Scottish Daily Mail

Princess and Elephant Man

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In the film The Elephant Man, there is a scene where the Princess Royal thanks the hospital on behalf of Queen Victoria for trying to help ‘one of Britain’s most unfortunat­e persons’. Did this really happen?

DaviD Lynch’s film portrayed a genuine encounter between Joseph Merrick and Princess alexandra Princess of Wales, the future Queen consort to Edward vii, though it embellishe­d some of the details.

she was not the Princess Royal, which is a title customaril­y awarded to the eldest daughter of a monarch.

Joseph carey Merrick was born in Leicester in 1862. he had a severe facial deformity and for a decade was exhibited as a fairground freak, the Elephant Man.

in 1886, he ended up at Liverpool street station where he was rescued and taken to the London hospital by distinguis­hed surgeon sir Frederick Treves. Merrick was gentle and dignified, and the two became close friends.

Treves recorded his friendship in 1923’s The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscen­ces: ‘Merrick’s life up to the time that i met him at Liverpool street station was one dull record of degradatio­n and squalor. he was dragged from town to town and from fair to fair as if he were a strange beast in a cage.

‘a dozen times a day he would have to expose his nakedness and his piteous deformitie­s before crowds who greeted him with such mutterings as: “Oh! What a horror! What a beast!” ’

During his time at the hospital, Merrick’s plight became a cause celebre, attracting visits from philanthro­picminded ladies.

Princess alexandra was the most popular royal of her day. she was involved in charity work and gained public sympathy for putting up with her philanderi­ng husband, the Prince of Wales.

Treves recalled her visit: ‘The height of his social developmen­t was reached on an eventful day when Queen alexandra — then Princess of Wales — came to the hospital to pay him a special visit.

‘With that kindness which has marked every act of her life, the Queen entered Merrick’s room smiling and shook him warmly by the hand. Merrick was delighted. This was beyond even his most extravagan­t dream.

‘The Queen has made many people happy, but i think no gracious act of hers has ever caused such happiness as she brought into Merrick’s room and talked to him as to a person she was glad to see.’

The Queen paid Merrick several visits and every year sent him a christmas card with a message in her own handwritin­g.

she also sent him a signed photograph, which Merrick regarded as a sacred object, giving it pride of place in his room. Many other fashionabl­e ladies followed suit, visiting Merrick and giving him photograph­s of themselves.

Where the film does take artistic licence is in Joseph Merrick’s visit to the theatre, which was his lifelong wish. Merrick (John hurt) is shown in the Royal Box with the Princess (helen Ryan) and Treves (anthony hopkins).

in reality, his trip to a pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was organised by his benefactor, Madge Kendal. Merrick sat concealed, so as not to cause a sensation, in Lady Burdett-coutts’ private box with Treves and his nurses.

Merrick died in 1890 aged 27, apparently due to asphyxia caused by the weight of his head when he lay down to sleep.

Wendy Hilliard, Liverpool.


What’s the life of a cloud?

This can’t be answered precisely because there are many different types of cloud and there is considerab­le debate as to when they can be considered to have formed and dissipated.

a 2012 canadian statistica­l analysis monitored thousands of fair-weather cumulus, the familiar fluffy white balls of cloud. it demonstrat­ed they last for between five and 40 minutes. Giant cumulonimb­us storm clouds are inherently unstable, with most disappeari­ng after 20 minutes, when rainfall causes more downdraugh­t than updraught, causing the energy to dissipate.

The longest-lived are thin cirrus clouds that form at the top of the tropospher­e, the lowest region of the atmosphere, where the temperatur­e is a stable minus 50c. These clouds of ice crystals or super cooled water droplets can last for a week.

Dr Ian Smith, Cambridge.


Why do we use the word scot in the phrase scot-free?

ThE word scot (with a capital ‘s’) means only one thing: an inhabitant of scotland. But spell it with a small ‘s’ and it has a different sense as an archaic word for a tax or a payment owed.

it started life in Old English, the language spoken by anglo-saxons, as

gescot and in Old norse as skattr before coming into Middle English around 1200 as scot. it was always pleasing if you could obtain something scot-free.

But when Elizabetha­n dramatist Robert Greene wrote in his 1588 prose romance Pandosto that ‘Egistus had escaped scot-free’ the word had already come to have the meaning more familiar to us today of escaping not so much a tax, but a well-deserved punishment.

Ian MacDonald, Billericay, Essex.


What UK idioms should you never use in the U.S.? And vice versa?

FuRThER to the earlier answers, in the early 1990s, a delegate was sent to a north american tourism convention to publicise Llandudno as a holiday destinatio­n in Wales.

he took publicity material such as brochures, keyrings, notepads, pencils, rubbers and pens with the word Llandudno stamped on them.

he couldn’t understand the strange looks he received from people who had picked up a pad and pencil when he asked if they would like a rubber to go with them.

he had no idea that is what the americans call condoms!

Deryn Garnett, Llandudno, Conwy.

IS THERE a question to which you want to know the answer? Or do you know the answer to a question here? Write to: Charles Legge, Answers To Correspond­ents, Scottish Daily Mail, 20 Waterloo Street, Glasgow G2 6DB; or email A selection is published, but we’re unable to enter into individual correspond­ence.

 ??  ?? Refined: John Hurt as Joseph Merrick in the 1980 film The Elephant Man
Refined: John Hurt as Joseph Merrick in the 1980 film The Elephant Man

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