Posted in cars, locomotives, Science-tech, steam locomotives, Trains

Black Country Living Museum

imageI recently visited The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley in the centre of the Black Country. The museum occupies 105,000 square metres (26 acres) of former industrial land partly reclaimed from a former railway goods yard, disused lime kilns and former coal pits. It was opened in 1978, since when many more exhibits have been added. The museum preserves some important buildings from around the Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall and the City of Wolverhampton; including a specially built village with Most buildings being relocated from their original sites where demonstrators portray life from the 1850s to the 1950s. The museum is close to the site where Thomas Dudley first mastered the technique of smelting iron with coal instead of wood charcoal and making iron enough for industrial use. Having a claim to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the Black Country is famous for its wide range of steel-based products from nails to the anchor and anchor chain for the Titanic.The site’s coal mining heritage is shown by an underground drift and colliery surface buildings. The museum also has a working replica of a Newcomen atmospheric engine. Thomas Newcomen’s invention was first successfully put to use in Tipton in 1712.

There are also many Electric trams and trolleybuses which transport visitors from the entrance to the village where thirty domestic and industrial buildings have been relocated close to the canal basin including the Cast Iron Houses and a 1930s fairground. A narrowboat operated by Dudley Canal Trust makes trips on the Dudley Canal and into the Dudley Tunnel. By the main entrance in the old Rolfe Street Baths are displays of local artefacts demonstrating the many products which were made by Black Country industry, including cast iron hollow ware, animal traps, vehicles, chain, anchors, enamels, weighing scales, laundry irons, nails, locks and fire clay products as well as more fragile items such as glassware, reflecting the centuries-old industry that produced lead crystal glass and the Joseph Chance glass works between Oldbury and Smethwick. The museum site also has two preserved mine shafts, one at the Racecourse Colliery and Brook Shaft.

imageIn 1712, Thomas Newcomen built the world’s first successful steam engine which was used for pumping water from coal mines on Lord Dudley’s estates. In 1986, after ten years of research, the museum completed the construction of a full-scale working replica of the engine. The ‘fire engine’ is housed in a brick building from which a wooden beam projects through one wall. Rods hang from the outer end of the beam and operate pumps at the bottom of the mine shaft which raise the water to the surface. The engine has a boiler, a cylinder and piston and operating valves. A coal fire heats water in the boiler which is little more than a covered pan and the steam generated passes through a valve into the brass cylinder above it. The cylinder is more than two metres long and 52 centimetres in diameter. The steam in the cylinder is condensed by injecting cold water and the vacuum beneath the piston pulls the inner end of the beam down causing the pump to move.

There are also preserved Lime Kilns as Lime working and processing was carried out on the site from medieval times. Evidence of quarries and underground remains, the canal, and preserved lime kilns are parts of a scheduled ancient monument which has features from the medieval, Industrial Revolution and 20th century. The lime kilns, were built by the Earl of Dudley to process limestone quarried from Wren’s Nest workings. The earliest of the three surviving kilns dates from the late 18th century.

imageThe trap shop was built in 1913 in Rookery Street, Wednesfield and offered to the museum in 1982. The exhibit, set around 1930, contains the office, trap shop and the machine shop. The nail shop is a replica of a back-yard workshop, built in the 1880s from 17 Chapel Street, Halesowen which houses equipment from the Halesowen workshop operated by Sidney Tether in the 1940s.The brass foundry was built in 1869 in Shaw Street, Walsall and closed after the Second World War but re-opened in 1964 by James Powell and used until his death in 1973. There is also a rolling mill which was originally installed at the Birchley Works in Oldbury in 1923 ceased to operate in 1976 and it was moved to Lord Ward’s Canal Arm. There is a chain maker’s shop which represents one of the many workshops that made small and medium size chain during the 1800s when the chain industry was mostly associated with Cradley, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Quarry Bank and Netherton. There is also an Oliver hammer on display, this was a treadle-operated hammer that forged bolts by forcing red hot lengths of iron into a die. The machine shop contained several Oliver hammers used to forge special parts to order and was founded by Onan Lowe and taken over by T. W. Lench Ltd. there is also a early 20th Century village comprising houses, shops, workshops and public buildings which were dismantled and rebuilt brick by brick which is staffed by people in period costume. The village shops include Gregory’s General Stor, Emile Doo’s chemist shop, a sweet shop and cake shop with a bakery at the back. There is a hardware and ironmongers shop from Pipers Row in Wolverhampton and a pawnbroker’s shop.

