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sa 6 Apr

Astonisher No.60: When the BBFC banned The Wild One until the late 1960s itBritish Board of Film Censors Certificate meant UK cinema audiences didn't get to see it with a certificate something like this.  Nowadays the BBFC classifies not censors but we were still astonished to discover that since 2022 it's chair is Natasha Kaplinsky, hear her now on Screenshot Trying to chair a meeting and drive my son to hockey.

su 28 Jan

Robert Maxwell in 1989Astonisher No.59: Dodgy Robert Maxwell was Labour MP for Buckingham 1964-1970 becoming chair of the Refreshment Committee in 1967.  He resigned the post in 1969 after selling off the wine cellar ... not the only chancer in government eh?

th 12 Oct

Dr Lenny HenryAstonisher No.58: Comedian and actor Lenny Henry since 2018 is Dr Lenny Henry.  He did it the hard way with six years to get a BA in English from the Open University, then a MA followed by a PhD in Media Arts from Royal Holloway University of London.

th 3 Aug

Gridiron UKAstonisher No.57: Born in Eltham UK comedian Bob Hope (we've always liked the Road films) from 1947 to 1962 was a part owner of american football team the Los Angeles Rams.

th 30 Mar

Astonisher No.56: Finland shares an 800+ miles border with Russia and sinceFinland's national flag achieving independence in 1917 their army has continuously included conscription.

mo 3 Oct

Hattie McDaniel in 1939Astonisher No.55:  In 1939 Hattie McDaniel played Mammy in Gone with the Wind and for her performance was the first African American to win an Oscar.  She couldn't attend the film's premiere in Atlanta Georgia because the cinema was whites only.

tu 19 Apr

USA Permanent Resident Green CardAstonisher No.53:  For six years as an MP and 19 months as Chancellor Rishi Sunak held a USA green card requiring a declaration that his primary residence was in the USA ... which hopefully it isn't so he fibbed.

fr 4 Feb

Cinema sound pioneer Jack FoleyAstonisher No.52:  If you're the sort of weirdo who stays to read the film credits you would have met dolly grip, best boy and foley artist.  We knew that foley artist was something to do with sound but not that it's named after Jack Foley.

fr 12 Nov

The Joe Meek plaque in Holloway RoadAstonisher No.51:  ♫ Bad Penny Blues was an unlikely jazz hit single in the UK and Humphrey Littleton's only chart success.  He didn't like the very up front piano which was the post production of unlikely engineer on the session Joe Meek.

mo 15 Aug

Dance police at Hackney CarnivalAstonisher No.54:  Of the some 195 nations on the planet only 17 have police who routinely patrol without a firearm.

th 23 Jul

Astonisher No.50:  The legal tender for twenty pence pieces is £10 ... that's fifty coins ...

th 30 Apr

Astonisher No.49:  Some people are astonished that women have gonads too.

we 8 Jan

Astonisher No.48:  We've always thought the music over the Soprano's opening credits is Fun Loving Criminals, turns out it's British band the Alabama 3. ♫

tu 20 Aug

Astonisher No.47:  Painfully astonishing that in the UK one in four who die in a car crash aren't wearing a seat belt.  It's primarily young men in the early hours ...

su 2 Jun

Lord Jonathan SumptionAstonisher No.46:  In this year's Reith Lectures Lord Jonathan Sumption late of the supreme court states the RSPB has a larger membership than all three major political parties combined (round about 16:28) ... actually probably not that astonishing.

we 6 Feb

Merle Haggard in 2009 - pic contributedAstonisher No.45:  When Johnny Cash gave an unlikely concert at San Quentin state prison fellow country singer Merle I'm an Okie from Muskogee Haggard was in the audience serving two and a half years for burglary and an attempted jail break.  Equally unlikely (though perhaps not in the USA) Haggard was pardoned in 1972 by then governor of California Ronald Reagan.

tu 4 Dec

Alan Eustace in 2008 - pic contributedAstonisher No.44:  Although Felix Baumgartner's jump in 2012 from 24 miles not surprisingly set five world records he did not break Joseph Kittinger's 1960 longest free fall record.  In 2014 Google hacker Alan Eustace jumped from 25.7 miles setting new records.

tu 14 Aug

Gregg Allman in the 70sAstonisher No.43:  Gregg Allman was married to Cher?!  He was married seven times so presumably her turn had to come round at some point.

we 9 May

Ricky Valance - Tell Laura I Love HerAstonisher No.42:  Ricky Valance was the first Welshman to have a UK number one record, very easy to get him confused (like this bloke) with Richie Valens who died in the Buddy Holly plane crash.

tu 2 Jan

The seven year old MozartAstonisher No.41:  During June 1756 the nine year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played lunchtimes in the Swan and Harp Tavern, London for the drinkers.

