Tap Dancing Across the Sahara

A Celebration of Spectacular Failure

We all love a failure, the sillier and more spectacular the better.

There's something glorious about an insane bid for celebrity involving a stupidly dangerous stunt. Nothing stirs our passions more than watching some gibbering mental case embark upon a course of action destined to lead to disappointment, disfigurement and certain death.

That's why, throughout the years, we have celebrated those intrepid dickheads who have vainly sought immortality within the pages of the Guinness Book of Records by jumping off really tall things, sitting in really fast things, or eating the kind of things that they really should think twice about sinking their teeth into.

What follows is an attempt to commemorate some of these brave failures by presenting a catalogue of their misdoings. You won't find the following people in the hallowed leaves of the Guinness Book. No, these arseholes just didn't make it that far. But as you read of their sad plight, pause a while to consider the poignancy of their stories and take comfort in the inescapable realisation that, although these hopeful pioneers ultimately met with tragedy and disaster, each and every one of the dumb bastards was just asking for it.

We begin by stepping back fifty years...


1953 North Africa:

The first of our heroes is Mr Bobby Sanyo from Ipswich in England. Bobby was a music hall performer of some repute; a song and dance man in the old tradition. He was a perfectionist, a man never known to have put a foot wrong in all his career, and yet he sadly failed in his bid to tap dance across the Sahara when he collided with a camel just outside Daora. Happily, he received only minor injuries on that occasion. Undeterred, he made a second attempt the following year, but was lost in a sandstorm and never seen again. Tragic.

1993 Arizona:

The sheer audacity of 58-year-old headcase Ben Smollet is something to be applauded. In 1993, Smollet claimed that for the previous twenty years he had successfully prevented his own hair from growing, using nothing more than the power of his iron will to 'hold it in'. However, despite an extensive letter writing campaign, and a number of petitions organised on his behalf, the Guinness Book of Records refused to recognise the feat, believing it to be nothing more that a case of common baldness. Mr Smollet eventually died a broken man in 2001, from ingrowing sideburns.

1983 Mexico:

Rodriguez Blofeld's record attempt to cram the greatest number of Roger Moores into a minibus raised thousands for charity, but was sadly disallowed on the grounds that it was wind assisted.

1973 Kenya:

A personal favourite of ours is the case of Colonel Trevor Parkhurst. Along with a squad of fifteen volunteers from the Royal Engineers, this knob-jockey made a now legendary attempt to be the first person to erect a two-man tent inside a rhinoceros. And fair play to him - everything was going just fine until one of the guide ropes snapped. The rhino panicked and went on the rampage, seriously injuring four of the squad and trampling the Colonel to a pulp.

1969 London:

Some people seem to be put on this Earth just to make us laugh. People like Ms. Delia Jones, for instance, who was severely exploded during her 'World's Thinnest Cucumber Slicing' event, after she inadvertently split an atom. Older readers may remember laughing about it when they saw it on the news.

1994: Sweden:

Ever tried to see how far you can stand from the TV and still be able to use the remote control? Of course you have. Well, Karen Moorcheeba of Stockholm was well on the way to achieving a world record when disaster struck. The gormless cow was standing by a ring road three miles from her home, and was just about to turn the sound up a notch when she stepped back and was hit by an outside broadcast van.

1981 Australia:

Of all the people we name and shame today, Jim Stamper of Melbourne is perhaps the odd one out. He can claim a kind of success. Admittedly, his world record attempt to get four hundred fan heaters to run off a single socket was doomed to disaster from the start, but to this day he remains the only person since records began to be completely consumed in a human fireball in under twenty seconds. Oh yes, we have a sneaking respect for Jim. The man was a prick, no doubt about that, but at least he was our kind of prick.

2003 England:

Seasonal tragedy for congenital tosspot Leo Sprocket, whose traditional post-Christmas attempt to cram as much refuse into a wheelie bin would have easily qualified for a world record, had the bin not exploded and peppered him with turkey shrapnel. Still, it's not like anyone will miss him.

2003 Canada:

And in the same month, twelve year old Kevin Squiggley's brave attempt to read the entire works of Roald Dahl in under two hours ended on a tragic note, when a piano fell on him. Unlucky.

1996 France:

Most of these record attempts have us wondering what could possibly compel someone to attempt them. However, most perplexing of all has to be the case of Danielle Dubois who died painfully, live on French TV, whilst trying to liquidize her own liver in situ. Apparently, had she succeeded, she would have won a Citroen Saxo.

1978 Eire:

Dave Mulligan's brave attempt to hike across Ireland wearing the world's tallest top hat ended in tragedy when he got caught up in powerlines just outside Dublin.

1962 Brazil:

A slightly less dangerous stunt was attempted by Carlos Benzo, a popular local moron from Manaus in Brazil. The self-employed washing machine repair man was desperate to claim the world record for wearing the most number of socks at any one time. He would have won it too, had he not been disqualified for having six feet. Attentive readers will realise that Carlos actually survived his record attempt, but it should be noted the was wiped out shortly afterwards in a bizarre yet totally unrelated riveting accident.

1978 Germany:

On a similar note, Hans Grundig would have been a strong contender for having the most fingers in history, sporting fifteen on each hand. He was a stunning concert pianist and a favourite with all the ladies, but sadly his head caved in after a serious nose picking incident.

1971 England:

A mystery next, and if anyone knows the location of Rob Stewart of Doncaster, then would you please let him know that he could be the rightful holder of the world long distance plumbing record. Nobody really knows for certain. The shiftless, work-shy loser was doing a job thirty-three years ago, he nipped out to get a new ballcock and he hasn't come back yet.

Freddie Simpson:
A Life Less Ordinary

1969 Italy:

Ray Brooks' apparently successful attempt to get the most Minis inside an Elephant (two at the front, two at the back) was hailed as a triumph of British ingenuity, until it was revealed that he had cheated by using an animal with a false bottom.

1946 France:

And lastly we go back to post-war Paris for our final tale of woe. It was a time for rebuilding, a time of new beginnings, a time when anything seemed possible - such as climbing the 1665 steps of the Eiffel tower on a pogo stick. Well, 34-year-old civil engineer Henri Boloc thought it was possible, anyway. He spent months training for the event, he mapped out his route to the finest detail, he road tested hundreds of pogo sticks (he didn't have very much else to occupy his time, you understand). Then, on the day of the attempt, people from all over France found they had nothing better to do than gather to witness his history-making stunt.

And was he successful? Nah, course he wasn't. The fat-head never had a hope. Oh sure, he started well, he found a steady rhythm and for a while he made good progress. But he was barely a third of the way up when he met his grisly end, colliding head-on with some fuckwit on a space hopper, coming in the opposite direction. It's sad, so very sad. Sometimes I think of this sorry tale as a metaphor for life. Then again, sometimes I don't. Funny that.


Return to Archive 3

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