not totally forgotten, especially by attempting to build and fly a full-scale replica.  I hope Mr Thomas Maddock (above, with his 1/3rd scale model) is successful in honouring - and proving right - a fellow Pontycymeran inventor and pioneer pilot.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Style Icon Extra: Bertie Wooster

Well that's the last time I make any promises about when my next post will be, or joke about hospital visits.  You can probably guess from that where I found myself last week, much to my annoyance and discomfort.  Still all's well again now, so while I settle back in to the daily routine of life here's a post that's been sitting in my Drafts folder for months just waiting to be finished - and now seems to be the perfect time.  Yes, it's an extra Style Icon to finish off a series I began last year and another special "fictional character" edition.  Perhaps the ultimate gentleman's style ideal, it is none other than the great and good Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.

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Although primarily a literary character, such is the beauty of P.G. Wodehouse's writing - not least the attention to detail lavished on Bertie's clothing (ably directed by Jeeves's discerning eye) and the humorous events that can sometimes result - that the suits, ties, hats and whatnot jump off the page just as well as the incidents and accidents, the fun and games and the people and places poor old Bertie encounters throughout the stories.

Played on film and TV, first by previous Style Icon David Niven in 1935's Thank You, Jeeves, then with Ian Carmichael in B.B.C.'s 1965-67 series The World Of Wooster, Bertie (and Jeeves) received by far their best portrayal - and the one most people know and which will form the basis of this post - by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in the 1990s series Jeeves & Wooster.


The '90s Granada TV Jeeves & Wooster series is rightly regarded as the definitive essaying of these two perfect gentlemanly characters and the sheer high level displayed by the wardrobe department is but one reason the whole programme worked so well.  Bertie's suits, ties, waistcoats and other accessories (not to mention his few fashion faux pas!) are all there just as you would imagine them from the books - the ultimate style of an English gentleman.  Stumbling across the costume warehouse storing all these drool-worthy items of clothing ranks high on my list of sartorial dreams!

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So where does one begin?  Whether in a brown 3-piece and tweeds for the country, or greys and pinstripes in Town, Bertie Wooster cuts an impeccable dash as he stumbles from one misfortune to another.

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Not only are the suits wonderfully cut and perfectly fitted but the are accessorised brilliantly, be it with a natty tie, a well-placed pocket square, a splash of colour in the buttonhole (how overlooked is a flower in the lapel these days?!) or topped off with a complementing hat, gloves and cane.  In the books and in the series this is of course thanks in part to the guiding hand of every chap's ideal gentleman's gentleman - Jeeves.  Without him you get the feeling that Bertie might stray from the path of sartorial rightness more often and even I have found occasion to ask myself "What would Jeeves say?" when contemplating some item of clothing or other.

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A fine proponent of Spearpoint and pin collars, Bertie Wooster has long inspired me to try both types of shirt collar.  I already own two or three pins and collar bars, now it is just a matter of saving up for the shirts themselves - from either Darcy Clothing or The Savile Row Co. for preference.

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Bertie also proves that the pinstripe is not the preserve of bankers or gangsters, pulling it off nicely in several episodes.  He also illustrates perfectly the correct way to wear gloves with a suit and I often used to use the picture below to try and educate my otherwise ill-informed work colleagues who would take great delight in making nonsense remarks likening them to "serial killer" or "Fascist Nazi" gloves(!).  Honestly, the ignorance I had to put up with sometimes!

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The double-breasted suit - even occasionally the rarer double-breasted waistcoat - is well represented also and further proof that it can work well on the thinner frame.

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Even though he constantly finds himself in the most embarrassing and unfortunate scenarios Bertie Wooster always manages by and large to remain well-dressed and debonair.  One often gets the feeling from reading the stories that he is simply a victim of circumstance and actually not at all too dumb.  I find myself more and more often empathising with his predicaments, how he does his best in the face of difficult situations - much as we might try to in the daily cut-and-thrust of the world and with those who inhabit it, seemingly making our lives that little bit tougher when we just want to toddle along minding our own business.  Not to mention trying to deal with certain female relatives and their strange ideas and expectations about us!  Of course having someone like Jeeves in our corner, were he to exist, would certainly make life a whole lot easier.  We can at least try to aspire to Bertie's sartorial splendour, as the epitome of the well-dressed gentleman about town.

