About the Almanac

Sir Henry Q. Drummond

Sir Henry Q. Drummond

The Almanac began to take shape around 1907 as a loose bundle of field notes and newspaper clippings in the collection of Sir Henry Drummond – renowned publisher, explorer, naturalist, Egyptologist, Yorkshirologist, photographer, inventor and amateur dictator. Drummond had held a fascination with the unusual and the unknown since childhood. At the age of seven, he claimed to have been the first to discover the source of the Manchester Ship Canal (a finding disputed by the Manchester Ship Canal Committee, who built it). At fourteen he made headlines when he successfully trapped and shot the Easter Bunny, a six-foot white rabbit he discovered secreting chocolate in his bedroom in the small hours, and had it stuffed and donated to the British Museum – an achievement that would surely have made his father proud, had he not sadly disappeared around the same time.

Drummond’s exploits became yet more celebrated as the years went on, and a close friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have inspired the character of Professor Challenger in The Lost World. His love of travel and learning prompted him to form Dancing Henry Publications, publishers of such diverse pieces as The Dancing Henry Guide to the Skies (in which Orion’s belt is described as “rather crooked, unlikely to meet the dress code of any formal occasion” and the sun “large, round, hot, and altogether a good egg”) and self-help manuals such as What the blazes is your problem? and Just get on with it, you damn fool. As Drummond’s research took him further and wider he began to note down some of the more unusual people and places he encountered.

It wasn’t until 1911 that Drummond was able to collate these notes when a trip to Africa resulted in his contracting a mixture of malaria, bubonic plague, scurvy and the previously unknown diseases crocodile-flu and sloth-pox. Drummond decided that this 3 week recuperation period was the perfect opportunity to start chronicling his experiences in the form of what he called “The Good Book”. When editors persuaded him that this title might prove problematic for a religious readership (despite his insistence that it would indeed be a very good book) he opted instead to collect the stories in the form of an almanac, to be titled “The Dancing Henry Almanac”, which could be used as a textbook in schools.

The Almanac caused a storm on initial publication, with many in the scientific community disputing its accuracy and questioning how Drummond could have amassed such a large amount of unknown knowledge, much of which appeared to take place in the future. Drummond was understandably circumspect about his sources, advising them to “build their own damn time machine”.

Drummond was a strong advocate of regular exercise for both the mind and body, and early editions of The Almanac came with a serving suggestion of “one piece of white bread, lightly toasted and spread with jellied tongues and cured stoat, half an hour on The Times crossword, and a brisk 30 mile jog followed by a stiff whisky”. This editorial was of course altered for school editions, with the 30 miles becoming a more manageable 25.

As the Almanac became an institution and the number of volumes published with each edition started to stretch into triple figures, Drummond came under pressure from the public to produce a condensed version. In 1927 he released The Pocket Almanac, a small pamphlet containing three articles which Drummond considered indispensable: a report on the migratory patterns of Scotch eggs, a thesis on the likelihood of moths surviving on Mars, and a 700 word biography of Drummond’s gardener. Out of print for decades, it is now considered a classic.

On the Air

The Dancing Henry Radio Hour

Sir Drummond presenting the Dancing Henry Radio Hour in 1942

The Almanac continued to grow in popularity and was serialised in several evening newspapers. In 1938 Drummond was asked by the BBC to present a “Dancing Henry Hour” on the World Service, utilising his deep baritone voice to full effect. At first the show was not popular, with many listeners complaining that nothing but static could be heard over the airwaves. However, with the advent of improved sound technology after WWII meaning that radios were sold with built-in subwoofers, many of these listeners found that they were able to hear Drummond’s gruff narration for the first time. The show became a global hit, even despite Drummond’s chronic restlessness in his studio surroundings; listeners were forced to wait during the opening minute of the show until he was finally “sitting comfortably”. The BBC relaxed their product placement policy for the show, and allowed Drummond to promote some of his health products, including an energy drink made from pig juice and pineapple milk, and his famous ever-lasting asbestos cigarettes.

As the years rolled by and technology moved on, Drummond expanded into other forms of media. Head of a small production unit on Hollywood’s “Poverty Row” he released a steady stream of B-movies based on people and places in the Almanac. In order to compete with big budget releases, Drummond took his films on roadshow tours through small towns across the United States, and used sensational marketing gimmicks to pull in an audience. The company folded after an accident involving the film He Who Shoots Last (1957) in which posters advertised that an on-screen character would actually fire a bullet into the audience in a climactic scene. Drummond placed a paid stooge in the audience to fake a gunshot wound at the appropriate moment, and appeared to have taken every precaution when he instructed the rifleman behind the screen to fire “over the heads of the audience” in time with the action. Unfortunately the family of the projectionist did not see it this way, and the ensuing lawsuit shut down Sir Drummond’s cinematic ambitions forever.

Undeterred, Drummond went on to host a short-lived anthology series, Tales of the Almanac, in which the strangest stories from the Almanac were presented with introductions by Drummond himself, assuring the viewers that what they were about to see was in fact real. These introductions were occasionally too vigorous, with Drummond appearing angry at the perceived incredulousness of the viewing audience and on several occasions barking “Well of course it’s true you damned fool, what do you take me for?”. The show suffered as a result, with many of the stories truncated to the point of incomprehension to accommodate the lengthy introduction.

The Drummond Legacy

Civilian Harry (Orno Walberg, 1943)

Civilian Harry (Orno Walberg, 1943)

An even darker chapter in the Sir Henry Q. Drummond story was the release of maverick Hollywood director Orno Walberg’s critically acclaimed movie masterpiece Civilian Harry, a bitingly satirical pseudo-biography film about a power hungry media mogul which many feel is based on Drummond himself. Walberg denies these rumours, despite the fact that the film’s title character, a famed explorer and publisher of almanacs named Harry Dumbrond, does bear a remarkable similarity to Drummond himself. He does, however, admit that one of the film’s running jokes – a series of increasingly foul-mouthed disparaging remarks about an unseen character named “Sir Henry Drummond” – is in fact a direct reference.

Sir Drummond died tragically young in 1977 after a sudden attack of abnormally high cholesterol. In the following years it was discovered that he held over 400 boxes of unpublished material on his estate. These are still being combed through today to provide material for new editions of the almanac, with notable finds including a collection of over 2,000 3mm brass ball bearings purchased in different global cities, and seven boxes of unused plastic takeaway cutlery. In his will, Sir Drummond requested that the Drummond foundation be established to continue supporting “the twin causes of education, exploration and arithmetic”.

The Almanac has faced some rocky periods since the death of its founder. A nervous board of directors attempted to modernise the format in the 1980s, and failed experiments included a Betamax edition which enabled users to navigate between topics by rewinding or fast forwarding by the suggested amount, and an ill-judged youth-oriented version titled The ‘Mac. Since then the Almanac has adapted more successfully to the changing times, and has defied repeated accusations of unscientific reporting and a lack of credible sources to find its rightful home on the internet.

Interestingly, it was not until some years ago that it was discovered that Sir Henry Drummond had never actually been knighted, but was in fact held in such high esteem by the public that no one had ever thought to question the self-assumed title. Despite this, Sir Drummond’s legacy remains strong and The Dancing Henry Almanac continues to thrive today in the form of hardback books, websites, computer games and peanut butter sandwiches. God rest Sir Henry Drummond’s soul, and god bless The Almanac.

Sir Henry Drummond: 1891 – 1977.