Biographies

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I've added another biography to the sidebar, that of devil-may-care flying fool Claude Grahame-White. He is probably most remembered today for his daring night flight in 1910 while attempting to win the Daily Mail London to Manchester prize. (His film career seems to have attracted somewhat less attention.) But for me Grahame-White's main significance is as an airpower propagandist and as one of the originators, along with his co-author Harry Harper, of the knock-out blow theory.1

Note the snub to British aeronautics: he was a member of the Aero Club of America in 1937, but not the Royal Aero Club!


  1. And for his involvement with the phantom airship scares: it has been suggested that he was responsible for the Sheerness incident, and he also searched for a phantom airship over London on the night of 5 September 1914. 

Spirit of Ecstasy

I've finally gotten around to adding Montagu of Beaulieu (pronounced 'Bewley', apparently) to my irregular series of biographies of airpower propagandists. He's an important, but somewhat neglected figure, some of whose papers I've examined (those held at King's College London). He helped found the Air League of the British Empire in 1909, and devised the influential 'nerve centre' theory, which argued that the destruction of critical infrastructure would be one of the chief dangers of aerial bombardment in the next war:

an attempt would certainly be made to paralyse the heart of the nation by attacking certain nerve centres in London, the destruction of which would impede or entirely destroy the means of communication by telephone, telegraph, rail, and road.1

Later, in 1916, he stumped across the country giving speeches criticising the government for its failure to expand aircraft production sufficiently, and to call for the formation of an independent air force, the Imperial Air Service. He was a Conservative MP, then a Conservative peer, and all the time very wealthy (if you call 10,000 acres wealthy, anyway).

But today I'm going to talk about Montagu's personal life, and the way it impinged on his public one. The photo above shows the 'Spirit of Ecstasy', the mascot adorning the bonnet of every Rolls-Royce -- every one since Montagu put an early version on his Silver Ghost in 1911, that is, for he was a huge motoring enthusiast, and had his friend, the sculptor Charles Sykes, design it for him. Supposedly, the model Sykes used was Montagu's own secretary and mistress, Eleanor Thornton. (Though there's an alternate, and possibly more convincing, theory minimising the role of Thornton and Montagu.)
...continue reading


  1. Montagu of Beaulieu, Aerial Machines and War (London: Hugh Rees, 1910), 2. 

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I've put up a biographical blurb about H. G. Wells, celebrated author of Select Conversations with an Uncle and Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island. Wells is almost the Alpha and the Omega of my thesis, and perhaps the Kappa too -- at least in chronological terms: he wrote the first major novel in English on aerial warfare (The War in the Air); was banging on about the use of airpower as the basis of a world government almost until the day he died; and produced a couple of other airminded science fiction novels (The World Set Free and The Shape of Things to Come) and one film in between (Things to Come). His body of work is huge, but most of it little read today, outside of his most famous science fiction novels -- The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and perhaps The Island of Doctor Moreau. Actually, that's not quite fair: though his LibraryThing holdings are dominated by those works, many of his other novels have fairly respectable numbers for an author who produced his best work over a century ago.

His Who's Who entry has some noteworthy points. He clearly measured the worth of his public life by his publications -- no honours listed (except for his D.Lit.) or organisations joined (other than his clubs, and he was clearly very clubbable). Most of his works just get a publication date, a few get a terse explanatory note, e.g '(Sorbonne lecture)'. But interestingly, one, and only one, gets a longer description:

The Outline of History, first published in fortnightly parts and then in several book editions, 1920, is an attempt to reform history-teaching by replacing narrow nationalist by a general review of the human record

This seems odd to me, because The Outline of History was surely one of his better known works (certainly of his 1920s output), and it's still read today.1 So it doesn't seem particularly necessary to explain what it's about. Perhaps he viewed it as his most significant book? That several of his later books relate to it, or at least to allude to its title, might support this: Mr. Belloc Objects to the Outline of History, The Science of Life is 'a companion to The Outline of History' and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind is 'an Outline of Economic, Social and Political Science'. Also, I suspect that his future history, The Shape of Things to Come owes something of its form, at least, to The Outline of History, though I haven't actually read the latter yet so I can't be sure.

I find it amusing that such a world-famous figure would list his telephone number (Paddington 6204), not to mention his address (13 Hanover Terrace, Regents Park, N.W.1). Did he not get pestered by well-wishers, celebrity-seekers and out-and-out nutters? Maybe he had a secretary to answer the phone.


  1. That's assuming that he did actually write it in the first place, and not Florence Deeks ... 

I've put up a biographical note on the jurist and civil servant J. M. Spaight, an important commentator on airpower issues from before the First World War until after the Second. I should have put this up long ago (Airminded gets quite a few search engine referrals from queries relating to Spaight, and there's not much on the web about him), but I wanted to read some of his books first, in order to get a better sense of the man -- he doesn't have as colourful a background as the other writers I have notes on.