Crustumerium: Death and afterlife at the gates of Rome.

Crustumerium: Death and afterlife at the gates of Rome.

Exhibition: 19  May – 20 Nov 2016 at the Glypotek, Copenhagen
The ancient city of Crustumerium was a centre for cultural exchange and played a significant role in the early history of Rome. For some 2,500 years Crustumerium was merely a recurrent reference in historical sources.  When in 1975 archaeologists located the city, some 15 km north-east of the Italian capital, it was an archaeological breakthrough of the first order. Since then Crustumerium has been the object of numerous successful excavations.

Admission to special exhibitions all days, including Tuesday.
Admission includes access to all special exhibitions and the rest of the museum.
Adults: 110 DKK
Groups of 10 or more: 90 DKK
Under 27: 65 DKK
Under 18: Free

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue featuring contributions by thirty-two leading experts within the field.
Buy the catalogue

Straight from the tomb
Realised in close cooperation with on-site archaeologists from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo e l’Area Archeologica Centrale, Rome, Italy, the exhibition presents significant recently excavated grave goods from Crustumerium. A total of ten tombs will be exhibited at the Glyptotek, featuring skeletal remains and spectacular treasures. Each individual tomb offers an intimate narrative that evoke human life and fate from a bygone era, making tombs much more than just relics from a distant past.

Death and the afterlife
The exhibition focuses on ideas about life and death in antiquity. The many objects testify to the customs, mindsets and beliefs found in a culturally hybrid society. As such, the exhibition shows how various cultural impulses from antiquity have affected humanity’s ideas about death and afterlife, and how such ideas continue to affect and offer perspectives on our present time.

Live archaeology at the Glyptotek …
Last but not least, the exhibition offers rare first-hand insight into the processes that take objects from being archaeological finds to becoming exhibition artefacts. An archaeological laboratory allows visitors to witness restorers work on microexcavation of block lifts been removed as single, undisturbed pieces from a tomb complex in Crustumerium and transported to Copenhagen for this occasion. In addition to witnessing the actual excavation work, visitors can also see and ask the experts about how archaeological finds are treated, preserved, analysed and interpreted.

… and live from Crustumerium
The excavation work currently undertaken at the city of Crustumerium itself will also be broadcast to Copenhagen. On selected days throughout the summer, the exhibition will facilitate live streaming featuring archaeologists at work in Italy, presenting their most recent discoveries to Copenhagen exhibition visitors.

The exhibition is supported by:
Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond 

The archaeological laboratory is supported by:

Paul Klee’s hand puppets

Paul Klee’s hand puppets

Felix Klee woke up on his ninth birthday to find eight strange little figures waving at him.

They were hand puppets  made by  his father, the artist Paul Klee who had   based them on stock characters from Kasperl and Gretl (Germany’s Punch and Judy). For the heads, he used whatever he could turn to use from the household’s everyday life: beef bones and electrical outlets, bristle brushes, leftover bits of fur and nutshells. Next he began to sew costumes.  Between 1916 and 1925 Klee (1879-1940) made some fifty hand puppets for Felix, of which thirty are still in existence. 



Felix Klee the puppeteer

Finally, Klee painted an old picture frame to serve as the curtained proscenium of a theatre. It fitted into a doorway, on one side of which were the puppeteer and puppets and on the other, the audience.

The cast included political figures, a self-portrait, and a skull-faced character which Felix called Dr. Death. When Felix grew up and went travelling he took many of his favourite puppets with him. Almost all of these were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Wurzburg.


The only survivor was Dr. Death. 

Gallery of Paul Klee’s puppets.
Book: Paul Klee’s Hand Puppets.

Beatles take top 5 positions in Billboard 100 chart

Beatles take top 5 positions in Billboard 100 chart

It was fifty-one years ago today, give or take a few days. In the week of 4 April 1964, The Beatles  were solidly encamped at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100. They occupied slots #1 – #5 with a further seven songs scattered lower down the chart. Can’t Buy Me Love was their third consecutive US No. 1,  a feat which remains unique in the history of the chart. The following week, two more Beatles singles entered the list.

On April 5th Billboard   ran a story “Chart  crawls with Beatles”. Written  by Jack Maher and Tom Noonan (who  had launched the Hot 100 six years earlier) its opening words were “Just about everyone. is tired of the Beatles.” 

crawling with beatles

“Disk jockeys are tired of playing the hit group. The writers of trade and consumer publication articles are tired of writing about them and the manufacturers of product other than the Beatles are tired of hearing about them. Everyone’s tired of the Beatles – except the listening and buying public.”

I remember that time very well. Like many another Beatle-inspired teenager I’d been given a guitar for my fourteenth birthday and was learning to play it. It was an old acoustic finished in shiny red lacquer. Its metal strings cut my fingertips to pieces, but the pain was nothing compared to the pleasure of being able, after laborious   practice, to shape chords, change from one to another without long pauses in between and hold each in turn   down long enough to strum a semblance of a Beatles song.  

Here are the songs that so delighted us half a century ago.  Click the labels to hear them.









i want to hold your hand


The famous opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night

The famous opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night

George was playing his  Rickenbacker 360 12-string. John was on a Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic. Paul used his Hofner violin bass. The notes they struck simultaneously from these three instruments became one of the most instantly recognisable     sounds   in rock music: the mysterious opening chord   of A Hard Day’s Night..

‘We knew it would open both the film and the soundtrack LP, so we wanted a particularly strong and effective beginning. The strident guitar chord was the perfect launch.’ GEORGE MARTIN

A chord struck fifty years ago, and people are still arguing about what it was.

Many quote  Dominic Pedler’s 800 page The Songwriting Secrets of The Beatles  which lists   21 possibilities, these being but  a few   of the exotic and extravagant ideas he encountered during  his research. Here’s an attempt to reconstruct some of them. The mistakes are mine, the guitar is a Gittler.

“A dominant 9th of F”?






“C-Bb-D-F-G-C in the key of C”?


“A polytriad ii7/V in Ab major”?


or ??


“G7sus4” (open position)?


or 2nd positionG7sus4-2

“D7sus4 (open position)”?


“G7 with added 9th and suspended 4th”?


“A superimposition of Dm, F, and G”?








“Dm11 with no 9th”?






My own guess (no idea what you’d call it)


Joe’s chord F6/9


Thanks to Joe Atkinson and everyone else who commented and offered suggestions.

Professional musician and educator David Wilkens (,  in a long discussion of the chord, mentions that in 2008  a mathematician, Jason Brown, tried to obtain an accurate transcript of the notes using a   Fourier analysis   (basically a set of waveforms).

However the  frequencies thus obtained  didn’t match the instruments   known to have been played on the song.  Brown hypothesised that   George Martin had  played some notes on   the studio’s Steinway grand, these accounting for the anomalous Fourier frequencies.

According to Brown,  George Harrison’s  12 string contributed  a2, a3, d3, d4, g3, g4, c4, and another c4; Paul McCartney bass added a d3,  George Martin struck  d3, f3, d5, g5, and e6 on the piano, while Lennon ‘played a loud c5′ on his Gibson J-60’.

Wilkens says, ‘For fun I took the pitches in this chord and used them to compose a melody and then wrote a short fugue using that melody as a subject (because composing fugues are what I do for fun). It’s in the style of Hindemith, not a baroque style fugue, so I had some fun with dissonance.   Listen for the Beatles quote near the end.’

[Thanks to Dave Wilkens for this material, for his full account of the magic chord, visit his article.]

Here’s a video which  appears to illustrate Brown’s Fourier analysis:



Why am I not convinced?

Perhaps because Randy Bachman (remember Bachman Turner Overdrive) got a listen to the original sounds. The video below tells his story of being invited to the Abbey Road studio by George Martin’s son, Giles, who offered to play him any Beatles track he wanted to hear.

According to Randy (all this is on the video below) Paul played a D note while John played a Dsus4, and as for George with the all-important 12-string, ‘it’s an F chord but you put a G on top and you put a G on the bottom and you put C next to that G’.

This last chord is  beyond me. As far as I can tell it would be pretty much impossible for anyone with fewer than six fingers, especially on a 12-string. If you know better, please tell me how. (Chord below has   impossible C in  green.)

“Randy Bachman chord”


Randy and his friends try  putting all this together   and  presto, the magic chord hangs   shimmering in the air. But listen   for yourself. 

Finally, here’s what George Harrison himself had to say during an online chat on 15 February 2001:

Q: Mr Harrison, what is the opening chord you used for A Hard Day’s Night?

A: It is F with a G on top, but you’ll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story. (According to The Beatles Bible, ‘Paul added a D note, played on the fifth fret of the A string on his Hofner violin bass. This note is an octave lower than an open D string on a six-string guitar, and had a crucial effect on the overall sound of the chord.’)

Nowhere, note, does he mention Bachman’s bottom G nor the C next to it .


“George’s chord,   Fadd9”


Note added Feb 26:

Just found this video of the Beatles playing the song live in 1964. Very blurry as with most of the surviving footage from those days, but John clearly kicks the song off with the chord described by George, the Fadd9. He is using his thumb to play the bottom F.




The following information is courtesy of The Beatles Bible (Not Quite As Popular As Jesus).

Recorded: 16 April 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
George Harrison: Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar
John Lennon: Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: Hofner violin bass
Ringo Starr: snare drum, cymbal (in there somewhere)
George Martin: Steinway grand piano
Norman Smith: bongos
Released: 10 July 1964 (UK), 26 June 1964 (US)

A Hard Day’s Night was recorded at EMI Studios in a session taking place from 7-10pm. It took nine takes to record, and completed the number of songs needed for the film soundtrack.

The backing track – two rhythm guitars, bass guitar and drums – was recorded onto track one of the four-track tape, and Lennon and McCartney’s lead vocal were recorded live on track two. They added more vocals on three, along with percussion, more drums and acoustic guitar; and George Martin’s piano and the jangling guitar that ended the song were on track four.

Just five of the nine attempts were complete performances. Take one was complete, and had slightly different lyrics (“Feeling you holding me tight/All through the night”). However, it was unusable due to mistakes in the bass guitar part during the second bridge.

Takes two and three were both false starts, but take four – began before engineer Norman Smith could announce it on the talkback – was complete. However, George Harrison’s guitar solo was poor, and it was decided that he would overdub it once the backing track was complete.

Take five, wrongly announced as take four, was also complete, but six broke down during the third verse. Paul McCartney was the culprit, getting some bass notes wrong. Some studio chatter followed in which Ringo Starr was told to tap a beat on the hi-hat between the opening chord and the first verse.

Take seven was complete, but John Lennon broke a guitar string during the performance and McCartney was still having trouble in the middle section.

Lennon counted in take eight, but McCartney put a stop to it in order to practice the middle eight once more. There followed take nine, which was perfect, and became the basis for the released song.

