1978: The October issue of National Geographic magazine carried an article by Francine “Penny” Patterson about Koko, a female gorilla whom Patterson had taught to use sign language. Koko knew the signs for hundreds of words (“smile”, “lollipop”, “belly button”) and was clever enough to combine them in phrases (“damn me good”, “fine animal gorilla”). She had invented some choice insults (“rotten stink”) and was not averse to the occasional lie. When she plumped herself down on a kitchen sink and dislodged it, she blamed Patterson’s assistant Kate Mann: “Kate there bad.”
Category archive: 1970s
1977: Names that make you smirk: Splatt and Weedon, co-authors of a paper on urinary difficulties.
Source: British Journal of Urology, April 1977
1976: While his compatriots had to put up with empty bellies, the former Cambodian monarch Norodom Sihanouk complained that he was running short of the rum needed to create bananes flambées.
Source: Norodom Sihanouk, Prisonnier des Khmers Rouges (1986), p. 155
1975: On 16 January, the kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII died from tetrodotoxin poisoning. The actor, designated a “living national treasure” by the Japanese government, ate four servings of puffer fish livers in the apparent belief that his body would tolerate the highly toxic organs. He was wrong. Hours after the meal in a Kyoto restaurant he died of convulsions and paralysis.
Source: The Japan Times, 17 January 1975
1974: The Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky, who had posited the existence of neutron stars and dark matter, died at the age of 75. Not the easiest of people to get on with, Zwicky allegedly described his fellow astronomers as “spherical bastards”. Why “spherical”? Because, he said, they were bastards whichever way you looked at them.
Source: Richard Preston, First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe (1998), p. 149
1973: In extreme cases, Cushing’s syndrome, caused by hyperactive adrenal glands, can be treated by removal of the glands. Surgery is seldom performed, however, since removal of the glands may in turn cause Nelson’s syndrome, a disorder characterised by darkening of the skin.
When Rita Hoefling, a white woman from Cape Town, began to suffer from Nelson’s syndrome, she became the hapless victim of South Africa’s apartheid system. She was shunned by the white community and even by her own family. After her father died, her mother refused to allow her to attend the funeral: “I do not want to be embarrassed by your black body at Daddy’s grave.”
Source: Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body (2003), pp. 263–5
1972: On the evening of 27 May, the Duke of Windsor’s doctor was surprised to see that the duke’s favourite pug, which had seldom left its master’s bed during the previous few weeks, had moved on to the bedroom floor. Early next morning, the duke died.
Source: Michael Bloch, The Secret File of the Duke of Windsor (1989), pp. 425–6
1971: Swiss women gained the right to vote at national level – 123 years after Swiss men.
1970: The East German state used a carrot-and-stick approach to nurture athletic excellence among its children. Budding champions were forced to adhere to rigid training regimes and to meet strict sporting and academic targets. Those who succeeded might be rewarded, for example, with the right to have a teddy bear.
Source: Mihir Bose, The Spirit of the Game: How Sport Made the Modern World (2011), p. 243
1979: After an intense global effort a special commission was able to certify, on 9 December, that smallpox had been eradicated from the world. The last person known to have been infected with naturally occurring smallpox, in October 1977, was Ali Maow Maalin, at the port of Merca, in Somalia. The disease was estimated to have killed 300 million people during the 20th century. The last fatality, in September 1978, was Janet Parker, who was exposed to the virus at the University of Birmingham Medical School.
Source: Ian and Jenifer Glynn, The Life and Death of Smallpox (2004), pp. 225–8
1978: One for the record books: the first human birth on the Antarctic mainland. Emilio Palma was born on 7 January at Esperanza Base in Argentine Antarctica.
1976: Paul Cerutti of Monaco was disqualified from the Olympic trap shooting competition after testing positive for amphetamines. Not that they had done him much good – he had finished 43rd out of 44.
Source: Stan Greenberg, Whitaker’s Olympic Almanack (2003), p. 124
1975: A gaggle of tornadoes that whirled across East Anglia on the evening of 1 December was powerful enough to suck turnips out of the soil.