imageThe Brook Street back to back houses, built in the 1850s, were relocated from Woodsetton and were the homes of colliers, farm workers and ironworkers. The anchor maker’s house came from Lawrence Lane in Old Hill. Public buildings include Providence Chapel from Darby End/Hand near Netherton and the Bottle and Glass Inn. The village postbox meanwhile once stood on the corner of Baker Street and Blandford Street, London in 1865. It was and designed by architect J W Penfold and made by Cochrane, Grove and Company. The 1900 Carter’s Yard comes from Ogley Hay Road Burntwood, Cannock. The Old Birmingham Road links St James’s School with the Cradley Heath Workers’ Institute. St James’s School originally opened in Eve Hill, Dudley in 1842 for pupils aged 5–11. Hobbs & Sons fish and chip shop and H Morrall’s gentlemen’s outfitters both come from Hall Street, Dudley and date from the late-18th century. Four buildings were rescued from Birmingham Street, Oldbury and date to about 1860, including Humphrey Brothers,builders’ merchants, from 1932, who sold fireplaces, sanitaryware and building supplies including paint. The motorcycle shop is based on the business of A. Hartill & Sons. which was located in Mount Pleasant, Bilston. The window displays of locally made six motor bikes from 1929–34. Next door is Alfred Preedy & Sons tobacconist shop, established in Dudley in 1868 and James Gripton’s radio shop.The Cradley Heath Workers’ Institute was built with surplus funds raised in 1910 during the strike for a minimum wage by women chain makers. The Arts and Crafts style building was designed by architect, Albert Thomas Butler, and opened on 10 June 1912. It became a centre for educational meetings, social gatherings and trade union activities in Cradley Heath. The building contains reconstructed offices, a news room with a digital interpretation of the background to the strike and a large hall which is used for a wide range of activities including theatre performances and concerts. There is a also 1930s fairground located behind the school which represents a travelling fairground from the early 1900’s. The collection of historic rides includes a helter skelter and the Ark, which is one of the few ‘fourlift’ Arks in the country. Lord Ward’s Canal Arm recreates a typical dock that would have been found on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN). Adjacent to the museum is the Dudley Tunnel where Visitors can take a 45 minute skipper-guided trip into the tunnel through the historic limestone mines and caverns on a boat operated by the Dudley Canal Trust.