Track three of the four-track tape was filled with acoustic guitar, bongos played by Norman Smith, more vocals by Lennon and McCartney, and cowbell. The recording was finished with a solo, played by George Martin on piano and George Harrison on guitar, on track four, plus an extra bass guitar part after the solo, underneath the line “so why on earth should I moan”.




Gittler Instruments [more on this coming soon]

In the Sierra dos Orgaos

In the Sierra dos Orgaos




“We reached Mr. March’s fazenda early in the forenoon.” Gardner wrote in his diary.   “It being Christmas-day, we found his slaves, who amount to 100 in all, performing a native dance in the yard before the house. His estate embraces an extent of country containing sixty-four square miles. The greater part of it is still covered by virgin forests ; what is cleared of it consists of pasture land, and several small farms for the cultivation of Indian corn, fiagrens (French beans), and potatoes. Plentiful crops are yielded by the two former, but the produce of the latter is neither so abundant nor so good as it is in England. He has also near to his house a large garden, under the management of a French gardener, in which all the European fruits and vegetables grow tolerably well. Many of these he has been at much trouble and expense in introducing from the Old World. From this garden he sends regular supplies of vegetables to the Rio market, and they are by far the best that are to be found in it.  “


From here over the next few months Gardner set out on regular expeditions exploring the region for twenty or thirty miles in each direction.


pool in sierra dos orgaos




Laurus nobilis flowers


The various species of Laurus form fine large trees, and when growing, as they often do, in an open part of the forest, they remind the European of the oaks of his native country. They flower in April and May, loading   the air with the rich perfume of their small white blossoms. Their  ripened fruit  forms the principal food of the Jacutinga, (Penelope Jacutinga  Spix) a fine large game bird.


penelope jacutinga

Penelope Jacutinga Spix


 Some of the largest trees of the forest are species of Ficus ; one, with an enormous height and thickness of stem, is called by English here the buttress tree, from several large thin plates which stand out from the bottom of the trunk. They begin to jut out from the stem at the height of ten or twelve feet from the bottom, and gradually increase in breadth till they reach the ground, where they are connected with the large roots of the tree. At the surface of the ground these plates are often five feet broad, and through out not more than two inches thick.


ficus buttress roots




Above: Ficus buttresses Below: Flowering canopy with Cassia and Tibouchina trees


The large Cassia have a striking appearance when in flower ; and as an almost equal number of large trees of Lasiandra fontanesiana [now renamed Tibouchina] and other species belonging to the same natural order are in bloom at the same time, the forests are then almost one mass of yellow and purple from the abundance of these flowers.

When rainforests are not protected 

Wild plants  have provided humans with  everything from quinine, aspirin and morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. Seventy percent of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforest. 

When rainforests vanish, they take with them  hundreds  of as yet undiscovered plant species, many of which may have had life-saving medicinal properties. One near recent miss was Calanolide A, a compound with significant anti-HIV effects. Calanolide A is derived from Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum, a very rare member of the Guttiferae or mangosteen family. Samples  were first collected in 1987 on a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored expedition in Sarawak. Having discovered that the plant   was active against HIV, excited researchers rushed back to the original kerangas forest near Lundu … but the tree was no longer there.

The tree was gone — likely felled by locals for fuelwood or building material. The disappearance of the tree lead to a furious   search by botanists for further specimens. Good news finally came from the Singapore Botanic Garden which had several plants collected by the British over 100 years earlier. Sarawak banned the felling and export of Calophyllum shortly thereafter.

Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum

The importance of Gardner’s explorations

What of the many medicinal trees and plants discovered by Gardner? A team of Kew researchers  decided to revisit the collection. They searched George Gardner׳s exhaustive  Catalogue of Brazilian Plants deposited in the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.

Each plant was re-identified and/or updated by consulting the preserved botanical collections that  Gardner gave to   the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and expert inspection of  other collections  to which  Gardner had given  duplicates. The team scoured the  PubMed database for whatever  pharmacological studies had been done on the plants. Gardner׳s diary entries and published letters were consulted and 63 useful plants were  recorded from the Catalogue and a further 30 from Gardner׳s book Travels in the Interior of Brazil. 

Take just one tree discovered by Gardner:  Cissus erosa. The French Guianan Palikur use the stem and leaves to make a plaster with pain killing  and healing   properties  that they apply to  the ulcers of leishmaniasis and  to wound s inflicted   by  of river rays of Paratrygon species.


The stem sap of is drunk to reduce fever. Crushed leaves are applied externally to treat snakebite, ulcers and thrush. The liana is crushed and rubbed on centipede bites  by the Surinam Akuriyo. (Shown here Scolopendra viridicornis viridicornis, two-thirds     life size.)



Of the recorded names in the Catalogue, 46 (73%) could be identified to species by consulting specimens collected by Gardner and held at Kew. Thirty-six different traditional uses were registered for the identified plants, the most common being as febrifuges, to treat venereal complaints and as purgatives. Fewer than 50% of these species have been the focus of published pharmacological studies, yet for those which have been thus investigated, the efficacies reported by Gardner were confirmed.

The data recorded by Gardner, the Kew study rather blandly concludes, represent a rich, relatively unexplored source of information regarding the traditional uses of Brazilian plants which merits further investigation.  Yes, because the forests he explored have largely all gone. Get on with it!


Rare bird book makes an Abebooks record of $191,000

Rare bird book makes an Abebooks record of $191,000

AbeBooks has sold a rare 1765 ornithology book  for $191,000, making it   the most expensive item in its 19-year history.


The book,  Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame e miniate al naturale,  normally translated and shortened to A Natural History of Birds,  was published in Florence in Italian in five volumes. It  contains 600 beautiful hand-colored engraved plates of birds. Commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, the book took ten years to complete. This copy’s fine condition coupled   with the fact that only ten  complete copies have been offered at auction in the past 40 years,  helped assure  a record price.


Here is the bookseller’s description: Together 10 volumes. Folio (19 x 15 inches). 6 plate volumes: 600 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE engraved plates with original hand-colour after Manetti, Lorenzi and Vanni (a few plates loose, one or two marginal stains, top outer corner of plates 100 and 101 affected by damp, plates 197 and 198 torn in upper margin, plates 221 and 225 with repaired tears (without loss), plates 267 and 336 slightly shorter,). 4 (of 5) text volumes: elaborately engraved half-titles by Lorenzi after Giuseppe Zocchi, 2 letterpress title-pages with engraved vignettes, one in Latin and one in Italian in each volume, parallel text in Latin and Italian, engraved allegorical plate by Lorenzi in volume IV, descriptions for 480 birds (small wormhole on first leaf in text volume I without loss, r1 and T1 of text volume I with marginal repairs).


Contemporary speckled calf backed marbled paper boards, the spines in six compartments with five raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others with gilt-ruled borders and small decorations (a bit scuffed, but attractive). Provenance: with the contemporary gilt initials “F.B.” at the foot of each spine; remains of later printed paper shelf labels at the foot of each spine, early shelf-marks to endpapers. First edition of a great 18th-century ornithological book. Manetti was a physician and director of the Florentine Botanical Gardens from 1749-1782.


Manetti worked almost exclusively from real specimens, beginning with the extensive collection of Marquis Giovanni Gerini. The result was one of the largest surveys of ornithology attempted up to that date, a work which became ‘the flamboyant forerunner of the splendid ornithological folios which were to appear in the nineteenth century. The production of its five massive folio volumes must have been one of the most remarkable publishing ventures ever undertaken in Florence. Begun in 1767 and completed ten years later, it was larger, better engraved and more vividly coloured than any previous book on birds’, notable for its lively posturing of the specimens which seem to reflect ‘the habits and mannerisms of contemporary Italian society’ (Dance p.70); Nissen IVB 588; Wood p.450; Fine Bird Books p.10; Zimmer I, 241. Bookseller Inventory # 72nhr128


Certainly all of this is worth following up. Feather by feather, leaf by leaf, tome by tome: this is how we discover   the world.


Ornithological flights leave in all directions from this page:

Oiseaux Exotiques
A Walk   Through H:   Reincarnation of an Ornithologist


A lost art: D&AD’s most awarded art director and copywriter Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull discuss today’s industry

A lost art: D&AD’s most awarded art director and copywriter Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull discuss today’s industry

First published in The Drum
Written by Angela Haggerty
Based on an  interview by Dave Birss
Photography by Julian Hanford 

They are one of the most respected duos to have ever worked in the advertising business and The Drum managed to catch up with Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull – D&AD’s most awarded art director and copywriter respectively – to hear their views on how the industry has changed since their peak days.

The pair were prolific in the heyday of Collet Dickenson Pearce (CDP) during the 1970s and 1980s and produced some of the country’s best quality and most effective work. They produced iconic print ads for brands such as Parker Pens and Benson & Hedges, including the B&H pyramid ads.



The duo also created the ‘Has the Sunday roast had its day?’ ad for Birdseye in 1974 and ads for Albany Life, including 1981’s ‘Answer these ten questions and work out the date of your own death’ print. The British Army, Fiat, Dunn & Co, 100 Pipers and Clarks are among other brands in the vast portfolio of D&AD’s most awarded copywriter and art director, who, according to former CDP managing director Sir Frank Lowe, were an “extraordinary” match.

“It’s hard to think of Tony without Neil, they were a most extraordinary duo along with John Salmon, the best of the writers I worked with,” he told D&AD.

“When they used to bring me a campaign I would always say can you leave the copy behind, and I’d read it quietly and it was nearly always one of the best moments of my day because it was just lovely. I think Tony did so many campaigns that were just outstanding.”

AMV BBDO founder David Abbott believes Brignull helped changed the landscape of advertising and put CDP on the map.  “I think he was one of a group of about six or seven people who made CDP famous throughout the world for the quality of their work,” he added.



“He’s an original thinker, he’s intuitive, he makes connections that most people don’t make. He’s honourable, charming and quietly flamboyant; I think that shows up in his work. We all felt we were on a mission to change creativity, to change advertising, and the really good people, like Tony, accepted that challenge and gloried in it.”

CDP was behind some of the most exciting ideas in advertising during the 1970s and 80s and among the creatives it helped produce were Lord Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Sir John Hegarty and Charles Saatchi. Even Sir Ridley Scott produced ads for the agency. According to former CDP creative director John Salmon, Godfrey is “unsurpassed” in the quality of his work.


“He was brilliantly creative and intelligent and those qualities are as rare as they ever were,” he told D&AD. “He set a fantastic example for the other art directors and the creative people in general. Virtually everything that he did he gave an original page look to it and he worked very hard to get that. In my view he was unsurpassed in producing outstanding print advertising. That’s why I think he’s the best, he’s the governor.”




CDP’s fortunes eventually dwindled and it was acquired by the Dentsu group after calling time in 2000. Brignull and Godfrey don’t feel the connection with modern day, digitally dominated advertising and much of it doesn’t impress them.

