Watt Tyler aka Professor Adrian R Bell #HistorialDesertIslandDiscs

In the first of our guest blogs we hear from our Research Dean for Prosperity and Resilience and Chair in the History of Finance at the ICMA Centre, Henley Business School Professor Adrian R Bell.

Royal 18 E I f.165v

In this edition, we reveal to the world the long-lost mix tape of everyone’s favourite rebel Watt Tyler. It is said that this tape was played to his band of followers immediately prior to the meeting with Richard II at Smithfield on 15 June 1381. Unfortunately for the rebels, Tyler was slain and the mix tape was hidden and has only recently been rediscovered. So do listen, but be careful, as it could inspire dissent…..

If you want to read some new factual accounts of The People of 1381, then do pop over  1381 Online

There will be swearing in the following songs, but then they are songs about rebellion.


1. The Sex Pistols, ‘God Save the Queen’
Yes obvious, but has a country ever been more frightened by a pop song? In 1977 it nearly brought the UK to a standstill caused by disbelief in the disrespect.


2. Sonic Youth, ‘Teenage Riot’
Always rebelling (especially against their age, were they ever youth?) and still going strong as solo artists – see Kim Gordon’s recent set for 6music for instance (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000g5fq). This song is from 1988 and it is still fresh. Don’t play it too loud.


3. David Bowie, ‘Rebel Rebel’
This was controversial for the peasants as they could not work out which side The Thin White Duke was on. This performance is from 1974 and it looks rebellious to me.


4. Billy Idol, ‘Rebel Yell’.
From 1983 and Billy has kept the look ever since and it still works.


5. The Fall, ‘Pay your rates’.

Not an obvious rebel song, but I couldn’t do a Desert Island list without a Fall song. This one from 1980. For those not old enough to remember, the rates were replaced by a poll tax and led to a second poll tax rebellion on 31 March 1990. Mark E Smith, 10 years ahead of his time…


6. Joy Division, ‘Disorder’
From 1979, a good beat and sentiment – sure to get a rebel group in the right frame of mind, especially the unhinged ending.


7. Mercury Rev, ‘Holes’
For some much-needed calm, and from the album Deserter’s Songs – this was one for all the soldiers who had just returned from France in service of the King and had immediately joined the rebellion.


8. Comet Gain, ‘We are all fucking morons’.
Almost contemporary (2019) and perhaps more relevant for today – but was the final song and really got the crowd going crazy. This one was originally recommended by Professor Matt… so Watt can’t take all the blame for his final choice.


For his book, Watt would like to take the latest bestseller by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. It is hard to get a copy, as they are artisan produced, hand written and individually illustrated. Watt has so far only been able to listen to the prologue being read out a few times, but he liked what he had heard so far.

For his luxury item, Watt would like a quill, ink and parchment. He wants to keep working on the rebel’s charter, especially the abolition of serfdom bit.


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Sir Isaac Newton by Amie Bolissian-McRae #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

Something for the weekend?

Today’s castaway is the renowned seventeenth century English natural philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and iconic self-isolationist, Sir Isaac Newton. Reportedly a deeply strange man, but inspired thinker, Newton was the very first European ‘scientist’ to receive a knighthood.


Portrait of Isaac Newton (1642-1727). This a copy of a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1689). (Wikimedia)


Moving straight on to his eight desert island music tracks, the first choice is…

1. Maggie’s Farm – Performed and written by Bob Dylan
‘I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more…
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane’

Newton was from Lincolnshire farming stock and, in his mid-teens, his mother tried to encourage him to follow in his late father’s muddy footsteps. He profoundly hated farming, but luckily his schoolmaster managed to persuade his mother to let him return to his studies – which worked out well for Newton and Science.

2. I am a rock, I am an Island – performed by Simon & Garfunkel, written by Paul Simon
‘I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock, I am an island’

Newton’s undergraduate years at Trinity College, Cambridge, were very isolated, and he seems to have made few friends – unless you count his manuscripts and notebooks (which, as historians, we do). By all accounts, he did not have the happiest of childhoods. His father died before he was born and his mother remarried when he was three, leaving him with his grandparents – whom he rarely mentioned in his writings. It has been suggested that these difficult early relationships may have explained Newton’s solitary tendencies, his lack of trust, failure to marry, and unflagging capacity to take umbrage.