Well, "tinkerty-tonk!", as our hero would say, and I hope to be back with more typical Eclectic Ephemera fare before ere long.  Enjoy what remains of the weekend and cheero for now!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Jumping on the spring Band Wagon

"Blige me!", as my father would say*, nearly a whole month without a peep out of yours truly and I haven't even been anywhere near a hospital (actually that's not strictly true, but only for routine tests)!  I'd forgotten how all-consuming full-time work can be.  I can only apologise for not sticking to my once-a-week promise.

Anyway, the new job hasn't worked out after all that so I'm back to being a gentleman of leisure for now.  I'm not too sorry, though, because it wasn't really for me (literally - towards the end I was doing things that weren't in the job description and completely outside my remit as they struggled to find work for me.  That and other business practices that would make your hair turn white.).  Ergo I'm slightly glad to be out of it; one door closes another opens and all that, too, is what I say!

So, now I can devote my time to this blog again (how I would love to make a job out of that, if only!).  How are you all on this lovely May day (I hope it's as nice wherever you are as it is here)?  Tickety-boo, I trust?  I've got three or four posts lined up to write that otherwise would have appeared in April but for now here's a little something to tie in with the beautiful spring weather we've (finally!) been having here, as I get going again and see if I've still got the blogging knack.

I recently dug out an old recording of one of my favourite films, The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire - who else? - and Cyd Charisse (who always reminds me in this of our own dear Fleur).  It never fails to brighten my mood and doubly so at this time of year thanks to a number of outfits sported by Fred that are not only perfectly light and spring-like but also easily attainable.  Two at least are my go-to styles for spring/summer and if I can [just about] pull them off then anyone can!


The first tip-top ensemble makes its appearance at the beginning of the film, as washed-up movie star Tony Hunter (Astaire) arrives back in New York.  The double-breasted suit looks as good here as ever, perfectly complemented by the matching shirt and tie, contrasting pocket square (naturally!) and the icing on the cake - or rather the hat on the head! - the jaunty straw boater.  I haven't had a chance to try this particular look yet mainly because I don't have a double-breasted suit (for shame!), but that is the only thing from it missing in my wardrobe so watch this space!



Skipping forward to about half way through the film and Astaire's wonderfully put together pieces are only marred by the fact that he makes his ballet dancer partner Gaby (Charisse) cry(!).  My attempt might also make you cry, but only for its woeful inadequacy next to the original.


No pocket square for me I'm afraid,
because on this jacket it isn't a real pocket(!) ;-(

I've just realised none of my pictures show anything below the waist (oo-er missus!) so let me assure you that not only am I wearing trousers, but they are also white cotton ducks just like Fred's.  I've always loved how his trews and jacket are just ever so subtly different in shade, set off perfectly by the yellow shirt and tie plus the red pocket square.

Trying a "pose" for a change, rather than just
always grinning dementedly into the camera

But then Tony & Gaby go for a walk in the park, share a dance.. and all is forgiven.




So to the final dance number, Girl Hunt Ballet, and a suit that has passed into legend.  Has Astaire ever looked more effortlessly cool?  Another splendid light-coloured two-piece and hat, beautifully contrasted with a blue shirt and white tie.  Looks familiar?  Seen it somewhere before since?  Indeed you probably have, for a certain Mr Michael Jackson was also a huge fan of Fred Astaire and one of Jacko's biggest homages to Fred was... the music video for Smooth Criminal.  This, sadly, renders the following outfit difficult if not impossible to wear in public, unless you don't mind having Smooth Criminal sung (or just "Oi, Michael Jackson!" shouted) at you by every other person you meet.  The way I look at it, though, is that if Jackson was paying tribute to Astaire by dressing like him so these people are in fact complimenting me by unwittingly likening me to Fred Astaire.  At least, that's how I try to rationalise it.

Cooler...

...than...

...Jackson

I'm sure I used to have a white tie many moons ago but I must have disposed of it before I realised it could have been used in making a [barely] passable Fred Astaire-inspired outfit, so the next-lightest pattern in my tie collection has had to fill in.





Well, I think I've proved to myself that the blogging bug is still very much in evidence with this returning film fashion post.  I hope you've all enjoyed my continued [painful] attempts to emulate the style of the great Fred Astaire in one of his best films.  Enjoy the rest of the Bank Holiday (those of you in the U.K.) and I hope to be back within the week this time!  Cheero!

* No, I'm not sure what it means either.  I think it's his own variation of "blimey".  Anyway...

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