Scenes from a turbulent year: New book explains how 1922 saw the creation of Just William and the BBC’s first new bulletin
1922: Scenes From A Turbulent Year
by Nick Rennison (Oldcastle £12.99, 224pp)
The one thing that didn’t happen in 1922, according to Nick Rennison’s fascinating and highly readable snapshot of that event-packed year, was the founding of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs. That was actually only thought of in 1922, then founded in 1923.
So we can now count it among Britain’s other famous misnomers, such as the Duke of Devonshire (who resides in Derbyshire) and New College (which is very old).
What a memorable picture Rennison paints for us of what any minute now will be a century ago. He picks out salient events from all over the world, from terrifying lynchings in the U.S. to airships tumbling to the ground, to Charlie Chaplin directing a short film as a wedding present for the Mountbattens.
This book shows us both how much the world has changed since then — ‘Those who do not play bridge are seldom asked out,’ wrote Emily Post in her imperious 1922 book of etiquette — and how little it has changed: 1922 had natural disasters, unsolved murders, county cricket matches and an FA Cup final, just as this year has and 2022 will. (Hampshire were bowled out for 15 against Warwickshire but still managed to win the match by 155 runs; Huddersfield beat Preston North End 1-0 in the FA Cup final played at Stamford Bridge.)
Just William: Actor Oliver Rokison
Rennison shows us how, then as now, the old world was straining against the new, and vice versa. In literary terms, this was encapsulated by the publication of both The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot’s free-verse poem of utter post-World-War-I bleakness, and a collection of Thomas Hardy’s gently rhyming poems exuding Victorian and Edwardian melancholy.
Other cultural highlights of the year included: the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses (‘The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples’, according to the ever-waspish Virginia Woolf); the first Enid Blyton book of verse called Child Whispers; and the first Just William novel; the creation of the BBC (its first news bulletin contained items on fog, billiards and a train robbery); and, not to be forgotten, the founding of a small production company in Kansas City, Missouri, by a young animator called Walt Disney. He called it Laugh-o-Gram films, and he was so short of money that he had to sleep in the office.
Meanwhile, in world of politics, you could already see the first stirrings of the rise of Nazism and fascism. Mussolini was appointed prime minister of Italy and his Blackshirts poured into Rome.
A Nazi party official said, with foresight, that ‘Germany’s Mussolini is called Adolf Hitler.’ Meanwhile in Russia, the ailing Lenin warned his Bolshevik colleagues of the dangers he foresaw in the rise of the uncouth Joseph Stalin.
It’s the juxtaposing of those kinds of political events with quirky, unexpected items, such as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner being sent two poisoned Walnut Whips in the post by a lone schizophrenic, that make this book the opposite of soporific.
You never know what’s coming next. Luckily, the Commissioner only ate one of the two Walnut Whips, so was not poisoned to death. I didn’t even know that Walnut Whips existed in 1922, but they did — invented in 1910.
On November 4, in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, one of the archaeologist Howard Carter’s workmen stumbled on a large stone which proved to be the top of a flight of steps leading downwards.
Carter sent a coded telegram to his boss the Earl of Carnarvon in England: ‘At last have made wonderful discovery in valley stop a magnificent tomb with seals intact stop recovered same for your arrival.’
Carnarvon arrived in Egypt three weeks later, and Carter would recall the spine-tingling moment when they glimpsed the glint of gold behind that sealed door.
And what will we have as a 2022 equivalent, I wonder?
I suppose our archaeologists might dig up some more Roman treasures under the route of HS2. But it’s not quite the same as finding the tomb of Tutankhamun.