1971-1980 - Century 20/Decade 8
| C 20/Decade 9 |
C 20/Decade 10 | C 21/Decade 01 |
- 1976 A doctor conducting research at the Oklahoma Centre for Alcohol and Drug-Related Studies confirmed in the mid-Seventies that women require less alcohol than men to become drunk, and that they act drunker once drunk. The official explanation is that women are generally smaller than men and their bodies contain 55-65% water as opposed to 65-75% for men. The same amount of alcohol is diluted less in an average woman and therefore has a stronger effect. [see 1981 below]
- 1977 The legendary entertainer Max Wall was sacked in 1977 by the producer of a TV commercial, who then hired an impressionist because he thought the substitute could do a more convincing Max Wall voice than the real thing.
- Four houses at Scartho, Grimsby, began to disappear in 1977. They had been built over the crater of a bomb dropped by a Zeppelin in World War One.
- Three Norwegian thieves got the shock of their lives when they blew open a factory safe in Oslo - it exploded. The safe had been full of dynamite.
- 1978 Scotland has its own Leaning Tower in Glenfinnan, Inverness-shire; on the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard in 1745. Tourists visiting the area in 1978 were the first to notice that the monument had developed a list. A structural survey confirmed that it was tilting at 3/8 of an inch per year, and it would have to lean three feet out true before it became dangerous, which would take 50 years. A small outhouse beside the monument had been demolished a few years before and it was thought that it had been stabilizing it.
- For years, a gents outfitter in New Ulm, Minnesota, was unable to figure how the similar shop next door could undercut his prices. Then the cops found the door between their adjacent basement stock rooms...
- Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, is 7 miles long, and it has no proper roads and only 15 cars. Showing typical American ingenuity, two of them managed to collide.
- A pilot was grounded for 5 months for terrifying swimmers by low flying over the beached of Honolulu. William connelly couldn't deny the charge when he was arrested he landed with a surfboard piercing one of his wingtips.
- Methane made from cow dung was piped to gas cookers in 3,500 Chicago homes as an early exercise in Green energy. The production method was called the Calorific Recovery Anaerobic Process, which gives an acronym which describes the raw material perfectly.
- Although dressing up in drag didn't get Corporal Klinger of the 4077th MASH Unit out of the army, the method does work. When Sergeant Bill douglas strolled into his army mess hall in Fort Carson, Colorado, wearing a long, black evening gown, the story was broadcast all over the United States. His discharge papers came through in record time.
- 1979 A trip up the Chicago River by the Medusa Challenger brought chaos to the city's streets. A number of bridges had to be opened for the vessel, but blown fuses prevented them from being closed again; which left motorist fuming in traffic jams on both banks of the river.
- One of the last sailings of Townsend Thoresen's car ferry Free Enterprise IV in 1979 was cancelled when a chip pan fire damaged electrical circuits.
- A man working in a laundromat in Oxnard, California, was approached in 1979 by a gunman wearing a paper mask, who demanded his wallet. The thief took just $5 and handed the wallet back. The victim of the crime was so impressed by the robber wanting so little that he asked if he could say a prayer for him. The gunman dropped the money and ran away screaming.
- Volunteers laboured to build a wall of sandbags when a fire swept through a cold store at Newport at the end of 1979 and melted 5,500 tons of butter. They were unable to prevent the yellow tide from flowing into an adjacent Ford dealer's compound and solidifying around 1,000 cars.
- In a replay of the historic Little Big Horn match 103 years later, a Mr. Geronimo was booked for speeding by a Californian traffic cop called Edward Custer.
- A Rhode Island workman received industrial compensation for an injured hand which he hurt while thumping a coffee machine which took his money and failed to deliver any coffee.
- 1980 Philip French became so angry with his brother that he had to close his eyes and count to 10 to keep his temper. Unfortunately, he was driving his van at the time. Neither was injured when he hit the truck in front of them.
- The Dieters' Colouring Pad, which was published in March 1980, featured black-and-white drawings of ice cream, eclairs and other forbidden food. The idea was that dieters could colour in the pictures instead of eating what they showed. Sounds like an ideal present for a masochist!
- Water packaged as 'face energizer mist', said to wake up the skin while replenishing natural moisture, went on sale in Macy's in 1980 at £250 for an 8-ounce plastic spray bottle.
