When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Harold’s Your Uncle

1957: Who’s your uncle? Bob’s your uncle, or maybe Harold. A genealogist worked out that thirty of the 85 members of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s government were related to him, including seven of the 19 members of the Cabinet.

Source: John Bull, 4 January 1958

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

1956: “Wants pawn term,” in Howard Chace’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, there was a “ladle gull” who wore a “putty ladle rat cluck” with a “ladle rat hut”. One morning, the little girl’s mother sent her to her grandmother’s cottage “honor udder site offer florist”. On her way through the forest, “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” met an enormous wolf and told him she was going to visit her “groin-murder”.

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Discordant Note

Caricature of William Somerset Maugham

1955: William Somerset Maugham’s affair with Syrie Wellcome and their subsequent marriage produced one child but little happiness. When they divorced in 1929, Maugham was obliged to agree to a costly settlement to secure Syrie’s silence regarding his homosexuality. As the years passed, Maugham deeply resented the misery of their marriage and the continuing financial burden of the settlement.

Syrie died in London on 25 July 1955. Maugham heard of her death while playing cards at the Villa Mauresque, his home in the south of France. He put down the pack and drummed his fingers triumphantly on the table. “Tra-la-la-la,” he sang. “No more alimony. Tra-la, tra-la.”

Source: Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (1966), p. 208

Toffees Rot Teeth

1954: Scandinavian dentists had for years puzzled over the abysmal dental health of the population. In the 1930s, for instance, 83 per cent of 3-year-olds had tooth decay. What were the causes? A deficiency disease? A poor diet? Excessive carbohydrate intake?

The Vipeholm dental caries study was intended to provide answers. Experimenters at the Vipeholm mental hospital in Sweden first tinkered with the vitamin intake of inmates, and when that produced no significant changes in levels of tooth decay, fed them each up to 24 sticky toffees a day. That produced a marked increase in cavities, demonstrating a clear link between sugar consumption and tooth decay.

Feeding exaggerated quantities of toffees to unwitting human beings resulted in lots of ruined teeth and, belatedly, lots of ethical questions, but it also produced much valuable evidence about the causes of tooth decay.

Source: Prevention of Oral Disease, ed. J.J. Murray (1996), pp. 11–13

“Keep Off The Grass”

1953: Stalin once pooh-poohed the possibility of a revolution in Germany – the citizens would be too obedient to step on the lawns, he said – but a strike by East Berlin construction workers on 16 June escalated, the next day, into a large-scale uprising against the government of the German Democratic Republic.

Source: Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin (1962), p. 76

Naughty Doggy

Albert Schweitzer, photographed in 1955 by Rolf Unterberg

1952: The 1952 Nobel Peace Prize was conferred on Albert Schweitzer for his efforts to promote “the Brotherhood of Nations”. Since 1913, Doctor Schweitzer had run a hospital in the jungle at Lambaréné, in French Equatorial Africa. He sometimes had problems keeping peace in his own back yard, let alone the world outside. Soon after the award, he had to scold a dog for chasing chickens around the hospital. “Stop that!” he roared. “Don’t you know this is a Peace Prize house? Be a Nobel dog, and quick.”

Source: News Chronicle, 8 December 1953

Nuclear Wasteland

1951: Congressman Albert Gore suggested that the United States might deter any southward advance of communist ground forces in Korea by creating a nuclear no man’s land. Gore proposed that American forces “dehumanize” a belt of land across the peninsula by deliberately contaminating it with radioactive waste.

Source: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (2013), pp. 6, 48–9

Clever Doggies

Konrad Lorenz, photographed in 1973 by the Nobel Foundation

1950: In Man Meets Dog, the animal behaviourist Konrad Lorenz drew attention to the ability of dogs to detect quite subtle variations in human speech. Victor Sarris’s three German shepherds, for example, understood who was who, despite their quirky trio of names: Aris, Harris and Paris.

