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Fang Rock Facts

By Felicity Scoones

Returning in haste from a casino in Deauville, France Lord Palmerdale's yacht crashes on Fang Rock. Palmerdale's gambling opponent Colonel Skinsale is with him. In lieu of his debts Skinsale has given Palmerdale confidential information on the government's financial plans. Palmerdale is desperate to reach the London stockmarket before it opens and take advantage of the information, hence his speedy and reckless return. However if the source of the information is revealed Skinsale's reputation will be ruined. The motivations of these two characters result in the radio isolation of the Fang Rock Lighthouse.

Palmerdale: We'd popped across the channel in a yacht. We all had a little flutter in the casino.

Until 1960 there were no casinos in England, so this is why Palmerdale and Skinsale went to France in the first place. 'Gaming houses' had been outlawed since the time of Henry VIII. There is however a casino at Deauville les Bains. This is the casino Palmerdale and Skinsale would have been gambling in. The first French casino - at Monte Carlo - opened in 1879, so the casino at Deauville les Bains must have opened some time after that and before the date at which the story is set.

Reuben: Pity we're not still using oil. Everyone knows an oil-lamp gives better light in a fog.

The lighthouse on Fang Rock is powered by electricity. The first instance of a lighthouse being powered this way was in 1858 but it is obvious from the lighthouse keepers' references to oil as a fuel that the Fang Rock lighthouse was converted much more recently. At the time of the story the electricity in the lighthouse would be derived from a coal-powered steam driven generator. Prior to this, in the era Reuben preferred, mineral, vegetable or fish oil would have been burned to light the lamp directly as these are smokeless oils which did not blacken the glass.

The Doctor: Very interesting this, Leela. A fine example of an early Marconi wireless telegraph.

This was a two way transmitter, smashed by Skinsale to prevent Palmerdale from sending his stockmarket message. Only 'on/off' signals could be sent, hence all communication with this device is in Morse code. As a consequence it is very easy for Palmerdale to write a coded message for Vince to send. Vince could also have sent it unobtrusively as sending Morse signals would be nothing out of the ordinary while repeating a verbal coded message would have gained the attention of Skinsale.

When the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company came into being in 1897 the British Government had the monopoly on all commercial message handling with their telegraph system. The exception were communications with ships and islands since the telegraph relied on cables. As it was then more difficult to lay cables through the sea than above land it is unsurprising that lighthouses, along with ships adopted the Marconi wireless telegraph around the turn of the century, even though it was not common elsewhere.

Vince: Oh, it's King Edward himself, is it? Well, your majesty, be kind enough to tell the principal keeper as there's a fog coming up like nobody's business.

This topical comment clearly sets Horror of Fang Rock in the reign of King Edward VII. Thus the story takes place sometime between 1901 and 1910.

This item appeared in TSV 30 (September 1992).

Index nodes: Horror of Fang Rock