Bob Weighton turns 112: The times and life of the world's oldest man

By Bethan Bell
BBC News

Bob Weighton in 2019Image source, PA
Image caption,
Bob Weighton, who was born in Hull, has previously said the secret to his longevity was "to avoid dying"

Bob Weighton, the world's oldest man, turns 112 today. Born in 1908, he is the same age as Inter Milan football club, and pre-dates Selfridges department store and the beatification of Joan of Arc.

As young Robert came into this world, Herbert Asquith was still a week from becoming British prime minister, and King Edward VII had two more years to live.

Here we take a look at some of the little-known events that have happened on the birthdays of Mr Weighton, as he enjoys this one at his home in Alton, Hampshire.

Image source, Getty Images
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Herbert Asquith became prime minister in April 1908, Edward VII died in 1910

In 1908, Robert is the 15th most popular boys' name in England and Wales. It is flanked by Frank and Harold, while William, John and George claim the top spots. The favoured girls' names are Mary, Elizabeth, Florence and Annie.

In a pleasing coincidence, Joan Hocquard, from Poole in Dorset, is also 112 today and so is the UK's joint-oldest person. Her name is fairly unusual - in 1908 Joan is the 161st most popular and doesn't really break through until the 1930s.

Another Robert, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, of the British Antarctic Expedition, dies on Bob's fourth birthday. Scott and four others trudge 850 miles to reach the South Pole. They arrive on 17 January to find the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen has beaten them to it.

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Captain Robert Scott and his team were disappointed to find they had been beaten to the South Pole

Edgar Evans is the first of Scott's team to die, followed a month later by Lawrence Oates. Henry Bowers, Edward Wilson and Scott huddle in a tent and try to sit out a storm while their food supplies dwindle.

On 29 March, Scott writes "it seems a pity but I do not think I can write more". The men's bodies are found eight months later, just 11 miles from their next food store.

Image source, Getty Images
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Joan of Arc's beatification took place in Rome, in 1909. Pope Pius X is pictured praying in the centre of the choir

On Bob's 10th birthday, British forces are struggling in the first Battle of Amman in the Ottoman Empire. Bad weather, boggy underfoot conditions and unrelenting attacks are among the factors that lead to the withdrawal of troops a couple of days later.

Closer to home though, and maybe for a little light relief, the Times newspaper that day publishes an extract of the will of a Mr Astley Weston, who left not just money for his children, but advice too.

Among other words of wisdom, he urges them to "not take any intoxicating drinks or narcotics" and to avoid "extravagance, self-indulgence and indolence". Finally, if they should consider marrying, they were to consult their mother and take her advice.

Fast-forward now to 29 March 1927. A 19-year-old Bob might have been interested in what is happening on the sands of Florida's Daytona Beach, where the specially built Sunbeam 1000hp is revving its engine.

Image source, RacingOne via Getty Images
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Sir Henry Segrave was the first person to hold both land and water speed records at the same time

Henry Segrave is determined to beat the land speed record and finally crack the 200mph mark. For official ratification, he has to complete two runs. Strong winds on the outward leg cause the car to skid violently. Segrave is forced to drive into the sea to slow down.

Remarkably, he is able to make the return journey. The speeds clocked on the two runs are 200.668mph and 207.015mph, giving an average speed of 203.792mph.

The car is restored 90 years later (when Bob is a youthful 109) and is on display at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, Hampshire.

Image source, Bill Wassman via Getty Images
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The Sunbeam 1,000hp was built in Wolverhampton and nicknamed "The Slug"

We have moved on to 29 March 1938. Bob turns 30 and the country is gearing up for war. In the House of Commons, a debate is raging about… the importation of rubber footwear.

MPs are concerned that 2.5 million foreign rubber boots and shoes were shipped to the UK in the first two months of the year, threatening the interests of British shoemakers. The President of the Board of Trade reassures his colleagues that he will help protect the British market.

A fairly dull discussion, but perhaps worth it for the waggish contribution of the Glaswegian MP JJ Davidson, who pipes up to say: "Does that mean that the President of the Board of Trade will not support the foreign heels?"

It is not recorded whether his fellow backbenchers find him funny.

In 1943, Bob turns 35 on the same day John Major is born. In 1951, now 43, he could have taken the eight-year-old future prime minister to celebrate their birthdays by attending the opening night of The King and I on Broadway, starring Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner.

Lawrence is unaware she has liver and abdominal cancer, and faints backstage after a matinee before being admitted to hospital. Just 15 months later, she is dead.

Image source, John Springer Collection via Getty Images
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Gertrude Lawrence was the original Anna in the stage production of The King and I

In 1955, on Bob's 47th birthday, a new world rail speed record is set by SNCF in France. The train reaches 331km/h (206mph), fast enough to damage the track.

We're now at the end of the swinging 60s and Bob turns 61 in 1969, the day the Eurovision Song Contest ends in a four-way draw between the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands and France.

Image source, Ullstein Bild via Getty Images
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Lulu Boom-bang-a-banged her way to joint first place for the Royaume-Uni

The organisers manage to cobble enough winner's medals together by using the ones they have earmarked for (up to three) songwriters. Other countries are so annoyed by the tie that four withdraw from the following year's competition, and a tiebreak procedure is introduced shortly afterwards.

On 29 March 1974, Bob celebrates his 66th birthday. Also on that day, a group of farmers digging a well find a life-sized human head made from clay buried near Xian in China.

They call in the experts and a 2,200-year-old terracotta army is discovered.

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The discovery has been described as the greatest archaeological find of the 20th Century

Three pits are found to contain more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 520 horses, thought to have been buried in order to help China's first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, in the afterlife.

Bob could have marked his 72nd birthday by having a bet on the 134th Grand National, although he would have had to pick carefully.

There are only four finishers in the 30-strong field in 1980. The race is won by the American-owned horse Ben Nevis, ridden by Charlie Fenwick at a starting price of 40-1.

Image source, Hulton Archive via Getty Images
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Ben Nevis lived until 1995 and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2009

Bob turns 82 in 1990 - on the same day as the outbreak of the little-known Hyphen War, a conflict over what to call Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Communist government the previous year.

Slovak politicians feel "the Czechoslovak Republic" does not recognise Slovakia's equal stature, and want the state to be named "the Czecho-Slovak Republic".

It is resolved when the two agree to split the country (over more substantial issues) and on 1 January 1993 the two states become the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

Bob's 101st birthday in 2009 is a difficult one for then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, as the news breaks that she claimed parliamentary expenses for pay-per-view pornographic films.

Image source, Peter Macdiarmid via Getty Images
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Jacqui Smith resigned from the front benches following the scandal

The resulting scandal eventually leads to her resignation from the front benches, and in 2010 she loses her seat. The incident does, however, open up a new avenue for Ms Smith - in 2011 she presents a radio documentary about pornography. It is called Porn Again.

In 2014, on Bob's 106th birthday, the first same-sex marriages in England and Wales take place. North Londoners and partners of 17 years Peter McGraith and David Cabreza become husband and husband at one minute past midnight.

And finally, in 2020, Bob reaches his 112 birthday - although he has had to cancel his celebrations because of the coronavirus outbreak.

He has lived through the reigns of five British monarchs, 22 UK prime ministers - serving a total of 27 terms - and 21 presidents of the USA.

He was alive during all three London Olympics, and both world wars, and has weathered the Spanish flu, cholera and smallpox.

It's anyone's guess as to what happens next year.