- The 1979 Gordon Bennet Gas Balloon Race held in Long Beach, California, was such a great success that the organizers arranged another the following year in Fountain Valley; next door to an archery range.
- A lorry driver was amazed to find a goldfish swimming around in one of his headlights in the spring of 1980. He assumed that the fish had swum in while he had been driving along a flooded road beside the river Lune estuary as the water in the headlight tasted salt. An expert, however, insisted that a fresh-water fish could not live in salt water for the length of time involved and concluded that the lorry driver was the victim of a hoax.
- A thirty-three-stone (460 pounds) Massachusetts man was taken to hospital after being shot eight times by a state trooper during a gun-battle in 1980. He was in a stable condition after treatment and expected to survive because he was so fat.
- Readers in America's Mid-West were telling the literal truth when they told the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and several other publications that, "Your paper stinks!" Chemicals in a batch of ink used at the end of 1980 had reacted with the newsprint to produce a skunk-like smell!
- A Birmingham woman, taking her driving test in heavy rain, had to drive through a huge puddle. As she did so, she lifted both feet off the pedals 'to stop them getting wet'. Her examiner laughed; and failed her.
1981-1990 - Century 20/Decade 9 | C 20/Decade 8 | C 20/Decade 10 | C 21/Decade 01 ||
- 1981 In 1981, Japanese scientists found that Japanese and Europeans have different body chemistries and they absorb alcohol in different ways. Europeans manufacture an enzyme which gives them a higher tolerance to alcohol. Lacking the enzyme, Japanese turn red after a little alcohol, and a little more knocks them out. But a big advantage of their lower tolerance to alcohol is that they don't get a hangover the next morning!
- Firemen in Du Quoin, Illinois, were called out to an unusual fire in January, 1981. A waterbed had caught fire [just superficial damage].
- The Gibraltar issue was just a convenient excuse for King Juan Carlos of Spain to miss the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, which was held on the 393rd anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
- New Yorkers wanting a change could have a message sent with a bunch of balloons instead of flowers. A store called Balloons was charging $200 in 1981 for the deluxe, hand-painted models.
- Hollywood students of electrology, the removal of facial and body hair, work at cut-price while learning their trade. A regular client of one of them in 1981 was a male go-go dancer, who used to have grey hairs plucked from his chest.
- In 1981, the U.S. Government machine was using 1,600,000,000 rubber bands per annum.
- When American Airlines began a service to Hawaii in the summer of 1981, they commissioned a series of glossy magazine advertisements, which showed a Jumbo jet approaching a surf-fringed, tropical island. When the island was identified as Morea, thousands of miles away from Hawaii in the South Pacific, the campaign was cancelled.
- Choctaw, an eighty-foot ocean-going yacht with six British treasure hunters aboard, sank in ten minutes in the Bay of Biscay after hitting a submerged object in September, 1981. Diver Frank Bowing thought that the vessel had hit one of the Russian submarines in the area. The yacht had been heading for the secret position of a Spanish galleon, which Mr. Bowing and his colleagues had found the year before.
- 1982 An American's trip to Paris in the summer of 1982 turned into a nightmare when he decided to call his wife from a phone box one evening. He made his call, then he tried to push the phone box door. Nothing happened. Night was falling, the street was empty and he couldn't call for help as the phone box was sound-proofed. Five hours later, a gendarme arrested him for sleeping in his phone box. The tourist tried to explain what had happened in sign language, but he ended up at the police station waiting for an interpreter to be dug out of bed. Eventually, he was able to explain that he had been pushing the right side of the door, not knowing that French phone boxes open on the left!
- In May, 1982, a New Orleans court rejected an appeal by a convicted killer. His story was that the police had forced a confession out of him by draping a boa constrictor around his shoulders during his interrogation.
- Five months later, a 16-foot python got more than it bargained for when it attacked a 14-year-old boy near Richmond in South Africa. When the snake wrapped itself around his legs in long grass, the boy hit it with a stick then sank his teeth into the snake's neck and hung on until it was dead.
- Scottish international golfer Alyson Campbell felt very pleased with herself when she sank a 7-foot put to make par on the 17th at Hamilton golf course. But when she went to pick the ball out of the hole, sharp teeth closed on her hand. A weasel had taken refuge there, and its victim needed a tetanus shot.