imageThe museum also has many road transport exhibits which were used and made in the Black Country including the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company tram No. 34, Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Company tram No. 5, a Guy single-decker Bus, a 1920 Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Company No. 5 Tividale single-decker tram, the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company No. 19 works car, TheWolverhampton Tramways Company Horse Tram No. 23 open-topper built in 1892, the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company No. 34 Tividale single-decker built in 1919. The Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways open topper No. 49 built in 1909, The Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Company No. 75 Tividale single-decker which was built in 1919, The Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways No. 102 Tividale single-decker built in 1920, the Birmingham Central Tramways Company Ltd cable car No. 104 open-topper built in 1886 and the Lisbon No. 361 single-decker built in 1907. Buses at the museum include the West Bromwich Corporation Daimler CVG6 GEA 174 built in 1948, the Midland Red BMMO D9 6342 HA built in 1963, the Guy Motors KTT 689 built in 1948, the West Bromwich Corporation Dennis E-Type EA 4181 built in 1929 and the Reo Speedwagon with C14D bodywork MR 3879 built in 1924. Operational Trolleybuses at the museum include the Walsall Corporation trolleybus 862, The Wolverhampton Corporation Guy Transport 78, the Wolverhampton Corporation Sunbeam Transport 433, the Bradford Corporation Transport 735 – A Karrier W built in 1946 and the Walsall Corporation Transport 862, a Sunbeam F4A with a Willowbrook Body. Wolverhampton was home to some early manufacturers of motor cars, such as Sunbeam, Clyno, AJS and Star and The Museum collection includes a 1903 Sunbeam, a 1912 Star and a 1931 AJS as well as examples of later vehicles such as the Kieft, Frisky and Westfield Topaz. There are also approximately 40 motor cycles in the Museum’s collection, including Sunbeams, AJS, Wearwell and Rocksons. Unusual vehicles in the fleet include a 1924 Guy-Morris fire engine, a Model T Ford van used by Willenhall firm Brevitt’s and a Bean flat bed truck.

Posted in books, films & DVD, Television

Rupert Grint (Harry Potter)

imageEnglish actor Rupert Alexander Lloyd Grint was born 24 August 1988. He rose to prominence playing Ron Weasley, one of the three main characters in the Harry Potter film series. Grint was cast as Ron Weasley at the age of 11, having previously acted only in school plays and at his local theatre group. From 2001 to 2011, he starred in all eight Harry Potter films alongside Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson.Starting in 1999, casting began for the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the best-selling novel written by author J.K. Rowling. Rowling personally insisted that the cast be British and assisted Susie Figgis and director Chris Columbus in casting the roles. Grint chose to try out for the part of protagonist Ron Weasley, one of Harry Potter’s best friends at Hogwarts, because he had ginger-coloured hair, and was a fan of the book series. Having seen a Newsround report about the open casting, he sent in a video of himself rapping about how he wished to receive the part. His attempt was successful as the casting team asked for a meeting with him .On 8 August 2000 Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and an 11-year old Grint were selected to play the roles of Harry, Hermione Granger, and Ron, respectively. Grint is the oldest member of the trio.

imageThe release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 was Grint’s debut screen performance. Grint won a Satellite Award in the category of “Outstanding New Talent”, and a Young Artist Award for “Most Promising Young Newcomer”.A year later, Grint again starred as Ron in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), the second instalment of the series. The film opened to positive reviews and critics generally enjoyed the lead actors’ performances. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) was released on 31 May in the UK. The film sees all three of its lead characters hover on the brink of adolescence, “and while they look braver and more capable than before, the dangers they face seem far more grave and their own vulnerability more intense.”Academy Award-nominee Alfonso Cuarón took over direction for Prisoner of Azkaban which remains the lowest-grossing Harry Potter film with US$795 million in revenue. Nonetheless it was the second highest-grossing movie of 2004 behind Shrek 2. Despite this it remains the second highest rated in the series in terms of critical reaction. In 2005, Grint reprised his role again for the fourth film in the series – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The adaptation, unlike previous projects, explored romantic elements and included more humour. .This project was helmed by Mike Newell. “Goblet of Fire stands as one of the best reviewed instalments within the series, and is noted for the maturity and sophistication of its characters, darker and more complex plotline, writing and performances of the lead actors. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth film in the Harry Potter franchise, was released to cinemas in 2007. A huge financial success, Order of the Phoenix set a record worldwide opening-weekend gross of US$394 million, superseding Spider-Man 3 as the title holder. This entry was directed by a new filmmaker, David Yates, who would continue to direct all of the following movies. Grint said the laid back director was “really good” and helped keep the material fresh.

