The Unbelievable Truth. David Mitchell. Copyright: BBC / Random Entertainment.

The Unbelievable Truth

BBC Radio 4 panel show built on truth and lies. 147 episodes (pilot + 24 series), 2006 - 2020. Stars David Mitchell.

New series to air in late 2020..
Series 17, Episode 5 is repeated on Radio 4 Extra on Monday at 9am.

Series 17, Episode 3

David Mitchell is joined by Tony Hawks, Richard Osman, Clive Anderson and Vicki Pepperdine as they lie on the subjects of chairs, medicine, prisons and video games.

Further details

The Truths

Tony Hawks - Chairs

- An American murderer whose execution by electric chair was commuted ironically died while adjusting the TV in his cell, by biting on a live wire while sitting on a metal lavatory. Found by Vicki.

- The swivel chair was invented by Thomas Jefferson. It is believed he was sitting in one when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. Found by Vicki.

- The electric chair was invented by a dentist. Alfred P. Southwick got the idea when he witnessed a drunken man touch a live generator terminal and thought electrocution would be a more humane form of execution than hanging. The first use of the electric chair was on 6th August 1899. Found by Richard.

- The 1978 Dean Friedman song "'Well, Well' Said the Rocking Chair" tells the story of how someone is consoled by a rocking chair, a balcony, a radio, a coffee cup and a table top. Found by Vicki.

- The world record for the most people sitting in one chair is 2,067 in Kobayashi, Japan. Successfully smuggled.

Vicki Pepperdine - Medicine

- The Ancient Egyptians treated sore throats with marshmallows, or rather the juice of the marshmallow plant. Found by Richard.

- A medieval cure for baldness was to rub goose droppings into your scalp. Found by Clive.

- There was a genuine old English medicine called: "Alan's Nipple Liniment". Other examples include: "Grimstone's Eye Snuff", "Taylor's Anti-Spasmodic Pills" and "Simpson's Infallible Ethereal Tincture". Found by Tony.

- In the early 20th century, if your toddler had a tickly cough you could buy over the counter a bottle of Bayer's Heroin to cure it. It was sold as late as 1912. Found by Richard.

- In 1834 Dr. John Bennett of Ohio used ketchup to help against indigestion and diarrhoea. He even developed a ketchup pill. Found by Tony.

Clive Anderson - Prisons

- Since smoking has been banned in US prisons, the main currency now used is mackerel, because a can is worth about $1. In UK prisons tuna is used as currency. Found by Vicki.

- In the 1490s Rodrigo de Jerez, the first person to smoke tobacco in Europe, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Spain because people thought he was possessed by the Devil. By the time he got out of prison, smoking had become commonplace. Found by Richard.

- Johnny Cash's performance at San Quentin Prison inspired inmate Merle Haggard to become a musician. Found by Tony.

- In the 18th century at Bridewell Prison, such was the demand to watch whipping sessions in which half-naked women prisoners were flogged, that a special viewing gallery had to be constructed. Found by Richard.

- While locked up in Fleet Prison, John Cleland wrote the first ever English-language pornographic novel, Fanny Hill. Successfully smuggled.

Richard Osman - Video Games

- On the original PC version of Tetris there was a "boss button" that converted the screen so it displayed a spreadsheet, so it looked like you were working in case your boss walk by. Found by Tony.

- Mario Kart 8 was the first game in which Mario's moustache was fully animated. Found by Clive.

- Mario's full name is Mario Mario. Found by Clive.

- In the 1980s Nintendo developed a prototype of the Nintendo Knitting Machine, but it was scrapped during its market research period when all seven of the test volunteers died of old age. Successfully smuggled.

-Hatris is a version of Tetris where the object of the game was to assemble a collection of hats. Successfully smuggled.


- Clive Anderson and Vicki Pepperdine: 0 points
- Richard Osman: -1 point
- Tony Hawks: -2 points

Broadcast details

Monday 17th October 2016
BBC Radio 4
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
David Mitchell Host / Presenter
Guest cast
Tony Hawks Guest
Clive Anderson Guest
Richard Osman Guest
Vicki Pepperdine Guest
Writing team
Dan Gaster Writer
Colin Swash Writer
Production team
Jon Naismith Producer

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