Source: Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog (1994), p. 143

Sumthing Liek Dhis

1949: In March, Mont Follick introduced a bill into the British parliament to rationalise the spelling of English. George Bernard Shaw, the Simplified Spelling Society and others had long advocated a simple, logical and consistent spelling system. Follick proposed the adoption of reformed spelling first in schools and then in government publications and later in general use. Despite considerable parliamentary support, Follick’s measure was opposed by the government and at the end of the debate it was rejected by a slender margin – 87 votes to 84.

Which iz hou dhe tekst ov dhis blog kaem widhin a whisker ov being spelt sumthing liek dhis.

Source: M. Follick, The Case for Spelling Reform (1965), chap. XXII

“A Slogan Is Forever”

1948: A diamond engagement ring is an emblem of the enduring emotional bond between a man and a woman, an expression of their love, a shining symbol of their commitment to each other. If you believe all that claptrap, blame Frances Gerety: she was the Philadelphia advertising copywriter who dreamt up the slogan, “A diamond is forever.”

Source: Cele C. Otnes and Elizabeth H. Pleck, Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding (2003), pp. 63–7

Reign Of Terror

1947: For 15 years, man-eating lions terrorized the Njombe district of southern Tanganyika. They dragged villagers from their huts and ambushed travellers on roads; on one occasion they snatched a herd boy off the back of a cow without harming the cow.

Not until 1946 was a determined effort made to end the menace. It took Game Ranger George Rushby and his African game scouts more than a year to track down and shoot the beasts. Only after 15 had been killed was Rushby satisfied that the reign of terror was over. “There is no doubt that the Njombe lions were the worst man-eating lions ever recorded in African history,” Rushby wrote. He estimated that between 1932 and 1947 they had killed and eaten over 1,500 people.

Source: G.G. Rushby, No More the Tusker (1965), chaps. 20–2

Slap Down

1946: During the first half of the 20th century, travelling from Britain to India entailed a lengthy, rather monotonous journey by sea. Radclyffe Sidebottom, who served in the Bengal Pilot Service from 1929 until 1946, remembered one voyage where a female passenger – a governor’s daughter, in fact – grew tired of the stuffed shirts in first class and took a liking to a handsome young steward in second class. At the fancy-dress ball, the high point of the voyage out, they danced together all night. Next morning, though, when he approached her with a little too much familiarity, she informed him: “In the circle in which I move, sleeping with a woman does not constitute an introduction.”

Source: Charles Allen, Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century (1977), p. 49

Slip Of The Tongue

1945: Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, George VI’s private secretary, lunched on 18 April with Quintin Hogg, the newly appointed undersecretary of air. “Hogg said that [Baron] Faringdon, a notorious pansy, had recently thrown the House of Lords into consternation by addressing their Lordships as ‘My Dears’.”

Source: Sir Alan Lascelles, King’s Counsellor: Abdication and War: The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles, ed. Duff Hart-Davis (2007), p. 316

Intoxicated Octopus

1943: “Just then the air-raid siren went off,” Joan Wyndham recorded in her diary on 5 July. “We hailed a taxi . . . . As soon as I’d sunk into my seat Dylan [Thomas] smothered me in wet beery kisses, his blubbery tongue forcing my lips apart. It was rather like being embraced by an intoxicated octopus. I tried to tell myself that I was being kissed by a great poet but it was a relief when the taxi finally stopped.”

Source: Joan Wyndham, Love Is Blue: A Wartime Diary (1986), p. 120

Ban On Flowers

1942: “Now a ban on Jews buying flowers has come out,” an exasperated Victor Klemperer wrote on 16 March. “Not a day without a new decree against Jews.”

Source: Victor Klemperer, To the Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1942–1945, ed. Martin Chalmers (1999), p. 28

Ban On Smoking

1941: For Victor Klemperer, a Jewish resident of Dresden, life grew steadily more difficult. “A new calamity:” he wrote in his diary on 10 August, “Ban on smoking for Jews.”

Source: Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933–41, ed. Martin Chalmers (1998), p. 407

Dunkirk Spirit

1940: In Britain’s hour of need, “heroes in jerseys and sweaters and old rubber boots” stepped forward to man an armada of “fishing boats, steamships, barges and pleasure steamers” that crossed the Channel, braving shellfire and Stuka attacks, to pluck the British Expeditionary Force off the beaches of Dunkirk. That’s the way British propaganda portrayed it, but it wasn’t all like that. The Royal Navy had to requisition small craft in Devon whose owners declined to volunteer and the fishing fleet of Rye in Sussex collectively refused to go.