On 15 July 2009, the series’s sixth instalment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released. This adaptation centred around more being learnt about Lord Voldemort’s dark past. Half-Blood Prince remains one of the most positively reviewed entries within the series among film critics, who praised the film’s “emotionally satisfying” story, direction, cinematography, visuals and music. Grint observed a change in Ron in this entry, pointing out that his once insecure, often overshadowed character started to become more secure and even began to show a dark side of himself. The actor found it fun to personify a more emotional Ron. Between 2009–2010, his work received three nominations, including one win – an Otto Award from the German magazine Bravo. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint at the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 premiere in LondonFor financial and scripting reasons, the last book was divided into two films which were shot back to back, with filming concluding in June 2010. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010) was released in November. His portrayal of Ron again earned him critical praise. Grint reprised his role for the eighth time, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the last Harry Potter instalment. This film picked-up from where the previous project left-off and included a lot of action, whereas the first part had focused more on character development. Rupert, along with the film, was critically acclaimed: Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is currently the 4th highest-grossing film of all time. Beginning in 2002, Grint began to work outside of the Harry Potter franchise, taking on a co-leading role in Thunderpants. He has had starring roles in Driving Lessons, a dramedy released in 2006, and Cherrybomb, a small budgeted drama of limited release in 2010. Grint co-starred with Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt in Wild Target, a comedy. His first project following the end of the Harry Potter series was the 2012 anti-war film, Into the White, in which he stars as the main role. In 2013, Grint’s new film CBGB will be released and he has been cast in CBS’s new pilot Super Clyde. Grint made his stage debut in Jez Butterworth’s Mojo in October 2013 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London.

Posted in music

Jean Michel Jarre

imageFrench Musician Jean Michel Jarre was born in Lyon on 24 August 1948. His father Maurice Jarre, was a composer. For the first eight years of his life, Jarre spent six months each year at his maternal grandparents’ flat on the Cours de Verdun, in the Perrache district of Lyon. Jarre’s grandfather was an oboe player, engineer and inventor, designing an early audio mixer used at Radio Lyon. He also gave Jean Michel his first record player. Jarre was able to watch street performers at work, an experience he later cited as proving influential on his art. Jarre struggled with classical piano studies. A more general interest in musical instruments was sparked by his discovery at the Saint-Ouen flea market, where his mother sold antiques. He often accompanied his mother to Le Chat Qui Pêche (The Fishing Cat), a friend’s Paris jazz club, where saxophonists Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, and trumpet players Don Cherry and Chet Baker were regular performers. These early jazz experiences suggested to him that music may be “descriptive, without lyrics”. He was also influenced by the work of French artist Pierre Soulages, whose exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris he attended. Soulages’ paintings used multiple textured layers, and Jarre realised that “for the first time in music, you could act as a painter with frequencies and sounds.”He was also influenced by classical, modernist music;

pammcaabnAs a young man he earned money by selling his paintings, exhibiting some of his works at the Lyon Gallery – L’Œil écoute, and by playing in a band called Mystère IV. While he studied at the Lycée Michelet, his mother arranged for him to take lessons in harmony,counterpoint and fugue with Jeannine Rueff of the Conservatoire de Paris. In 1967 he played guitar in a band called The Dustbins, who appear in the film Des garçons et des filles. He mixed instruments including the electric guitar and the flute, and tape effects and other sounds. More experimentation followed in 1968, when he began to use tape loops, radios and other electronic devices, but joining the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) in 1969,then under the direction of Pierre Schaeffer (“father” of musique concrète), proved hugely influential. Jarre was introduced to the Moog modular synthesizer and spent time working at the studio of influential German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne. He set up a samll recording studio in the kitchen of his flat on Rue de la Trémoille, near the Champs-Élysées, which included his first synthesiser, an EMS VCS 3, and an EMS Synthi AKS, each linked to Revox tape machines. For a 1969 exposition at the Maison de la Culture (Cultural House) in Reims, Jarre wrote the five-minute song “Happiness Is a Sad Song.” His first commercial release was in 1969 with La Cage/Erosmachine, a mixture of harmony, tape effects and synthesisers.