The pair still dabble in the trade – Godfrey worked recently with Indra Sinha for Channel 4 and Brignull works with JKR – but they have both pursued other interests. But D&AD’s most awarded copywriter and art director hail from a different era of advertising, and they have plenty of wisdom to impart about the craft.


When I started out, advertising was something that happened in America as far as I was concerned, and London was just a timid kind of reflection of what was happening there. There were people doing work – a little agency called CDP had just started – but most of the other agencies were large in format and doing the kind of advertising that had been done for the last 20 or 30 years.

When I left the Royal College of Art my first job in advertising was at a place called Dorland, which had a great creative director, but we were finding it very difficult to create and show good ads because the people weren’t around to do them. I moved on to spend a year at CDP and then DDB came along and said they were looking for an art director.

I applied and got the job and I was immediately sent over to New York for a year in 1964/65. I spent almost a decade at DDB before Tony and I met up. Tony appears to be a very gentle, benevolent character, a sort of professor old vicar, but underneath there is this edge. One of the things I liked about him was that there were these two aspects to him and I think it kind of shows in the ads at times.



What I liked about Tony’s writing was the fact that the headlines weren’t written as headlines. They were almost more like pieces of body copy and I think that came out of an essential ability to kind of breathe in the character of the client.

For example, the line for Dunn & Co, which was an old fashioned menswear place – ‘The life of a designer at Dunn & Co is one of continuous self-restraint’ – was a great headline because it encompassed the whole personality of it. Also, ‘A pen that merely writes is no pen at all’, I just loved the lyrical aspect of those lines.

People were, at the time, trying to do very clever, sharp, quick headlines. Those would work in some respects but were far from the personality of the actual company and product itself. The trade has changed since we worked together.

When I first started, photo typesetting came in, which was a huge breakthrough. The fact you could photograph it and you didn’t have to cut it up anymore, it could be done on a machine. But even that was crude by comparison with doing it now on a computer.

I don’t take much to do with the industry anymore. It’s not quite what it used to be. It’s all about the mechanics now. It’s digital and computerised and all about the amazing things that can be done, cars that can fly, things like that. Everything seems to be geared towards that and you can’t see the joins.



I remember when I did the pyramids poster for Benson & Hedges – I always hate to talk about cigarette advertising because I was also against it – the photographer and I shot five or six different elements and then came back to put them together. They were put together by cutting the transparencies and sticking them together, then trying to find a way of retouching the edges out of it. It took several weeks to do it.

It would probably be done in an afternoon now on the computer, easily. It used to be that there was a physical effort involved which there doesn’t seem to be now.


When I was in the creative department at J Walter Thompson, Sam Rothenstein, who I still think is probably the cleverest, most intelligent woman who ever worked in advertising in England, came to me with one of the first CDP ads, it was for Whitbread, and when I looked at it I thought it was stunningly clear, beautiful and simple. I wanted to work with CDP thereafter, but it took me a long while to get there.

I worked with Mather & Crowther first, then Benton & Bowles, and then I applied to CDP and John Salmon took me on. But it wasn’t until I was married and had been working at Vernons as creative director for about 18 months that Neil asked me to join him at Wells Rich Greene.


I think we played to each other’s strengths. I often knew how Neil would work on something so I wrote to his strengths. That was the same for both of us. When Neil did the little drawing on the child’s foot for Clarks for example, I had virtually nothing to do with that, but he knew I could write to that concept, that it would be something that had content to it and all I had to do was write some lines and work through it.

So essentially I loved Neil’s clarity and the beauty of his art direction, and I knew even if I wrote something fairly dim it would look good. I remember a copywriter coming in one day and saying: ‘I saw this piece of copy in the tray and I thought how dull it was but it’s turned out to be a great ad.’ Those were the days of great graphic beauty in press and posters. They were very stimulating, very exciting times.

It wasn’t before the moving image, of course, but it was certainly before the times of computer graphics. For example, Neil would often have to get the photosetting in on the headlines and the body type and it would all be cut out with a scalpel to make it optically correct.

italian footballers


The discipline of working like that often made us look at every piece of work with great scrutiny. But those were the days when you would look through a magazine for the ads to see how beautiful they were. You might get Volkswagen, 100 Pipers, lots of terrific themes. And Avis, when you saw a new Avis ad you read it like a poem.

Within our work we pioneered some of the first full page ads, but all of that began to quickly disappear when you got independent media brokers and the media department was taken out of the agency. The client would then say: ‘I’ve got this amount of money to spend, what mathematically is the best way I can do it?’ instead of thinking about the most appropriate way for the campaign.

As for copywriting, I think we’ve totally lost the craft. Occasionally you will find a very good line in a commercial or a fairly good line as a headline, but very rarely these days. It’s just a lost art. Certainly since David Abbot has stopped you don’t see an ad nowadays, even for clients you used to write for. Volvo, for example, totally gone; RSPCA, in no way engaging.

As Dave Trott used to say, it must reach out and grab you by the lapels and pull you in and I haven’t seen one like that. That is a great shame I think. I don’t think we are doing clients justice if we can’t write for them.


Missing the Missa Luba

Missing the Missa Luba

The Missa Luba is a Latin Mass from the Congo sung by a boys choir, Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, trained by Father Guido Haazen, a Franciscan Friar. The original performance was recorded in 1958 in Kamina, Congo. It was released as an LP in 1963. When we were living in India in the mid sixties my family had a copy and we listened over and over to its rhythms, harmonies and birdlike vocal calls.


The Sanctus from Missa Luba featured in Lindsey Anderson’s film If, and some of the music was recorded by other performers, but the original has never been surpassed, nor reissued in its original form.


Philips Records released a ten-inch LP of the Missa Luba by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudoin in the Netherlands and other European markets in 1958.[8] The track list was:


Side A: Congolese songs

Dibwe Diambula Kabanda (Marriage Song) – 3:02
Lutuku y a Bene Kanyoka (Emergence from Grief) – 2:48
Ebu Bwale Kemai (Marriage Ballad) – 2:22
Katumbo (Dance) – 1:42
Seya Wa Mama Ndalamba (Marital Celebration) – 2:21
Banana (Soldiers’ Song) – 2:01
Twai Tshinaminai (Work Song) – 1:01


Side B: Missa Luba

Kyrie – 2:03
Gloria – 2:39
Credo – 4:06
Sanctus – 1:36
Benedictus – 0:52
Agnus Dei – 1:52


I’ve found several of the songs from Missa Luba, and you can listen to them here.

Gardner’s Eden

Gardner’s Eden

Sunday July 22  1836. After two months of ‘calms and squalls,  bright skies, brilliant sunsets,  sharks, whales,  flying fishes and phosphorescent waves’,  the Liverpool-registered barque Memnon  nears Rio de Janeiro.  On board, eye glued to  the ship’s telescope for his first glimpse of the Sugarloaf mountain, is 27-year-old Scottish surgeon and botanist George Gardner. All he knows  of Brazil comes from the glowing descriptions he has read in the works of  Humboldt and others, but he does not intend to use them as his guide. He plans  to search out and collect rare plants, fossils and other natural history specimens in parts of the country ‘ of which no account has yet been presented to the world’.

Entrance to Rio de Janeiro harbour, c.1830

Gardner was well qualified for his ambitious project. He had grown up among exotic tropical plants. As a boy he had helped  his father, gardener to the Earl of Eglinton, whose gardens  were described as a ‘luxuriant paradise’ and ‘region of enchantment’ and  whose magnificent hot-houses were  filled with tropical fruits and flowers. Finding  Gloxinia speciosa flowering  on rocks by the shore beneath  a mountain  called Lord Hood’s Nose,  he remarks  that it is ‘now so common in the hot-houses of England.’ 

trichopterix excelsaGardner’s first impressions of Rio were anything but agreeable. He found ‘the streets narrow and dirty, badly lighted  and worse paved’. After a brief  stay in an Italian hotel he made his headquarters in  a boarding house run by an old Englishwoman a short distance  outside the city. From here he roamed in every direction, to mountains covered in untouched  forests and the swamps north of the city. He scoured the sea shores and islands in the bay,  keeping meticulous records of the plants he found, many of which had never been described before. For more than a year he gathered specimens and information, including the medical uses to which many of them were put. 

By boat and mule to Freschall

On Christmas Day 1837, having carefully packed up these first collections and arranged for their transport  in a London-bound ship, Gardner  set out to explor e  the spectacular spires of the Sierra dos Orgãos.  ‘The name,’ he wrote, ‘which the Portuguese have bestowed on them from a fancied resemblance which the peaks, which rise gradually the one above the other, bear to the pipes of an organ.’ Gardner had been invited  to stay with an Englishman, George Marsh, who had a fazenda,  or plantation, twelve miles into the mountains.

Gardner left Rio by boat at  midday, but the weather was mild  and the three-and-a-half-hour sail  across  Guanabara Bay, chased along by sea breezes,  was such a  pleasant experience that he wished it could last  longer. At the Piedade jetty a train of mules sent by Marsh was waiting to take Gardner and his collector’s baggage  the rest of the way to Freschall, the Marsh fazenda

The damp  plain between Piedade and the first stop, Mage, was covered with low trees and bushes, among which Gardner dutifully noted examples of the  Melastomacea, Malvaceae, and Myriaceae, and ‘great abundance’ of Selinum [Schinus] terebinthifolium (Raddi).

Naturally he made frequent stops to collect specimens.  In the hedges near Mage he recorded  Cissus erosa (whose discovery Kew Gardens attributes to Gardner on this day in 1837), Bignonias (Brazilian trumpet vine), and Paullinias (the Guarana vine, of which three species are credited to him).



Cissus erosa






In moist places were many plants of Dichorisandra thyrsiflora in beautiful flower. The sandy stretches  were dotted with the  cactus Fourcroga [Furcraea] gigantea (Vent.) some throwing up flowering stems to heights of twenty and thirty feet.


Dichorisandra thyrsiflora (l), Furcraea gigantea (r)

Marsh’s fazenda lay at a height of 3,100 feet above sea level.  The road was very bad, more like the bed of a mountain torrent. The path was so steep that Gardner  worried  that the mules would not be able to cope, but they plodded patiently on, and soon his  whole attention was given to the dense forest through which they were climbing.

The magnificence of these forests cannot be imagined by one who has not seen them and penetrated into their recesses. Those remnants of the virgin forest which still remain in the vicinity of the capital, although they appear grand to the eye of the newly-arrived European, become insignificant when compared with the mass of giant vegetation that clothes the sides of the Organ Mountains. Many of the trees are of immense size, their trunks and branches covered with myriads of parasites, consisting of Orchideae, Bromeliaceae, Ferns, Peperomirae, &c. I have since ascertained that a great proportion of the largest of these trees are species of  Ficus, Myrtus, Laurus, Melastomaceae, and Leguminosae.



