Secret Britain, By Justin Pollard

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The Independent Culture

Do you know the sad story behind the Rolls-Royce figurine? It was modelled on Eleanor Thornton, an Edwardian wild child who was mistress of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.

When the lovers rashly went on a sea voyage in 1915, a German torpedo hit their boat. She drowned but Lord Montagu was saved by his "bespoke inflatable jacket".

He must have been reminded of her whenever he looked at his car's bonnet decorated with "Miss Thornton in her nightie". If this yarn sounds spot-on for the TV quiz QI, it is scarcely surprising: Justin Pollard is one of its writers.

Many of the "hidden bits of history" are odd stories. How splendid that the woman who spilled the beans on the 1890 Tranby Croft gambling scandal was Daisy, Lady Brooke AKA "Babbling Brooke".