th 14 Sep

Astonisher No.40:  In 2010 retiring governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson declined to pardon Billy the Kid ... we know but it's true.

tu 24 Jan

Daphne du Maurier about 1930Astonisher No.39:  du Maurier cigarettes (you can still get them in Canada and the West Indies) were not named after author Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Birds and Don't Look Now) but her actor father Gerald.  In 1936 she married Major (later Lieutenant General) Frederick Boy Browning who founded the paratroopers and she is thought to have chosen the maroon colour for their berets.

mo 7 Nov

Astonisher No.38:  The Irish saint Kevin (Anglicised from the Irish Cóemgen) of Glendalough (498-681) is the patron saint of Dublin and blackbirds ... seems an unlikely combination.

tu 19 Jul

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930 at the age of 34Astonisher No.37:  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of Sherlock Holmes played ten first class matches for the MCC and in goal for Portsmouth ... mind you this was an amateur side that disbanded two years before the present league team was founded in 1898.

fr 11 Jul

Bank of England don't like you making your ownAstonisher No.36:  The Bank of England got its first telephone in 1902 but was still buying quill pens in 1907.

mo 12 May

Mama Cass Elliot  1941-1974Astonisher No.35:  Singer Mama Cass Elliot died in her sleep (not choking on a ham sandwich) and in the same bedroom in which Who drummer Keith Moon died four years later.  The bedroom was in a flat Moon rented at the time from singer Harry Nilsson.  Nilsson subsequently sold the flat to Pete Townsend. ♫

t0u 11 Mar

Billy Two RiversAstonisher No.34:  Canadian and retired professional wrestler Billy Two Rivers (we can remember him war dancing on telly in the 1960s) is the father of British fashion designer Wayne Hemingway.

we 15 Jan

Sir Charles Bunbury  1740-1821Astonisher No.33:  Legend has it that when the Derby (Britain's richest horse race) was conceived at a 1779 party a coin was tossed to decide whether the race should be named after the party's host the 12th Earl of Derby or Sir Charles Bunbury (wasn't that the name of Ernest Worthing's imaginary and sickly friend?) a Jockey Club steward ... roller bunbury?

su 6 Oct

Astonisher No.32:  Having been secretly sold by Genoa to the French in 1764 Corsica only became openly French in 1768 just one year before Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island, he retained a Corsican accent all his life ... funny what you learn isn't it in the centenary year of Le Tour.

fr 16 Aug

Alan Lomax  1915-2002Astonisher No.31:  Alan Lomax is a giant figure in American folk and blues music having recorded in the field Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, Sonny Terry, Big Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthrie and others.  Astonishingly in 1953 he made an album at the Blaxhall Ship with singers including Cyril Poacher.  Although muso Steph the Pirate hadn't heard of Lomax he correctly intuited that Lomax was in the UK to avoid the House Un-American Activities Committee back in his native USA. ♫

tu 21 May

The Arandora StarAstonisher No.30:  It didn't astonish or even surprise us that actor (he played Miranda's dad in the Christmas special) Tom Conti's full name is Thomas Antonio Conti or that his father Alfonso was interned as a belligerent alien during the second world war.  What does astonish us is Alfonso returned home avoiding the Arandora Star after his wife Mary gave a suitcase containing £2,000 to the highest ranking policeman she could find.

mo 25 Feb

Astonisher No.29:  It doesn't surprise us that WS Gilbert was a failed barrister before becoming a brilliant lyricist ♫Life is a joke that's just begun♫ but a bit surprised he died in 1911 at the age of 75 from a heart attack whilst going to the assistance of a young woman swimming in his garden ... a 100 years later great crested newts were found in the pool.

tu 11 Dec

Juan Manuel Fangio  1911-1995Astonisher No.28:  F1's first decade of racing was dominated by Argentinean Juan Fangio.  The evening before the 1958 Cuban grand prix he was kidnapped from his hotel with responsibility claimed by Fidel Castro's 32nd of October revolutionary movement.  The race started late in the hope that Fangio would appear and then abandoned when Armando Garcia Cifuentes crashed his Ferrari into the crowd killing and injuring many.  Fangio was released unharmed.

mo 1 Oct

Captain WE JohnsAstonisher (quite) No.27:  We weren't that surprised and definitely not astonished that Captain W E Johns the creator of Biggles wasn't a real captain but we were a little taken aback to discover that early in his career he was a sanitary inspector in Swaffham Norfolk.

fr 3 Aug

The Revolution Will Not Be TelevisedAstonisher No.26:  American poet and jazz funkster Gil Scott-Heron died last year; his father Gil Heron was the first black athlete to play football for Glasgow Celtic ... we know but there's more, Scott-Heron's uncle Roy served in the Norwegian marine during WWII before joining the Canadian army.