Jason de Caires Taylor: sculpting underwater masterpieces

Jason de Caires Taylor: sculpting underwater masterpieces

The really extraordinary thing about Jason de Caires Taylor’s underwater sculpture groups is that they look so natural, so at home in the filtered green light of the sea. Figures, faces, appear out of the murk like classical statues marking the spot of an ancient shipwreck.

Jason’s underwater career began as an attempt to create new foundations for corals to colonise in the aftermath of a tropical hurricane that had damaged reefs in the Caribbean.

The series of videos below is highly recommended, as a way of seeing and experiencing the sculptures. The nearest thing to actually swimming among them.

Unstill Life is a three-dimensional representation of a classic painters’ subject. Four-dimensional, I should have said, for time allows the sea to work on the piece, coating it with algae, fringing carved eyes with tubeworms and starfish. Sea fans have set up shop in the bowl of fruit, which is now guarded by a fish that has made its home there.

In another video, a face ravaged by the sea, yet retaining its beauty and grace, grimaces almost in fear, as a silver barracuda hangs in the water nearby.

The camera lingers on a row of African faces deep underwater, turned up to the light, making one wonder if Jason Taylor intended this piece as a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Africans who lost their lives in the ocean after being taken in chains from Africa.

But it was the grandeur of the drowned throngs in Silent Evolution that awed me. These works are no gimmick, they are moving and powerful and absolutely right for their environment.


Songs of the brainfever bird

Songs of the brainfever bird

A friend brought to my attention the Xeno Canto collectlon of bird songs, some 67,000 recordings from 7,147 species representing 67.4% of the planet’s birds.

Thanks to Xeno Canto, I’ve been listening again to the song of the brainfever bird, an eerie, disturbing cry which I last heard fifty years ago as a child in the Western Ghats.

A low wolf-whistle is repeated ever more loudly and shrilly as if the bird is working itself up to a paroxysm of terror or rage. It used to frighten us children we when we were fishing in the forest streams. What had the bird seen? Was a panther lurking in the bushes behind us? A python looping from a branch above?

common hawk cuckoo

Mad, completely mad.

These fears were not as ridiculous as they may sound. In 1958, a woodcutter from Bushi village out after a cache of wild honey was killed by a leopard on the same mission.

Then one night my father’s driver Babu, a great hunter, saw two green lamps swaying at head height above a dark forest path. He fired, and a 15 foot python fell to the ground. He brought it back in the boot of the car. I remember the musty stink of it, like a wet dog.

These things, never forgotten, found their way into my novel The Death of Mr Love. The song of the brainfever bird brings them back again.

Brainfever Song I, Recorded by David Farrow in Kosi Tappu, Nepal on March 28, 2001


Brainfever Song II, recorded by Vladimir Arkhipov in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, on March 13, 2005.


Brainfever Song III recorded by Fernand Deroussen in Uttar Kalamati, Jalpaiguri, West Bengal on April 20, 2003


Common Hawk Cuckoo, Hierococcyx varius, recordings and  data courtesy Xeno Canto,


Remembering Ted Briggs, last survivor of HMS Hood

Remembering Ted Briggs, last survivor of HMS Hood

Obituary first published on this website October 8, 2008

On May 24, 1941 in the Denmark Strait the battle cruiser HMS Hood blew up after being hit by a salvo from the German battleship Bismarck. One of Bismarck’s shells exploded in an ammunition hoist causing a flash which travelled down to the main magazine. It was an old, known fault with British battlecruisers. During the Battle of Jutland, a quarter of a century earlier. similar hits on ammunition hoists had led to the loss of Queen Mary and Indefatigable. Ted Briggs was one of only three survivors of the Hood’s crew of 1,421. All his life, Ted remembered his old ship and her crew.

As an 18-year-old Flag-Lieutenant’s messenger, Briggs was on Hood’s compass platform when a shell from Bismarck hit the ship between centre and stern, penetrated the deck, exploded and touched off the ammunition in the four-inch and 15-inch magazines. According to one witness, the column of flame generated was “four times the height of the mainmast”.

Ted Briggs himself recalled that he was lifted off his feet and dumped headfirst on the deck: “Then she started listing to starboard. She righted herself, and started going over to port. When she had gone over by about 40 degrees we realised she was not coming back.” There was no time, or need, for an order to abandon ship. Hood sank within three minutes.

On his way to the compass platform shortly before the action, Briggs had bumped into a fellow-sailor, Frank Tuxworth, with whom he had earlier been playing cards. Tuxworth joked: “Do you remember, Briggo, that when the Exeter went into action with the Graf Spee, there was only one signalman saved?” Briggs laughed and replied: “If that happens to us, it’ll be me who’s saved, Tux”




Hood, launched in 1918, was at the time still the biggest warship ever built. “She was the outward and visible manifestation of sea-power,” wrote Sir Ludovic Kennedy in his book Pursuit: the Sinking of the Bismarck. “For most Englishmen the news of Hood’s death was traumatic, as though Buckingham Palace had been laid flat or the Prime Minister assassinated.”


Albert Edward Pryke Briggs was born on March 1 1923 at Redcar, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He never knew his father, a builder and decorator who died in a fall from a ladder three months before his son’s birth. Ted first saw Hood when he was only 12 and she was anchored off the mouth of the Tees. In his book, Flagship Hood, co-written with the late Alan Coles and published in 1985, he recalled: “I stood on the beach for some considerable time, drinking in the beauty, grace and immaculate strength of her.”


The very next day he went to the local recruiting office and announced that he wanted to join the Royal Navy: “They patted me gently on the head,” he remembered, “and told me to come back when I was 15. So I did just that. I had joined up within a week of my 15th birthday.”



After his training at HMS Ganges, Ipswich, Briggs was surprised and delighted to be assigned to Hood; he joined her on June 29 1939, just before war was declared. “It never once occurred to me that she might be sunk,” he said. “As far as I was concerned, she was invincible. And everybody on board shared this view.”


The fact was, however, that this formidable vessel had one – and, as it turned out, fatal – weakness: her deck armour was not strong enough to withstand the vertical trajectory of a shell fired at extreme range. It was a weakness that the Bismarck was able to exploit.



The British were aware in May 1941 that the German fleet had left Norway, and guessed that it would attempt to use the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland to break through to the Atlantic, where it would attack the convoys carrying supplies and arms from America to Britain.


On the evening of May 23 Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were sighted in the Strait. Hood, along with Prince of Wales and six destroyers, went to intercept them. There followed several nerve-wracking hours of cat-and-mouse, as Hood and her sister ships tried to locate the Germans. Although dawn at this latitude was at 2am, visibility was poor; there were snow flurries, and radar at this stage of the war was not fully effective beyond 20 miles.



Finally, at 5.35am on May 24, Hood spotted the enemy. She moved to close in, and attacked. Briggs recalled: “We had taken them by surprise, and fired about six salvoes before she replied. And when she did, her gunnery was excellent. The third salvo hit us at the base of the mainmast, causing a fire – some of the ammunition was exploding.


“Then there was a hit just above the compass platform. It didn’t explode but it caused some bodies to fall down. I saw one officer with no hands and no face – I knew every officer on the ship, but I didn’t recognise him. We were closing in to get the range we wanted, and that’s when the final salvo hit. I didn’t hear any explosion – all I saw was a terrific sheet of flame.”


The Bismarck’s fifth salvo hit the Hood’s magazine hoist resulting in a catastrophic explosion that tore the ship in half.


Briggs was sucked down beneath the sea. He later wrote: “I had heard it was nice to drown. I stopped trying to swim upwards. The water was a peaceful cradle – I was ready to meet my God. My blissful acceptance of death ended in a sudden surge beneath me, which shot me to the surface like a decanted cork in a champagne bottle. I turned, and 50 yards away I could see the bows of the Hood vertical in the sea. It was the most frightening aspect of my ordeal, and a vision which was to recur terrifyingly in nightmares for the next 40 years.”


HOOD SINKING WITH HMS PRINCE OF WALES IN FOREGROUND. Painting by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt aboard Prinz Eugen


“When I came to the surface I was on her port side . . . I turned and swam as best I could in water 4″ thick with oil and managed to get on one of the small rafts she carried, of which there were a large number floating around. When I turned again she had gone and there was a fire on the water where her bows had been. Over on the other side I saw Dundas and Tilburn on similar rafts. There was not another soul to be seen.”


Only these two other men – Midshipman William Dundas and Able-Seaman Bob Tilburn – survived.


“We hand-paddled towards each other and held on to one another’s rafts,” Briggs recalled, “until our hands became too numb to do so.”


The three clung on for nearly four hours, singing Roll Out the Barrel to stay awake; even so, they were close to death from hypothermia when they were picked up by the destroyer Electra. Their rescuers could not believe that there was no sign of anyone else from Hood, alive or dead.



Ted Briggs served 35 years in the navy, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He was appointed MBE in 1973, and until his retirement in 1988 worked as a furnished letting manager for an estate agent at Fareham, in Hampshire.


Both his fellow-survivors from Hood predeceased him: William Dundas in 1965, and Bob Tilburn in 1995.


Briggs, who was president of the HMS Hood Association, said shortly before the 60th anniversary of the sinking: “Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about it. I once said to an old Navy man that I sometimes wished I could forget about it. He said to me, ‘You are a naval curio, and you will always remain so. You will never be allowed to forget.’” In July 2001 he visited the site of the wreck and released a plaque to commemorate the ship and those who served in her.


Ted Briggs married twice, and his second wife, Clare, survives him. They had no children.


 Sources: Daily Telegraph, October 5, 2008. HMS Hood Association, Ulrich Rudolfsky


J.C. Schmitz’s original sketches made during the battle

Lieutenant Julius Caesar Schmitz was an accomplished marine and railroad artist. He served as a propaganda command officer aboard Prinz Eugen during Operation Rheinübung as “Marinekriegsmaler – navy combat illustrator”. The hypen name – Westerholt was added to his name perhaps by the American or British archivists. He generally signed his name “J. or J.C. Schmitz” on his paintings. He may have been from Westerholt near Wilhelmshaven. The Julius Schmitz water-colour sketches of the sinking of the HMS Hood (with handwritten comments by the PG’s KzS Helmut Brinkmann), are the artist’s superb interpretation of the action. In 1989, there was an estate sale in Germany by the son of Admiral Lütjens and, among medals, uniforms etc, another great painting of J. C. Schmitz surfaced: Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in action against HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales … 2large.jpg. The picture was a gift to the Lütjens family by the Office of Naval Operations after the death of the admiral. I don’t know what happened to that picture in the auction; the reproduction is small and a lot of detail is lost. Ulrich Rudofsky


Stone age tribe tells the world, f*** off

Stone age tribe tells the world, f*** off


I  wrote this article for the September 2010 edition of Himal magazine. For the original illustrations by Venantius Pinto, please see  Venantius.

