'Right-wing panties' and other university exam howlers

'Sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel,' apparently. Here are some of this year's funniest exam bloopers

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The Independent Online

Alfred Hitchcock's films reflect his life as a "torched Catholic", General Franco's rule of Spain was assisted by "right-wing panties" and sex was discovered by Charles Darwin and his contemporary Gregor Mendel in the 1800s.

This selection of dubious statements are not taken from a witty satirical magazine or the confused mind of a toddler, but are bloopers submitted by university lecturers to the Times Higher Education magazine's annual exam howlers competition.

Another little known fact, at least according to one student, is that the Ebola virus can lead to death - in some cases fatally.

In one paper on General Franco, a student reliably informed his tutor, Nicholas Martin, a reader in European intellectual history at Birmingham University, that underwear was the secret weapon in the Spanish dictator's armour, stating "General Franco was supported by right-wing panties".

Meanwhile, a film studies student revealed that several of Hitchcock's recurring themes arose because he was a "torched Catholic".

Martin McLoone, director of the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster, who submitted the entry, said: "Of course, in another era, he might well have been."

Another student at a different institution mixed up his metaphors to describe Alain Resnais' controversial Holocaust documentary Night And Fog as "a hotly contested potato".

Jackie Eales, professor of early modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University, submitted an entry which stated: "Britain under the Cromwellian Protectorate was a piranha state".

And Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, told how he was faced with an "unpleasant image" of an unlikely union between two eminent Victorians when one student wrote: "Sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel."

There was also some confusion about the benefits of Nigella seeds and the effect of Ebola.

In one paper a student revealed that "Nigella seeds can cure all disease except death" while another student suggested that "Ebola could lead to death, in some cases fatal"

The mistakes were submitted by staff at University of Westminster, including Keith Redway, senior academic in microbiology and molecular biology.

This year's entries add to a notable tradition of exam howlers. Last year one student cited the influence of cold snacks in Stalin's control of eastern Europe stating that the Russian dictator was not building up a buffer zone in the region after the end of the Second World War, but a "buffet zone".

Liverpool University don John Fisher, emeritus professor of Latin American history, was reliably told that "Spain was a very Catholic country, since Christianity had been taken there in the third century BC".

Additional reporting by the Press Association.