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 …
Dorothy L. Sayers (born 1893). The author gave her detective Lord Peter Wimsey the fictional address of 110a Piccadilly as a tribute to Sherlock Holmes – the number is half of his 221b Baker Street.
In 1777 the United States adopted the Stars and Stripes as its flag. A new star is added for each new state (there are currently 50), though there have always been 13 stripes, representing the original colonies that declared independence from Britain.
G.K. Chesterton (died 1936). He once remarked to fellow writer George Bernard Shaw: ‘To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England.’ Shaw replied: ‘And to look at you, anyone would think you had caused it.’
In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge used twelve cameras triggered by wires to take photographs of a passing horse. When viewed sequentially, the images settled the debate over whether all four of the animal’s hooves are ever off the ground at the same time. They are, but when tucked underneath the body, rather than when extended front and rear, as traditionally shown in paintings.
Peter Norman (born 1942). The Australian sprinter won silver in the 200 metres at the 1968 Olympics, and so stood on the podium with black American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith as they gave their ‘black power’ salute. The pair had Norman to thank for the one-fisted gesture. They’d originally planned to raise both fists clad in black gloves, but Carlos forgot to bring his. Norman had the idea that they could each wear one of Smith’s.
Jürgen Klopp (born 1967). His middle name is Norbert.
In 1579 Sir Francis Drake laid claim to California (though he called it Nova Albion). The hotel on the cover of the Eagles’ album Hotel California is actually the Beverley Hills Hotel. Lawyers for the establishment threatened to sue, until – as the band’s art director John Kosh says – ‘it was gently pointed out by my attorney that the hotel’s requests for bookings had tripled since the release of the album’.
Paul McCartney (born 1942). The famous Hofner bass guitar he played at the Beatles’ last ever full-length gig (San Francisco, 1966) still has the set list taped to its back. A visitor to his house in Sussex was allowed to handle it. ‘Don’t drop that,’ said McCartney. ‘It’s insured for two million.’
Salman Rushdie (born 1947). When the fatwa against him was issued, the novelist spent his first night in hiding at the Lygon Arms hotel in Broadway, Worcestershire. It so happened that the next room along was occupied by a journalist who was having an affair, unaware that the biggest scoop in the world was the other side of the wall.