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Saturday, 16 November 2019

Celebrity wargamers: Would they help raise the hobby's public profile?

The BBC recently covered Rod Stewart's model railroad layout on its website (it is an American layout, hence it is a model railROAD rather than a model railWAY), and mentioned that he had made most of the layout's terrain himself. The most recent issue of RAILWAY MODELLER (Volume 70 No.830 December 2019) has a six-page article about Rod's model railroad.


In the 2020 issue of RAILWAY MODELLER EXTRA that was also published recently, there was an eight-page, photo-heavy article about Jools Holland's model railway ...


... and this set me thinking about whether or not media coverage about celebrities who are also wargamers might help to raise the hobby's profile with the general public.

We all know that H G Wells was a wargamer, as was Robert Louis Stevenson. We also know that the late Edward Woodward bought the terrain and figures used in the film CALLAN, and that Peter Cushing had a large collection of Britains figures that he wargamed with. I also understand that the BBC journalist and military historian Mark Urban was a wargamer in his youth, and may still retain more than a passing interest in the hobby.

Are there any other celebrities who are also wargamers? There are plenty of rumours that there are (the names of Peter Jackson and Mike Myers are often mentioned in this respect), but I don't remember reading about any ... and if they did mention their hobby in the media, would it actually help to raise the hobby's public profile?

I pose these questions rhetorically, but I'd me more than happy to read any comments that my regular blog readers have to make.

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Peco/Railway Modeller.

67 comments:

  1. The influence of these figures does indeed boost the model railway hobby. I have read about both these celebrity layouts and they are fantastic. I can’t add any names to your celebrity list of wargamers. I did wonder if the bbc new War of the Worlds adaptation might up the interest in H G Wells and Little Wars. I fear that many public figures if they game might be worried to be open about their hobby. We live in a world where schools are suspicious about children running around using bats as guns or making tanks from Lego. Model railways , whilst being viewed as nerdy, are probably deemed to be more acceptable. It is a good question you raise, l hope we get some answers.

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    Replies
    1. Tradgardmastare,

      I have sometimes wondered if H G Wells may well have gamed THE WAR OF THE WORLDS in his imagination before or whilst he was writing it.

      As to those who seem to think by not allowing children to play at war they will teach them that war is a bad thing (as a teacher, I long ago realised that what I was trying to teach was often not what my pupils actually learned!) ... well I've often quoted H G Wells' final chapter in LITTLE WARS to them. I suspect that most serious wargamers are well aware of how awful real war can be, and would strive to avoid it if it was at all possible.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. Jim Duncan,

      I seem to remember reading that during his wargames, Winston had all the regular troops (including artillery) whilst his brother had the native troops.

      There's nothing like using unbalanced armies to ensure a good wargame!

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
    2. I think it's fair to say CHurchill and his brother had a large amount of toy soldiers as children, but that they were not wargamers as we understand it today.

      Delete
    3. Phil Dutré,

      True, but it did lead to Churchill following a military career, and thence one in journalism and politics.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  3. Andy Partridge from Swindon (singer with band XTC) has designed figures for Irregular Miniatures - 42mm Deutsche Homage range.

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    Replies
    1. Most interesting but does he game with them?

      Delete
    2. That is a sentence I never thought I'd ever read.

      Delete
    3. Maudlin Jack Tar,

      I never knew that!

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
    4. Tradgardmastare,

      I'd like to think that he does.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
    5. Trebian,

      You make it sound like a round from MOCK THE WEEK!

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
    6. I'm guessing Andy Partridge DOES Wargame - perhaps I should check with Ian at Irregular??

      Delete
    7. Maudlin Jack Tar,

      It would be interesting to know if he is or isn't a wargamer.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
    8. Maudlin Jack Tar,

      Well, that is very interesting!

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  4. Peter Jackson collects Toy Soldiers - All the Queen's Men made a £25k layout for him showing the French Guard and Maitland's Brigade at Waterloo.

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    Replies
    1. Mike Lewis,

      I knew that Peter Jackson collected figures (but not this particular selection), and read that he planned out the battles featured in the LOTR film using wargame figures.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Peter Jackson is a wargamer and has commissioned custom figures from the Perry Twins. He also commissioned a big Anzac diorama http://anzacdiorama.blogspot.com/

      Delete
    3. Dave,

      I knew about the ANZAC diorama, but not about the custom figures from the Perrys.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  5. The late Robin Williams was a 40K player.