Subraj, my friend calls him, but the newspapers name him Sunder Raj. They say he was a fisherman, but my friend, who spent time drinking toddy and smoking ganja cheroots with him, says Subraj wasn’t quite familiar with boats. He made his living scamming bits of semi-precious sea life that other people stole from the ocean: nautilus shells, corals, bêche-de-mer and turbo shells inlaid with swirls of mother-of-pearl. Subraj’s lack of seafaring experience, said my friend, was due to his having spent years in prison for
andaman-nautilusbattering to death his first wife and her lover (ironic, given the Andamans’ long history as a penal colony, that he’d done his time on the mainland). Upon returning to the islands he had married again. He was a charming, jolly man with a huge muttonchop moustache. Everyone liked him. It came as quite a shock to hear that he had been eaten by the North Sentinelese.

Tales of fierce cannibal islanders have drifted for millennia on the currents of the Indian Ocean. The west first heard them from the Venetian Marco Polo. Locked in a Genoese jail, he entertained his cellmate Rustichello da  Pisa with yarns of a far off islands whose people had protruding muzzles and jaws and teeth like mastiffs. ‘They are terribly cruel,’ Polo told the wide-eyed Pisan, ‘and dine on every foreigner they can catch.’ His information likely came from sailors’ legends retold in Rialto taverns, but Rustichiello’s account of Polo’s travels, ‘Il Millione’, was a fourteenth-century besteller. Its success ensured that the slur on the character of the Andamanese has survived to our own day.

marco polo in prison

Marco Polo in prison with rat, from a recent exhibition in Korcula,Croatia


When the British arrived in the Andamans in 1858 they were greeted by showers of arrows fired by small black-skinned people with tight peppercorn curls who closely resembled African pygmies. How had they got there? One theory was that an Arab slave ship from the Congo must have run aground. But colonial officials were meeting ‘negrito’ peoples in the forests of Thailand, Malaya, the East Indies and New Guinea. We now know that these peoples are as genetically distant from Africa as it is possible to be, because they were among the first to leave it. Starting some 70,000 years ago, bands of dimunitive people might have been glimpsed from time to time on beaches around the northern rim of the Indian Ocean. They carried water in nautilus shells and hunted with bows and long arrows they had not yet learned to fletch, and spears tipped with flint or hardened in fire harvested from lightning strikes. Year by year these folk ventured further, staying near the coasts, entering the forests of India and Burma and, as ice-ages dropped the ocean, moving along the forest-covered mountain range that joined Burma to Indonesia. The returning ocean submerged the mountains leaving groups of people marooned on a necklace of islands, among them the Andamans. By the time the British arrived in 1858, the Andamanese had lived perhaps 60,000 years in almost complete isolation.


Jarawa tribe on the shore of Great Andaman Island.

Jarawa tribe on the shore of Great Andaman Island.


In my library, rubbing covers with such useful things as A Comparitive Vocabulary of the Gondi Dialects and Colonel Kesri Singh’s Hints on Tiger-Shooting, is an 1887 first edition of A manual of the Andamanese Languages by Maurice Vidal Portman, a British ICS officer who for twenty years was charged with civilizing the Andamanese. It was ‘work of extraordinary difficulty,’ said his obituary, ‘for most of them were as shy as wild animals – he would frequently have to land on their beaches, standing up in an open boat, amid a shower of poisoned arrows. He won them by sheer personal magnetism. He doctored them; they were very rapidly dying out from venereal disease. He judged them and, if necessary, he hanged them.’


Surviving photos of Portman show a tall, aristocratic Englishman hemmed about by small dark folk. An adventurer in the Burton mould, secret agent, Grand Hierophant of his own mystical order, Portman claimed fluency in a dozen Indian languages and knowledge of at least four Andamanese dialects. His Manual contained every phrase an English official might need in his dealings with the natives.


Portman with men from South and Central Andamans tribes.


– Give me a nautilus shell to drink from. (Tín kórlá éné pai lébé – A’ka Bojigiab)
– That woman is wearing his skull. (Kát ápail lá ót chetta ngããrók-ké – A’ka Bea)
– Pick these ticks off me. (Kélétom chíbá ngó tut boichal kau jérlup –A’ka Chariar)
–A centipede has bitten him. (Koróbító num píó – A’ka Kédé)

Of the hostile Onge speech he gives few examples A’ku gaibí, ‘Don’t shoot them,’ being one. Of Jarawa and Sentinelese nothing. No point, he wrote, making an Andamanese-to-English version of the Manual, because before any of the aborigines could learn English they would be extinct. And so it has proved. The Great Andamanese tribes are all but gone. The last of the Bo, Boa Sr., died in 2010. Eighty five years old, she knew enough Hindi to confide that she was lonely because no one was left to share her people’s songs and stories. The Onge are much reduced. Threatened by a new trunk road, the Jarawa have recently begun emerging from their forests. Of the original twelve tribes, only the Sentineli remain aloof, uncontacted and remote.

On Google Earth, North Sentinel Island is a blob of emerald jungle lost in blue ocean thirty miles west of the southern tip of Great Andaman. The first report of the island comes from the East India Company ship Diligent which in 1771 passed close to the island and sighted ‘a multitude of lights’ burning on shore. In 1867 a merchant ship, the Nineveh, was driven by a monsoon storm onto the reef off North Sentinel. Eighty-six passengers and twenty crew got safely shore in the ship’s boat but their thanksgiving were ended when arrows began falling around them. ‘The savages were perfectly naked, with short hair and red painted noses,’ the Nineveh’s captain reported. ‘They were opening their mouths and making sounds like pa on ough; their arrows appeared to be tipped with iron.’ The besieged passengers and crew fought off the attack with stones and were eventually rescued by the Royal Navy.

Portman, in his capacity as ‘father of the Andamanese’ was fascinated. As the Sentineli had no knowledge of metal he assumed the iron for their arrows had been scavenged off the beach. On other islands the Jarawas used iron tipped arrows to hunt pig. The captain spoke of short hair and red noses, but Portman and many others had observed that the Sentineli wore their hair long. Like the Onge they used yellow ochre, but did not possess a red pigment.

Jarawa tribe. Photo: Survival International

Jarawa tribe. Photo: Survival International


In 1880 Portman began a series of expeditions to North Sentinel. Over twenty years, the results were invariably the same. The islanders vanished into the jungle. Portman and his team found leaf shelters, cooking pots and implements similar to those used by the Onge. He reported that the people scooped water holes in the dry season, that they wore the lower jawbones of men ornamented with a fringe of twisted fibres. He brought back trophies: two-, three- and four-pronged fishing arrows with barbed bone tips. On one occasion he found a number of children and two adults, whom he took to Port Blair. Other Andamanese could not understand their speech.The adults sickened and soon died. Portman returned the children to the island laden with gifts. His visits ceased near the turn of the century and the island and its people returned to obscurity.

In the 1970s some Indian anthropologists began attempting to contact the Sentineli. A film crew visiting in 1974 to shoot a piece called Man In Search of Man fled when arrows whistled down around them. The director was hit in the thigh, throwing the successful marksman into fits of laughter. To add to the farce, police wearing cricket pads left gifts of a pig and a plastic doll which the Sentineli promptly speared and buried in the sand.

At midnight on August 2, 1981, the motor-vessel Primrose ran aground on on North Sentinel. It was too rough to lower the lifeboats and as the ship was in no danger the captain decided to keep his crew on board. Two days later the Primrose’s owners in Hong Kong received a frantic distress call. ‘Wild men, estimate more than 50, carrying various home-made weapons are making two or three wooden boats. Worrying they will board us at sunset. All crew members’ lives not guaranteed.’ A Sikorsky helicopter eventually rescued the crew. Keen Google Earthers can spot the rusting hulk still lying on the island’s north-west reef.

The Primrose photographed on the reef from the rescue helicopter

The Primrose photographed on the reef from the rescue helicopter





The Primrose as she is today



Recent pictures shot from Indian boats show handsome, healthy people with perfect smiles. When we look into their faces we are looking back, through unimaginable deeps of time, at ourselves. We still know nothing about the Sentineli, but once among the Onge Portman met a man said to have canoed from North Sentinel. From him he learned the island’s real name. On Chiö-tá-kwö-kwé, endlessly circled by sea, sand and stories, nothing changes. Life continues day to day, tending fires from past lightning strikes, hunting wild pig, gathering fruits, tubers, fish, crabs, honey, grubs and the eggs of turtles and seagulls. On Chiö-tá-kwö-kwé time moves in loops, the future flows ever back into the past and death has little meaning when over 40,000 years every great-great-grandsire and great-great-great-granddam will return in the genes to live again and again.

In the deep time inhabited by the islanders, even gigantic natural disasters seem insignificant. In May 1883 Portman recorded odd phenomena on Great Andaman island. Mountain streams stopped flowing, the sea was strange. The Krakatoa tsunami was about to hit. Somehow the tribes already knew.


The tsunami of December 26, 2004 hit North Sentinel Island with two waves about ten meters high. The earthquake hoisted the island ten feet in the air, exposing wide stretches of reef. On Great Andaman Boa Sr. was alerted by warning signs, the behaviour of birds and the sea. She climbed a tree and survived. Fearing the worst for the Sentineli, an Indian coast guard helicopter was despatched to the island and was met with a hail of arrows. The news was greeted with cheering and celebration in Port Blair.

Subraj's boat at Wandoor

Subraj’s new boat at Wandoor


Subraj lived in Wandoor near the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, a stretch of coast hit hard by the tsunami, which wrecked his house and boat. My friend returned to the Andamans not long afterwards to find Subraj building a new house, paid for by the government. He and all the other fishermen had large new motorboats.
‘Come,’ he said. ‘I’ll show you. We’ll go to Cinque.’ Cinque Island is strictly off-limits, but Subraj was not averse to slipping over now and again to poach a spotted-deer. My friend was not keen, so Subraj offered to take him and his companion to see manta rays. ‘We were doubtful,’ said my friend. ‘He didn’t seem to know much about the timings of the sea, or about the mantas. Near certain reefs every day the current is black with them. You snorkel looking into depths full of great lazy-winged monsters. But Subraj hadn’t got the right reefs.’

My friend was travelling elsewhere in the Andamans when news came that someone from Wandoor had been battered to death on North Sentinel and was presumed eaten by the Sentineli. ‘Stone Age Tribe Kills Fishermen,’ yelled front pages all over the world. Various reports, quoting fishermen, told a tale of surprised innocence. Subraj, or Sunder Raj (his proper name) and his friend Pandit Tiwari, were fishing for mud crab, or else lobster, or maybe prawn. After the day’s work the pair got drunk on toddy and fell asleep. During the night their stone anchor dragged loose and despite the best efforts of men in other boats to waken and warn them, they drifted towards the fatal shore. There are obvious flaws in this. How did their boat drift five kilometers, the island’s exclusion limit? Why didn’t another boat simply take them in tow?

