Tonight we celebrate the unsung heroes of Britain. People who, for one reason or another, haven’t received the global recognition that rightly deserve.
The invention of the collapsible buggy revolutionised parenthood, but what is its connection to the Spitfire, so loved by the allied pilots during World War II? As Paul realises a childhood dream by flying in a Spitfire, proclaiming it “the best thing I’ve ever done in my life”, we learn how the buggy’s folding system, which is now so complex that it is studied at a number of universities, was inspired by the Spitfire’s wheel folding system.
Owen Maclaren, one of the engineers who worked on the Spitfire’s undercarriage, realised that the prams of old were heavy and impractical and noticed that the solution was right in front of his eyes. Owen went into production with the new lightweight aluminium Maclaren Baby Buggy 01 in 1967. Alex, Owen’s granddaughter, reflects that this invention “liberated the way mothers could be with their children”.
Most people think that Britain’s last invasion was the Battle of Hastings in 1066. However, in 1797 the town of Fishguard, Wales, fended off the advances of Napoleon’s soldiers hoping to stir up an uprising, who had inadvertently landed there after being blown off course from their intended destination of Bristol, as Suzannah investigates.
Christopher John, a local historian, tells how “a local heroine in Fishguard, Jemima Nicholas, advanced from Fishguard with a pitchfork singlehandedly and captured 12 Frenchmen, and led them by the point of her pitchfork back to Fishguard.”
She then organised the women of the town to dress up in their traditional Welsh costume of black hats and red shawls, and line up along the hill so that the Frenchmen, who had been drinking all the booze from the abandoned farmhouses, would think they were the British army.
This bizarre and little known story had widespread repercussions both at the time and though to the present. The uncertainty caused by the invasion meant that people removed their money from the bank of England, causing them to issue IOUs in the form of paper money.
In 1847, James Simpson held the most dangerous and influential dinner party in history, as Steve discovers. After witnessing the agony of childbirth in his role as Head of Obstetrics, he made it his mission to help ease the pain of childbirth by finding effective painkillers.
As well as offering his guests wine, he fed them a multitude of different potions to find the best anaesthetising effect.
Professor Iain Milne explains what happened at the dinner party: “Simpson was looking for something that would be an anaesthetic agent…he got the local chemist to send him lots of substances which would be tried out…finally, and I think it was one of the last things they tried, was chloroform, and chloroform had the requisite effect.”
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