    The guys behind South Park are very much into tabletop skirmish games - an episode even shows the kids playing Blood and Plunder.

    I can't think of any celebrities who are into "proper" historical wargaming though (besides those already mentioned).

    Would it help raise the profile of the hobby if any were? Maybe, maybe not.

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    Replies
    1. TamsinP,

      Now that you mention it, I remember reading somewhere that the late Robin Williams was a tabletop gamer.

      I did not know about the creators of SOUTH PARK being skirmish gamers ... but it isn't a surprise that they are.

      I think that all the celebrity historical wargamers are either dead or keeping very quiet about it. Like you, I'm unsure if it would make a great difference to the hobby's profile ... but I'd be interested to find out if it did or didn't.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  6. Brian May turned up in white dwarf a few times in the very early 90s, I believe Robin Williams was a keen 40k player too.

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    Replies
    1. Sprinks,

      The story about Brian May is certainly something I'd not heard before.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  7. I read that Robin Williams enjoyed Warhammer 40K. I believe there is a photo online of him in a wargame shop.

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    1. Auston Jeff Butker,

      The late Robin Williams seems to have been the best-known celebrity tabletop wargamer of recent years.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  8. I think there is still a stigma around wargaming, so I doubt any 'celebs' would be open about their hobby. I remember an article from a few years ago about wargamers in Vienna, who asked to remain anonymous, due the perception that they might have neo-Nazi sympathies, be too militaristic etc.

    I'm quite open about my hobby at work and suffer flack for it at times, but by and large in a good natured way. Many colleagues have played GW games when young, but nothing historical, so struggle to understand my interest in historical gaming. I try to explain, but few actually 'get it'. Shame really.

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    1. Steve J.,

      The stigma about wargaming is a problem ... but if more people were open about the fact that they enjoy wargaming, it might gradually diminish.

      At the first Connections UK I went to, I was talking to a group of professional wargamers from the Luftwaffe, and was amazed when they all looked very puzzled when I mentioned von Reiswitz's Kriegsspiel. None of them had heard of him or his wargame! It would appear that it was tainted by its use by the Nazis, and had become - in Orwellian terms - a non-wargame in postwar Germany.

      I have always been open about my interest in wargaming and Freemasonry ... and the stigma attached to the latter is far greater than the former!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Well the stigma around video gaming has been waning for a while now, especially once the public began to accept video games aren't just for children anymore. Many celebrities have owned up to playing video games.
      But it's easier to understand and watch someone play a video game than it is a tabletop game IMO. Chess and Go are televised for major matches but most people "get" what's going on. I think tabletop games could be tougher to follow for the average person since they can appear to be slow and opaque. TTGs can find a bigger audience on YouTube because of their niche interest. Just give it time.
      Seeing Rod Stewart as a train modeller reminds me of the epsiode of Trailer Park Boys where Julian and Ricky (imagine Bevis & Butthead grown up and Canadian) meet Sebastian Bach of Skid Row and they find out he's into model trains. They hatch a plan to smuggle dope across the US/Canadian border with model trains.
      It ends as badly as you can imagine it would.

      Delete
    3. Mr. Pavone,

      I think that you may we’ll be right. Our type of tabletop games don’t lend themselves to being good spectator events other than to those who understand what is going on.

      This might change with time, but until then televised wargames are likely to remain a very niche form of entertainment.

      All the best,

      Bob

      PS. I like the idea that model trains could be used to smuggle drugs across a border. Having seen James May’s attempt to build a very long model railway, it’s bound to fail!

      Delete
    4. I haven't heard of May's attempts at a long model railroad but I do remember an episode of some BBC program where they build a massive (thousands of track sections) Scalextric track that followed the course of some old, abandoned English race track. They had to put car batteries and redundant throttle controls at close intervals to keep the cars going.
      They managed a full circuit but it was a long project.

      Delete
    5. Mr. Pavone,

      It was very similar, but involved following an old branch line that had been removed years ago. They had similar problems with power, and an added problem with vandalism and theft.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  9. Mark Urban does still wargame the American War of Independence and published a set of rules under a pen name for it.

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    Replies
    1. Dave,

      In his youth, Mark Urban helped to organise a massive 20mm-scale WW2/Modern battle that featured hundreds of figures etc., and which was fought on the floor of a church hall or similar large room.