Sentineli warriors overrun Subraj's boat

Sentineli warriors examine Subraj’s boat


On his return to Wandoor my friend learned the truth, banal as only truth can be. Subraj had heard over the grapevine that a large plastic container, worth perhaps ten thousand rupees, was bobbing about just inside the reef on the north-east coast of North Sentinel. He hatched a plan to retrieve it and recruited Tiwari, someone he’d once shared a cell with in Port Blair jail (according to the police the pair were always in and out for various minor misdemeanours). They drank a great deal of toddy – for courage, it might be supposed – and set off at night, arriving off North Sentinel at dawn. The uplifted and rapidly bleaching reef was some 200 meters wide, but there was a little inlet beyond which the container was bobbing between the coral and the beach. News reports would claim they had been shot with poison arrows, or else axed to death, or maybe hacked to pieces by machetes. No one really knew, said my friend, because it was two days before Subraj’s wife reported him missing and by then, although the boat was on the beach being inspected by the Sentinelese, the bodies were gone, presumed eaten. Thus the centuries old slur launched by one pair of convicts in a Genoa jail found renewed expression in the deaths of another pair.

Then a helicopter hovering over the boat saw the downdraft from its rotors blow sand off two bodies which, like the 1974 pig and plastic doll, had been buried in the beach. Subraj’s wife pressed for compensation and a murder enquiry, raising some interesting questions. No one witnessed the killings, besides, how do you prosecute a tribe? Can Indian law apply to a territory which has never been conquered nor ever ceded its sovereignty? Tiwari’s parents took an enlightened view. Their son knew what he was doing. He knew the dangers and had decided to take the risk. The Sentineli were not to blame. They should be left alone. The authorities agreed. ‘In fact,’ said my friend, concluding his narrative, ‘given how the rest of us are trashing the planet, leaving the Sentineli alone may represent the best hope for the survival of humanity. They have a right to protect themselves against us bringers of disease, alcohol and greed.  It is we who are the savages.’

A love story in 6,000 moths

A love story in 6,000 moths

Twenty five years ago, I bought a stunning sixty-drawer collection of British moths to prevent it being broken up. I knew nothing about the collection and had no time to examine it. I felt very strongly that selling it off one specimen at a time was an act of vandalism that would extinguish its scientific value, and render the deaths of 6,000 lovely creatures meaningless.



The collection contained long exquisite series of insects, few of which I recognised. I did not have leisure to catalogue them and it must have been some months before I reached down to the foot of one of the cabinets and pulled open a drawer empty except for a scattering of old labels naming the moths that had once inhabited it, and a note that said: “Joint Exhibit by E.W. Classey & H. S. Robinson”.


A sticker pasted on its glass lid bore the initials S. L. E. & N. H. S. and identified the drawer as Exhibit 60 and the date as 1950. None of this meant anything to me. I slid the drawer shut.


My fascination with moths had begun as a child in the jungles of India’s Western Ghats mountains. To my bedroom window every night giant Saturniid moths came tapping: the moon-moth Actias selene whose pale wings and long swooping tails were luminous in moonlight; huge moths like Loepa katinka and Antheraea mylitta with wings like patterned silk robes. I would let them in and tempt them with sugary drops on the tip of my finger.


In the early eighties my wife and I moved to Sussex and through our open summer windows the moths flew in squadrons. Sitting on curtains, or fluttering at bulbs, they seemed drab, but when we looked closely their forewings were all spangles and zigzags and stripes. What appeared grey or brown was really a pattern of subtle hues, and the hidden hind wings were often brilliantly coloured. Our visitors stared back at us with solemn, dark eyes. They wore their wings like furred capes, hunched round the shoulders; their feathery antennae quivered with intelligence. The collector’s passion burned in me but I didn’t want to kill moths, so I started hunting for a Robinson mercury vapour light trap and a suitable camera, and whilst on this quest I came across the collection.


My bedtime reading of those days was books like P. B. M. Allan’s A Moth-Hunter’s Gossip, about the men who night after night went out sugaring, setting light traps, carefully hatching eggs and sleeving larvae.

I combed second-hand bookshops for old entomology journals, today horrifyingly expensive, but twenty years ago nobody seemed to want them. I found them riveting. They offered good timeless advice about breeding and rearing, and accurate descriptions of the moths of the vanished pre-industrial landscape. In The Naturalist’s Library, Vol.4: British Moths, 1836, Sir William Jardine spoke of the Blue Underwing:

C. Fraxini is the largest moth found in this country the expansion of the wings sometimes reaching four inches The thorax and upper wings are light grey on the surface the latter variegated with transverse undulating lines of brown The under wings are brownish black with a broad curved band of light blue across the middle The fringe of all the wings is pure white deeply indented and preceded by a row of dusky triangular marks having the point turned outwards which is most distinct in the hinder wings The under side of the body and legs are white the tarsi of the anterior pair spotted with brown above The caterpillar lives on the ash poplar oak elm birch &c. It is ash coloured, more or less yellowish and sprinkled with minute black dots. The head is greenish with two frontal black crescents the eighth segment having a dorsal protuberance, a bluish black colour and marked with a few yellow spots. On the ninth segment there is an oblique black line extending to the hinder stigmata, the latter are all surrounded with a black ring It spins a very loose cocoon among a few leaves and changes into a reddish brown chrysalis powdered with pale blue and having two small blue tubercles on each side of the fourth and fifth segments It is a rare insect in this country and indigenous specimens in good condition may still be regarded as a valuable addition to a cabinet.

The Clifden Nonpareil remains one of Britain’s rarest moths. Most entomologists consider themselves blessed to encounter one in a lifetime. My collection had four. This should have told me something about the person who had filled its drawers, but it didn’t.

As I pored over the entomology journals I would often come across a name that seemed familiar, although I couldn’t say why. It now seems strange that it took so long before I connected the name in the journals with the empty drawer in my collection of moths.

At last I reopened the drawer. A bit of delving in my moth library revealed that S. L. E. & N. H. S. must be the South London Entomological & Natural History Society which later became the British Entomological Society. Its annual meeting of 1950 had been held, as was customary, at the Royal Society in Piccadilly. The name of E.W. Classey had rung bells with me because he had published some of the entomological books I was reading. Robinson, incredibly, was still obscure. Something was staring me in the face and I still didn’t get it.


I began reading about Eric Classey. He was born in 1916 and from childhood was unable to resist anything that crawled or fluttered. At school he was ‘Bugs’. Aged 18, he was hired by the Natural History Museum. He went on to run a famous butterfly dealership, founded the Entomologist’s Gazette and without any publishing experience became a world-class publisher of books on entomology. The more I read about him, the more I was impressed.

Eric Classey had known all the great entomologists of his day, and introduced them to the people who would be their successors. He was a generous mentor to young lepidopterists, lending them equipment and books, giving away expensive volumes to people who couldn’t afford them but who in his opinion deserved them. He was an entomologist’s entomologist. His field expeditions were legendary and the most famous of all was his trip to Ireland to search for the moth that became known as the Burren Green. In an old copy of the Entomologist’s Gazette I read Classey’s own account of the expedition.

In August 1949 Captain W.S. Wright, a botanist, found a small green moth not far from Yeat’s tower near Gort in Co. Galway. It was a species unfamiliar to him so he brought it to Eric Classey for identification. Classey recognised the moth as Luceria virens (today Calamia tridens), a noctuid, unremarkable except for the Gaelic green of its wings when newly-hatched. There was, however, a mystery: the patriotic little creature was draped in the wrong flag. L. virens had never before been recorded in the British Isles. Its nearest known colonies were in France and Denmark, hundreds of miles away.

Classey had a hunch that the moth was breeding in Ireland. Just ten miles from Gort were the surreal limestone landscapes of the Burren of Clare. Botanists had noted that the influence of the Gulf Stream on the riven rock masses created a unique microclimate where alpine plants and Mediterranean plants grew side by side. It was altogether a strange and unexplored place. Could green moths be breeding in the Burren?


In August 1950, Classey and his friends the brothers H.S. and P.B. Robinson piled their gear, including two exceedingly heavy prototypes of Robinson’s newly-invented mercury-light moth trap, into an old modified Bentley and headed for the Dublin ferry.

The weather when they arrived at the Burren was filthy, gales and rain, with fresh tumult brewing out beyond the Aran Islands. Nevertheless the friends set about their business, each night setting the light traps, by day entertaining the locals who turned out en masse to watch ‘the foine gentlemen chasin floies’. Several L. virens were taken the wing, but it was the discovery of a pupa (and thirty eggs which Classey sent to his collector friend Dr Edward Cockayne) that established that the green moth was indeed breeding in Ireland. Classey named it the Burren Green. Its addition to the British list was a triumph.

Classey went on to become President of the British Entomological and Amateur Entomologists’ Societies, and a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. In 1983 he was elected to the Entomological Club, the world’s oldest and most exclusive entomological society, which only ever has eight members. Honours were heaped upon him, but it was the Burren Green for which he would be remembered for the rest of his life, and sixty-eight years later in his obituaries.


Reading the story of the Burren Green filled me with fear, because at last the penny had dropped. Classey and Robinson were the names in the collection I had bought all those years earlier. I was fairly sure that labels in the empty drawer referred to specimens taken in County Clare. I checked and they were caught in August 1950. It could only have been during the famous Burren Green expedition.

On what date had the S. L. E. & N. H. S. exhibition been held? I unearched the Society’s Proceedings for 1951-3 and there, sure enough, was an account of the 1950 exhibition. The date was October 28th, two months after Classey and the Robinsons returned from the Burren.

What followed was like the unfolding of a detective story. I started examining the collection’s 411 species of moths and checking the specimens against the labels in the empty drawer and immediately began to find moths from the empty exhibit drawer.
There was the long series of A. exclamationis taken in Robinson’s moth trap to prove its value as a collecting tool.
There was the Gold Spot with fused spots on its forewing.

There was Catocala sponsa, the series of Crimson Underwings now extinct but for a few survivors in the New Forest. Classey had bred them from a wild female taken near his home in north Kent and noted their difference from the New Forest type.

In a drawer of wildly varying Scarlet Tigers I struggled to identify Callimorpha dominula ab. juncta’s bled-together wing marks but found a series of the handsome yellow form above a hand-written label ab. lutescens. I was puzzled as I thought lutescens was the yellow form of the Jersey Tiger, not realising in my ignorance that it is commonly used for yellow variants. Identification was made more difficult by the fact that many scientific and common names had changed since Classey’s day. Callimorpha for example is now Panaxia. The moth has many beautiful forms, hence the old name.

