Today is the birthday of JM Barrie (May 9, 1860 – June 19, 1937). He is remembered for Peter Pan, but he also invented celebrity cricket, as the BBC once put it.
There is a connection between Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes, Wooster and Jeeves and Lord Emsworth. Their authors once all played cricket together.
Sir James Barrie gathered the famous authors of his day to play on his amateur team, the Allahakbarries. The players included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, AA Milne, PG Wodehouse, EW Hornung, EV Lucas and Jerome K Jerome. They called themselves Allahakbarries in the mistaken belief that “Allah akbar” meant “Heaven help us” in Arabic (rather than “God is great”). The team played cricket together from the 1890s till 1913, before the First World War.
The Writer’s Almanac has some interesting anecdotes about Barrie. It says:
Once Barrie went to a dinner party with the poet and scholar AE Housman, whom he had wanted to meet for a long time, but he was so shy that he couldn’t talk to him. He wrote him a letter afterward that said: “Dear Professor Houseman, I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man. Sincerely yours, J.M. Barrie.” Housman wrote back: “Dear Sir James Barrie, I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man. Sincerely yours, A.E. Housman. P.S. And now you’ve made it worse for you have spelt my name wrong.”
The Writer’s Almanac adds:
In 1929, Britain’s most famous children’s hospital, the Great Ormond Street Hospital, asked Barrie to give a series of lectures. But he was too shy to speak in public. Instead, he offered to donate all the royalties from Peter Pan to the hospital.
So that’s why the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony included this sequence showing flying nannies and kids dancing on beds in a scene that looked like a cross between Mary Poppins and Peter Pan. It was a tribute to children’s literature and the National Health Service.
The hospital still gets royalties from anything to do with Peter Pan in Britain, says The Writer’s Almanac.