- Torbay Council told the town cryer, Peter Randall, that he had to do his job without ringing his bell because an old by-law forbade it. So he took to strolling around with a placard saying, "Ding Dong!"
- Jim McMurdo decided to phone his wife from a call box while on a visit to Paris with some friends. But when he tried to get out, the door wouldn't open. It was late evening on a quiet street, and the phone box was sound-proofed. So he went to sleep until someone came along. Five hours later, a policeman came by and arrested the foreigner for kipping in a phone box. But when he got to the police station, Mr. McMurdo was able to explain what had happened. And then he discovered that the doors on French phone boxes open the opposite way from British ones. If he'd pushed the left side of the door, instead of the right side, he'd have been all right. [Phoning the operator sounds another good idea. Ed.]
- Allen Coggins, a bureaucrat working in Nashville, Tennessee, put out a form as a joke. He asked his fellow workers to make an entry every time they sharpened a pencil. 17 colleagues dutifully supplied details of the date and time of the sharpening operation, along with the length of the pencil and the reason for sharpening it. And when Mr Coggins removed the forms, his colleagues started complaining that they couldn't sharpen their pencils because they couldn't find the necessary report form!
- An Edinburgh woman had to take her hearing aid in for repair because it was picking up police and taxi radios, and CB radio owners when they parked at the traffic lights outside her house.
- The Argentine invaders tried to win friends in the Falkland Islands by offering the locals a brand new colour TV set for a deposit of £10. Knowing that the Argies wouldn't be around to collect the balance of the cost of the set, more than 100 families took the deal.
- Gerry Steele, the proprietor of a Glasgow off-licence, found that he couldn't shift some Bulgarian wine, so he marked it down from 1.49 per bottle to just 99 pence. A man bought a bottle, and he came back for 3 more bottles several days later. And he kept coming back for 3-4 bottles every few days. When Mr. Steele mentioned that he must like the wine, the man set him straight on what he'd been doing with it. He had been painting a fence! Apparently, the wine had turned the plain wood a nice shade of light brown and at 99p/bottle, it was cheaper than paint.
- An 18-foot wing flap, which had fallen off a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet, crashed to earth as the aircraft was approaching New York's La Guardia airport. The 150 lb missile wiped out the TV aerial on the home of restaurant owner Joseph Natale, and crunched some flower pots, but caused no serious damage. "I thought it was a flying saucer!" he told reporters afterwards.
- In November 1982, President Ronald Reagan started fooling around during a voice test for a radio broadcast. "My fellow Americans," he announced, "I have talked to you on a number of occasions about the economic problems and opportunities our nation faces. And I am prepared to tell you, it's a hell of a mess." Everyone in the studio laughed. Unfortunately, a group of reporters in the next room heard his message and relayed it to their editors around the world.
- 1983 The French Telecommunications Ministry issued a new pocket telephone directory for the Paris area at the beginning of 1983 - and managed to include the wrong number for the Ministry's headquarters.
- In the UK, British Telecom was doing no better. An employee of the Scottish newspaper the Sunday Post wasted a quarter of an hour trying to contact Telecom's staff training HQ in Staffordshire before finding that she had been given the wrong number for BT's area office.
- Mindful of the reaction to Orson Welles' radio production of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, the NBC TV network felt obliged to warned viewers 14 times during the programme that a drama about terrorists taking out Charleston, North Carolina, with a home-made atomic bomb wasn't real.
- A computer malfunction at the US Solicitor-General's office in Washington was found to be due to a strange, sticky substance. The FBI sent samples to their laboratory and the analysis report said: urine. The FBI then launched a search for the relieved saboteur.
- When a hovercraft broke down during a Channel crossing in the autumn of 1983, the crew was unable to repair it because someone had stolen the adjustable spanner out of their toolkit. When the captain appealed to the passengers for help, one of them was able to supply a replacement from his car's toolkit.
- Paul Newman was directing a film on Florida's Atlantic coast in the autumn of 1983 and he wanted to finish with the leading characters standing still with the sun setting behind them. It was not until the crew had taken a lot of time and trouble to set up the shot that someone realized that the sun doesn't set in the east, into the Atlantic. So they all moved to Malibu, where they could be guaranteed a sunset into the Pacific Ocean.