3. It Was A Very Good Year – performed by Frank Sinatra, written by Ervin Drake
‘When I was twenty-one
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls’

This third track perfectly depicts Newton’s famous ‘annus mirabilis’ (miraculous year) from 1665 when, during a period away from University because of the plague epidemic, he supposedly laid the foundations for his greatest discoveries. Apart from the fact that it was two years not one, he was 22 not 21, he was in no way isolated for all of it, and he appeared to have had no interest in girls at all. But, otherwise, this song nails it.

4. Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree – Performed by Andrew Sisters, written by Lew Brown, Charles Tobias, Sam H. Stept

There is no evidence that a percussive encounter between a falling apple and Isaac Newton’s head inspired his gravitational theory, but later accounts from close contemporaries do confirm the story that apples falling from a tree in his mother’s garden encouraged some of his thinking on the subject – which we’re happy about because this video of the Andrew Sisters is superb.

5. I Will Derive! – Viral hit parody of ‘I Will Survive’ by MindofMathew, originally performed by Gloria Gaynor and written by Freddie Perrin, Dino Fekaris
‘So I thought back
To Calculus…
way back to Newton and to Liebniz
And to problems just like this…’

Newton was the first to invent and develop calculus – according to Newton. He was embroiled in a long dispute with German mathematician Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz about this claim. Leibniz published his own independently-devised theories before Newton, but Newton’s unpublished notes seem to have preceded Leibniz’s work. Leibniz, however, provided the name ‘calculus’, and produced a far more intuitive notation form, subsequently adopted by the whole of European mathematics. Which is why Newton would love this song, as his name comes first.

6. Defying Gravity, performed by Idina Menzel – written by Stephen Schwartz

Difficult to imagine that musical theatre would have been Isaac Newton’s thing, as anti-social as he was. Also, unlike some in this era, he was convinced that there was no such thing as witches or demons of any kind. He thought anyone thinking themselves a witch was merely deluded. On top of that, Defying Gravity for a physical mass like a human, even a magical one, is almost exactly what Newton’s universal gravitational theory in Principia Mathematica disproved. So this song is mainly useful for making Newton cross, which by all accounts could be very entertaining.

7. Money – performed by Pink Floyd, written by Roger Waters
‘Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you’re okay’

This song has to feature among Newton’s eight discs for three solid reasons. Firstly, Newton was appointed as warden, and then master, of The Royal Mint in London overseeing a massive project of recoinage and the apprehending of thieving coin clippers. Secondly, this track was on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, and Newton was at times obsessed with the moon, developing much of his gravitational calculations in relation to this celestial body. Thirdly, the album cover famously pictured a beam of light refracted into a rainbow by a prism, pleasingly evoking Newton’s works in optics and colours through experimentation with prisms. Three for three.

8. High Society Calypso – performed by Louis Armstrong, written Cole Porter

After the death of The Royal Society’s volatile president Robert Hooke, with whom he had had a rancorous relationship, Newton was able to get more involved in this London-based institution for promoting empirical thinking and exploration in what we now call the sciences. Newton was elected president in 1703 and revived the society’s standing and coffers. He was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705, and remained president of the Society till his death in 1727.



Sir Isaac has his eight discs now, and will receive, like all our castaways, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and the Bible – which he would appreciate being a keen theologian. A choice of book is tricky, as his library was enormous, but his ongoing fascination with biblical scholarship and hermeneutics suggests maybe an anthology of the earliest versions of the bible in their original languages. His additional luxury item simply has to be a laboratory for exploring alchemy as this was an all-consuming passion for Newton. It is likely he suffered mercury poisoning for periods of his life, due to his alchemical experiments, but someone who could create gold out of base metal would definitely be a handy person running a nation’s Mint.

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‘Dictating to the Dictators’ by Professor Matt Worley #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

In the second of a series, here are the Desert Island discs for a gaggle of dictators quarantined on an island for our own protection.


Given their heinous crimes, they don’t get to pick the tracks. Instead, I do (‘dictating to the dictators’, if you like). Here goes:

1) Cabaret Voltaire, ‘Do the Mussolini (Headkick)’

Dedicated to Benito Mussolini, Italy’s premier Fascist. This is a track from Cabaret Voltaire’s debut EP (1978). Strung from a lamp-post and kicked in the head, things didn’t end too well for Il Duce.

