Scenes from a troubled year. A new book describes how Just William was created in 1922 and how the BBC first issued a bulletin.

  • A new book describes how the turbulent year 1922 in the UK was felt around the globe
  • Shows us how much has changed socially while much remains the same
  • In 1922, the BBC was founded and Just William published its first novel. 


1922: Images From A Turbulent Years 

by Nick Rennison (Oldcastle £12.99, 224pp)

The one thing that didn’t happen in 1922, according to Nick Rennison’s fascinating and highly readable snapshot of that event-packed year, was the founding of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs. This was in fact a concept that was only considered in 1922 and then established in 1923.

So we can now count it among Britain’s other famous misnomers, such as the Duke of Devonshire (who resides in Derbyshire) and New College (which is very old).

Rennison creates a wonderful picture of the past century, which is what we will see in this moment. Rennison highlights the most important events around the globe, including terrifying U.S. lynchings and airships that crash to the ground. He also mentions Charlie Chaplin’s short film, which he directed as a gift for the Mountbattens.

This book shows us both how much the world has changed since then — ‘Those who do not play bridge are seldom asked out,’ wrote Emily Post in her imperious 1922 book of etiquette — and how little it has changed: 1922 had natural disasters, unsolved murders, county cricket matches and an FA Cup final, just as this year has and 2022 will. Huddersfield defeated Preston North End by 1-0 in the FA Cup final, played at Stamford Bridge.

Just William: Actor Oliver Rokison

Oliver Rokison: Just William

Rennison demonstrates how we can see that the old world is battling against the new. In literary terms, this was encapsulated by the publication of both The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot’s free-verse poem of utter post-World-War-I bleakness, and a collection of Thomas Hardy’s gently rhyming poems exuding Victorian and Edwardian melancholy.

Other cultural highlights of the year included: the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses (‘The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples’, according to the ever-waspish Virginia Woolf); the first Enid Blyton book of verse called Child Whispers; and the first Just William novel; the creation of the BBC (its first news bulletin contained items on fog, billiards and a train robbery); and, not to be forgotten, the founding of a small production company in Kansas City, Missouri, by a young animator called Walt Disney. It was called Laugh-oGram movies, because he didn’t have enough money to pay for it.

In the world of politics you can already feel the beginnings of fascism and nazism. Mussolini was elected prime minister in Italy. His Blackshirts then poured into Rome.

A Nazi party official said, with foresight, that ‘Germany’s Mussolini is called Adolf Hitler.’ Meanwhile in Russia, the ailing Lenin warned his Bolshevik colleagues of the dangers he foresaw in the rise of the uncouth Joseph Stalin.

It’s the juxtaposing of those kinds of political events with quirky, unexpected items, such as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner being sent two poisoned Walnut Whips in the post by a lone schizophrenic, that make this book the opposite of soporific.

You never know what’s coming next. He was fortunate to have only eaten one Walnut Whip of each, which means he wasn’t poisoned. I didn’t even know that Walnut Whips existed in 1922, but they did — invented in 1910.

On November 4, in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, one of the archaeologist Howard Carter’s workmen stumbled on a large stone which proved to be the top of a flight of steps leading downwards.

Carter sent a coded telegram to his boss the Earl of Carnarvon in England: ‘At last have made wonderful discovery in valley stop a magnificent tomb with seals intact stop recovered same for your arrival.’

Carter recalls the moment Carnarvon arrived at Egypt’s sealed entrance three weeks later.

What will be the 2022 equivalent?

It’s possible that archaeologists will find more treasures from Rome under the HS2 route. But it’s not quite the same as finding the tomb of Tutankhamun.