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Time to return to firework diplomacy? By HW Smee

Blog | Oct 29, 2021

Photo by Jon Sullivan

With the relationship between the government and Tehran in need of a reset and with November 5 approaching, the Foreign Office might take a leaf from their predecessors’ play book.

In 1865, and after years of trying, Charles Brock, the 7th generational pyrotechnist to have run the family firework enterprise, finally managed to persuade the directors of the Crystal Palace that firework displays would bring large numbers of the right people through their turnstiles.

So impressed were they with Charles, that they gave him a contract and from then, almost uninterrupted until the Palace burnt down from an electrical fire in the mid 1930s, Brock’s carried out many displays every year in South London, entertaining tens of millions. From the late 1860s, Her Majesty’s Government began to engage with Brock’s new artforms, working their firework displays into its soft-diplomacy, at home and abroad.

Within the Great Game, and worried that the Russians would attempt an invasion of British India by way of the Caspian Sea and Persia, London made sure that the Shahs of Persia were enthusiastic and not infrequent visitors.

In June 1873, the Shah loved the fireworks so much that he postponed his departure from London, so that he could see another display.

He arrived on the second occasion on an ordinary ‘shilling day’, paying his money at the turnstile like everyone else so that he could mix with the crowds. He confided to the manager, when the latter caught up with him, that he had not spent a happier evening in all of Europe. When he was recognised, the crowd began to sing a popular song and the band quickly fell in toaccompany:

Have you seen the Shah?

Smoking his cigar?

Twenty wives and two black eyes,

Have you seen the Shah?

The Shah may not have understood the precise meaningbut he felt the crowd’s enthusiastic good feelings towards him and later, he and subsequently his son, would return for more.

Gunpowder & Glory (Casemate Publishers - https://www.casematepublishing...) shows his son in August 1902, leaning forward in the Royal Box to press an electric button and light a firework portrait of his host at the Crystal Palace, Queen Victoria’s son, Arthur, Duke of Connaught.

Time to invite the Supreme Leader? But with its current policies and hostage-blackmail, would the crowd still be so good natured?