They were one of the highlights of his afternoon radio shows: bits of trivia from around the world so crazy that listeners were never sure if they were true or false.
Whether it was learning a famous chef’s big shoe size or revealing the name of the movie that had the first flushing toilet, these fascinating “facts” were such a popular feature that the legendary DJ, who died this week at age 69 , produced two of his favorite books.
Author and broadcaster Janey Lee Grace, a member of Steve Wright’s group In The Afternoon, remembers: “We always had a lot of fun on the show. Collecting data and keeping it up to date and relevant was quite time consuming, so every once in a while we would throw in something that was “questionable” just for fun. It was just a bit of fun. I don’t think the listeners cared too much. Of course, when we had specific events to commemorate or anything seasonal, the producers would check them for accuracy!’
Here’s our pick of the DJ’s most outlandish facts…
‘A man, a plan, a Panama canal’ written backwards is still ‘A man, a plan, a Panama canal’.
Consecotaleophobia is the fear of chopsticks.
In 2007, a mother named her baby John Lewis when she went into labor while at the mall.
A chamois goat can balance on a rock spike the size of a £1 coin.
Chef Gordon Ramsay wears a size 15 shoe.
Tantalus was a king in Greek mythology whose crimes were punished by keeping food and drink out of his reach. Hence the word tempt.
Artist George Stubbs used to suspend dead horses from the ceiling so he could draw them while they weren’t moving.
The polar bear’s fur is not white. It is transparent, but light shines through the hairs to make them appear white against the bear’s fur.
Britney Spears is an anagram of Presbyterians.
The supernurse Florence Nightingale always traveled with her owl in her pocket.
Footballer Wayne Rooney proposed to his wife Coleen on a petrol station forecourt with a diamond engagement ring worth £25,000.
Did you know that ‘dilogy’ is the word given to an original film and its sequel? But dilogy is such an unpleasant word that it is not used publicly.
One in ten Scandinavians would have conceived in an Ikea bed.
Movie star Nicole Kidman is afraid of butterflies. “I jump out of planes, I could be covered in cockroaches, I do all kinds of things, but I don’t like feeling the bodies of butterflies,” she says. It is known as lepidopterophobia.
A Belgian student sold his foreheads and those of his friends to pay for his 20th birthday party. He put up his forehead as advertising space since he didn’t have money to buy food or drinks for the party. The online auction was won by a marketing company from the city of Waregem, which footed the bill for all partygoers to have the company logo painted on their foreheads for the night.
The name Lego, like that of the children’s toy, comes from two Danish words “leg godt”, which mean “play well”. Lego also means “I put together” in Latin.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s middle name is Wilhelm.
The first woman to circumnavigate (sounds painful) the world was Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz.
The Winston Churchill family motto was “Fiel pero desdichado”, meaning “faithful but unfortunate”.
The title of the ’70s TV show The Old Gray Whistle Test comes from the old maxim: “When the gray-haired goalie whistles your tune, you’ve got a hit on your hands.”
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s middle name is Wilhelm. That’s right?
James Bond villain Blofeld’s name was inspired by the father of English cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, with whom Bond creator Ian Fleming went to school.
Almonds are members of the peach family.
The most impossible item to flush down the toilet is a ping-pong ball.
Rolling Stones star Keith Richards has a son named Dandelion.
Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke only 700 words during the entire Terminator movie. That worked out to £12,000 a word, almost double the £6,500 payment he received for his first film, Hercules In New York.
Comedian Johnny Vegas reportedly attended interviews and was accepted as a priest; he changed his mind at the last minute.
Psycho was the first Hollywood movie to show a toilet being flushed, and that generated a lot of complaints.
The first episode of Doctor Who aired on November 23, 1963, the day after the assassination of President Kennedy. The nation was so shocked that the program went unnoticed, so the BBC repeated it a week later.
American composer John Cage created a piece titled ‘4 minutes 33 seconds’ that is completely silent.
Graceland is the second most visited house in the United States, after the White House. Elvis purchased Graceland for $102,500 (£36,600) in March 1957.
A study once revealed that people are more likely to catch colds when their mothers-in-law come to stay: too much stress weakens their immune system.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir had to paint with his brush tied to his fingers due to rheumatism.
Charles Dickens mentions a fried fish shop in his novel Oliver Twist (published c. 1838), but it was not until the 1860s that the trade took off. So Dickens invented fish and chip shops!
The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that asparagus had medicinal qualities to help prevent bee stings and relieve toothaches.
Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, was famous for his sense of humor and as a young man he would put sticky sweets on his guests’ chairs and trick them into sitting down.