Source: The Journal of Meteorology, January 1977
1974: Cyril Connolly’s obituary in The Times concentrated, of course, on his achievements as a book critic and author, but noted also his habit of “marking his place in a book at the breakfast table with a strip of bacon”.
Source: The Times, 27 November 1974
1973: Pablo Picasso never learned to swim. According to his widow, Jacqueline Roque, he mimicked strokes with his arms, while keeping his feet planted on the bottom.
Source: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917–1932 (2007), p. 160
1972: John McErlean lived with his family just north of Belfast. He was 17 years old, an apprentice mechanic and a Catholic. His family never talked politics, but a few days after Bloody Sunday, he and two friends joined the Irish Republican Army. Ten weeks later, the IRA instructed them to move some gelignite stored in a garage. The gelignite exploded, killing all three.
John’s father, Jack, recalled, “I didn’t know anybody was killed until I was told there was flesh over the road and on the roofs.” Jack wasn’t even aware his son had joined the IRA, and only began to worry when he didn’t come home that evening for his meal. “It was a cold April day, there were pieces of flesh and bone all over the place, and the steam was rising off it all.”
Source: David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton, Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles (1999), pp. 172–4
1971: On the day of Idi Amin’s coup against Milton Obote, Radio Uganda alternated curfew warnings and the pop song “My Boy Lollipop”.
Source: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Settler’s Cookbook: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food (2008), p. 239
1970: Playboy appeared in a Braille version. It lacked the photos of the printed version, of course, but was perfectly adequate, as long as the reader wanted the magazine only for its articles.
Source: The New York Times, 29 August 1986
1979: The overthrow of the Shah of Iran ushered in an Islamic state. Religion became paramount. The mundane details of governance were of little concern to Ayatollah Khomeini. “Economics is for donkeys,” he once declared, and when Iranians complained of falling living standards, he admonished them, “We did not make a revolution to slash the price of watermelon.”
Source: Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (2007), p. 134
1978: A human reproductive first: the birth of the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilisation. Louise Brown, born in Oldham, Manchester, on 25 July, was dubbed a “test-tube baby” in the popular media, although the term was a misnomer, as conception actually took place in a Petri dish.
Source: Anthony Dyson, The Ethics of IVF (1995), p. 1
1977: East European humour:
Q: Why do Bulgarian secret police patrol in threes?
A: One to read, one to write and one to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.
Source: Punch, 1 June 1977
1976: Canada failed to win a single gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. No other host country shares this dismal distinction.
Source: Stan Greenberg, Whitaker’s Olympic Almanack (2003), p. 44
1974: As part of her investigation of memory, the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an experiment in which university students watched film clips of traffic accidents.
After each clip, the students were questioned; one group was asked to estimate the speed at which the cars had “contacted” each other, a second group, the speed at which the cars had “hit” each other, and other groups, the speed at which the cars had “bumped into”, “collided with” or “smashed into” each other.
1973: Two innovations in stamp design from Bhutan: a set of stamps depicting roses, printed on scented paper, and a set of “talking stamps” – miniature gramophone records that really could be played on a turntable.
Source: Stanley Gibbons Simplified Catalogue Stamps of the World (2007), vol. 1, p. 420
1972: Budding computer programmer Bill Gates, a 16-year-old student at Lakeside School in Seattle, used the school’s computer to arrange class schedules, making sure that “all the good girls in the school” were in his history class and that the only other boy in the class was “a real wimp”.
Source: Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented an Industry — and Made Himself the Richest Man in America (1994), pp. 44–7
1971: The translators of the King James Bible retained the Hebrew euphemism “to cover one’s feet”. In chapter 24 of the first book of Samuel, for instance, when David was hiding from Saul in a cave: “Saul went in to cover his feet”. Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible updated this to: “Saul went into a cave to go to the bathroom”.
Source: Kenneth Taylor, The Living Bible (1971), p. 351
1970: How many divisions did the pope have? Not many, and even fewer after Paul VI disbanded the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, retaining only the Swiss Guard as his personal bodyguard.
Source: Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (1996), p. 18