Ringo at 75

‘Not even the best drummer in the Beatles ...'

Dear old Ringo Starr turns 75 today. Three-quarters of a century of peace signs, curious vowel sounds that sit halfway between Liverpool and LA, and an inescapable sense of naffness. Here are five facts about the man who was once accused (by Jasper Carrot, though you often see it credited to Paul McCartney or John Lennon) of not being ‘the best drummer in the world - in fact he wasn't even the best drummer in the Beatles' ...

Ringo at 75

1. Ringo has never eaten a pizza. (He doesn't like tomatoes.)

2. When he bought Peter Sellers's 15th-century mansion in Surrey, Ringo cut a cat-flap in the priceless front door which Sellers had had imported from Italy.

3. When he had his tonsils out at London's University College Hospital in 1964, so many fans rang up to enquire after his health that the local telephone exchange had to intercept calls and give a report. The operators had a large blackboard in their room displaying up-to-the-minute news of Ringo's progress.

4. The screaming at the height of Beatlemania drowned out the rest of the band, so Ringo could only stay in time with John, Paul and George by watching their bums go up and down.

5. A few years ago Ringo took a call from Paul McCartney. ‘Guess where I am?' said Macca. ‘John Lennon Airport.'


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Big Ben

On a visit to Big Ben, I was told that if you stand at the bottom of the tower with a portable radio and listen to the chimes on Radio 4 (they still transmit them live), you hear them on the radio before you hear them ‘for real’. I couldn’t believe it – but was intrigued enough to try it for myself. And you know what? It’s absolutely true. The bongs come out of the radio a fraction of a second before they reach your ears from the top of the tower. It’s something so silly, so counter-intuitive, that you have to tell people. (Well, I did.) Researching the explanation, I found that it’s because radio waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) rather than the 700 or so miles per hour at which sound waves travel. The signal travelling down the wire from the microphone to the BBC goes at the speed of light too. Hence the radio version overtaking the real one.

I realised that this would be the perfect way to teach the principle in school physics lessons. Instead of a boring teacher droning on that ‘radio waves travel at the speed of light’, illustrate it with this beautiful and quirky little fact. The kids will remember it then. I certainly would have done if my physics teacher had taken this approach. As it was I had to wait until I heard a piece of so-called ‘trivia’ in my thirties.