- 1984 A survey conducted in Japan in 1984 showed that one-half of the pupils in the country's elementary school and one-third of the population under 30 didn't know how to use chopsticks properly. A Tokio firm responded by offering a three-month course in chopstickology at a mere £50 per week.
- Lost in Czechoslovakia during a Warsaw Pact exercise in the autumn of 1984, the four-man crew of a Russian tank stopped at a village pub to stock up on vodka. They parked their tank in a shed behind the pub and entered at about closing time. Two hours later, the villagers saw them leave with two cases of vodka and three kilos of herrings and pickles. Military police found them two days later - sleeping off their binge in a forest. They had no idea what they had done with their tank. Ten days later, high-grade steel began to turn up in large quantities at a metal-recycling centre. It was traced back to the landlord of the pub, who had the tank, minus the bits which he had sawn off, hidden in his shed. He admitted that he had bought it from the Russians for two-dozen bottles of vodka, and he had thrown in the herrings and pickles as a gesture of comradeship.
Note: this story was revived and presented as a current event on Radio Two's It's Been A Bad Week on Thursday, March 16, 2000!
- 1985 Potholes are a national institution in Portugal, especially in Lisbon's poorly repaired streets. Following newspaper pictures of cars swallowed up by giant holes and No Fishing signs in the best examples, Lisbon City Council opened an emergency telephone line so that citizens would report their craters created by the winter rains in 1984/5.
- The gates at the Spanish side of the frontier with Gibraltar had been painted, and a rehearsal for the re-opening ceremony was in progress in 1985, when a major problem arose. Everything came to a stop while workmen with road drills cleared away the tarmac which had built up during the 16-year diplomatic freeze, and which was stopping the gates from opening.
- Someone ran up a huge phone bill in the summer of 1985 by jamming the answering machine of Scunthorpe Borough Council with a three-hour recording of Handel's Messiah
- A hydrofoil carrying 112 people had to be towed to land by a lifeboat in the summer of 1985. It lost its steering 20 miles off Guernsey and passengers reported that they had seen a fin and lots of blood in the water after a collision. The captain added that blubber was found in one of the engines. The conclusion was that the vessel had hit a whale. There were no human casualties.
- A German man tried to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train in the autumn of 1985. Minutes later, a second train ran over him. He was only slightly hurt.
- 1986 When Penmaenmawr beach in North Wales began to glow in the dark in the summer of 1986, the first reaction was that it was due to radiation. An investigation revealed that the cause was nothing more dangerous than luminous microscopic marine organisms.
- 1990 Middle-aged holidaymaker Philip Pyne, in Weymouth during the summer of 1990, found an ideal way to prevent himself from falling off a sea-front bench after a heavy drinking session - he nailed himself to it. The police had to call an ambulance and the fire brigade when they found him with six nails driven through each thigh and trouser leg. The bench and Mr. Pyne travelled to the town's hospital in the ambulance, and they were successfully separated.
- When a Belgian judge ordered a man to divide his possessions with his wife in November, 1990, a 40-year-old Antwerp citizen took him literally. He chopped everything neatly in half - including the TV and the family car.
|1991-2000 - Century 20/Decade 10 | C 20/Decade 8 | C 20/Decade 9 | C 21/Decade 01 ||
- 1991 A Florida man sued his hairdresser for $10,000 damages in the summer of 1991. He insisted that his latest haircut was so bad that he had needed psychiatric help to get over the panic-anxiety disorder which it had caused.
- At the end of 1991, an urgent message went out over the Amsterdam police radio network announcing that a UFO had landed. Around 150 people, who had been listening in illegally on the police frequencies, were caught when they rushed to the "landing site".
- 1992 In 1990, a set of cave paintings of animals found at Alava in northern Spain was heralded as "the discovery of the century" and the amateur pot-holer who found them was given a £55,000 reward. The pictures, painted using natural pigments but no carbon, which ruled out a carbon-dating, were judged to be 13,000 years old and the cave was described as "the Sistine Chapel of the prehistoric world." Two years later, tests on the paintings finally proved that they had been painted using a modern household sponge and natural dyes, and they contained traces of modern materials and insect remains which should have decayed over the centuries. Exposure of the fraud came as a great relief to the archaeological world as the paintings, if genuine, would have "forced a complete rethink of our knowledge of prehistoric art."