In 1971 Jarre was commissioned by choreographer Norbert Schmucki to perform a ballet called AOR (in Hebrew, “the light”), at thePalais Garnier. He also composed music for ballet, theatre, advertisements and television programs,as well as music and lyrics for artists like Patrick Juvet and Christophe.Jarre composed the soundtrack for Les Granges Brûlées. and in 1972 wrote music for the International Festival of Magic. That year he also released his first solo album, Deserted Palace, and from 1973–74 wrote music for Françoise Hardy and Gérard Lenorman, as well as directing Christophe’s Olympia show. Jarre’s 1976 low budget solo album Oxygène, recorded at his home studio, made him internationally famous. It comprises six numbered synthesiser tracks that make strong use of melody, rather than rhythm or dissonance. A Scully eight-track recorder was used to record instruments like the Eminent 310 (with an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phaser on its string pads) and the Korg Minipops drum machine. Liberal use of echo was used on the various sound effects generated by the VCS3 synthesiser. Jarre’sARP 2600 synthesiser, previously used on his collaborations with Christophe, also featured, as did his EMS VCS 3. Jarre’s follow-up album, Équinoxe, was released in 1978. It was composed with sequencers, particularly on the bass, and features a more baroque and classical style than Oxygène, with more emphasis on melodic development. It was less successful than Oxygène, but the following year Jarre held a large open-air concert on Bastille Day, at the Place de la Concorde.The free outdoor event set a new world record for the largest number of spectators ever at an open-air concert, drawing more than 1 million spectators, with a television audience of over 100 million watching live. The crowds were so large that Jarre’s wife, Charlotte Rampling, found it difficult to access the venue. Although it was not the first time he had performed in concert (Jarre had already played at the Paris Opera Ballet), the 40 minute-long event, which used projections of light, images and fireworks, served as a blueprint for Jarre’s future concerts. Its popularity helped create a surge in sales—a further 800,000 records were sold between 14 July and 31 August 1979—and introduced the Frenchman to Francis Rimbert, who now works for Jarre on a full-time basis.

The new album Les Chants Magnétiques was released in 1981, And sold a reported 200,000 units in France alone. The album uses sounds from the Fairlight CMI, a new instrument of which Jarre was an early pioneer. Its digital technology allowed him to continue his earlier sonic experimentation in new ways. The album’s release coincided with Jarre’s first foreign tour. In 1981 the British Embassy gave Radio Beijing copies of Oxygène andÉquinoxe, which became the first pieces of foreign music to be played on Chinese national radio in decades. The republic invited Jarre to become the first western musician to play there, with The Concerts in China. his next release, was Zoolook and Musique pour Supermarché was also created for a planned performance at the “Supermarché” art exhibition. Jarre allowed Radio Luxembourg to broadcast it uninterrupted, in its entirety, before he auctioned off a single vinyl print on 5 July 1983, at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris.In 1985 Jarre was invited by the musical director of the Houston Grand Opera to perform a concert celebrating Texas’s 150th anniversary. Although he was busy with other projects and was at first unimpressed by the proposal, on a later visit to the city he was immediately impressed by the visual grandeur of the city’s skyline, and agreed to perform. 1985 also marked the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, and Jarre was contacted by NASA to integrate the anniversary into the concert. “Third Rendez-Vous”Third Rendez-Vous, normally performed in concert on the laser harpRendez-Vous was created over a period of about two months, and as with Zoolook, contains elements of his 1983 album Musique pour Supermarché.In 1988 Jarre released Revolutions. The album spans several genres, including symphonic industrial, Arabian inspired, light guitar pop and ethnic electro jazz. A two-hour concert called Destination Docklands was planned for September 1988, to be held at the Royal Victoria Dock in east London Close to the heart of London, the location was chosen in part for its desolate environment, but also because Jarre thought the architecture was ideally suited for his music. In September 1998 he set his fourth record for the largest ever outdoor concert audience with a performance at the Moscow State University, celebrating the 850th anniversary of Moscow. The event was viewed by an audience of about 3.5 million.The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, had taken place on the same day, and the Frenchman therefore dedicated “Souvenir of China” to her memory, before observing a minute’s silence. Another large scale concert followed on 31 December 1999, in the Egyptian desert near Giza. The Twelve Dreams of the Sun celebrated the new millennium and offered a preview of his next album, Métamorphoses. The show featured performances from more than 1,000 local artists and musicians, and was based on ancient Egyptian mythology about the journey of the sun and its effect upon humanity.

