Series N, Episode 4 - Noble Rot
- It is not possible to name 'a nobleman who invented a hot drink you might enjoy with your hobnob'. Despite various stories, neither Earl Grey tea or hobnobs were invented by members of the nobility - these stories are PR inventions. However, even today packets of Earl Grey tea still claim that the Earl invented it. No-one knows for sure why Earl Grey tea was named after him, and he was most likely dead for 40 years by the time it was invented. Food that is actually associated with nobles include beef wellington, named after the Duke of Wellington, and battenberg cake, which was created for the marriage of Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884.
- Tangent: Among the things Earl Grey was famous for was the Great Reform Act, and for having the most nepotistic Government in British history. His Government was also the most aristocratic administration ever formed. All but one of his 13 cabinet members were either peers or heirs to a peerage, and in the lower ranks there were members of Grey's own family.
- Tangent: Some historians claim that tea should take credit for the industrial revolution happening in Britain. This is because during industrialisation you normally get a population increase in cities, which usually leads to epidemics. However, in Britain the health of people actually got better because people were boiling their water to make tea.
- You could improve your job prospects by getting nicked... if you were a German with a duelling scar. Until the Second World War, duelling with swords was a huge part of aristocratic society. Today there are about 160 student duelling clubs. The duels involve standing still and with your left hand behind your back. The people who populate these clubs tend to also be the people who end up dominating big business. The events also involve singing patriotic songs and such prodigious drinking contests that they have special 'puking basins'.
- XL Tangent: The duelling scars are known as "schmitte" or "Renommierschmisser", and are known as "bragging scars".
- Tangent: Among the famous people to be badly injured in a sword duel was Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who lost his nose in a duel in 1566 and had one made out of brass to replace it, although some say he also had a gold or silver one made for special occasions. It is also possible that in 1601 Brahe died of extremely good manners, because at the time it was not considered polite to leave the dining table to use the toilet at a banquet, and he died of a burst bladder.
- XL Tangent: Duelling scars were so highly valued that some people inflicted them on themselves, they would stuff horsehair into a wound or pour red wine onto it in order to make the wound more prominent. Having a scar was once thought to make a man good marriage material. Recent research has found that women do favour men with scars, but only for short-term relationships. Other studies also show that women's tastes change when they ovulate, and during ovulation women favour men who are rougher. However, Jeremy claims it depends how you get the scar. He himself has one when a clutch pedal went through his leg when driving a lorry.
- Tangent: Petticoat duels were duels fought between women. The most famous petticoat duel was an 1892 topless duel in Austria between Princess Metternich and Countess Kielmannsegg, over a disagreement about a flower arrangement. They fought topless because they were worried of infections if a bit of fabric got into their wounds. It was also the first ever emancipated duel, in that everyone involved in it was a woman. It is hard to say who won the duel though. The Princess was injured first (on the nose) so the Countess drew first blood, but the Countess was injured on the arm, which was considered a better wound to inflict.
- You can tell the difference between a nob and a yob by the way they speak. In 1954, linguistics professor Alan Ross of Aston University, Birmingham, created the categorisations of "U" and "non-U" ("Upper" and "non-Upper") to distinguish speech patterns. The following year Nancy Mitford picked this up in an essay and said that you could no longer tell the difference between the lower and upper classes via any method except language. This caused problems for middle-class people as what terms they should use in order to sound more upper, such as whether to say "loo paper" or "toilet paper".
- Tangent: Alan says that if he were to choose between "loo paper" or "toilet paper", he would instead say "bog roll". Jeremy was once in Namibia and asked a local for some bog roll, but the local didn't know what Jeremy meant, so rather than say "loo paper" or "toilet paper" he mimed.
- XL Tangent: In order to avoid talk about loos or toilets, women just say "powder room". Jeremy once had a girlfriend and they went to see a very posh friend of his and his mother. Upon arriving, the mother asked his girlfriend: "Would you like to look in a mirror?" as a way of offering use of the lavatory.
- Tangent: Jason claims that half the population stand up to wipe their bottoms, the other half stay sitting down to wipe their bottom, and it isn't until people are polled that they realise that the other method exists. Jason asks the audience, and the result is half and half.
