1966: Just after nine on the morning of Friday, 21 October, one of the colliery waste tips that loomed over the Welsh mining village of Aberfan collapsed. A wave of mining slag and loose rock slipped down the mountainside, burying Pantglas Junior School and 20 houses in the village. Altogether, 144 people died; 116 of them were children.
1965: Let Stalk Strine offered Poms, Yanks and others a glimpse of Strine – English with an Australian twang. A few examples:
share: shower, either the bathroom or meteorological sort, as in a “cole share” or “scadded shares and thunnerstorms”
egg jelly: in fact, really
air fridge: ordinary, not extreme, as in “the air fridge person”
tea nature: adolescent
baked necks: a popular breakfast dish
rise up lides: used by men for shiving
split nair dyke: continuous and severe pain in the head
londger ray: women’s underclothing
ebb tide: hunger, desire for food (“I dono watser matter, I jess got no ebb tide these dyes.”)
nerve sprike tan: mental collapse caused by stress, anxiety, etc. (“He never let sarp, marm. He’ll ever nerve sprike tan the waze goane.”)
Source: Afferbeck Lauder, Let Stalk Strine: A Lexicon of Modern Strine Usage (1965)
1964: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin for her “determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, notably penicillin and vitamin B12. The Daily Mail’s headline: “Nobel prize for British wife”.
Source: Daily Mail, 30 October 1964
1963: The Green Line in Cyprus, separating the fractious Greek and Turkish communities, originated literally as a green line on a map. An upsurge of violence in December subsided after Britain’s Major-General Peter Young persuaded representatives of the two sides to accept a dividing line in Nicosia, the island’s capital. “Time and time again his green chinagraph pencil retraced the line across the talc of his field map, only to be rubbed out and changed in direction to suit the requirements of one side or the other. At last the pencil wavered no more – and the Green Line was finally and irrevocably drawn.”
Source: Michael Harbottle, The Impartial Soldier (1970), p. 67
1962: America’s first space mission to another planet came to a very premature end. The Mariner 1 spacecraft was supposed to fly past Venus, but the rocket carrying the spacecraft began to behave erratically soon after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, forcing NASA to blow it up five minutes into the flight. A post-mortem attributed the failure to a missing symbol in the guidance program. Dubbed “the most expensive hyphen in history”, the omission of the symbol (actually an overline rather than a hyphen) allowed incorrect guidance signals to throw the rocket wildly off course.
Source: Paul E. Ceruzzi, Beyond the Limits: Flight Enters the Computer Age (1989), pp. 202–3
1961: When Leonid Rogozov, a member of the Soviet team at the Novolazarevskaya base in Antarctica, fell ill with nausea, a high temperature and abdominal pains, the diagnosis was straightforward: acute appendicitis. Evacuation by sea or air, in the middle of the polar winter, was out of the question; Rogozov would have to be operated on at the base. And since Rogozov was the team doctor, that meant he would have to operate on himself.
1960: Before the discovery of a vaccine, most children in the United States had to endure a bout of measles; it was part of growing up. Many suffered nothing worse than three or four days in bed with a rash, a temperature and a cough, but complications and fatalities could and did occur.
Between 1912 and 1916 measles-related deaths averaged 5,300 a year – 26 deaths for every 1,000 reported cases. By the late 1950s the mortality rate had declined to less than one death for every 1,000 cases, but with an average of 542,000 cases of measles annually between 1956 and 1960, this still amounted to a significant number of deaths: 530 in 1956, 389 in 1957, 552 in 1958, 385 in 1959 and 380 in 1960.
Source: The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 1 May 2004
1959: Kenneth Tynan’s effing remark on a late-night satire show on BBC television in 1965 had many viewers foaming at the mouth (moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse suggested Tynan should have his bottom smacked).
In contrast, similar language during a teatime magazine programme on Ulster Television six years earlier attracted little response. Perhaps the viewers of Roundabout were paying more attention to their tea than to the telly. Live on air, the man who painted the railings alongside the River Lagan in Belfast was asked whether he got bored doing the same job all year round. His reply: “Of course it’s fucking boring.”
Source: Joe Moran, Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV (2013), pp. 6–8
1958: Western Australia’s deputy commissioner of police defended the use of ankle chains on Aboriginal prisoners at Hall’s Creek. In fact, according to Hugh McLernon, chaining had a humane purpose: it left the prisoners’ hands free to brush off insects.
Source: The Herald, 20 March 1958
1957: Magazines and newspapers marvelled when Maria Callas managed to shed 28 kilograms in 11 months; they carried before-and-after photographs of her transformation from a frumpy 92 kilos to a slender 64.
Callas lost weight by strict adherence to a diet of one meal a day, small servings of fresh fruit and raw meat, no pasta, no bread and no alcohol. But when the opera singer later became infested with a tapeworm (probably consumed with the raw meat), gossip columnists gleefully suggested that she had deliberately swallowed it as part of a diet regimen.
Source: Anne Edwards, Callas: Her Life, Her Loves, Her Music (2001), pp. 115, 116, 160, 161
1956: In the 1920s, Nina Hamnett was a promising artist, but by the 1930s and ’40s she had become a shabby figure who spent too little time in the studio and far too much time in the pubs and clubs of London’s Fitzrovia and Soho. “She was dirty, smelt of stale bar-rooms, and very pathetic.” At the York Minster pub, she made her favourite seat indelibly hers by urinating on it; sometimes she would be sick into her handbag before staggering home at night. On 13 December 1956 she fell from the window of her upstairs flat in Paddington and was impaled on the railings below. She died a few days later.
