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    Weekly trivia: why does Big Ben display 3 o’clock on the £5 note?

    9 May 2020

    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.

    May 9

    Alan Bennett (born 1934). The writer (whose elder brother is called Gordon Bennett) was once queuing in a fish and chip shop in Yorkshire. Alarmed at hearing someone ask if the kestrel under the counter was for sale, he looked for the cage, wondering if ‘such conditions amount to cruelty’. It was then explained to him that Kestrel was a brand of lager.

    May 10

    Fred Astaire (born 1899). The star practised each dance until he could perform it while reading a book.

    Sid Vicious (born 1957). The Sex Pistols singer once tried to provoke Freddie Mercury in the corridor of a recording studio. The Queen frontman stayed deliberately calm, and addressed Vicious as ‘Mr Ferocious’.

    May 11

    Jeremy Paxman is known for his formidable interviewing (Getty)

    In 1997, Deep Blue became the first chess computer to defeat a world champion (Garry Kasparov). Its name was a reference to IBM, who developed it. IBM are nicknamed ‘Big Blue’ because of the colour of their logo.

    Jeremy Paxman (born 1950). Years after his legendary 1997 interview with Michael Howard, in which Paxman asked the politician the same question 14 times, he admitted the real reason for his persistence – the next item in the programme wasn’t ready, and he’d been told by his producer to fill.

    May 12

    Florence Nightingale (born 1820). Named after the city where she was born, Nightingale was an early champion of the pie chart. She used the statistical device to analyse seasonal deaths in a military field hospital.

    May 13

    In 1940, Winston Churchill delivered his ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech in the House of Commons. It was at 3pm – which is why Big Ben displays that time on the £5 note featuring Churchill introduced in 2016.

    May 14

    In 1796, Edward Jenner administered the first smallpox vaccine. The name comes from ‘vacca’, Latin for cow, the animal from which Jenner developed the vaccine.

    Sofia Coppola (born 1971). At just a few weeks old, she appeared in her father’s film The Godfather. She played the infant son of Michael Corleone.

    May 15

    American singer and actor Frank Sinatra and his wife, actor Ava Gardner (Getty)

    American singer and actor Frank Sinatra and his wife, actor Ava Gardner (Getty)

    Frank Sinatra (died 1998). Ol’ Blue Eyes was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in his pocket.