Kicking Up a New Stink

Quentin Tote from Allenton in Derby is 42, unemployed and has a history of irritable bowel syndrome. A more unlikely candidate for academic glory you would be hard pushed to find.

And yet this unassuming, unpretentious and frankly rather unhygienic little man is set to become the toast of the scientific community following the announcement of his new find - for, in the face of much scepticism and derision, Quentin Tote has discovered a new smell.

Next to a Turkish bath

The basic building blocks of the smell spectrum - 'the elemental odours' as they are called - have been known for over one hundred and fifty years. There are seventeen in total, ranging from Flowers to Poo, all arranged in order of their 'Pong Ratio'.

This system was devised in 1838 by Wilbur Chuff: a Belgian chemist working in France, over a Chinese laundry, next to a Turkish bath.

Smell Table

Chuff had observed that by combining two separate odours, he could create a third smell. Thus, by mixing Egg with Bacon, he could create Breakfast.

From these experiments, he posited that all the smells in the world were made up of a small number of basic smell elements, the character of each being determined by its Pong Ratio.

He was accused of being a charlatan, a fake, and some people said he had a big nose.

Chuff's theory was slow to catch on, and many of his contemporaries refused to see any value in his work. When he presented his theories to the Royal Institute, he was accused of being a charlatan, a fake, and some people said he had a big nose.

Nevertheless, Chuff returned to his laboratory and became a recluse, working day and night to refine his theory - partly to prove himself to his colleagues, partly because he didn't get out much anyway.

The Big Stink

Using differential calculus, a slide-rule and a box of one hundred assorted elastic bands, he set about calculating the Pong Ratio of seven known elemental odours. Extrapolating from these results, he deduced the existence 10 other odours, and arranged these into the table of elemental odours that is still in use today.

Chuff published his results a year later, but his work received a lukewarm response. The scientific community refused to take notice, and some of his more vocal opponents pointed out that his nose had appeared to grow even larger during his self-enforced solitude. Nevertheless, when some of the smells that Chuff had predicted began to be identified by independent researchers, orthodox science had no option but to accept his theory.

The local newspaper once described him as the man with the largest nose in the East Midlands

The last of Chuff's Elemental Odours, Plasticine, was finally identified in 1956. The spectrum of smells was now complete, giving us a total picture of the smell universe - or so we thought. Now, almost two centuries later, Quentin Tote's discovery of an entirely new smell, unpredicted by Chuff's Table, means that the original theory may have to be revised.

Smell - A Link to the Past

However, there is much debate over the authenticity of Tote's discovery. His critics point to the fact that his facilities are inadequate and his qualifications are non-existent.

Ironically, Quentin Tote is facing the same sort of resistance to his discovery today as Chuff did in the nineteenth century, even down to the unnecessary criticism of his nose. To be fair, much of this criticism is justified: his laboratory consists of a workbench in the corner of his garage, and his training consists of a City & Guilds in woodwork and a Bronze swimming certificate.

To add insult to injury, the local newspaper once described him as 'the man with the largest nose in the East Midlands'.

Professor Belcher thinks that Tote's Marmite is not a new smell at all, but a combination of Creosote, Catfood and Cheese.

Elemental Odours

Tote, however, sticks to his guns and maintains that the results of his experiments speak for themselves.

He discovered his new odour by cracking chip fat in a converted foot spa after a particularly harrowing episode of EastEnders. He describes the smell, which he has christened Marmite, as 'bloody terrible', and he confidently predicts that it will have tremendous implications on a number of industries.

He believes Marmite may prove particularly useful in outer space, where no one will be able to smell it.

Despite Tote's confidence the jury is still out on his new smell. Professor Samuel Belcher of the Bristol University Smell Survey Project thinks that Tote's Marmite is not a new smell at all, but a combination of Creosote, Catfood and Cheese. Ironically, Creosote, Catfood and Cheese is the name of the firm of solicitors acting for Quentin Tote in a forthcoming libel case against Belcher.


One thing is certain, Marmite represents a significant breakthrough in odour research. Whether it will mean radical changes in the way we understand the science of smell remains to be seen.

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