Source: Denise Hooker, Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia (1986), pp. 184, 242, 250, 258
1955: Driver Jim Blake must have thought he was simply enforcing regulations when he ordered four black passengers on his bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to give up their seats for a white man. Instead, Blake’s action on the afternoon of 1 December provoked the Montgomery bus boycott, a milestone in the American civil rights movement.
1954: Jack and Bobby Kennedy attended a speed reading course in Baltimore, but Jack’s later claim to be able to read 1,200 words a minute – three or four times the average – was probably exaggerated.
Source: James P. Pfiffner, The Character Factor: How We Judge America’s Presidents (2004), p. 28
1953: The Everest expedition’s equipment included a 2-inch mortar to dislodge any accumulations of snow that threatened avalanches.
Source: John Hunt, The Ascent of Everest (1973), pp. 39, 219
1952: A severe case of amoebic dysentery earlier in his career meant that Sir Evelyn Baring, the new governor of Kenya, suffered from indifferent health. He was prone to bouts of exhaustion and debilitating intestinal pain and his stomach was “so sensitive that he would pick out the small slivers of orange peel from his marmalade before spreading it on his morning toast”.
Source: Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (2005), pp. 34, 381
1951: The National Safety Council reckoned that towards the end of the year the total number of deaths from traffic accidents in the United States since the advent of the automobile would reach 1 million. In December, the millionth death was reached and passed, like a bump in the road.
Source: The New York Times, 24 December 1951
1949: Agatha Christie joined her husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, at Nimrud, in Iraq. Christie lent a hand, cleaning ivories recovered from the excavations. She discovered that a very fine knitting needle and her face cream were “more useful than anything else for gently coaxing the dirt out of the crevices”. She used so much cream that within a couple of weeks “there was nothing left for my poor old face”.
Source: Agatha Christie, An Autobiography (1977), pp. 456–7
1948: Weightlifter Harold Sakata, an Olympic silver medallist at London, later appeared in the James Bond film Goldfinger as the baddie Oddjob.
Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), p. 1044
1947: Britain had 383 known opiate addicts: 219 of them female and 164 male, including (seemingly an occupational hazard) 82 doctors, three pharmacists, one dentist and one vet.
Source: Richard Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics 1500–2000 (2001), p. 297
1946: The Swedish aircraft manufacturer Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, SAAB, branched out into cars. The bodywork of the first prototype was produced by hand, hammered into shape with the steel panels resting on horse manure, which supposedly gave the panel beaters the right feel.
Source: Björn-Eric Lindh, Saab: The First 40 Years of Saab Cars (1987), pp. 17, 20
1945: Bessie, comtesse de Mauduit, returned to Paris from Ravensbrück concentration camp still dressed in her striped uniform, but looking elegant all the same (“encore vêtu de l’uniforme rayé des déportés et très élégante tout de meme”). Another inmate, a head seamstress from the Schiaparelli fashion house, had restyled her uniform.
Source: Jean Galtier-Boissière, Journal 1940–1950 (1992), pp. 410, 413
1944: Major-General Charles Gerhardt, commander of the American 29th Division, was a stickler for discipline. Amid the carnage and destruction of Omaha beach on D-Day – mangled corpses, smashed landing craft, burned-out vehicles and discarded weapons – he yelled at a soldier for dropping orange peel.
Source: Antony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (2009), p. 153
1943: For weeks, the Mexican village of Parícutin had been jolted by earthquakes. On the afternoon of 20 February, as farm labourer Demetrio Toral and his oxen ploughed a cornfield, wisps of smoke appeared from a furrow they had just completed.
1942: Habbakuk was the code name for a secret British project to build a huge, unsinkable aircraft carrier. The project never got beyond research and the early stages of development, but if the vessel had been constructed, it would have been twice as long as the Queen Mary. Even more remarkable was the intended construction material – a frozen mixture of water and wood pulp. In essence, Habbakuk would have been a gigantic iceberg with a flat top to serve as a flight deck. The ice, of course, would have made it unsinkable; the wood pulp was for reinforcement.
Source: Georgina Ferry, Max Perutz and the Secret of Life (2007), pp. 98–110
1941: The attack on Pearl Harbor interrupted Donald Keene’s Japanese studies at Columbia University. Japanese in the United States were classified as enemy aliens, and the day after the attack, New York police detained Keene’s teacher, Tsunoda Ryūsaku. Japanese residents were suspected of gathering information about American defence facilities, although the most serious evidence against Tsunoda seems to have been that “he had been observed taking long walks without a dog”.
Source: Donald Keene, The Blue-Eyed Tarōkaja: A Donald Keene Anthology, ed. J. Thomas Rimer (1996), pp. 8–9
1940: In Warthegau, Polish territory annexed by Germany in 1939, Herbert Lange’s Sonderkommando used a large van fitted with a sealed chamber to eliminate mental patients. To allay suspicion, the side of the vehicle carried the logo of a well-known German coffee company – “Kaiser’s Kaffee-Geschäft”. Once the patients were loaded, carbon monoxide was piped into the chamber.
Source: Patrick Montague, Chełmno and the Holocaust: The History of Hitler’s First Death Camp (2012), pp. 21–30, 64, 199–211
1938: Sir George Arthur’s Not Worth Reading doesn’t appear to have got beyond a first edition, so maybe book buyers took author Arthur at his word.
Source: Sir George Arthur, Not Worth Reading (1938)
1937: The Lambeth Walk, a jaunty number from the musical Me and My Girl, was a success first on the London stage, and then in dance halls around Britain and on the Continent. Fascist leaders in Europe, however, took a dim view of the craze. In Italy, the dance was condemned for its “ugly, coarse, awkward motions and gesticulations”, and in Germany it was denounced as “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping”.
Sources: The Times, 19 May 1939; The New York Times, 8 January 1939