For many years, authors, naval historians and tour guides have believed that Lord Nelson went into battle at Trafalgar accompanied by a fearless pet cat called Tiddles. An appearance on breakfast television earlier this month has led to the shock discovery that Nelson's cat was, in fact, a hoax perpetrated 15 years ago by a National Trust employee called Guy Evans.
Fry uncovered the scam after mentioning Tiddles during a BBC interview to plug the DVD of his quiz show QI. A few days later, he received a letter from Evans's widow, Anna.
"I ought to tell the world that Tiddles is a myth," it read. "He first appeared in a letter written by my husband to The Spectator in 1990. He followed it up in an article in the Nelson Society Journal, with very convincing and entirely fictional footnotes.
"From there, Tiddles snowballed to become part of popular folklore and has featured in books, magazines and academic journals."
Fry's producer, John Lloyd, says this has surprised even tour guides on HMS Victory. "We research questions exhaustively at QI, and we have never come across something like this before," he tells me.
* The new Archbishop of York, the Most Rev John Sentamu, has managed to stoke up ancient rivalry between the Shires of Lancaster and York.
Doncaster Rovers football club recently asked Dr Sentamu to attend next week's Carling Cup fixture against Arsenal, and bless their pitch in advance for good luck. However, he politely declined, admitting instead to being a fan of Donny's trans-Pennine rivals, Manchester United.
Fans of the Yorkshire club reckon this to be akin to treason. "Hasn't Sentamu been warned about taking sides in the battle of the counties?" reads one (printable) contribution to a supporters' message board.
An official spokesman says Dr Sentamu is busy re-locating from Birmingham but will in future back other local sides. "The Archbishop isn't a betting man but if he were, he would back David against Goliath," I'm told. "He happens to support Manchester United, but hopes to attend a York City match soon, though he doesn't claim his presence will change a team's fortunes." Why not?
* An intriguing double act was spotted watching You Never Can Tell from the stalls of the Garrick Theatre on Thursday. Geordie Greig, the Tintin lookalike and editor of Tatler, was on a "date" with Lord Archer.
"They can't have liked the play much because they left at the interval," reports a fellow theatregoer.
"If they couldn't manage to sit through a Peter Hall production of a George Bernard Shaw play, I don't think their concentration can be up to much."
The star of the show, Edward Fox, will no doubt be mighty offended by news of the pair's early exit.
Let's hope Greig's chances of editing The Spectator - first raised by this column - won't be damaged by his friendship with milord Archer.
* It's party time at the HQ of David Cameron's new-look Tories.
A hundred workers who toiled there during May's general election have just received a £1,000 bonus each.
"It's tradition for us to get a 'thank you' after any election," reports one lucky galley slave. "But for some reason, this year's payment was delayed."
"We thought it had been scrapped. But the incoming Cameron regime has obviously decided to show us the money after all."
All of which has worked wonders for the popularity of Francis Maude, the Tory Chairman, who authorised the payout despite worries over party finances.
"Maude's not always been popular," I'm told. "But now he's seen as a Father Christmas figure."
* Dame Anita Roddick will be delighted to learn that she's managed to upset some leading lights in Britain's golfing community. On Sunday, the Body Shop founder revealed that she's been asked to invest part of her £53m "ethical" fortune in a golf course. Her response: "Golf. That's the game you play just before you die, isn't it?" This has already caused serious claret-spitting at the Royal and Ancient, the sport's governing body. "Everyone's entitled to an opinion," huffs their spokesman. "But unlike many sports, golf can be played by people of all ages, from single figures, until the day you die." Golfers aren't the only ones hoping to cash-in on Roddick's decision to give away her hard-earned millions.
"I've been inundated with requests for support from around the world this week," reads a statement on her web site. "I will be giving money away - that's a fact - but not at the moment."Reuse content