su 10 Jun


Astonisher No.25:  James Robertson Justice the bearded Sir Lancelot Spratt of The Doctor films tended goal for professional ice hockey team the London Lions ... we know but when you look at his build it's probably true.

sa 12 May

David Nixon and Basil BrushAstonisher No.24:  Basil Brush will be 50 next year and his first man was tv conjurer David Nixon, no that's not it, David Nixon helped fund the Mellotron a sort of early synthesiser before there were synthesisers ... and what's more only some 2,000 were ever made. ♫

th 3 May

Astonisher No.23:  Johnny Johnson's big afro was in fact a wig ... you're going to have to trust us on this one.

sa 7 Apr

The Lone Ranger and TontoAstonisher No.22:  Canadian Jay Silverheels who played Tonto was in the 1930s a lacrosse professional with the Rochester Iroquois and Clayton Moore The Lone Ranger wore that worryingly lavender suit to personal appearances into his 80s despite the copyright owner briefly getting a court order to stop him in 1974.

we 22 Feb

Astonisher No.21:  When Abdulfattah Jandali managed a restaurant in Silicon Valley he was flattered to have Steve Jobs of Apple as a patron and on several occasions shook hands with him ... neither were aware they were father and son ... you'd think the genes would recognise each other wouldn't you?

fr 30 Dec

Astonisher No.20:  It is illegal in Japan to ride a tandem on a public road ... except for the province of Nagano ... and since 2008 Hyougo ... and since 2009 Yamagata ... you get the picture?  Yes, we see.

mo 19 Dec


Astonisher No.19:  When Fred Astaire (b1899 in Omaha Nebraska!) made his first film with Ginger Rogers he'd already made one film ... she'd made twenty and OMG weren't they beautiful, watch Ginger's left arm, we think it's gently doing some sending up.

sa 29 Oct

Stephanie Flanders ~ pic contributedAstonisher No.18:  BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders is the daughter of the late Michael Flanders who died when she was six ... yes, that's what we thought, what's Robert Peston's job then?  He's the business editor apparently.

fr 16 Sep

Newsreader Angela RipponAstonisher No.17:  Broadcast only in the Midlands area in 1977 news reader Angela Legs Rippon was the first presenter of Top Gear not Jezza and chums ... although it does feel like they've been doing it for ever ... we know but it's true.

fr 27 May

Floella Benjamin - pic contributedAstonisher No.16:  Delicious Floella Benjamin who presented Play School and Play Away in the 1980s was made Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham last year and Chancellor of Exeter University in 2006 ... we know but it's true.

we 4 May

Astonisher No.15:  The great grandfather of actress the divine Helena Bonham Carter (we actually love her eyebrows more than Julianne Moore's nose) was prime minister Herbert Asquith, Britain's last Liberal pm ... we know but it's true.

sa 23 Apr
St George's Day

Lord LucanAstonisher No.14:  Lord Lucan's great-great-great-grandfather was the officer who told the Light Brigade to charge the wrong Russians ... we know but it's true.

sa 12 Mar

Stanley Matthews in an England shirtAstonisher No.13:  Just before Christmas 1960 legend Stanley Matthews played in a charity Tennis v Showbiz football match with his tennis player son.  Matthews was reprimanded by the FA for breaking reg 18a playing with or against unaffiliated clubs and signed an undertaking to never do it again ... we know but it's true.

we 16 Feb

Astonisher No.12:  Israel qualified for the 1958 world cup without Jimmy Murphy 1910-1989playing a game as the Arab countries in their group refused to meet them.  FIFA then ruled that to qualify Israel should play Wales (Belgium having declined) and consequently Welsh national manager (and assistant Man U manager) Jimmy Murphy was in Cardiff not Munich.  Scotland's first national (but still only part time) manager Matt Busby was in Munich and near death so the Scottish FA solved the problem by not sending a manager ... we know but it's true.

th 23 Dec

Charles MansonAstonisher No.10:  What do Stephen Stills (musician)Stephen Stills and Charles Manson (serial killer) have in common?  They both auditioned for the Monkees?  Stephen Stills certainly did audition before forming Buffalo Springfield but Charles Manson was in prison 1961-67 for parole violation and couldn't have ... we know but it's true.

mo 13 Dec

Nottingham Forest in Derby's shirtsAstonisher No.9:  At the 1898 FA Cup Final the teams were photographed with the cup before the match and at the photographer's suggestion eventual winners Nottingham Forest borrowed Derby County's lighter coloured jerseys ... we know but it's true.

sa 13 Nov

Astonisher No.7:   In 1947 by investing $50,000 in the then six man Ampex company singer Bing Crosby made tape recorders commercially available ... we know but it's true.

su 15 Aug

Astonisher No.1:  Country singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson has a boxing blue from Oxford ... we know but it's true.

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