Jarre released his first vocal album, Métamorphoses, in 2000.It was followed in 2001 by Interior Music, and 2002’s Sessions 2000, a set of experimental synth-jazz pieces distinct from his previous work .In 2003 he released Geometry of Love, commissioned by Jean-Roch as a soundtrack for his ‘V.I.P. Room’ nightclub in France. It contains a mix of ‘electro-chill’ music, with touches of his more traditional style. In October 2004 he returned to China to open its “Year of France” cultural exchange. Jarre gave two performances, the first at the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City, and the second in Tiananmen Square. In September 2004, Jarre released AERO, both a DVD and a CD in one package And In his role of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Jarre performed a concert named Water for Life in Morocco, on 16 December 2006, to celebrate the year of desertification in the world. Jarre released Téo & Téa on 26 March 2007. He described the two computer-generated characters in the video clip of the title track as being “like twins”, one female, one male. The album is supposed to describe the different stages of a loving relationship, and explores the idea that the length of such relationships is unpredictable.

In 2007 Jarre released an anniversary package containing a special live recording of his classic work, Oxygène, in 3D DVD, live CD and normal 2D DVD formats in November 2007, named Oxygène: New Master Recording. The album also contains three extra tracks not found on either the original or remake, which form links between the main movements. Jarre plans to integrate the original analog synthesizers from Oxygène into his next album, and is building a new private recording studio on the outskirts of Paris. In the same year Disques Dreyfus released The Complete Oxygène, containing the original versions of Oxygène and Oxygène 7–13, and remixes of tracks from Oxygène 7–13. In 2010, Jean Michel Jarre started the second leg of his 2009–2010 indoors tour, and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Mojo magazine. In 2011, he released the double CD set Essentials & Rarities. The Essentials disc is a compilation of his most famous work. TheRarities disc includes tracks made before Oxygène. He also performed a concert in Monaco to celebrate the marriage of Prince Albert and his bride Charlene and performed a concert at Carthage in2013. On June 2013, Jarre was elected as president of the Confédération internationale des sociétés d’auteurs et compositeurs (CISAC) and Jean Michel Jarre’s latest album Chronology is released 28 August 2015

Posted in films & DVD

Kenny Baker (Star Wars)

HarrisonfordBest known for portraying the Astromech Droid  R2-D2 in Star Wars, The English actor Kenneth George “Kenny” Baker was born 24 August 1934 in Birmingham. Baker, who stands 3 ft 8 in (112 cm) tall, was born and educated in Birmingham, West Midlands, and at boarding school in Kent. His parents were of average height. Originally he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and be an engraver, but had not received sufficient education. He went to live with his stepmother in Hastings, Sussex and in 1951 was approached on the street by a lady who invited him to join a theatrical troupe of dwarves and midgets. This was his first taste of show business. Later, he joined a circus for a brief time, learned to ice-skate and appeared in many ice shows. He had formed a successful comedy act called the Minitones with entertainer Jack Purvis when George Lucas hired him to be the man inside R2-D2 in Star Wars in 1977.

