With ‘normal’ news on hold at the moment, it’s to the past that we have to turn for ‘take your mind off the virus’ material. In that spirit, every weekend Spectator Life is bringing you doses of topical trivia – facts, figures and anecdotes inspired by the current week’s dates in history …
In 1877, Alexander Graham Bell installed the world’s first commercial telephone service, in Hamilton, Ontario. He only received his ‘Graham’ as an 11th birthday present, after complaining that his two brothers had middle names but he didn’t.
In 1975, Jaws was released. Steven Spielberg had been to an early test screening, standing nervously at the back to monitor the audience’s reaction. Not long into the film, a man in the front row stood up and walked out. ‘He must really hate it,’ thought Spielberg. The man opened the door to the foyer, threw up on the carpet, then returned to his seat. ‘That,’ said the director, ‘is when I knew we had a hit.’
Joseph Bamford (born 1916). The founder of JCB had the middle name Cyril – though a French businessman exasperated by Bamford’s perfectionism said the initials actually stood for ‘jamais content’.
Ray Davies (born 1944). The Kinks singer had to fly to London from America (where the band were on tour) just to re-record a solitary word in the lyrics to Lola. He changed ‘Coca Cola’ to ‘cherry cola’, as otherwise the BBC’s anti-advertising rules would have prevented them from playing the single. Davies then flew back to the US to continue the tour.
In 1907, Mornington Crescent Tube station was opened. When Humprey Lyttelton died in 2008, fans of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue paid tribute to him (and the show’s most famous game) by leaving flowers outside the station. The pub opposite has also been renamed The Lyttelton Arms.
Len Hutton (born 1916). Harold Pinter once wrote a poem about the cricketer. It runs (in its entirety): ‘I saw Len Hutton in his prime/Another time, another time.’ Pinter sent it to his friend and fellow playwright Simon Gray. Receiving no reply, Pinter rang a few days later to ask Gray what he thought. Gray said: ‘I haven’t finished it yet.’
Bannockburn Day in Scotland, celebrating Robert the Bruce’s victory over the English in 1314. The creators of Batman (a.k.a. Bruce Wayne) gave the superhero his first name in tribute to the Scottish leader. (The surname came from Mad Anthony Wayne, a US Army officer.)
Independence Day in Mozambique, honouring the country’s freedom from Portuguese control in 1975. The AK47 machine gun, which played a crucial role in securing that independence, now features on Mozambique’s flag.
Denis Thatcher (died 2003). His marriage to Britain’s first female Prime Minister was Thatcher’s second. The first was also to a woman called Margaret.