Bear goes missing on Benbecula!
1980 brings with it a certain amount of death and disaster: only three days into the year, Joy Adamson - best-selling author of the Born Free trilogy - was murdered in Africa by a disgruntled ex-employee; and at the back end of the year, on December 8th, John Lennon was shot dead in New York by Mark Chapman, who stood idly by afterwards, reading a copy of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, until police came and took him away. Despite being sentenced to only 20 years imprisonment, he is still in Attica today, having being denied parole on six separate occasions.
In between these bookends, that year also saw off Alfred Hitchcock, Steve McQueen, George Raft, Peter Sellers, Mae West, and Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, and sadly died of lung cancer. Incidentally, the Hitler snubbing story wasn't true. Hitler may have been affronted that the Americans allowed a black man to represent them, but there are several eyewitness accounts to say that yes, Hitler did shake Owens' hand. Owens himself had this to say on the matter: 'After all those stories about Hitler and his snub, I came back to my native country and I couldn't ride in the front of the bus, I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. Now what's the difference?' President Roosevelt never congratulated Owens or invited him to the Whitehouse. 'Hitler didn't snub me,' Owens famously said. 'It was FDR did that.'
As if the very earth were heaving at this injustice, Mount St Helens erupted in the US, with a colossal column of ash that rose twelve miles into the sky, and an accompanying explosion that could be heard 200 miles away. In happy geological coincidence, this is also the year that father and son team Luis and Walter Alvarez announced their theory that mankind only got the chance to take over the world because a giant meteorite strike killed off the dinosaurs. It was one of the biggest scientific controversies of the last thirty years, an international panel of experts deciding only in 2010 that the Alvararez’s were right all along.
There was also the Iranian Embassy siege in London, ended after 6 days by an SAS assault team led by Stirling-born John McAleese, which precipitate action was so dramatic that it interrupted the TV coverage of the final of the World Snooker Championships between Cliff Thorburn and Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins. Many snooker fans still resent that interruption to this day, although it was not enough to deny John McAleese earning the Military Medal for services to his country, including being Bodyguard-in-Chief for three British Prime Ministers .
On the cuter side of the news – and Edinburgh Zoo might want to take notes here – a giant panda in Mexico gave birth to the first cub born naturally in captivity, and, in other animal-related news, Stirling’s own resident celebrity bear, Hercules, who lived with his wrestler owner Andy Robin and his wife Maggie at their pub, the Sheriffmuir Inn, created an international media frenzy by wandering off while filming an Andrex commercial on Benbecula (that's an advert I really want to see) in the Outer Hebrides, and going missing for 24 days.
Quite how he could remain hidden for so long in a place so small and flat as Benbecula is a mystery, but he was eventually spotted and recaptured, and was rewarded by getting a part in the James Bond movie Octopussy, featured on the cover of Time Magazine, and even caddied for Bob Hope at Gleneagles…I’m not entirely sure how well a bear can actually caddy, although it's safe to say he probably did it better than I could have done.
And last, but not least, the WHO declares that the scourge of smallpox has finally been eradicated from the face of the earth – except of course in Hollywood, where it is routinely resurrected for filmic purposes, and to give hardworking actors a bit of cash. Hercules Fights Horrible Diseases in the Hebrides hasn’t made it to the big screen, at least not yet, but if it ever did, I’d be first in the queue.