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

The Unbelievable Truth

BBC Radio 4 panel show built on truth and lies. 159 episodes (pilot + 26 series), 2006 - 2021. Stars David Mitchell.

Another series is in development.
Recording at Shaw Theatre. Tickets

Series 17, Episode 6

John Finnemore, Frankie Boyle, Jeremy Hardy and Lucy Porter are the panellists obliged to talk with deliberate inaccuracy on subjects as varied as spies, fire, Norfolk and The Beatles.

Further details

The Truths

John Finnemore - Spies

- The CIA tried to put hair remover into Fidel Castro's shoes to make his beard fall out and undermine him. Found by Jeremy.

- In 2007, police in Iran detained 14 squirrels suspected of spying, as they were hanging around a nuclear enrichment plant. Successfully smuggled.

- In 2013, Egyptian authorities detained a stork on suspicion of spying. The authorities mistook the bird's migration tag for spying equipment. Successfully smuggled.

- For seven years from 1946, the American embassy in Moscow was bugged with a listening device in the shape of a large, carved, wooden seal of the United States, given to the ambassador as a token of friendship by Soviet schoolchildren, and proudly hung by him in his study. The device was created by Leon Theremin, the creator of the electronic musical instrument which bears his name. Successfully smuggled.

- John le Carré worked in a circus where it was his job to wash the elephants. After running away from home aged 16 and enrolling at Bern University, he washed elephants for the Swiss National Circus in order to support himself. Successfully smuggled.

Jeremy Hardy - Fire

- Firefighters add a foaming agent to water to make it wetter. It reduces the water's surface tension, penetrating deeper into burning material, so fires can be extinguished more rapidly and using less water. Found by Lucy.

- No-one knows for certain who patented the fire hydrant as the records were destroyed by fire. All US patents were lost in 1836 when the patent office in Washington burnt to the ground. The post or pillar-shaped hydrant is generally attributed to Frederick Graff Senior, who was granted a patent in 1801, though any evidence for this was lost in the fire. Found by Frankie.

- The first fire alarms were made using butter, which melted when there was a fire, connecting two metal plates that made a circuit. It was invented by George Darby of Birmingham, who patented it in 1902. Found by John.

- In the west of England, there was a tradition of running unpopular people out of town by burning their houses down. The person would be tied down in their house which was then set on fire. If they escaped they were allowed to go free, but had to leave the area. Found by Frankie.

- Johnny Cash's estate refused to let his song Ring Of Fire to be used for an advert for haemorrhoid cream. Found by Lucy.

Lucy Porter - Norfolk

- Norfolk had the UK's first postcodes. The first postcodes were introduced after the Second World War and were first trailed in Norwich in 1959. Found by Jeremy.

- The world's oldest footprints outside of Africa are on Happisburgh beach in Norfolk. They are between 850,000-950,000 years old. Found by John.

- A rare local frog in Norfolk croaks in a Norfolk accent. The northern pool frog is England's rarest amphibian. The frog became extinct in England in the 1990s, but was reintroduced to Norfolk from Sweden in 2005 after recordings of mating frogs were analysed and found a distinctive Norfolk inflection in their calls was identified. The frogs were originally thought to have been an import from continental Europe, but researchers found that they were native to East Anglia and hence reintroduced them. Successfully smuggled.

- Norfolk was the first place to produce fish fingers. They were first produced by Birds Eye in 1955, in a factory in Great Yarmouth. Successfully smuggled.

- Norfolk is home to the Norfolk Knife, which was displayed in the Great Exhibition in 1851. It contains 75 blades and took two years to make. Successfully smuggled.

Frankie Boyle - The Beatles

- Almost one-in-five Beatles songs mention the weather. Out of their 309 songs, 48 mention the weather, which is around 16%. Found by John.

- In 1967 the Beatles song She's Leaving Home angered the American far-right who decided it was a cryptic advertisement for abortion. Paul McCartney wrote the song which is about a girl who leaves a note to her parents saying that she meets "a man from the motor trade." Some people took this phrase to mean a euphemism for an abortionist, but McCartney say that it just meant a typical sleazy character. Found by Jeremy.

- In 1996 Ringo Starr appeared in a Japanese advertising campaign for grated apple juice, because that is what his name means in Japanese. "Ringo" is Japanese for "apple", and his name sounds like the phrase: "ringo sutta", meaning "grated apple". Found by John.

- John Lennon claimed that the name for The Beatles came to him in a vision in a dream at the age of 12, where a man appeared on a flaming pie saying: "you will be Beatles with an 'a'". However, according to Hunter Davies's authorised biography of the band, it is more likely that Lennon was originally thinking that "The Crickets" would be a good name for a English band, and when "The Beetles" came into his head he spelt it with an "a" to jokingly associate it with beat music. Successfully smuggled.

- The BBC banned "I Am the Walrus" not for its anti-establishment tone, but because it contains the word "knickers". Successfully smuggled.


- John Finnemore: 6 points
- Frankie Boyle: 4 points
- Lucy Porter: 2 points
- Jeremy Hardy: -4 points

Broadcast details

Monday 7th November 2016
BBC Radio 4
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
David Mitchell Host / Presenter
Guest cast
Jeremy Hardy Guest
Frankie Boyle Guest
Lucy Porter Guest
John Finnemore Guest
Writing team
Dan Gaster Writer
Colin Swash Writer
Production team
Jon Naismith Producer

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