Source: Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (1991), pp. 96–8

“Avon Calling”

1939: In the 1880s, David McConnell was a salesman in New York State, trudging from door to door, selling books. McConnell’s sales gimmick was a giveaway bottle of perfume. He soon found that his customers preferred his scent to his Shakespeare, so in 1886 he turned his back on literature and set up the California Perfume Company. In 1939, the company was renamed Avon, after the river that runs through Shakespeare’s hometown.

Source: Reader’s Digest Book of Facts (1985), p. 128

Precise Number

1938: The British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington announced that he had calculated the precise number of protons in the universe:
15,747,724,136,275,002,577,605,653,961,
181,555,468,044,717,914,527,116,709,
366,231,425,076,185,631,031,296.

Source: Sir Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939), p. 170

“Ba Ba Centipede”

1937: One advantage of having a poet as a father – Paul and Candida Betjeman grew up listening to customized nursery rhymes:
Ba Ba centipede,
Have you any jelly,
No sir, no sir, it’s all gone smelly.

Source: John Betjeman, Letters, I: 1926 to 1951, ed. Candida Lycett Green (1994), p. 368

No-Show

1934: Alistair Cooke, who had recently begun work as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, married Ruth Emerson. The bridegroom was presumably on time for the ceremony; the bride, as tends to happen, was perhaps a little late; the best man failed to turn up at all. After waiting for an hour, Cooke got one of the guests to stand in. Who was the unreliable best man? Charlie Chaplin.

Source: Nick Clarke, Alistair Cooke: The Biography (2002), p. 114

Emus On Rampage

1932: Large mobs of emus, migrating from the interior of Western Australia to the coast, pecked and trampled crops in the state’s wheat belt, especially around the town of Campion. The farmers, many of them First World War veterans, clamoured for the authorities to deploy machine guns against the marauders. A contingent of soldiers armed with Lewis guns was sent into battle, but the birds were too speedy and too wily, scattering into small groups and dashing for cover as soon as the guns opened up. “Major Meredith and his merry men” claimed a thousand kills, but the inglorious campaign failed to impress anyone, and was scathingly referred to as the “Emu War”.

Source: Journal of Australian Studies, 2006

Noisy Send-Off

1931: As Arnold Bennett lay dying from typhoid in his flat near Marylebone Road, the local council gave permission for straw to be spread in the busy street to muffle the noise of traffic, possibly the last time this was allowed in central London. Bennett died at nine in the evening of 27 March. “It was a night of rain. The straw became sodden and slippery. Just after midnight a milk dray skidded and overturned, sending its load of churns crashing along the pavement below the flat in a thunderous din.”

Source: Reginald Pound, Arnold Bennett: A Biography (1971), p. 367

Chocolate Revolution

1930: Grown-ups fretted over grown-up issues like political instability and job insecurity, but for 13-year-old Roald Dahl, 1930 marked the start of the “great golden years of the chocolate revolution”. The limited chocolate choice of the 1920s was suddenly transformed; “the entire world of chocolate was turned upside-down in the space of seven glorious years, between 1930 and 1937”.

The Mars bar first appeared in 1932; Chocolate Crisp was launched in 1935 and renamed Kit Kat two years later; Aero also went on sale in 1935; Quality Street made its debut in 1936; and Maltesers, Rolo and Smarties were introduced in 1937.

Source: Felicity and Roald Dahl, Roald Dahl’s Cookbook (1991), pp. 150–5

Hint Of Glamour

1928: Picture palaces lured film-goers with their aura of glamour. According to Denis Norden, at the Empire Leicester Square in London, ushers lined up before opening time, lit Havana cigars and puffed smoke around the foyer.

Source: Enter the Dream-House: Memories of Cinemas in South London from the Twenties to the Sixties, ed. Margaret O’Brien and Allen Eyles (1993), p. 39