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 1982 the General Belgrano was sunk by British forces during the Falklands War. It wasn’t the first time the cruiser had been fired at – originally part of the United States Navy (as the USS Phoneix), she was one of the vessels attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941. The US sold her to Argentina in 1951.
In 2011 Osama bin Laden was killed. The officer in charge of the mission knew that bin Laden was about 6’4”, so his initial method of confirming bin Laden’s identity was to ask a nearby SEAL ‘how tall are you?’ and, on receiving the answer ‘six foot two’, order the SEAL to lie down next to the body. Learning about this, Barack Obama said: ‘Let me get this straight – you had $60 million for a helicopter, but you didn’t have $10 for a tape measure?’
Dodie Smith (born 1896). The author got the idea for The Hundred and One Dalmatians when a friend saw Smith’s own collection of the breed (which at one point numbered nine) and said: ‘Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat.’
Fred Baur (died 2008). Baur was the inventor of the Pringles tube. He had his ashes buried in a Pringles tube.
In 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, piloting his Freedom 7 craft to an altitude of 101 miles. Asked what he’d thought about as he waited to lift-off, Shepard replied: ‘The fact that every part of this ship was built by the lowest bidder.’
In 1910, George V became king. A keen stamp-collector, he once paid £1,450 for a Mauritius two pence blue, a world record for a single stamp. A courtier asked him if he had seen ‘that some damned fool had paid £1,400 for one stamp?’ ‘Yes,’ replied George. ‘I was that damned fool.’
George Clooney (born 1961). In 2013, the actor invited 14 long-standing friends to his house for dinner. At each of their places around the table was a suitcase. Clooney told them: ‘I’m so fortunate in my life to have all of you, and I couldn’t be where I am today without you. So it was really important to me that while we’re still all here together, I give back.’ He then told them to open their cases. Each contained a million dollars in $20 bills. As an added thank-you, Clooney also paid the tax on the money.
In 2003 Roger Moore collapsed while appearing on stage in New York. A rare case of the star not knowing when to take it easy: he decided to retire as 007 after realising that he was older than his current Bond girl’s mother.
John Snagge (born 1904). The BBC commentator used to cover the Boat Race from a boat of his own, following the two teams. Obviously this angle made it hard to tell who was in the lead. But at Dukes Meadows, on the Thames’s north bank, there were two flagpoles, where a man would raise a light blue flag if Cambridge was in the lead, a dark blue one if it was Oxford. So for that section of the race Snagge would take his cue from the flags.
At a party after his retirement, Snagge met the flagpole operator. ‘You must have been very good,’ he said, ‘to keep an eye on the teams and raise and lower the flags at the same time.’ ‘Oh not really,’ replied the man. ‘I just used to listen to that John Snagge on the radio.’