Baker appears in all six Star Wars films and played an additional role in 1983’s Return of the Jedi as Paploo, the Ewok who steals an Imperial speeder bike. He was originally going to play Wicket, but he fell ill and that role was handed over to Warwick Davis. Kenny is featured on Justin Lee Collins’s “Bring Back Star Wars”. He revealed a feud between him and his co-star Anthony Daniels. He claimed Daniels had been rude to him on numerous occasions, and states that Daniels is rude to everyone, including fans.

Baker’s other films include The Elephant Man, Time Bandits (also with Purvis) Willow (also with Jack Purvis) and Flash Gordon, Amadeus and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. On television, he appeared in the British medical drama Casualty. In the late 1990s, Baker launched a short stand up comedy career. Baker played harmonica with the James Coutts’ Scottish Dance Band at Hugh McCaig’s Silverstone Party in July 1997. In November 2009, his biography entitled From Tiny Acorns: The Kenny Baker Story was made available through his website and at conventions and book signings. It was written with Ken Mills. He will reprise his role as R2-D2 in Star Wars Episode VII, which will be released on December 18, 2015 and He also had a part in the BBC production of “The Chronicles of Narnia”.

Posted in books, films & DVD, Television

Alexander McCall Smith

imageProlific Rhodesian born British Author R. Alexander “Sandy” McCall Smith, CBE, FRSE, who was born 24 August 1948) in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe). He was educated at the Christian Brothers College before moving to Scotland to study law at the University of Edinburgh, where he earned his PhD in law. He also taught at Queen’s University Belfast, and while teaching there he entered a literary competition: one a children’s book and the other a novel for adults. He won in the children’s category, and published thirty books in the 1980s and 1990s and continues to publish novels to this day.

He returned to southern Africa in 1981 to help co-found and teach law at the University of Botswana. While there, he cowrote what remains the only book on the country’s legal system, The Criminal Law of Botswana (1992).He returned in 1984 to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he lives today with his wife, Elizabeth, a physician, and their two daughters Lucy and Emily (he lives close to the authors JK Rowling, Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson. He was Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh at one time and is now Emeritus Professor at its School of Law. He retains a further involvement with the University in relation to the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He also became a respected expert on medical law and bioethics and served on various British and international committees . He is also the former chairman of the British Medical Journal Ethics Committee (until 2002), the former vice-chairman of the Human Genetics Commission of the United Kingdom, and a former member of the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO.

He has since become internationally known as a writer of fiction and is most widely known as the creator of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series featuring the exploits of Mme Rwotswa and various motley assortment of Characters. The Number one Ladies Detective Agency was also adapted for a recent BBC Television Series. Novels in the series include TeaTime for the Traditionally Built, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, The Full Cupboard of Life, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (also known as The Night-Time Dancer.), Blue Shoes and Happiness, The Miracle at Speedy Motors, The Double Comfort Safari Club, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection and The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.  McCall Smith has also written the 44 Scotland Series of novels which include 44 Scotland Street, Espresso Tales, Love Over Scotland, The World According to Bertie, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, The Importance of Being Seven, Bertie Plays The Blues, Sunshine on Scotland Street And Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers

He was appointed a CBE in the December 2006 New Year’s Honours List for services to literature and in June 2007, he was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at a ceremony celebrating the tercentenary of the University of Edinburgh School of Law. He is also an amateur bassoonist, and co-founder of The Really Terrible Orchestra. He has helped to found Botswana’s first centre for opera training, the Number 1 Ladies’ Opera House, for whom he wrote the libretto of their first production, a version of Macbeth set among a troop of baboons in the Okavango Delta. He is also the author of a testimonial in The Future of the NHS (2006). His use of the serial format, in his Edinburgh and Pimlico novels, has revived the nineteenth-century format used by authors including Charles Dickens and Armistead Maupin. In 2009, he donated the short story Still Life to Oxfam’s ‘Ox-Tales’ project—four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. McCall Smith’s story was published in the ‘Air’ collection. Both Laura Bush, the Former First Lady of the United States and Flea (Michael Balzary) of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are fans of his novels