      It's nice to read that he has maintained his interest in wargaming, and judging by his military history books, an interest in the AWI is not that surprising,

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  10. Michael Gove was a wargamer https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/michael-gove-you-ask-the-questions-768585.html

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    Replies
    1. JWH,

      Michael Gove is a wargamer? Now that is a surprise!

      That said, if this was public knowledge, would it help improve the hobby's public profile? I'm not so sure that it would.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Maybe the solution is a game between Michael Gove and Richard Barbrook (one of Jeremy Corbyn's advisors and the author of 'Class Wargames' https://www.classwargames.net/?tag=richard-barbrook)? I'm not sure what would be the most suitable period...a Revolutionary Wars clash perhaps? Or British versus the Red Army in 1919?

      Delete
    3. JWH,

      I've met Richard Barbrook several times at CONNECTIONS UK, and I'd put money on him beating Michael Gove in a wargame! The rules would certainly have to be asymmetric, with both sides using different turn sequences, movement rates, combat mechanisms, and morale rules.

      I understand that for some time Richard has been wargaming situations and scenarios for the Labour Party. I wonder if the Conservatives have been doing the same ... but some how I doubt it.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  11. I suspect that you'd get a lot more celebrities - particularly west coast Americans with genre TV and film performances - to admit to playing D&D. Definitely less stigma than historical games and what there is will mostly be of the "you're a nerd" kind which no longer carries much weight.

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    1. Mike Hall,

      Being a D&D player seems to be acceptable in most parts of the USA ... the exception being amongst those Anericans who are members of the more extreme religious groups. They see it as being tantamount to devil worship or worse!

      I am told that a board wargame was featured in an episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY, a TV programme that has gone some way to make being nerdy not only acceptable, but also fun.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I knew Andy Partridge was a wargamer and had wondered whether he was the same AP as had designed for Irregular. Pleased to have that confirmed.

      As for TBBT episode with a board wargame, that was Campaign for North Africa - the joke being of course that the game is more of less unplayable - especially so when all but one of the players are entirely uninterested, as was the case in the storyline. Not sure the episode will do much for wargaming but I'll admit to a frisson of excitement at recognising what was a very obscure reference in a mainstream show.

      A guest actor in the show is of course Wil Wheaton, ex of Star Trek TNG. He definitely plays boardgames (and is the originator of the eponymous law) and I'd be surprised if he'd not at least dabbled in some lighter board wargames and possibly some miniatures.

      Cheers
      Andrew

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    3. Rumblestrip (Andrew),

      I was once asked by one of my students if I would be a player in a massive Eastern Front board game. I gave up after two months of real time, by which point we were still trying to fight the first week of Operation Barbarossa!

      I had no idea that Wil Wheaton was a gamer, but as a STAR TREK fan, I am pleased to know that he is.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  12. Comment by Andy Callan:

    I tried and failed to post this on the celebrity wargamers thread on your blog, where you mentioned H G Wells and wargaming War of the Worlds.

    “Watch out for the next book in Helion’s paper soldiers series. It’s a reprint of Little Wars with Peter Dennis artwork for 54mm paper armies and a working model cannon! He also provides a Martian tripod model and the book includes rules (by me) for wargaming War of the Worlds in the style of Little Wars”.

    Cheers

    Andy Callan

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    Replies
    1. Bob,
      If you go to Peter Dennis's webpage at peterspaperboys.com he offers a splendid colour illustration showing HG Wells surrounded by people playing Little Wars for free download, which captures the spirit and charm of the game perfectly!

      In my opinion, those who have a genuine interest in military history and wargames were, and will be, attracted to the hobby without celebrity endorsement, just as the overwhelming majority of railway modellers chose to pursue their hobby without previously being aware of Rod Stewart's participation.

      Personally, I'd prefer wargaming to remain true to its relatively humble, amateur origins and not become tainted by the current fascination with so-called 'celebrities'.

      The hobby already has its own celebrities: Wells, Young, Featherstone, the Grants, Wise and Asquith.

      Best wishes,
      Arthur

      Delete
    2. Arthur1815 (Arthur),

      I've seen the picture that Peter Dennis has drawn ... and I'm sure that H G Wells would have used it if he was publishing his book today.

