Thursday 10 October 2024

Date: October 10, 2024
Location: ❑ John Withington: A History of fireworks

Just ahead of November 5th, we’re delighted to welcome back John Withington to CEDu3a. Every year, about 20 million people go to a Bonfire Night firework display. Across the world, it’s a similar story with folk turning out in droves for July 4, Bastille Day, other national days or New Year. John Withington will tell the story of fireworks from their mysterious origins as a by-product of the search for eternal life to the pyrotechnic spectaculars of today. Fireworks appeared in Europe in the 14th century, enlivening state occasions such as coronations, and royal families competed for star pyrotechnists with big money. In England, Elizabeth I loved them. Later London’s racy pleasure gardens used them to pull in punters. They would conquer the British Empire, being carried through jungles on the heads of porters to reach its most remote corners, while fads like ‘living fireworks’ emerged, and the Alexandra Palace competed to put on the capital’s best displays. Today’s computer revolution has brought breathtaking shows televised across the globe with ever more audacious effects, like the Beijing Olympics’ ‘footprints in the sky’. Practitioners consider fireworks an art, but they have also inspired artists – through Shakespeare, Handel, and Whistler to Katy Perry, as well becoming part of the movies’ staple diet. And fireworks are not just for fun. They have been deployed on battlefields for centuries, while in peacetime, they have been used to rescue wrecked mariners, deliver mail, or even prevent hail storms. But they can also be dangerous, and John will cover accidents and attempts to regulate them, as well as the problems of pollution and their effect on animals

John Withington has written 11 books, mainly on the history of disasters. He was an award-winning television reporter and producer. Copies of his latest book, A History of Fireworks, will be available for sale at the talk

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