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Frank Skinner retraces the steps of Dr Johnson

Times Echo and Life / All News / Frank Skinner retraces the steps of Dr Johnson
1 year, 9 months agoNo Comments.
13 OCT

Frank Skinner retraces the steps of Dr Johnson

By timesecholife on in All News, Uttoxeter news

‘Life-long fan’ of Samuel Johnson, TV comedian Frank Skinner, has recreated an exploration of Scotland undertaken by Dr Johnson with the famed lawyer and his young friend James Boswell, in 1773.

Frank has teamed up with Scottish crime novelist, Denise Mina, for a three-episode programme new to Sky Arts. Famous as the writer of the first comprehensive English dictionary, Dr Samuel Johnson is remembered in Uttoxeter every year, where his famous ‘Act of Penance’ is still observed. Before taking to the stage as a stand-up comic in the late 1980s, Frank Skinner (real name Christopher Collins) studied English at Birmginham Polytechnic, graduating in 1981 and then going on to do a Masters degree at the University of Warwick. While studying at university, Frank completed two dissertations on the work of Dr Samuel Johnson, who was born in Lichfield in 1709.

Later in his life, after nine years of work, Dr Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755 – the first comprehensive dictionary and cited as ‘one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship.’

Dr Johnson travelled to Scotland with his younger friend, James Boswell, which Boswell included in a biography of Johnson and which Johnson described in his work A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland.

In the show, Frank said: “I’ve loved Johnson since I was a student in the late 70s. I wrote two dissertations on his work and one of my proudest achievements was becoming President of the Samuel Johnson Society in 2010.

“On his commemorative plaque he’s remembered as a critic, essayist, philologist, biographer, wit, poet, moralist, dramatist, political writer and talker. It’s not a bad old CV and things that Johnson said and wrote we still hear today – ‘when a man is tired of London he is tired of life’. And they are all very apt nowadays ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’ and what about his views on second marriage? ‘The triumph of hope over experience.’ He would’ve been brilliant on Twitter.”

Dr Johnson is an importance historical figure in Uttoxeter, where his father ran a bookstall in Market Place. Each year, a short ceremony commemorating his birth also remembers his penance and the remembrance still took place this year, although with social distancing measures in place.

Uttoxeter Town Mayor, Cllr Sue McGarry said: “Samuel Johnson’s father had a book stall in Uttoxeter as well as at Lichfield market. As a young man, one day Samuel Johnson refused to work on the stall for his father. Years later, when in his sixties, ashamed of his disobedient behaviour, Samuel returned to Uttoxeter and stood alone in the Market Square in the rain, bare headed, for a number of hours. This is why we remember ‘Johnson’s Penance’ here in Uttoxeter. As Mayor I also incorporated the Laurel Chaplet upon the Dr Johnson Memorial located in the Market Place.”

He was also a staunch abolitionist and left all his property and money (around £1,500) to his servant, Jamaican-born Francis Barber. Scottish author and playwright, Denise Mina accompanies Frank on the journey around Scotland, as Edinburgh-born lawyer and biographer, accompanied Samuel Johnson on the journey. The third and final episode of Boswell and Johnson’s Scottish Road Trip is on Sky Arts on Tuesday, October 20 at 9pm. The two previous episodes are available on catch-up.

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