Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
As a self-confessed and uncurable cultural historian, I think I’m used to making the most of sources and snippets that many other historians would find just plain daft. In the past few months I’ve analysed a coroner’s report against a melodramatic radio play; I’ve teased out the historical significance of Jingle Jinks, the Talking Monkey (it’s all about interwar cultures of domesticity and childhood); and I’ve written a 12,000 word essay about a vamp’s newspaper ‘confessions’ that turned out to be almost entirely faked. I’ve taken romantic fiction and adventure films as seriously as social surveys and census records (however much as my colleagues here might bitch about them to students as somehow ‘not serious’). ‘No source left behind’ has been my motto throughout my career: that approach has served me well, kept me interested and—I hope—allowed me to find ways of thinking differently about modern British society and culture.
But this one, I have to admit, has me a bit stumped: what am I supposed to do with something as random as ‘Pets of Royal Personages’, published by the famous—and later notorious—biographer Evelyn Graham, in Ward Lock’s prestigious Windsor Magazine in May 1929? There must be something significant in the King’s Parrot, but for the life of me I can’t see it.