2) Adam and the Ants, ‘Table Talk’

Tapping into our fascination with the psyche of dictators, here’s Adam Ant’s dissection of Adolf Hitler’s relationship with Geli Raubel. They both committed suicide, she in 1931 and he in 1945. The song was released in 1979 …

3) Dead Kennedys ‘Holiday In Cambodia’

As much a critique of American foreign policy as of Pol Pot, the Dead Kennedys nevertheless capture the madness. First issued as a single in 1980, Jello Biafra here serenades the collapse of the murderous Khmer Rouge and the duplicity of the US.

4) Robert Wyatt, ‘Stalin Wasn’t Stalling’

Controversial choice, as this song is more a paean to Stalin than a condemnation, written by Willie Johnson in 1943. The b-side was called ‘Stalingrad’; Wyatt was a communist; it was released on Rough Trade. Politics are complicated.

5) Manic Street Preachers, ‘Revol’

And so here’s a more pointed critique, as the Manics take us on a tour of the Soviet-informed psychological failures that projected onto a people their leaders claimed to embody …

6) Prince Buster, ‘Idi Amin’

Released in 1977, the ‘Butcher of Uganda’ got his soundtrack. It’s a broody heavy dub, so testament or mood-piece? You decide.

7) Japan, ‘Visions of China’

From 1981, a fascinated view of China emerging from Mao’s shadow: young and strong in the party, building a vision of China.

8) Elvis Costello, ‘Less Than Zero’

Thankfully, he never made it. But Oswald Mosley was Britain’s would-be Fuhrer. On this 1977 track, Elvis Costello vents fury on the media’s continued fascination: fascism as light entertainment (here comes the 1980s).

A book for the island would have to George Woodcock’s 1962 Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. It may show them that there are other ways of doing things …

Luxury Object: A gun with not quite enough bullets.

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Desert Island Darwin by Professor David Stack #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

Today’s castaway is a nineteenth century scientist who, by formulating what the philosopher Daniel Dennett called ‘the single best idea anyone ever had,’ changed the way in which we understand life on earth.

Apeman Darwin image

Our guest today is Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

So, let’s get on with the music.

‘Apeman’ (1970),The Kinks

‘Because compared to the flowers and the birds and the trees, I am an Apeman’

An obvious first choice but hey it’s a Kinks song, and every list is made better by a Kinks song. Darwin’s greatest achievement lay in convincing (almost) all of us that we are, as he put it ‘descended from a hairy quadruped, furnished with a tail and pointed ears, probably arboreal in its habits’. Of course, it wasn’t simply the fact of evolution that Darwin established but also, arguably more importantly, the mechanism by which it occurred: natural selection.

Which brings us neatly to our second song:

‘Survival of the Fittest’ (1995), Mobb Deep

‘Survival of the fit, only the strong survive’

We will never know where Darwin stood in the great East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry of the 1990s (maybe East? sorry Tupac fans), but let’s agree to take a chance to listen again to this bleak rendering of the principle of natural selection.

‘All Around the World’ (1977), The Jam

‘All around the world I’ve been looking for a new. Youth Explosion’

There are two reasons for including this song. First, as is well known, Darwin sailed ‘all around in the world’ on HMS Beagle (1831-1836). Second, and less well appreciated, Darwin’s insights and success were something of a ‘youth explosion’. Don’t laugh! It is easy to forget he was just 22 when he set sail on the Beagle; 29 when he hit upon the mechanism of natural selection; and that the success of his theory depended upon the younger generation of scientists challenging established thinking.

‘Country House’ (1995), Blur

‘He lives in a house, a very big house, in the country’

After The Kinks and The Jam there came Blur, and luckily for us Darwin did indeed live ‘in a house, a very big house, in the country’: Down House, in north Kent, to be precise, from 1842 until his death in 1882. It was here that he wrote all of his great works, including the On the Origin of Species (1859), and undertook some wonderfully Heath Robinson type experiments, including one in which he had one of his sons play bassoon to a group of earthworms.


‘Gonna be Sick’ (2011), Beardyman

‘I think I’m gonna be sick, I’m definitely gonna be sick’

From one beardy man to another, Darwin, like the champion beatboxer, was frequently ‘gonna be sick’. Quite why Darwin threw up as often as he did has intrigued medical and social historians (we are a funny bunch!). Did he pick something up (possibly Chagas disease) during the Beagle voyage? Was it nervous tension at the thought of revealing his revolutionary theories? Either way it gave him great flatulence as well as nausea, but I resisted the temptation to pick Doris Day singing ‘The Windy City’ (1953).

