A “Tales of History and Imagination are all around us” moment: a spy, a physicist and a pop star.

Hi folks, …. any time I start with “Tales of History and Imagination are all around us” I’ll be dropping some random snippet of something that has jumped into my head that day [Edit: I dropped this plan soon after. Simone]. The ‘tales of…are all around us’ are just random, off the cuff things that pop up in everyday life, when everyday stuff meets historical insight. As such they won’t have photoshopped [or cartooned] pictures. More official tales are coming.

My random “all around us” piece today. For context I’m at the hair salon, catching up with the gossip in the women’s magazines. I have the magazine open to a page featuring Aussie icon Olivia Newton John quoting Mark Twain
“reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.
The story of course that the cancer that has plagued her was back, giving her just two weeks to live. Someone said it on social media, so it must be true right?.

“It is terrible someone would tell such an awful lie about her” the lady painting my grey hairs out of existence said. I agreed. I did stop short of sharing why I find her story interesting however. Spoiler, it has nothing to do with Xanadu, Grease, or the deadbeat ex Patrick McDermott who faked his own death – apparently- to run away from a massive debt… well OK, he is an interesting tale too. What fascinated me about Ms Newton John is tales of her father, and grandfather.

Olivia Newton John’s grandfather was Max Born (1882- 1970), a Jewish- German physicist and mathematician. Vitally important to the development of quantum mechanics, he was nominated numerous times for a Nobel prize in physics – finally winning one in 1954. While at the university of Gottingen, the university became one of the main hubs of physics in the world. His list of notable students is a long one including Enrico Fermi, Max Delbruck, Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. He served in the German army during the First World War. He was peers with Werner Heisenberg.

In 1933, when the Nazi party came to power, Born and other Jewish academics were suspended from Gottingen. Seeing the writing on the wall early on, Born packed up his life, and his family moved to the UK.

Not long after moving to Britain his daughter, Irene, met and fell in love with a Welsh academic, with a background in German literature – Brinley (Brin) Newton John (1914-1992). When World War Two broke out, Brin enrolled in the RAF. Due to his language skills, hwever, he would become an intelligence officer, interrogating captured German pilots – then later a code breaker at Bletchley park. One night in May 1941 he was sent out to Scotland on a secret missing to bring in a recently captured German pilot. The pilot, who deserves his own Tale of History and Imagination, had flown to Scotland to demand an audience with the Duke of Hamilton, and Prime minister Winston Churchill. His mission, unbeknownst to Hitler, was to petition a peace treaty with Britain. The captive was none other than Deputy Fuhrer of Germany Rudolph Hess. Hess would never meet Churchill, and would die a very old man in Spandau prison, but he did get to meet the dad of a bona fide pop star.

Originally published after an appointment at the hair salon, January 27th 2019 by Simone T. Whitlow. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow

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