- Tangent: Jeremy asks why toilets at festivals or outdoor events are always so filthy. Sara claims that perhaps people are just aware that Jeremy was behind them in the queue to the toilet. Someone once pushed over a portable toilet Jeremy was in, and the person who pushed it over knew he was in it. Sandi once used a public toilet where the lock wasn't working, so she had to hover over the seat and push the door shut with her hand at the same time. However, she then sat down so as not to make a mess of the seat, but as soon as she did someone opened the door. The woman then shut the door, before opening the door again and asking for her autograph.
- XL: The panel play a game called "Posh or Becks" in which they are asked some questions indicating how posh they are.
- If you are a bit squiffy at a do, the one thing you shouldn't do is have an argument. Nancy Mitford said: "When drunk, gentlemen often become amorous, or maudlin or vomit in public but they never become truculent."
- The panel are shown some pictures of a girl, a golf ball, a tyre and a lion and are asked how to pronounce them. Posh people would pronounce them "Gehl", "Gof", "Tahr" and "Larn".
- XL Tangent: Jeremy once heard someone pronounce "Alps" as "Awps".
- The panel are shown a map of the mainland United States, with certain places lit in orange and others in blue, and are asked what is so darn shocking about the map. The answer is that the map shows where people are most likely to use the word "darn". The word "darn" is a euphemism for "damn" created in 1781. The areas most likely to use the term, coloured orange, are clustered around the centre and the north of the country. The results were compiled by using messages from nine billion tweets that were geocoded. Other maps show that "gosh" is mainly said in Nebraska, Texas and southern states; while "asshole" is used mainly in New England but hardly at all in the Deep South.
- XL Tangent: Joan Rivers once said that intelligence was something to do with the proximity to water. She said that there are lots of clever people on the coasts, and as you go further inland, "it goes clever, dumber, dumber, dumber, Kansas".
- Tangent: People who swear a lot are usually more articulate than those who don't swear. There is a test which involves writing down as many swear words as you can in two minutes and those who write more tend to be more articulate. However, it also depends on the language you speak. Japanese has less swear words for example. Jeremy claims that the Dutch have loads of swear words including "swaffelen", meaning, "to bang your penis on the Taj Mahal".
- XL Tangent: English has only about 20 swear words. The Romans had the most swear words, totalling around 800. We use swear words around 0.3-0.7% of the time.
- In Vancouver, Canada you cannot have knobs on your door. A 2014 law states that new buildings must have levers because they are easier to open if you suffer from arthritis. A year before the ban was introduced a pro-knob lobby was formed, and the president of the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America, Allen Joslyn, said: "To say that when I build my private home and nobody is disabled that I have to put levers on strikes me as overreach." In Pitkin County, Colorado, they have the exact opposite law, banning levels and only having knobs, in order to stop wild bears from opening doors.
- XL: It is probably not a good idea for Alan to say he was nice and natural, because originally these words were insults. The word "nice" comes from the Latin for "ignorant", and it originally meant someone who was foolish or silly, and the word was always critical and negative up to the 17th century, when it began to take on its modern-day meaning. An earlier meaning of the word "natural" was a born fool or idiot. (Forfeit: Yes)
- XL Tangent: The term, "the necessary", meant, "lavatorial", so a "necessary woman" was a lavatory attendant.
- XL Tangent: The panel are shown a list of words beginning with N and are asked if any of them don't mean "fool". Out of the words noddy, nodhead, noddypoop, ning-nang, ninny, ninnyhammer, ninny-whoop, noddle, nincompoop, nit, nitwit, numbskull and numpty, only "ning-nang" doesn't mean fool - it was a term for a useless racehorse.