‘Race for the Prize’ (1999), The Flaming Lips

‘Two scientists are racing, for the good of all mankind’

Darwin didn’t realise he was in a race until it was almost too late. Having hit upon his theory in October 1838 he proceeded to procrastinate for twenty years until one day a letter arrived from another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, working in the far east. Wallace had sent Darwin a paper containing a new theory, which looked remarkably like natural selection. ‘So, all my originality,’ Darwin wailed, ‘will be smashed’. Not to worry: aided by his powerful friends, Darwin soon reestablished his priority, and finally got around to finishing the Origin.

‘Losing my Religion’ (1991), REM

‘That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion’

As an undergraduate Darwin was destined for a clerical career, mainly because a quiet country parish would have offered opportunities for pursuing his passion for natural history. That all changed as his theories developed, but he ‘lost’ his religion only slowly. He was still a theist when he wrote the Origin, and eventually settled on describing himself as agnostic.


‘Unnatural Selection’ (2009), Muse

‘Counter balance this commotion, we’re not droplets in the ocean’

Our last song points to one of the directions in which Darwin’s ideas were taken – eugenics. For some, including Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton, the ‘commotion’ was too much, and humans needed to take control of their own evolutionary development. It proved to be an idea with murderous consequences.


Finally, all of our castaways are given a Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and the chance to choose one luxury item. Neither book is likely to bring Darwin much comfort (in later life Shakespeare made him nauseous … most things did!), and a luxury would be unnecessary. The island itself would provide Darwin with endless entertainment, with his days spent studying the geology (his first love) and the flora and fauna of his new home.
Charles Darwin, thank you for being today’s castaway.

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Twelve Days of Christmas: Twelve Drummers Drumming

By Professor Matthew Worley

It was only two drummers, but it sounded like twelve. My pop music epiphany came on 16th October 1980: Adam and the Ants performed ‘Dog Eat Dog‘ on Top of the Pops, which you can watch here.

I was 9, one month off my 10th birthday and I’d never seen anything like it. Two drummers!! Two!!!! I’d not got pop savvy enough to know about the Glitter Band so this was a revelation. As was the way the beats drove the song while the bass and guitar underpinned then danced around it. And Adam, with a white stripe across his face and a Hussar jacket, yelping and singing his way through lyrics that were defiant – tribal – with an innocence shining through. I was hooked; I wanted to know more.

At school the next day my mate Chris had had a similar revelation. No-one else did: they stuck with Madness and Gary Numan. But Chris and I went on a mission to find what we could. We bought the single, then ‘Antmusic’ a month later. I asked for the Kings of the Wild Frontier album for Xmas but got given Madness’ Absolutely on cassette instead. Ok, but not what I most desired. A WH Smiths voucher helped rectify the situation and on it went. I found a cash-in but brilliant book by Fred & Judy Vermorel in Jarrolds (Norwich’s top department store) that revealed a pre-history of the Ants: punk, McLaren & Westwoods’ SEX, songs with odd names like ‘Zerox’ and ‘Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face)’. There were references to Nazi Germany and Futurist Manifestos. And then there was the Sex Pistols, who seemed so seditious and disruptive. I invested in a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks and was converted. Pocket money bought more punk records and the music papers. I followed the leads and through the 1980s read about those futurists, and situtionists, and dada, then J.G Ballard and anarchy.

In effect, Adam Ant was the first historian I engaged with. His songs (and his style) took from the past to reimagine the present. Listen to the songs, read the interviews, and you hear names and references to Eric Fromm, Joe Orton’s Prick Up Your Ears, Hitler’s Tabletalk, Marinetti, Allen Jones, Jordan, Dirk Bogade, the Kennedy assassination, Arapaho indians, sexual fetishism and Cleopatra. New worlds opened and new ideas were found. And now, all these years later, I’ve just written an article named after an Ants b-side (‘Whip in My Valise’), exploring the dark heart of the 1970s via Adam, the Sex Pistols and the Marquis de Sade. Who needs school when pop music can teach you so much ….

Watch Adam & The Ants – Making History (Audio) here.

Take a look at some of their record covers here.

Posted in British History, Christmas 2019: The Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Special, News