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BAD COOKS: King Alfred (preoccupied); Macbeth's witches (too experimental); Titus Andronicus baked his sons to punish his wife (bad taste); Mrs McGregor (her pie left Peter Rabbit fatherless); whoever left 24 blackbirds alive in the king's pie (salmonella risk); the cooks who spoilt the broth (too many of them); Sweeney Todd (unorthodox pie ingredients); Mrs Squeers' brimstone and treacle (thrifty but disgusting); Long John Silver (no desire to please); Roger Cook (too impatient); White House chef sacked by the Clintons (too French); Elaine Ward (couldn't adapt to Ministry of Defence tastes).

TODAY is the feast day of St Rita, known as 'the saint of desperate cases'. Despite her great piety as a child, Rita's parents insisted on her marriage to a brutal and dissolute man by whom she had two sons. For 18 years she bore his insults and infidelities praying for him and the sons, who daily became more like him. Finally, he and the sons repented but all died a few days later (Rita had prayed that her sons die rather than commit murder). She spent the rest of her life in a convent and was known for her piety and austerity. Her emblem is a rose, after a bush which blossomed out of season when she died, though since she died in Italy on 22 May this seems less than miraculous.

22 May, 1455: Lancastrians beat the Yorkists at the Battle of St Albans.

1885: Victor Hugo (above), French poet and author, died in Paris, aged 83. Before the age of 17 he had founded Conservateur litteraire, the journal that launched the Romantic movement's struggle against the Classicist literary establishment. His early literary liberalism and battles with censors drew him ineluctably to politics. His battles for political and artistic liberty led to a 20-year exile from France. By his return in 1870, he was a national legend, described even in his lifetime as France's greatest ever poet.

1897: Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames opened.

1906: Wilbur Wright patented his aeroplane.

1991: Congress party leader Rajiv Gandhi assassinated.

BIRTHDAYS: George Best, footballer, 48; Kenny Ball, jazz trumpeter, 64; Charles Aznavour, French popular singer, 70.

(Photograph omitted)

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