How 'Allo 'Allo outlasted the Nazi occupation

Author shares random facts in a new trivia tome – from how ’Allo ’Allo outlasted the Nazi occupation to Genghis Khan’s killing of an estimated 11 per cent of the world’s population

  • Jonn Elledge gives the feeling of getting lost in an online encyclopedia in a tome
  • Facts include Genghis Khan killed an estimated 11 per cent of the population
  • TV’s ‘Allo ‘Allo lasted more than twice as long as the Nazi occupation of France

‘THE COMPENDIUM OF (NOT QUOTE) EVERYTHING’   

by Jonn Elledge (Headline)

Lots of books have mentioned the fact that one of the early names for Google was BackRub. Lots of books have mentioned the fact that there was a war lasting from 1272 to 1278, which killed 15,000 people, and which started because a peasant in what is now Belgium stole a cow. But I’ll bet this is the first book ever to mention both those facts.

Jonn Elledge’s self-professed aim with this compendium is to ‘provoke the enjoyable feeling of getting lost in an online encyclopedia, sinking deeper into a warm bath of trivia’. The book covers simply what interests him, for no other reason than that’s what interests him.

Jonn Elledge gives the feeling of getting lost in an online encyclopedia in a new tome. Pictured: Gordon Kaye and Vicki Michelle in ‘Allo ‘Allo

In the section on measurements he reveals that ‘myriad’ — these days a general word meaning ‘a lot’ — was, to the ancient Greeks, a specific word for 10,000. In the section on countries we learn that only about 13 of the world’s 150 or so non-European countries entirely escaped colonisation by a European one. And in the section on food we find the loganberry, cross between a raspberry and blackberry that only occurred because an American man named Logan accidentally planted some vines too close together.

Some of the facts are astonishing. If the 13.8 billion year history of the universe is converted to a single year, for instance, the dinosaurs don’t become extinct until 6am on December 30. And Jesus Christ doesn’t exist until five seconds before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Genghis Khan killed an estimated 11 per cent of the world’s population. The Australian army could have done with him in 1932, when they were sent in to dispatch some emus that had been destroying crops. Despite the fact they were using machine guns, the soldiers couldn’t cope with the birds’ incredible speed, or ability to run in zig-zags, so after a few days they admitted defeat and left.

Other facts are memorable because of their silliness. The TV programme ‘Allo ‘Allo ran from 1982 to 1992, meaning it lasted more than twice as long as the real-life Nazi occupation of France.

Then there are the beautiful facts, the ones which prove that the supposedly dull world of (adopts nasal librarian monotone) ‘facts and figures’ can have a poetry all of its own. The point on Earth that is furthest from dry land (it’s in the South Pacific, 1,670 miles from the Pitcairn Islands, Easter Island and Antarctica) is known as Point Nemo, Latin for ‘no one’.

And the Beaufort wind force scale reads like a poem in itself. Force three includes ‘leaves and small twigs in constant motion’, six means ‘umbrellas used with difficulty’, while force 12 is simply ‘devastation’.

‘THE COMPENDIUM OF (NOT QUOTE) EVERYTHING’ by Jonn Elledge (Headline)

This wouldn’t be a bad book to give to a child who’s about to start secondary school. Not only because some of the facts will be useful to them, but also because it will make them question the notion of what counts as a fact in the first place.

Elledge is very good at reminding us that supposedly hard-and-fast information — the sort that gets quoted in textbooks, and indeed news reports — is often far less certain than we think.

Even something as ‘simple’ as the world’s longest river. You’ll usually see the answer ‘the Nile’, with a figure anywhere between 4,130 and 4,404 miles. But as that discrepancy shows, measuring the length of a river is never easy. Which of its multiple sources do you choose?

At the other end, it isn’t always clear where a river stops and the sea starts. Do you measure the left bank, the right bank or a line down the middle? These and other factors affect the answer. Some people claim that the world’s longest river is actually the Amazon.

What counts as ‘interesting’ is a very personal matter. So I’d be amazed if you were interested in everything in this book. But then I’d be amazed if you were interested in nothing in this book. You’ll certainly learn something.

For instance, I really thought I knew my Michael Caine — but somehow I’d missed the fact that in 2016 the actor (famously born Maurice Micklewhite) had finally changed his name by deed poll. It was to make life easier at airports.

‘A security guard would say “Hi Michael Caine”, and suddenly I’d give him a passport with a different name on it. I could stand there for an hour.’

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