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Before Taboo: the real-life Delaney, and the true story of the war he nearly caused

Tom Hardy as James Delaney in Taboo Credit: BBC

It’s tempting to raise a sceptical eyebrow at Taboo. In recent weeks, BBC One’s murky historical drama has strayed into some credulity-testing territory, with voodoo sex magic, psychic communication and even – according to some viewers – a werewolf.

Given this, it comes as a shock to learn that the show’s most important character is lifted almost directly from the history books. Not James Delaney (the hulking antihero played by Tom Hardy) but his father, Horace Delaney.

Despite being dead before Taboo begins, Horace nonetheless sets the show’s whole plot in motion. He was the ruthless British merchant who hated – and was hated by – the globe-spanning East India Company.

Breaking the Company’s monopoly on British trade in the area, he sailed to North America, where he swapped a handful of trinkets for a scrap of land on Nootka Island, and thus for the strategically important trading rights...

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