The description of the exhibit in the Society’s Proceedings matches the labels in the empty drawer, with the species listed from left to right and, in the final section, from top to bottom. The varying width of the partitions reflects the sizes of the moths they housed. Thus two columns of Agrotis exclamationis and one of Hadena lepida were followed by one of the larger Catocala sponsa. The next two partitions have no labels but if we follow the description in the Proceedings the Burren Greens must have come next, fresh from Co. Clare, followed by the bred series of Diarsia florida. These two species were additions to the British list in 1950, and deserved centre stage.


Where was the Burren Green?

Surely Classey would have saved at least one choice specimen for his own collection. I searched again and at last, in the nineteenth drawer of the central cabinet with a few old Wainscots for company I found a small faded moth in whose forewings a faint flush of green was still visible. Beneath it a label read Luceria virens L. AN ADDITION TO THE BRITISH LIST. The moth’s data label confirmed it had been taken in the Burren, Co. Clare, on 18th August, 1950. I had found Classey’s Burren Green.


In the cabinets I eventually found twelve of the exhibit’s sixteen species and probably about three quarters of the specimens.

I knew that Eric Classey have given most of his immense collection to the Natural History Museum where, with the collections of his friends Miriam Rothschild and Edward Cockayne, it forms the core of the British national collection of butterflies and moths.

What then were my three cabinets? Undoubtedly they were Classey’s. He had bred or caught many of the moths in the drawers, set them and mounted them, row on row, with the meticulous care for which he was noted. We can virtually trace each specimen from places and dates in the entomological records.

On September 10th, 1950, Eric Classey and four other members of the S. L. E. & N. H. S. went beating for larvae near Ash Vale in Surrey. (This means hitting branches with sticks to shake caterpillars into a sheet, the idea being to rear them to the moth stage.) Of the first twenty-six species listed in Classey’s report of that day’s work, twenty-four appear in the cabinets, mostly in adjacent drawers.

The cabinets I found and rescued all those years ago must have been Eric Classey’s working collection, housing his ongoing work of the period as well as things precious to him: the Burren Green he chose from among those taken on the August 1950 trip to Clare; the exhibit drawer from the October 1950 exhibition and most of the moths that had been in it.


Classey must have taken dozens of drawers like this to exhibitions, and if he chose to preserve just this one, perhaps it was to remember one of the most famous exhibits in British entomological history, celebrating as it did three major firsts: the two additions to the British list, and the long series of moths proving the power of Robinson’s new light trap, which duly caused huge excitement. More than twenty years later, in 1974, the Times recalled its launch:

H.S. Robinson momentarily blinded a room full of entomologists from a chair no less august than that of the president of the Royal Society when he publicly demonstrated the hyper-attractive powers of the mercury vapour light trap, sometimes reckoned the collector’s H-bomb.

The exhibit is the collection in miniature. It demonstrates Classey’s interests: not simply amassing specimens in great numbers, but making new scientific discoveries, encouraging better methods of collecting, and specialising in rarities, things out of the ordinary.

Classey was himself a rarity, a passionate eccentric figure, to whom moth-hunting was not just science but adventure, round whom stories collected and became legends. Behind the facade of a world-renowned scientist beat the heart of a boy. Well into his eighties Classey, driving along a country lane, was apt to do an emergency stop and frantically reverse because he had glimpsed something fluttering in a hedge.

For Eric Classey’s friends, family and fellow moth-enthusiasts, these drawers hold not just moths but stories and memories. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Holly Seddon, Eric’s granddaughter, who came to see the collection. Talking to her, I realised that what I have presented as a detective story is really a love story: the story of Eric Classey’s lifelong love of things that flutter and go whirr in the night.

Bringing the famous Classey-Robinson exhibit back to life

Bringing the famous Classey-Robinson exhibit back to life

It’s October 28, 1950. Through the august portal of Burlington House, Piccadilly, home of the Royal Society, a crowd of people, mostly men, is passing.

These are the nation’s leading entomologists, experts in the Diptera (two-winged flies),Hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants),Homoptera (cicadas, spittlebugs), Odonata(damsels and dragonflies), Phasmatodae (stick insects), Hemiptera (bugs) and a host of others. In the spotlight today are theNeuroptera (lacewings and antlions) and the Orthoptera (locusts), but probably in greatest abundance are the connoisseurs of the Coloeoptera (beetles) and especially the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Examples of all these orders and families will be on show inside the building.


The Exhibition described in the Society’s Proceedings of  1950-53

The occasion is the Annual Exhibition of the South London Entomological and Natural History Society. Last night, according to custom, the Society dined together in the Charing Cross Hotel, where out-of-towners will have put up for the night. One can imagine the late bar crowded with people discussing this or that aberration, and everyone is agog to see the green moths that E.W. Classey and H.S. Robinson have brought back from County Clare on the west coast of Ireland.

Exhibit 60, entered jointly by E.W. Classey and H.S. Robinson, was the highlight of the show. In a single specimen drawer were both the year’s new additions to the British list: Luceria virens, the Burren Green, the specimens taken by Eric Classey’s expedition; and Diarsia florida the Fenland Square-Spot, a bred series of the moth which had been identified for the first time that July in Yorkshire’s Askham Bog.

1950 firsts: Luceria virens and Diarsia florida, both new additions to the British List.
These are the actual specimens.

Also much talked about were the exhibit’s long series of the Heart and Dart, Agronista exclamationis and Brown-line Bright Eyes Hadena lepida, taken in a single night and there to illustrate the vast attractive power of Hugh Robinson’s new mercury vapour moth trap, which had been tested on the Burren expedition and the previous month to great excitement. The drawer thus showcased three major firsts for British entomology.

Agronista exclamationis with 1950 labels



Download a PDF facsimile of the entire book, complete with illustrations.


 The empty drawer as it was in 2011, 60 years later


Why is the drawer empty? One explanation is that Eric Classey, with characteristic generosity, had donated most of the expedition’s Burren Green specimens, including the pupa, to the Society. Other specimens had gone to friends and fellow collectors. However this doesn’t explain why every single specimen has vanished.

What if after the exhibition Classey simply returned the moths to their usual drawers in the collection? If this is what happened, the moths, or most of them, should still be there and it would be possible to reconstruct the exhibit using moths from the collection. I decided to try. Below, step by step, are the results.


This reconstruction is done photographically. The widths of the partitions reflect the sizes of the moths that were placed in them. This becomes important when considering the two central sections, which have no labels and helps confirm that these were once occupied, as suggested by the order given in the Society Proceedings by the Burren Greens and the Fenland Square-Spot, the two sensational discoveries of that year.



3. Agronista exclamations, the Heart-and-Dart

The first two series in the drawer were cexclamationis-reconstruction-200aught to demonstrate the value of H.S. Robinson’s new mercury vapour light trap. Their shared label says: ‘Each series [was] selected from a single night’s “catch” at a Mercury Vapour trap to show the wide variation occuring in one place and at one time – which is apparent when it is possible to select from very large numbers.’

The basic problem with moth-hunting had always been that the quarry flies at night, when nets are not much use. Some enthusiasts swore by ‘sugar’, smearing tree trunks and wooden doors with exotic mixtures based on molasses and possibly including rum, rotting fruit, raisins, beer and ingredients too vile to mention. C. fraxini was typically taken this way.

Moths throng to lamps, so another method was to place a Tilley lamp on a white sheet and wait for the moths to come and settle. Robinson’s mercury-vapour moth trap was a huge advance because its light went into the ultra violet range, attracting more insects, which then found themselves trapped inside a box, or casing, generally lined with egg boxes where they could settle. The large numbers caught unharmed in the trap could then be examined and collected or released.


 4. Hadena lepida, the Tawny Shears (or Brown-Line Bright Eye)

tawny_shearsSee A. exclamationis, above. Classey knew this species by its lovely old name, the Tawny Shears.

Like the Heart and Dart, this moth is fairly plentiful and displays quite a range of variation in the ground colour and intensity of wing markings, with paler specimens being commoner in the south-east and darker or duller ones in the north and west of the country.

What better species to demonstrate the power of the mercury-light trap? With hundreds of candidates fluttering into the trap it is much easier to pick specimens to illustrate a wide range of variation.

5. Catocala sponsa, the Dark Crimson Underwing

c.sponsa-300This beautiful moth is now extinct in the British Isles, except for a colony in the New Forest, where they are still grimly clinging on.

The situation sixty years ago was evidently not quite as desperate because Classey was able to rear, from eggs taken from a wild female near Ham Street, north Kent, a series of C. sponsawhich he pointedly remarks are different from the New Forest form.

However the event was unusual enough to justify including a series of fine moths in his exhibit.
This form of the Dark Crimson Underwing, represented in the exhibit and abundant in the collection, has now vanished.


6. Luceria virens,  the Burren Green, a new addition to the British List


burrengreen-600-300x282The empty exhibit drawer is nineteen down in the third (right hand) cabinet. I found Classey’s Burren Green specimen parked next-door in drawer nineteen of the central cabinet with some Wainscots in whose society it did not really belong.

The collection as a whole was organised in families reflecting the British list, to which of course Luceria virens was a newcomer, so when the exhibit was emptied it had no home to go to, and was simply placed in the nearest drawer.

Classey had originally exhibited a number of Burren Green specimens and the pupa which proved they were breeding in Ireland. These went to the Society, to expedition members and collector friends. The specimen that remains is the one that Classey chose to keep for himself.

The specimen is rather faded, but one can still see the faint green flush in its wings. The moth is known to fade. Dr Skat Hoffmeyer of Aarhus, Denmark, quoted by the great P.B.M. Allan, said, “L. virens is not a species which adorns one’s collection; it soon becomes greasy and fades deplorably.”

A collector whose name I can’t now remember recommended taking only newly-hatched moths while their wings were still drying as they are then at their most brilliant. More than a little mean, I thought. Let them at least flutter about a bit. Thank goodness we now have cameras with macro lenses.

7. Diarsia florida, the Fenland Square-Spot, a new addition to the British List

diarsia_floridaThe other great discovery of 1950 and like L. virens, a new addition to the British list. The consequence of this was that there was no ready printed label for this species and the handwritten label that eventually identified it was so faint that I nearly missed it in the drawer full of its cousins.

The series was bred from stock obtained from Askham Bog in Yorkshire by Classey’s friend the collector Dr Edward Cockayne, whose vast collection is now part of the Natural History Museum’s British National Collection of moths and butterflies.

Cockayne also showed these moths at the exhibition. Their inclusion in Classey’s exhibit one may surmise is partly homage to his friend, but it meant that he was exhibiting the year’s two sensational discoveries, side by side.

Classey’s decision to include D. florida in his exhibit may have been a late one, as this is the only species for which he did not type out a label. Possibly it appeared above the small handwritten scrap of paper which remains in the collection, stapled beneath the three remaining D. florida specimens.