- XL: The thing that should have won a Nobel Prize but didn't was the theory of relativity. Albert Einstein's Nobel Prize was for his work on the photoelectric effect. Einstein was nominated every year for a decade for his work on relativity but he never won, which was unfortunate as he had promised his ex-wife the prize money as a part of a divorce settlement. The reasons given for not awarding Einstein the prize was that there was no experimental confirmation of his theory. Additionally, it is possible there was an anti-Semitic faction of the Nobel panel that was constantly blocking him. In 1919 Arthur Eddington measured the deflection of light during a solar eclipse, proving the theory. Even so, Eddington's measurements were cast into doubt and Einstein never received the award for his work on relativity.
- XL Tangent: Another person often considered today to have unjustly been overlooked for the Nobel Prize is Rosalind Franklin for her work on DNA. In her case the reason is that she had died and the Nobel Prize is never awarded posthumously.
- XL Tangent: When news of Eddington's experiment broke, the New York Times sent their only reporter in London to meet him. The reporter, Henry Crouch, was the paper's golf correspondent and he had no idea what Eddington was talking about. Crouch's report said: "Lights all askew in the heavens, men of science more or less agog over results of eclipse observations. Einstein theory triumphs, stars not where they seemed or were calculated to be but nobody need worry."
- The thing that the royal families of Europe wore under their uniforms during the 19th century was tattoos. Among those who were tattooed include Grand Duke Alexei of Russia, Prince and Princess Valdemar of Denmark, Queen Olga of Greece, King Oscar of Sweden, the Grand Duke Konstantin, and Edward VII and George V of Britain. When Edward VII visited Jerusalem as Prince of Wales aged 20, he had five crosses tattooed on him, and then George had the same design done by the same artist 20 years later. Another tattooed king was Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, who was originally Napoleon's marshal and a revolutionary firebrand before later becoming king of Sweden and Norway. He reigned for 26 years after Napoleon was deposed, and during his reign he never allowed doctors to see his naked torso. After he died it was revealed that on his torso he had a tattoo that said: "Death to kings". His heirs are still the Swedish royal family. (Forfeit: Nothing)
- XL Tangent: Jason once spotted a man in a pub who had a tattoo of the name "Sarah". It was crossed out and had the name "Chloe" added beneath it. Some passionate vegans sometimes get the word "vegan" tattooed on themselves, while being unaware that most black tattoo ink is made out of burned animal bones meaning the tattoo is not vegan. However, you can get some vegan tattoos. Jeremy decides that vegan tattoo parlours are worth, "1,200 words in The Sunday Times next week".
- XL: The panel are shown a picture of a green neon sign saying "Oxygen" and are asked what gas is used to light it up. It is lit up by argon. Not all neon signs contain neon, as different gases give off different colours. Neon gives off a red light. Alternatively, you can use different coloured glass in the tube. (Forfeit: Neon, Oxygen)
- Queen Victoria's first name was Alexandrina. She was named after her godfather Alexander I of Russia, and her mother, Victoria. As a child she was called Drina. When she became Queen she asked for her first name to be removed and never used again. This is possibly to do with being her own person, as her very first act as Queen was to have her bed moved out of her mother's bedroom. (Forfeit: Victoria)
- XL Tangent: In 2000 Nancy Reagan published a collection of letters between herself and Ronald, and the pet names they had for each other include, "Little Mommy", "Your In-Love Gov", "First Papa", "Prexy" and "Mommy Poo-Pants".
- Under the Emperor Diocletian, Rome had four capitals: Nicomedia (now in Turkey), Sirmium (in Serbia), Mediolanum (Milan) and Augusta Treverorum (Trier). When he came into power in 284AD the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse so he decided that the empire should be ruled by four emperors. Diocletian was so successful as emperor that he was the first one able to retire. He went to live on the Dalmatian coast, where he grew vegetables. (Forfeit: Constantinople; Rome)
- XL: The BBC's most popular television export is Keeping Up Appearances. It is particularly popular in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Denmark has just placed another order for the series. (Forfeit: Doctor Who)
- Friday 11th November 2016
- BBC Two
- 30 minutes
Cast & crew
|Sandi Toksvig||Host / Presenter|
|Alan Davies||Regular Panellist|
|James Harkin||Script Editor|
|Ben Dupré||Question Writer|
|John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE)||Series Producer|
|Sohail Shah||Executive Producer|