An excerpt from

Constable Colgan's Connectoscope

Stevyn Colgan

CASE 2: Terry and chewin’ Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is an edible plant used to flavour food – particularly fish. It is also a primary ingredient in making the spirit Absinthe. Its gentle aniseed-like flavour can be found in its feathery shoots but is concentrated in the bulb, which can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. In mediaeval times, it was used as a medicinal herb in conjunction with St John’s Wort as a charm against witchcraft and other evils. It was also once said that eating fennel improves the bust. Modern chemistry has revealed that the plant does contain phytoestrogens that can promote growth of breast tissue so it’s maybe not so much of an Old Wives’ Tale after all.

The word ‘fennel’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon fenol or finol. In mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the Gods of Olympus. The ancient Greeks called the plant Marathon and the town of Marathon – North East of Athens - took its name from the plant. It was the site of a famous battle in 490BCE; the final battle, in fact, in a long campaign by King Darius I of Persia to conquer Greece. When the battle was won, the legend goes that a herald named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory. As he entered Athens with the cry ‘Nenikékamen!’ (‘We were victorious!’), he suddenly dropped dead, his heart having given out after such a swift and lengthy run.(1) His extraordinary feat was immortalised in the marathon long-distance running race, which was first staged at the 1896 Olympic Games.

The 1896 Olympics were the first to be staged in 1500 years, having been banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius in 393AD. They were a far cry from the huge events we know today. There were fewer sports and athletes played for themselves or their club as there were no national teams.(2) The facilities were poor and fast running times were impossible due to the very tight corners of the ancient Panathenaic running track. The athletes were a mix of amateurs and professionals and people who just entered for the sporting fun. For example, an Irishman called John Pius Boland, who was on holiday in Greece at the time, was entered for the tennis competition by a friend and ultimately won first prize. He also won the men’s doubles event by selecting a German called Friedrich Traun - who was actually an 800m runner - as his partner. Boland walked away with two silver medals because silver was awarded for first, bronze for second and nothing for third. The gold/ silver/ bronze medal system that we know today wasn’t introduced until the 1904 Olympics.

The 1904 St Louis Olympics formed part of the larger Louisiana Purchase Exposition being held in the city. The bid to host the Olympics had actually been won by Chicago but the St Louis event was so huge that it threatened to split the visitor count so the Olympic Committee agreed to its relocation. The Marathon that year was extraordinary – but for all the wrong reasons. The day was hot (90°+) and very humid and the entire course was wreathed in choking clouds of dust. The first man over the winning line was New York bricklayer Fred Lorz … but he was disqualified when officials discovered he’d completed most of the race in a car. He had dropped out after nine miles due to exhaustion and had been collected by his manager. He was actually going to collect his clothes when he walked past the finishing line and was accidentally hailed as the winner (3). So the prize then went to British born Thomas Hicks, who’d nearly died in the attempt. About 10 miles from the finishing line, Hicks had begged his trainers to let him stop running as he needed a rest. Instead, they gave him a dose of strychnine sulphate mixed with raw egg white and brandy. Regular doses continued to be administered for the rest of the race and Hicks was eventually carried across the finishing line, very close to death. It took the efforts of four doctors to revive him enough to leave the stadium. As it was, he fell asleep on a trolley during the awards ceremony. Another runner was a Cuban postman called Felix Carvajal. He raised the money to get to America by pleading for donations but then lost it all en route in a craps game in New Orleans. He got to St Louis by hitching a lift but had no money for running gear, so the marathon was put back by several minutes to give him time to cut the sleeves off his shirt and the legs off his trousers. During the race, he ate some apples from an orchard that turned out to be rotten and eventually came in fourth, doubled over with stomach cramps. The marathon also boasted the first two black African Olympic runners although they were not officially competitors. They were actually part of the Boer War cultural exhibit at the Exposition. That said, Jan Mashiani came in 12th and Len Taunyane came in 9th and might have done even better had he not been chased almost a mile off course by aggressive dogs.

The word ‘marathon’ is now used to describe any long-distance running race. Many are held around the world every year but perhaps the best known take place in New York, which began in 1970, and London, which began in 1981. Both races attract around 40,000 runners per year, the majority of which are running to raise money for charity. A marathon covers a distance of 26 miles and 385 yards. This curious distance was set at the 1908 Olympics in the UK when the additional yardage was added so that the spectators (specifically Queen Alexandra) could see the finishing line.

Marathon was also the name originally given to the British version of the American Snickers bar, produced by the Mars confectionary company. The Marathon Bar had its name changed to Snickers in 1990, which brought it in line with the rest of the world. The UK treated the new name with some derision as it sounded so close to ‘knickers’ – hence the old kid’s joke about ‘Granny Snickers’. In fact, this may be the reason why the Mars company chose the name Marathon in the first place for the UK market. The notoriously secretive Mars family created the Snickers bar in 1923, naming it after their favourite horse. It got a chocolate coating in 1930 and has gone from strength to strength ever since, becoming the best-selling chocolate bar of all time with annual global sales of US$2 billion.

The name Marathon was also used in the US for a braided chocolate and toffee bar very similar to what the Canadians know as a Cadbury’s Wig Wag and what we in the UK call a Cadbury’s Curly Wurly. The first Curly Wurly TV adverts featured comedian Terry Scott dressed as a schoolboy – a cheeky character he created for his 1962 novelty song My Brother (aka My Bruvva).

Terry Scott was a veteran of many British comedy films during the 1960s and 70s and starred in seven of the Carry On films. In the 1980s, he achieved further fame as the voice of Penfold the hamster, idiot sidekick of the animated super spy Danger Mouse. But most famously, he was partnered with screen wife June Whitfield in two long-running British sitcoms, Happy Ever After and Terry and June.

Terry and June’s depiction of bland suburbia and use of gentle and predictable jokes made it an easy target for people who liked their comedy a bit more ‘edgy’. However, the show regularly pulled in audiences of 10 million or more; three times the ratings of its more alternative competitors. Sixty-five episodes and four Christmas specials were made and a movie was planned but, for various reasons, never happened. Throughout them all, Terry Scott portrayed bumbling middle class Terry Medford from Purley in Surrey, who worked for Playsafe Fire Extinguishers and Appliances. The head of the company was the bombastic Sir Dennis Hodge (played by Reginald Marsh). Hodge’s long-suffering secretary, Nora, was played by Joanna Henderson. She was most commonly referred to as Miss Fennel.

Fennel is an edible plant used to flavour food …

Footnotes:
1.Pheidippides’ cry was in praise of Niké, the Greek goddess of victory. The sports shoe manufacturer is appropriately named after her.
2.Some sports have since fallen by the wayside. The Olympics no longer boast live pigeon shooting, pistol duelling, tug-of-war, club swinging, rope climbing or long jump for horses events. Between 1912 and 1952 there were also medals awarded for literature, architecture, music, painting and sculpture. They were dropped when the Olympics went fully amateur. No one wants an amateur architect building their office block.
3. He did, however, go on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.