Gerry Hagget, on Eric Classey’s tribute website made by his family, recalls Eric in pursuit of D. florida:

There are occasions in life when a catch-phrase is invented only to recur at future occasions. Eric went with Les Goodson to Askham Bog when Diarsia florida was first known. They had set up lamps with the Warden and it was not long before a quite different species appeared worthy of comment. “Oh no”, said the Warden “it can’t be that because it doesn’t occur here!” This it was thereafter whenever a location produced an unusual resident there was the repeated chorus along with knowing chuckles and Eric in the lead.


Hadena compta Schiff, the Varied Coronet


These are the moths mentioned in the Proceedings as having been bred from wild larvae obtained in Dover. They are identified by the long typewritten label.

The type is more modern than the robust old fashioned Underwood font of Classey’s typewriter and the label was conceivably typed by Dr. Edward Cockayne who appears to have sent the moths to Classey along with D. florida as a response to Classey’s gift to him of 30 eggs of the Burren Green, Luceria virens.

A series of H. compta bred from the Dover larvae appeared in Dr Cockayne’s exhibit and included one aberration defasciata Hannemann and an example of homeosis. Cockayne exhibited the moths to show their variation. Classey followed his own bred series with a wild specimen caught in Ireland, which appears slightly larger than the Kentish race.

9. Plusia festucae, the Gold Spot

These moths live in drawer 12 of the third cabinet along with a long series of the Burnished Brass and other insects whose wing spots look as if they have been laid on in pure gold leaf. Classey exhibited a pair of these moths, one of the normal type, the other with ‘united’ wingspots. 
L. exigua is an immigrant, crossing the Channel from the continent, and most abundant in the late summer, suggesting that the summer moths are the second brood of immigrants arriving earlier in the year. 1950 was not one of the its most abundant years.  The signficance of this little moth appears to be the date of its capture, February, in the depths of winter. It could not have survived long in the wild.

 11. Callimorpha dominula ab. junta, aberrant form of the Scarlet Tiger

The collection contains a whole drawer full of Callimorpha dominula which, as its scientific name suggests, appears in many different forms, all of them very beautiful.

In the drawer are many varying forms, including dark bimacula and the brilliant yellow ab.lutescens.


As the following article tells, I got into a muddle trying to find a specimen that could be described as ab. juncta, which I took to mean the colour bleeding from wing spots into the wing and connecting the spots. This should properly apply to the forewing, but the specimen I chose has striking spread of black in the hindwing. It’s not one of these.

These three show the normal (but for the Scarlet Tiger what is normal?) form, the dark bimacula and the magnificent yellowab. lutescens forms.


Classey’s moth had been hatched by Edward Cockayne from a larva from Itchen Abbas in Hampshire earlier in the year.

A lot of the insects in the drawer are from the collector H. Haynes, a Wiltshire man, whose death the Society recorded with regret in 1951. The Entomologist’s Record for 1943 reveals that he had bred a series of Panaxia(the old name for Callimorpha dominula, L.) from the Salisbury district showing specimens with enlarged and confluent markings in the forewings.

12. Hydraecia lucens, the Large Ear

Large-Ears-200Besides L. virens Classey exhibited a number of moths the expedition had taken in Co. Clare in August 1950. This fine pair of Large Ears, taken on August 19th, were among them. There is a column of four Large Ears in drawer 2:17 of the collection. The 1950 specimens are the central two. The two English specimens show distinctly darker coloration.

13. Cycnia mendica ab., the Muslin Ermine, aberrant form


MuslinErmine-200Classey caught this little white moth during a collecting trip to Lymington in June 1950. He refers to it simply as ‘an aberration’. There are twenty specimens in the collection, of which two females have odd dark markings on the leading edge of their forewing tips. Normal females have pure white wing-tips with no markings.

I have chosen the more exaggerated of the two variants to represent Classey’s C. mendica, ab.. This specimen also has broad dark markings splashed on the body where normal specimens have none.

14. Heliothis armigera, the Scarce Bordered Straw

Another moth taken by Clacurlywormsssey’s expedition in Co. Clare in August 1950. It is known by at least a dozen synonyms, and is nowadays generally called Helicoverpa armigera, being less politely referred to as The Cotton Bollworm.

Please notice that it has wonderfully curly antennae, the sort Dali would have envied, flamboyant as any desperado should be.

Armigera is a pest of just about every crop known to man. According to UK government risk assessors at DEFRA, ‘The most important crop hosts of which H. armigera is a major pest are tomato, cotton, pigeon pea, chickpea, sorghum and cowpea. Other hosts include dianthus, rosa, pelargonium, chrysanthemum, groundnut, okra, peas, field beans, soybeans, lucerne, Phaseolus spp., other Leguminosae, tobacco, potatoes, maize, flax, a number of fruits (Prunus, Citrus), forest trees and a range of vegetable crops.’ Is there anything it won’t eat? Its caterpillars have even been known to eat one another.

The moth’s home territory is southern Europe and North Africa. It can make thousand mile journeys to reach the south coast of Britain but rarely gets beyond. Possibly this gives a clue to its inclusion here. County Clare is 350 miles further on. Fair play to the little divill.

15. Hydrillula pallustris, the Marsh Moth

Eric Classey took H. pallustris in June 1950 at Woodwalton Fen. Why was it included? Well, the moth is scarce.

For most the capture of a single male in a season was considered ‘good going’ as pallustris is a moth of retiring habits and is very erratic in its appearance at the light. The female has been found in the wild state only on two or three occasions – Proceedings of the S. L. E. & N. H. S.

Classey’s specimen came from Woodwalton Fen, which the Society was actively trying to save from development. Three months after the 1950 exhibition, the Society’s President, Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby, addressed the assembled membership. Five years after the end of the Second World War, Saundby was a famous figure. He had been a  World War I air ace, and during World War II he was No. 2 at RAF Bomber Command.  No one really thought of him as  a lepidopterist, but now he dropped a bomb on them:

When looking through the list of subscribers to the Wicken Fen Fund I was rather surprised to note that, apart from the two guineas subscribed by the Society as a corporate body, only twenty of our members had supported the Fund.
saundby_portrait-300Now I am quite well aware that there are a number of people who do not agree with the way in which these nature reserves are managed, but I think we should all agree that they ought to be kept in being. If Wicken or Woodwalton Fens were given up, they would, in a very few years, be lost to us for ever. They would undoubtedly be drained and brought under cultivation, in common with all the other former fen lands of the East Anglian levels.

Looking after these reserves costs money and it is not sufficient just to prevent the Fen from going derelict. Last year the Wicken Fen Fund raised a sum, after paying expenses, of £57 8s, which was handed to the National Trust. The amount raised by the Fund has been gradually falling, year by year, while the expenses of keeping the Fen going have, like most other things, risen sharply.

The annual cost of the upkeep of the Fen is now about £800 a year. It is true that, in 1948, the University of Cambridge, in order to save the Fen, accepted financial responsibility for £450 a year. But this does not mean that the financial problems of the upkeep of the Fen have been solved. In their rejjort for 1947-48 the Local Committee said:—” The Committee hopes that this grant, far from having the effect of discouraging subscribers will greatly increase their number, and hopes that subscribers will feel that, whereas in the past their contributions may have seemed little more than a drop in the bucket, the money they can give now will result in really tangible improvement of conditions in the Fen.”

These hopes have not been fulfilled. I am not suggesting that large subscriptions are needed, but if a substantial proportion of our members would be prepared to subscribe a few shillings a year, what a difference it would make. Here, I suggest, is a cause which should appeal to every naturalist, whatever his interests.

16. Mincuia lunaris Schiff, Lunar Double-Stripe, suffused wings


lunarisClassey bred these moths from wild larvae taken near Ham Street in north Kent. He describes them as ‘a suffused aberration’. Six of these bred moths are in the collection, in drawer 3:13, giving a choice of specimens for the reconstruction. I chose the bottom two as being easiest to Photoshop, but the top two are more colourful and they are shown here.

This is as far as I could get with reconstructing the exhibit with moths still in the collection.

Photoshop is a wonderful imago-processing tool. It breeds moths faster than you can blink, cutting out the egg, larvaL and pupal stages. Where there was a column of three, we now have twenty one. We can clone L. virens indefinitely. In short, it is easy to finish by filling the gaps and showing what the exhibit would have looked like on October 28th, 1950.


17. The exhibit as it appeared in October 1950

Only three exhibit species are no longer in the collection but I have put in pictures sourced elsewhere to complete the drawer. The three are the White-Lined SphinxCelerio lineata, a Brighton Wainscot, Oria musculosa and three specimens of the Deep Brown Dart Aporophyla lutulenta ab. sedi bred from pupae which Classey had found in Ireland. To this moth attaches the following interesting tale:





A indicates species that remain in the collection. Cabinet and drawer numbers are given, thus 2:4 is cabinet 2, drawer 4. A ø marks moths no longer in the collection.

√ Heart and DartAgrotis exclamationis (long series in 2:4)

√ Brown-line Bright EyeHadena lepida – not mentioned by the Society – 6 specimens in 2:11

√ Dark Crimson UnderwingCatocala sponsa (extinct except possibly in the New Forest, 17 specimens not of New Forest type in 3:14)

√ Fen Square-Spot Diarsia florida – series bred from Askham Bog, Yorks, 1950 (in Proceedings but no label in drawer – Classey had sent his friend Edward Cockayne 30 eggs of the Burren Green from Ireland, and Cockayne responded with a series of H. compta (next entry) and this Diarsia florida series. Like the Burren Green, D. floridawas a new addition to the British list that year. 3 specimens in 2:7 )

√ Varied CoronetHadena compta – Hatched from larva by Cockayne, the second series he sent Classey. (8 specimens plus 1 wild caught by Classey in Ireland in 2:11)

ø White-lined Sphinx Celerio lineata – (not in collection)

√ Small Mottled WillowLaphygma exigua – √ (11 specimens in 3:2)

√ The Gold Spot – Plusia festucae (19 specimens in 3:12)

√ ? Scarlet TigerPanaxia dominula ab. juncta – (conjoined spots, possible candidates in 1:18)

ø Deep Brown DartAporophyla lutulenta ab. sedi (not in collection)

√ Large EarHydraecia lucens – Taken during the Burren expedition August 1950 √ (4 specimens in 2:17)

√ Muslin MothCycnia mendica Ab. – Taken in Lymington, June 1950 (20 specimens in 1:15)

ø Brighton WainscotOria musculosa – 1 also taken at Lymington (not in collection)

√ Scarce Bordered StrawHeliothis armigera – taken Co. Clare, August 1950 √ (9 specimens in 3:11)
√ Marsh MothHydrillula palustris – taken in Woodwalton Fen, June 1950 (1 specimen in 3:2)

√ Lunar Double-StripeMinucia lunaris Ab. (suffused) – bred from wild larva, Ham Street, 1950 (6 specimens in 3:13)