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 …
Ambrose Burnside (born 1824). The American Civil War general gave his name to sideburns. He wore them himself – they were originally known as burnsides.
Queen Victoria (born 1819). Towards the end of her life, Victoria’s bust measurement was greater than her height. (66 inches plays 59.)
Eric Cantona (born 1966). When Manchester United played Leeds United during the Frenchman’s nine-month ban for assaulting a supporter, the Leeds fans chanted ‘où est Cantona, say où est Cantona?’
In 1961, President Kennedy announced to Congress that America intended to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. On July 20 1969, when the feat was achieved, someone left a note on JFK’s grave reading: ‘Mr President, the Eagle has landed.’
In 2011, the last edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast. The presenter’s name is actually Orpah, after the Biblical figure, but everyone mispronounced and misspelled it during her childhood. Her production company is called Harpo – ‘Oprah’ backwards.
In 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The name came to Paul McCartney on a flight back from a holiday with the band’s roadie Mal Evans. As they were eating, Evans asked McCartney to pass him the salt and pepper. McCartney misheard this as ‘Sergeant Pepper’.
Vincent Price (born 1911). For his ‘rap’ at the end of Michael Jackson’s song Thriller, the actor was offered a choice of royalties or a one-off fee of $20,000. He foolishly chose the latter.
William Pitt the Younger (born 1759). The politician was so thin that he was known as the Bottomless Pitt.
Ian Fleming (born 1908). Fleming wrote the Bond novels at his Jamaican villa Goldeneye. It was while staying at the villa, sitting at the author’s desk (many years after Fleming’s death), that Sting wrote Every Breath You Take.
In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The man after whom the mountain is named, the surveyor Sir George Everest, actually pronounced his own surname ‘Eev-erest’.