Here are some more amusing examples of how to fail with real elan…
Between 1953, when it was built, and 1976, when it sank, the Argo Merchant suffered every known form of maritime disaster.
In 1967 the ship took 8 months to sail from Japan to America. It collided with a Japanese ship, caught fire three times and had to stop for repairs 5 times. In 1968 there was a mutiny and in 1969 she went aground off Borneo for 34 hours. In the next 5 years she was laid up in Curasao, grounded off Sicily and towed to New York.
In 1976 her boilers broke down 6 times and she once had to travel with two red lights displayed, indicating that the crew could no longer control the ship’s movements because the steering and engine had failed. She was banned from Philadelphia, Boston and the Panama Canal.
To round off a perfect year she ran aground and sank off Cape Cod depositing the country’s largest oil slick on the doorstep of Massachusetts.
At the time of the final grounding the ship had been ‘lost’ for 15 hours. The crew was 18 miles off course and navigating by the stars, because modern equipment had broken down. What is more, the West Indian helmsman could not read the Greek handwriting showing the course to be steered.
A naval expert afterwards described the ship as ‘a disaster looking for somewhere to happen’.
A firemen’s strike in 1978 made possible one of the great animal rescue attempts of all time. Valiantly, the British Army had taken over emergency firefighting and on 14 January they were called out by an elderly lady in South London to retrieve her cat which had become trapped up a tree. They arrived with impressive haste and soon discharged their duty. So grateful was the lady that she invited them all in for tea. Driving off later, with fond farewells completed, they ran over the cat and killed it.
This next one could be striaght out of script from the comedy TV series ‘One foot in the grave’. In 1975 Mrs Josephine Williams and her family went to meet a long-lost brother at Heathrow Airport. They took home a complete stranger.
Greatly relaxed by in-flight drinking facilities, the traveller wandered into the airport lounge to be smothered by the kisses of Mrs Williams and her sisters. “Gee, this is great,” he kept saying, all the while cuddling Mrs Williams in a manner which she later described as ‘not like a brother’.
His enthusiasm for British hospitality was modified, however, when Mr Williams shook his hand firmly and ushered him to a parked car.
They first suspected that something was amiss when their relative tried to jump out of the car while travelling at speed up the motorway. When told that he was being taken to a family reunion in Coventry, he replied, “Take my money. Here’s my wallet. Take it and let me go.”
Slumped miserably in the front seat, he added, “This is the first time I have been to England and I am being kidnapped.”
“I thought from the beginning he wasn’t my brother”, Mrs Williams said later, “but my sisters wouldn’t listen. They said I was only twelve when he left for America and wouldn’t remember.”
Can any bus service rival the fine Hanley to Bagnall route in Staffordshire? In 1976 it was reported that the buses no longer stopped for passengers.
This came to light when one of them, Mr Bill Hancock, complained that buses on the outward journey regularly sailed past queues of up to thirty people. Councillor Arthur Cholerton then made transport history by stating that if these buses stopped to pick up passengers they would disrupt the time-table.
Worried that ground staff were stealing miniature bottles of whisky from a Pan-Am aircraft, security guards set a trap.
In the summer of 1978 they wired up a cuckoo clock inside the drinks cabinet so arranged that it would stop whenever the door was opened. This, they said, would reveal the exact time of the theft. They omitted, however, to tell the plane’s crew with the result that a stewardess, Miss Susan Becker, assumed it was a bomb. She alerted the pilot of the Boeing 727 who made an emergency landing at Berlin where 80 passengers left in a hurry through fire exits.
A Pan-Am spokesman said afterwards that the miniature bottles of whisky on the plane cost 17 pence each. The cost of the emergency landing was £6,500.
In 1973 a fire broke out at 2 Crisp Road, Henley. The occupants telephoned the local fire brigade only to find that it was taking part in ‘Operation Greenfly’, a simulated exercise to douse an imaginary fire on the village green.
The alarmed occupants next telephoned nearby Wallington Fire Station who said they would send a fire engine immediately. Half way down Bix Hill, the cab burst into flames and the firemen struggled out, choking. Although there were 400 gallons of water on board, this could not be used, since the suction pump was operated from the cab which was now full of smoke.
At this point the local fire brigade, on its way back from Operation Greenfly, drove past. They pulled to a halt and said they had very little water left, having just waterlogged the village green. They did what they could, while the Wallington fireme sheepishly asked passing motorists if they had any fire extinguishers.
The fire at 2 Crisp Road was put out by energetic locals throwing water.