- Five French students breached the Channel Tunnel's security precautions with ease at the end of 1992 - they just walked through it, recording their 15-hour journey with a video camera. Their stunt ended at a locked gate at the English side of the tunnel. They used the phone by the gate to contact the authorities and announce their presence, and completed their journey to Kent in a rail buggy - leaving those responsible for the Chunnel's security thinking about what could have happened if they had been terrorists with bombs...
- 1993 People walking along the towpath beside the Rhine at Dusseldorf in the summer of 1993 were amazed to see shoals of piranhas in the river. When a local angler caught one of the killer fish, the city's health authorities had signs erected warning children not to bathe in the area The piranhas are believed to have bred in the river after pet shop owners dumped surplus stock.
- 1994 A gang of workmen, who were sent to demolish the art gallery at Hammersmith Town Hall in 1994, arrived three days early and did a more thorough job than was expected. Artist Leo Smith was furious when he found that the workmen had destroyed his exhibition of wall drawings, 600 hand-fitted white lights and slightly altered everyday objects, thinking that it was just junk. The managing director of the demolition firm admitted later that he had not realized that the exhibition of modern art was still on.
- 1995 The passengers who boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit at the beginning of October, 1995, thought that they were going to Frankfurt. But when the airliner's flight crew asked Shannon air traffic control for their height, speed and heading for Frankfurt, the airliner was re-directed to Brussels, possibly because the air-traffic controller thought that the computer had made a mistake over its destination.
The flight attendants and the passengers watched in amazement as the electronic display maps in the cabin showed a dotted line which ended at Brussels, and even wondered if the airliner had been hijacked. The flight crew, convinced that they were going to Frankfurt despite all the evidence available from their instruments, eventually lined the aircraft up for its final approach through thick clouds. They addressed the Brussels flight controller as Frankfurt and no one on the ground corrected them.
Only when they broke through the clouds did the flight crew realize that they were about to land at Brussels, but it was too late to do anything other than go through with the landing by then. The crew was suspended immediately pending an investigation and the unfortunate passengers took another seven hours to travel a further 200 miles to their real destination: Frankfurt am Rhein.
- 1996 A French gambler decided to make a protest against the size of his tax bill in 1996 by paying what he owed in coins. A tax office in Viarmes suddenly found itself in possession of 3,730,606 one-franc coins and a further 2,606 francs in loose change; weighing a massive 22 tons.
- 1997 Howard Baker, a convicted killer, escaped the electric chair in 1986. Eleven years later, he put on a pair of home-made headphones connected to the TV set in his cell in Pittsburgh jail, sat down on his stainless steel toilet - and completed an electrical circuit which sent a lethal dose of electricity through his body.
- Police officers in Hampshire took a metal detector to a suspect's garden when they were looking for a steel cash box. The machine started bleeping and the coppers started digging. But they found nothing. But the machine bleeped again a few yards away and they dug another hole - also with no result. It wasn't until the lawn and the flower beds were a mass of holes that the embarrassed coppers worked out that their metal detector was responding to the steel toecaps of their boots!
- 1998 A German taxi driver went to his own street to pick up a fare in February, 1998 - and found that he was supposed to pick up a burglar who was carrying clothing and a video recorder stolen from his home. The burglar's getaway attempt ended up at the local cop shop.
- A security guard tried to smuggle some cash out of a bank in Atlanta in his underpants in the spring of 1998. He was detected when a small pack of security dye exploded and blew a hole in his trousers.
- 1999 21-year-old Tim Schultz of Des Moines borrowed fifty cents from a 20-year-old girlfriend because he didn't have a dollar to buy a lottery ticket. When he won, he was too mean to go halves on the £10 million prize, so his friend sued. And that's when Tim found out that he could lose everything because all lottery entrants must be 21 or older!
The following additional comments were received from a reader by email:
The girlfriend dropped her lawsuit when she discovered that they could lose the winnings if they were found to be co-winners, as she was not of age; and she settled with Tim for an undisclosed amount, probably less than half of the winnings.
