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 1980, Zimbabwe joined the United Nations. And as the organisation’s New York headquarters seats countries alphabetically, the new member moved Zambia out of last place. (First place is held by Afghanistan.)
James Woods (born 1947). A month before 9/11, the actor was on a flight in which four of the terrorists did a dry run. Their actions were so suspicious that they stuck in his memory, and on the evening of September 11th he called the FBI to make a report. The next morning at 6.45, Woods received a call back to say that agents were very interested, and would like further details. ‘OK,’ he said, ‘I’ll come to your office.’ ‘Actually we’re outside your house now,’ came the reply. A surprised Woods asked: ‘How did you know where I live?’ There was a pause, then the agent said: ‘We’re the FBI.’
Dudley Moore (born 1935). When he filmed the scene in Bedazzled where he shares a bed with a bikini-clad Raquel Welch, Moore put on three pairs of underpants in an attempt to disguise his reaction to events. The attempt failed.
In 1972 Apollo 16 landed on the Moon. During lift off from Houston, the heart rate of its commander John Young reached no more than 70. (His colleague Charles Duke had a rate of 144.) Asked about this later, the 41 year-old Young replied: ‘Mine was too old to go any faster.’
John Mortimer (born 1923). The writer’s father, a barrister, once returned from court boasting that he had proved adultery in a matrimonial case based on nothing more than ‘a pair of footprints upside down on the dashboard of an Austin Seven’.
The Queen (born 1926). The birth was attended by the Home Secretary. This practice had arisen after the ‘Warming Pan’ scandal of 1688, when a rumour arose that James II’s son had been stillborn, and a replacement baby smuggled into the room in a warming pan. To confirm that possible future monarchs really had emerged from the royal womb, the government minister had to be present. The custom was finally abandoned after the birth of Princess Alexandra in 1936.
Jack Nicholson (born 1937). The star once said: ‘With my sunglasses on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and sixty.’
Richard Nixon (died 1994). He is one of only two US Presidents whose full name contains all the letters of the word ‘criminal’ (Richard Milhous Nixon). The other is William Jefferson Clinton.
Shirley Temple (born 1928). The child star’s hair was always prepared by her mother so that it contained exactly 56 curls.
Anthony Trollope (born 1815). The novelist is the reason that London has no NE or S postcodes. In his day job working for the Post Office, Trollope decided that the volume of mail in the newly-introduced areas wasn’t high enough to warrant them having their own codes. So they were subsumed into their neighbours. NE later resurfaced as the area code for Newcastle and S was assigned to Sheffield.