In October 1833, ten-year-old Barney Flaherty became the world’s first newspaper boy after seeing an advertisement in the New York Sun.
Capgras Syndrome: Involves the delusion that a partner, such as a parent, spouse, or other relative, has been replaced by an imposter.
Pandas are the only bears that do not hibernate: their bamboo diet is not fattening enough. True or false?
Scientists have discovered that the humble lettuce was an ancient form of Viagra, which could improve sexual performance. In small quantities it has a sedative effect, but in larger doses it acts as a sexual stimulant.
Bananas contain a natural chemical that can make a person happy. This same chemical is found in Prozac.
Ovaltine, the drink made from milk, malt, egg and cocoa, was developed in 1904 in Bern, Switzerland. It was originally called Ovomaltine. An administrative error changed it when the manufacturer registered the name.
The great silent film star Charlie Chaplin insured his feet for £33,497.
The face of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin was severely marked by smallpox, which he suffered as a child. He later had photographs retouched so that his pockmarks would be less noticeable.
The quagga was a type of zebra that was hunted to extinction in the 19th century.
Four out of five computer passwords are chosen from sports heroes, pets or family members.
Tony Robinson only landed the role of Baldrick in the Blackadder series after Timothy Spall turned him down.
The day TV producers saw Jamie Oliver working at the River Café, he had only come to work because another chef was sick.
The English soldiers of the Hundred Years’ War were known to the French as “Les Goddamns” because of their propensity to swear.
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, never telephoned his wife or mother because they were both deaf.
A whale that strayed into the Thames in 2006 was not the first. In 1240, history books record that a “beast of prodigious size” swam under London Bridge. In 1309 a 75-foot-long whale was captured in Greenwich, London, and in 1658 another huge whale appeared after a great storm.
The World Cup was hidden under an Italian official’s bed during the war to prevent the Nazis from getting it.
Those ugly fish, the koi carp, can live more than 200 years, but the average lifespan is between 25 and 35 years.
Taramasalata, a type of Greek sauce, and Galatasaray, a Turkish football club, each have an ‘A’ every two letters.
A grasshopper needs a minimum air temperature of 17°C (62°F) before it can jump.
The superstition that spilled salt brings bad luck is believed to have its origins in Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper, which depicts Judas Iscariot sitting next to a knocked down salt shaker.
The Bay of Pigs in Cuba is not named after pigs. Its Spanish name, Bahía de Cochinos, can be translated as “bay of pigs,” but is actually named after pigs, a fish prevalent in those waters.
Strange American place names include Nothing, Chloride, and Winkelman in Arizona, and Plain City, Hurricane, and Orderville in Utah.
Pandas are the only bears that do not hibernate: their bamboo diet is not fattening enough.
London’s Oxford Street was formerly known as Tyburn Road, after the River Tyburn. The river still runs under the street.
In most advertisements, including those in newspapers, the time shown on the clock face is ten past ten.
The first time England qualified to play in the World Cup finals was in 1950. The tournament was held in terribly wet conditions in Brazil and our players had to be given oxygen at half-time.
The poet William Wordsworth could only sleep standing up.
When Queen Elizabeth II visited the Sultan of Brunei, she was given a list of etiquette that included not wearing yellow, not pointing, and not sneezing in public.
Only three grape varieties can be used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The latter has never been successfully cultivated anywhere in the world outside of the Champagne region of France.
Queen Victoria sent more than 2,500 Valentine’s cards during her reign.
At the age of 11, Beyonce recorded her life ambitions on a camcorder. On the tape, she said that she wanted to record a gold album, which she would follow with a platinum-selling second album, and a third that she wanted to write and produce. She achieved all these ambitions when she was 21 years old.
The first text message was sent in 1992.
Actress Kate Winslet has named a street after her in her hometown of Reading. The cul-de-sac of 50 houses is known as Winslet Place.
The leg on the poster for Dustin Hoffman’s film The Graduate is not that of deceased co-star Anne Bancroft, but that of fellow actress Linda Gray, who found fame as Sue Ellen in Dallas.
SWIMS is the longest word with 180 degree rotational symmetry; If you saw it backwards, it would still be the same word and perfectly legible.
As a child, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones was exposed to a virus that caused breathing difficulties. She underwent tracheostomy surgery, which left a scar on her neck.
The only part of the human body that has no blood supply is the cornea of the eye. It takes oxygen directly from the air.
- Adapted by Jill Foster from Steve Wright’s Book of Factoids by Steve Wright (HarperCollins, £6.99) and Steve Wright’s Further Factoids by Steve Wright (HarperCollins, £9.99). ©Steve Wright.