Thank you, mesirois at excite.com. We tried to send you an email but it came back as undeliverable.
- The French would have us believe that they are a pretty together bunch, who know what they're doing. Which makes it all the more difficult to understand how they could have spent £4 billion over 13 years on their first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and given it a flight deck which was four yards too short. The designers of the Charles de Gaulle had to tack a further 12 feet on to the flight deck to allow aircraft to land, turn round without using a tractor and get off the runway before the next plane coming in crashes into them!
- 2000 In the summer of 2000, the religious police of Kandahar, Afghanista, staged a pitch invasion during a football match and arrested the entire visiting team from Pakistan. As the spectators rioted, causing a number of injuries, the luckless footballers were hauled away to the religious police's headquarters, where their heads were shaved as a punishment before they were dumped at the Pakistani embassy. Their crime? Wearing shorts in public. Under the Islamic dress code imposed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, footballers are supposed to cover themselves up in big, baggy trousers and long tunics.
- Autumn mushroom pickers looking for a cash crop have been invading the runway at the airfield near a small town in Northern Russia. Would mushrooms find much nourishment on a runway, especially if aircraft keep landing on it? It seems unlikely but the hordes of Russian mushroom pickers have forced aircraft to abort landings, and the authorities have responded by imposing a fine equivalent to three years' wages on anyone caught in the act!
- Earth Doomed in 2030 is the message that went out on the Internet on 04/11/2000. Sky-watchers had calculated that an asteroid called 2000 SG344 had a high probability of hitting the Earth on September 21st, 2030. Unlike previous similar forecasts, this prediction was "unlikely to be withdrawn" as it had been verified at a number of independent research centres. A couple of days later, the headline buried on an inside page of the newspaper was: Asteroid False Alarm. The sky-watchers had rechecked their sums and found that the asteroid would miss the Earth by three million miles or twelve times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Close but no cigar!
|2001-2010 - Century 21/Decade 1 | C 20/Decade 8 | C 20/Decade 9 |
C 20/Decade 10 ||
- 2001 In the first month of the new millennium/century/decade/year, pet owners were warned not to leave aerosol sprays within reach of their little treasures. Why? Because a dog bit into a can of hair-spray and caused a fire which destroyed its home in Willenhall, West Midlands!
- The early part of the 2001 Formula 1 Grand Prix season was a tough time for the Williams team. Rubens Barrichello bashed his Ferrari into Ralf Schumacher in Malaysia and in Brazil, Barrichello ran up the back of Ralf Schumacher instead of braking for a corner and Jos 'The Boss' Verstappen did the same to Juan Pablo Montoya in the other Williams - and crashed him out while he was in the lead. Which was why the Williams cars had a large Keep Your Distance message on the rear wing during practice for the San Marino GP. Although it was back to BMW Power for the race.
- The Silly Season, 2001, got off to a good start with a report that Euro coins have a high nickel content and German doctors have warned that they could cause severe rashes and pain as millions of people may be allergic to them. The EU, on the other hand, says that there should be no problem because it's high quality nickel - which seems to be missing the point if nickel is causing the allergy!
- Still in the Silly Season, council head-bangers struck again. First, it was a council in Norfolk wanting to chop down horse chestnut trees in case kids got run over while collecting conkers. Now, Northampton Borough Council has ruled that a 93-year-old woman's anti-burglar barbed wire [installed after 4 burglaries] has to come down. The reason? That 'it could cause injury to someone who foolishly attempted to climb her fence'! Another point missed, or what?
- The euro arrived for 12 European states at the start of 2002 and suddenly, there was a German planning to sue his state for free Viagra on the grounds that 10-euro notes had made him impotent. Others claimed that handling these notes caused allergic reactions, sore joints or a damaged immune system. Tributyltin, used only during printing 10-euro notes to prevent them from bleaching in sunlight, was blamed. Experts said that the level was too low to harm people but the European Central Bank was worried enough to perform new safety tests. The German government called the complaints 'spurious'.
- There are now separate bus stops for Catholics & Protestants on a stretch of Whitewell Road in North Belfast. A Protestant bus stop was provided 80 yards from the Catholic stop because people were being stoned by yobs from a nearby Republican estate.