Magazine

Been and Gone: Blaxploitation to black boxes

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser reported - people of the past month.

Image caption Robert Sandall depicted rock music as a serious art form

Journalist and broadcaster, Robert Sandall, did more than most to depict rock music as a serious art form. An Oxford graduate, he cut his musical teeth playing guitar in a punk band, not very successfully as he was the first to admit. As rock critic of the Sunday Times, his erudite and shrewd reviews and interviews covered the full spectrum of popular music. He won the respect of many top rock musicians, some of whom would insist that Mr Sandall always got the first, and sometimes, only interview. He distanced himself from the excesses of the rock lifestyle, remaining a quiet and unassuming man whose greatest pleasure was reading poetry. He co-presented the eclectic music programme, Mixing It with Mark Russell on BBC Radio 3 and was also a contributor to Front Row on Radio 4. In later years he began to cover health issues, not least in his moving pieces on his own experience of the prostate cancer, which finally killed him.

Image caption The first F Word on BBC radio was on Women's Hour under Wyn Knowles' editorship

The first time the F word was heard on BBC radio was not on some niche programme tucked away in the small hours, but the venerable Woman's Hour, then under the editorship of Wyn Knowles. The expletive came during an interview with a sixth former, who was referring to the language used in the underground press. The incident earned Knowles a dressing down from her boss, although it did not damage her career. She joined the Woman's Hour team in 1959 and worked in various roles before being appointed editor in 1971. During her time on the programme feminism, the contraceptive pill and the legalisation of abortion transformed the outlook of many women. She was credited with making changes which appealed to a new generation of liberated women, yet managed to retain the more traditional elements of the audience.

Image caption Ivy Bean was proud of her friendship with pop star Peter Andre

One woman who enthusiastically embraced change was Ivy Bean who, at the age of 102, became one of the oldest people on Facebook. She quickly built up a fan base with a number of tribute pages being posted in her honour. Not content with that she moved on to open a Twitter account where she gained more than 50,000 followers, including Peter Andre and the former prime minister's wife, Sarah Brown. Born Ivy Asquith in Bradford in 1905, she worked in a mill at the age of 14, before spending most of her working life in service. Her first contact with the internet came in 2007 when she used a laptop at her old people's home. Appropriately, news of her death was tweeted to her many fans by care home staff.

Actress Vonetta McGee came to fame during the short lived "blaxploitation" era of film making in the 1970s. It was a term she disliked acutely, saying she had no problem with "black" because that was a source of pride, it was the exploitation which concerned her. Described as one of Hollywood's most beautiful performers, Ms McGee, a former law student, began her career in Italian films, before appearing in Melinda, Blacula and Hammer. She was later cast in the quickly forgotten Shaft in Africa and also starred alongside Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction. During the 1980s and 90s she appeared in a number of TV series, including LA Law and Cagney & Lacey. In the later part of her career she turned to the theatre, appearing in a number of repertory productions.

Image caption John Coates' full size replica of a Greek trireme was successfully rowed around the Aegean

Naval architect John Coates came to prominence in 1982 when he was asked to design a replica of a Greek trireme, the famous fighting ship powered by a triple bank of oars. The commission followed a long-running debate in the correspondence columns of The Times, as to whether such a ship could have been viable. The Trireme Trust was formed and Mr Coates set about designing a ship which would be true to the original and capable of being propelled on the ocean. After successfully testing a mock-up, Mr Coates and his team persuaded the Greek navy to pay for the construction of a full sized replica. The 22 tonne boat, named Olympias, was successfully rowed around the Aegean, propelled at up to eight knots by 170 oarsmen.

Image caption David Warren was the inventor of the black box

The so-called "black box" - a vital component of any air crash investigation - owes much of its success to the Australian engineer David Warren, whose father had been killed in an air crash in 1934. Early work on a device took place in France before the war, but Mr Warren is credited with the idea of not only recording cockpit instruments but also the voices of the crew. He also developed the use of recording media that could be erased and re-used, making it viable for commercial flights. Black boxes, actually red in colour to make them easy to find among crash debris, were first installed in commercial airlines in the mid 1950s. At his funeral in Melbourne his coffin displayed a large notice: "Flight Recorder Inventor, Do Not Open."

Among others who died in July were the wild man of snooker, Alex "Hurricane" Higgins; novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge; actress Gilly Coman, Aveline in the sitcom, Bread, and Hugh Cochran, Country & Western singer and writer who discovered Willie Nelson.