      I posed my rhetorical question to see what my regular blog readers thought about the impact a celebrity wargamer might have on the hobby's profile, and I've enjoyed reading the comments they have made. The general impression I have is that most feel ambivalent at best about it, and I tend to agree. I don't think that the hobby needs any form of celebrity endorsement to thrive ... but it would be nice to know if there are any out there.

      It's a pity that all but one of the names you quoted are now no longer with us. I wonder who the next generation of wargamers will regard as wargaming celebrities?

      All the best,

      Bob

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  13. I always find it slightly amusing that any hobby tries to gain some form of respectability by claiming that well-known person such-and-so also pursues that particular hobby.

    Especially for "intellectual" hobbies (meaning hobbies requiring reading and some study ..) aimed at adults (and I consider wargaming to be an intellectual hobby, as opposed to let's say hang out at the pub and play darts every Sunday), I would suspect this barely has any effect whatsoever.

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    1. Phil Dutré,

      I posed the question because of all the positive coverage the model railway hobby has had recently, thanks in no small part to the 'revelation' that Rod Stewart was a model railway enthusiast. (I didn't mention that the news was also featured in many national newspapers.)

      I'm not sure that a celebrity 'endorsement' of the hobby would improve its profile ... but I've found the responses very interesting.

      I agree that wargaming is at the intellectual end of the hobby spectrum, and my experience indicates that young wargamers (and I include those who take part in D&D and Warhammer) tend to be better read, more socially mature, and likely to be more academically successful than their contemporaries.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  14. I have heard of various American film celebrities who were either model soldier collectors or wargamers but since I do my best to ignore celebrities and their interests, I can't recall names with any certainty.

    Which brings me to the question of whether having a higher public profile would be a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not opposed to having other people enjoy "my" hobby, or having a wider source of supply of raw materials and pre-painted toys and terrain even if I can't indulge and aren't all that interested if I did. It sometimes seems to me that with the many good sides come various bad sides as well.

    But that's a long discussion I think.

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    1. Ross Mac,

      There are celebrities (people whose careers are celebrated because they have achieved something) and 'celebrities' (people who are famous for being famous ... and are usually actors in soap operas or participants in 'reality' TV shows). If the former were wargamers, it might help to raise the hobby's public profile, but anyone in the latter category would most likely have a negative effect.

      A higher profile might lead to greater numbers of hobby wargamers, which in turn might improve the viability of many of the smaller manufacturers and retailers. On the other hand, that's a lot of 'mights' and there's no guarantee that a higher profile would improve the hobby in any way whatsoever.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  15. I seem to remember that Charlton Heston had a 54mm(?) scale full Roman legion but I am not sure if he led them into action

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    1. Barry Carter,

      I wonder what happened to Charlton Heston's figures?

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  16. I don’t think celebrity alone helps, in the two cases shown above, both Stewart and Holland have FANTASTIC tables, so we need a celebrity who is a wargamer with a fantastic table, so that has doubled the hurdles to cross :-)

    I also wonder whether we worry more about what non-wargamers might think of this hobby, than is necessary these days. A new generation of young adults are very much into the world of the figure and gaming in general and things that are not digital are becoming cool! BUT, we are in a visual world and things do need to look good to get noticed, be appreciated or enjoyed by the population at large.

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    Replies
    1. Norm,

      You make some excellent points, and if I ever manage to win the National Lottery (and become famous), I'll make sure that I have an enormous wargame room that will look great in the media coverage!

      You may well be right about how much wargamers worry about their public image, and that interest in non-computer-based gaming grows, the hobby will become far more accepted by the public at large.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  17. Clearly this question has aroused a lot of interest! Among all these comment, I haven't seen anyone mention Deryck Guyler - apparently a founding member of the Society of Ancients, and for a time its president.

    I've not heard that Peter Jackson is a war gamer exactly, but rather a collector. In building a WW1 diarama for the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, Sir Peter commissioned 5000 figures which he invited war gamers around the country to help prepare and paint for the Gallipoli display.

    The only more or less public figure I can think of who war gamed in this country was the late Errol Brathwaite, the author of a novel trilogy about the New Zealand Land Wars (as they are called these days). The first of these was set about my home town Waitara (North Island) and the Battle of Puke-te-Kauere ('Piss Off, Mister' Hill? Kauere means 'Go Away').

