Although the focus of my doctoral research has evolved (and continues to do so), at its core is an interest in how institutions and organisations affect the people that comprise them. This post outlines the basis of that interest

During the last decade, I became quite a fan of those premium TV dramas from the USA. The first one I watched was Oz, back in the 1990s. I then got into others, among them The Shield, The Sopranos and Carnivàle.

The Education of Mike Teavee

My two favourites were, and remain, The Wire and Deadwood. All of the shows were well-written brilliantly performed and utterly gripping but these two stood out. These programmes appealed to me because of the wealth of ideas that they essayed. They both explored several themes at length (one of the advantages of multi-season TV shows have over movies is…


Photo: ABC

The lean years of the Great Depression were a fruitful time for the creation of lasting fictional heroes. Among the most successful was a certain masked man who roamed the plains defending the weak against the strong

1932. The Great Depression has just entered its third year. Wonderfully-named writer Fran Striker is working out of Buffalo, New York producing scripts and dramas for a variety of radio stations across the USA. Striker’s stories were simple, pulpy tales that featured a generic cast of heroes and villains in unpretentious adventures in which the goodies wore white hats and the baddies black ones. It was hack work, but it paid the rent.

Striker’s clients included WXYZ in Detroit. They were good customers and bought up to five stories from him every week. Striker’s stories of spies and Secret Service…


The HP Sauce factory was a beloved part of Aston’s industrial landscape, but could the locals forgive it when it flooded their town with acid?

It must have felt like some horrifying new chemical weapon had been deployed. The first signal was the explosion that rang out in the December gloaming. This was followed by streams of liquid, mephitic in such quantity, slicing thinly through the streets, blackbrown and topped with a whitish spume. Then there were the fumes. Invisible clouds of bitter, acidulated vapour that summoned sinus juices from nasal cavities of anyone who got too close. Families, sitting down to their evening meal on a Friday in those doldrum days between Christmas and new year, were summoned from their tables by the shouts…


The writer Eric Ambler built his literary reputation on a series of thrillers published in the years prior to the Second World War. Praised for their maturity and realism, these works drew upon the febrile politics of the 1930s and explored the bellicose atmosphere of the interwar years. This article examines how these works were influenced by Ambler’s experiences as a tourist in Europe.

I had no way of knowing whether or not the Blackshirt’s carbine had live rounds in it; but the slap he gave the butt had been convincing. My twinge of civilian fear had been convincing, too, and interesting. I noted that it had taken about three seconds to turn fear into fury and a further half second to remember that I was a foreigner there and, for that reason probably, objectionable.[1]

Eric Ambler visited Rome as a tourist. Finding himself in the city with four hours to kill, he decided to take a look at an exhibition that was then…


The decline of duelling coincided with the rise of modern mass spectator sport. For some enterprising Edwardians, the opportunity to combine the two was simply too tempting to resist

England’s last fatal duel, fought purely as a matter of honour, was contested on the 19th October 1852. The duellists, Frenchmen both, had developed an enmity while living in exile from the Second Republic of Napoleon III. More proximately, and perhaps more relatable to modern readers, Duellist 1, Emmanuel Barthélemy, had heard that Duellist 2, Frederic Cournet, had made unpleasant remarks about his, Barthélemy’s, ex-girlfriend. Barthélemy duly sought satisfaction.

Now this was, on the face of it, definitely a Bad Idea. Barthélemy may have been ‘a murder-loving revolutionary’, but Cournet was a professional soldier, calm and cool-headed, and had survived…


When nineteenth century Britons took too keen a liking for gin the government found a novel method for weaning them off it. It didn’t exactly go to plan

Berwick-upon-Tweed (pop. 12,000) seems like a nice enough sort of place. Once home to shipbuilding, salmon fishing and the manufacture of tweed fabric, it is now supported, like most other British towns, largely by service sector jobs. In 2018, however, Berwick is expecting an unlikely boost to its economy when it is set to become the first domestic vector of that minor British institution, the booze cruise.

On the first of May this year the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act came into force. It mandates a minimum retail price of 50 pence for every unit of alcohol sold in Scotland…


For a brief period in the late twentieth century, the figure of the armed bank robber was a staple of TV police dramas. Where did they go?

The Great Brinks Robbery. Photo by Bettmann Archive via Getty

Bruce Reynolds’ funeral was a funny old affair. Filling the pews of St. Bartholomew the Great were actors David Thewlis and Ray Stevenson. Mick Jones of the Clash was there, so too was John Cooper Clarke, who had penned a poem for the occasion. The harmonica player out of Alabama 3 showed up as well, but at least he had the excuse of being Reynolds’ son. The rest, though I’m sure their grief was genuine, testify to the nexus between showbiz and a certain type of crime. There was a time when pulling a 15 denier over your face and…


In 1858, a Bradford sweetmaker decided to cut a few corners. What happened next left twenty people dead and over two hundred seriously ill.

With the possible exception of the excruciating equine puns that should have long since been boiled into glue, the worst thing about the UK horsemeat scandal was the realisation that we could have been, and possibly still are, eating anything. Without access to sophisticated testing equipment at the dinner table, we’re all taking our meals on trust. Still, could be worse. No one, Black Beauty aside, died.

Food scandals haven’t always been quite so benign. …

Michael Noble

Writer and History PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham. Book: ‘D-Day’, published by Quarto Kids May 2019.

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