Mark Mason

On this day: how did the plimsoll get its name?

On this day: how did the plimsoll get its name?
Image: Getty
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Every weekend Spectator Life brings you doses of topical trivia – facts, figures and anecdotes inspired by the current week’s dates in history …

6 February

In 1918 British women over the age of 30 received the vote. The comedian Frank Skinner had a mother who always voted Labour and a father who always voted Conservative. So they agreed not to bother voting, as they’d only cancel each other out. But one election night, as it was announced on TV that the polls had just closed, Skinner’s mother said: ‘I voted.’ Skinner recalls that ‘my dad went absolutely crazy’.

Suffragette Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (Getty)

7 February

In 1991 the IRA fired three mortars at 10 Downing Street. Two fell short, while the third only reached the garden. This was because the van from which the mortars were fired had parked in slightly the wrong place on Whitehall. A line had been marked on the pavement denoting the correct place – but this had been covered by a last-minute snowfall.

Downing Street in the snow (Getty)

8 February

Roger Lloyd-Pack (born 1944). The actor’s most famous scene as Trigger in Only Fools and Horses (standing next to Del Boy as he fell through the bar) came about by accident. Lloyd-Pack was working on another programme at the BBC’s North Acton rehearsal rooms at the same time as the rest of the Fools and Horses cast were there with writer John Sullivan. Lloyd-Pack wandered through to say hello, and mentioned to Sullivan that his own programme was pretty well done and dusted. ‘So I’ve got time to spare if you want to use me for anything,’ he added. Sullivan, who’d been thinking about doing the bar gag for years, decided this was the time. He wrote it into the script there and then, and Lloyd-Pack started rehearsing it with David Jason.

9 February

In 1964 the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. On a later appearance, one of the songs was Yesterday, performed by Paul McCartney on his own. ‘I’d never done this, I’d always had the band with me. So I was standing there – ‘come on, get it together, it’s OK’ – and the floor manager came up to me and said, “You nervous?” I said “no”. He said, ‘you should be, there’s 73 million people watching.”’

10 February

Samuel Plimsoll (born 1824). The politician introduced legislation forcing ships to display a line along the side, indicating the level to which they can be safely loaded. This is known as the Plimsoll line – and is in turn the reason the gym shoe became known as a plimsoll, because the line where the sole joins the upper looks like the line on a ship.

Image: Getty

11 February

Sarah Palin (born 1964). During her 2008 run for the US vice presidency, Palin’s autocue at speeches spelled ‘nuclear’ as ‘new-clear’. Aides did this to stop her pronouncing it ‘nucular’.

12 February

Nicholas Soames (born 1948). One of the politician’s ex-girlfriends allegedly described their love making as ‘like a wardrobe falling on top of you with the key still in’.