    Incidentally, I visited a small local Museum earlier in the year close to the small town Hawera, some 50 miles from Waitara. There they had quite nice 'land Wars' diarama. Had I taken photos I would have written it up. Perhaps I should anyway!

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      After you mentioned his name, I recalled having seen Deryck Guyker talking about his collection of Ancient figures on the children's TV programme BLUE PETER. And you are right, he was a founder member and President of the SoA.

      The jury seems to be out with regard Peter Jackson being a wargamer. He certainly collects figures, but there is no evidence that he Wargames with them.

      I must admit to not ever hearing of Errol Braithwaite before, but now that I have, I'll try to find out more about him.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  18. I've seen Peter Jackson's miniatures (and "maxiatures" - larger than life-sized figures)) in the Te Papa museum.

    I had heard about Robin Williams and WH40K. I think his friend and fellow comedian, Billy Crystal, might have played, too. Vin Diesel played D&D, and so did Stephen Colbert (there's a youtube video of him playing it for "Red-Nose Day", with Matt Mercer (youtubeer and voice actor) as the DM). I don't know of any other celebrities who play wargames, whether historical, fantasy or sci-fi.

    I don't recall any wargaming going on in any US tv shows or movies (ala those Callan episodes). There was an episode of Columbo, in which a US Civil War diorama of Gettysburg was featured. And there was the Samurai diorama Michael Lonsdale's character was working on in the movie, Ronin.

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    1. Fitz-Badger,

      That’s an interestingly diverse group of celebrity gamers!

      I remember the episode of COLUMBO that featured Gettysburg diorama, but RONIN seems to have passed me by.

      I seem to remember a Bond villain who had a room full of battle dioramas that were destroyed during the final action scene of the film.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  19. As for the question of whether it would help if it were more widely known that some celebrities played wargames - it might bring more visibility to people outside the hobby. Might bring a little respectability?

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    1. Fitz-Badger,

      A higher positive public profile would be nice for the hobby, but I’m not so sure that it would make wargamers more respectable. I know plenty that already are (yourself included) ... but also a few that could never be so described! ;^)

      All the best,

      Bob

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  20. In days gone by when I was an active committee member in my club we had a membership book which every member had to sign on each club visit and also included visitors. I still have that book somewhere.

    One entry, from the 70's, is for a certain 'Derek Dick' who 99.99% will not know of. He is better known as 'Fish' from a rock band called 'Marillion'.

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    1. Jim Duncan,

      That’s an interesting choice of name to use. (I assume that it was a nom de plume; if it’s his real name, it shows my total lack of knowledge of the members of Marillion!)

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  21. George R R Martin, the Game of Thrones author is a long time collector of medieval figures which he exhibits in dioramas on his website, not sure if he wargames though (he must have surely?)
    Also Simon Scarrow who wrote the Centurion novels described in an article for Wargames Illustrated how he drew inspiration as a writer from having played wargames.

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    1. Brian Carrick,

      I would not be at all surprised if George R R Martin was a wargamer.

      I had not read the article about Simon Scarrow drawing inspiration from a wargame he took part in, but it doesn’t surprise me. I know of at least one other successful write about the Roman Empire that is also a wargamer and a member of Wargame Developments.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  22. Very interesting post. I think it may go to show that we are even less cool than railway modellers, and will probably remain so.. However, only today in the news there have been reports about the auction of a tiny manuscript book by Charlotte Bronte, written for her toy soldiers - were the Brontes the first celebrity wargamers? And the inventors of 'Imagi-nations'..
    Finally I remember at about 11 or 12 years old, a group of us junior wargamers did a 'show and tell' at a school assembly about our new-found hobby. One of my fellows had to read the script with a part about celebrity gamers, and cheerfully told the audience about 'The famous Arthur H.G. Wells'... I never quite forgot that :)

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    1. David in Suffolk,

      The Brontes may not have fought battles with their figures, but they certainly wrote about wars between their imagi-nations that featured them.

      I love the school story ... and can imagine it happening! During my time as a teacher, I heard plenty of inadvertent gaffs taking place at school assemblies ... and not all of them were down to the children.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  23. I'm sure I read some years ago that the Tory politician William Hague used to have a napoleonic Waterloo collection.
    Guy

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    1. Lindsay,

      For some reason that I cannot fathom, it would not surprise me if he did.

      All the best,

      Bob

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