That Time a Joke Caused a 2 Mile Traffic Jam in England (and The First Joke in History)

On August 9, 1991 at about 6:30 in the evening,
thousands of motorists heading home after a long day of work across the UK were forced
to pull over and stop due to a brief comment they’d just heard during a sports broadcast. The comment wasn’t reporting a shock loss
or injury, but a joke made by cricket commentator, Jonathan Agnew, with the aftermath being so
funny people had to pull over to avoid crashing their cars. The incident occurred during a rundown of
that day’s cricket by Agnew and his longtime fellow commentator, Brian Johnston. Prior to Johnston’s passing in 1994, the
pair were well-known for their on-air chemistry and penchant for straight faced jokes and
school-boy humor. For example, in one broadcast, Johnston stated
of one Peter Pollock who broke his ankle, “He’s obviously in great pain. It’s especially bad luck as he is here on
his honeymoon with his pretty young wife. Still, he’ll probably be all right tomorrow
if he sticks it up tonight.” Johnston was also a great lover of practical
jokes, with one of his favourite being to ask people questions live-on-air just as they’d
shoves a slab of cake in their mouth. At this point, you may find yourself thinking,
“Okay, that sounds funny, but how often would a cricket commentator find themselves
eating cake live-on-air?” Well, it turns out the TMS (Test Match Special)
commentating team has had an almost infinite supply of cake since the 1970s when Johnston
complained on-air that he’d missed his tea and cake break, prompting fans to send in
hundreds of freshly baked ones for him and the crew to enjoy. This tradition continues to this day and during
Johnston’s career, it’s rumored that the Queen herself once baked and sent one in. For the curious, it was apparently a fruit
cake. More recently, the Queen personally oversaw
the baking of a cake for the 40th anniversary of TMS in 2001, tasking the palace’s finest
chef to prepare one using royal brandy. In any event, other commentators who worked
with Johnston have also explained that the crafty commentator would hide pictures of
naked women in broadcasting notes to try and get people to flub their lines as they flipped
through. In turn, the aforementioned Jonathan Agnew
would play jokes on Johnston by inserting fictitious sponsors into their notes with
names like “Hugh Jarse”. Despite all this, Johnston himself was ultra-old-school
when it came to broadcasting. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he generally
stuck to the classic, ultra posh tone of the BBC. On that note, in the beginning, it was even
required that broadcasters at the BBC wear formal attire when broadcasting, despite that
no one could see them. For more on this, see A Dinner Jacket, the
Nazis, the “British” Accent, and What This All Has to Do With the BBC News. Thus, Johnston, having worked for the BBC
starting all the way back in 1946, generally took commentating very seriously. While he often tried to get others to break
character, he seldom allowed himself to succumb to giggles and rarely, if ever, flubbing his
lines. For this, and many other reasons, Johnston
is regarded as one of the finest broadcasters in British radio history. However, this all changed on that fateful
August day in 1991 when Johnston and his foil were commentating about a particularly unusual
incident that had occurred during the second day of a Test match between England and the
West Indies. In short, cricketer Ian Botham had been caught
off-guard by a particularly fast bowl (essentially a pitch for anyone more familiar with baseball)
causing him to stumble, lose his balance and trample over his own wicket while attempting
to step over it (those three sticks behind the batsman). Johnston was recounting this incident to listener
and turned to Agnew for comment who quickly answered without a hint of humor, “He just
didn’t quite get his leg over.” For those unfamiliar with British slang “getting
your leg over” is a euphemism for having sex, an innuendo that was especially on-the-nose
given that tabloids at the time were filled with salacious stories about Botham’s off-pitch
sexual adventures. Johnston heroically attempted to soldier on
with his summary of the day’s cricket as Agnew and the rest of the commentary box stifled
their laughter. Johnston managed to last about 30 seconds
before suddenly exclaiming, “Aggers for goodness sake, stop it!” and then himself becoming
audibly short of breath as he attempted to suppress his laughter for several seconds. Finally, the ultra refined bastion of British
stoicism broke- wheezing and giggling like a schoolgirl, all the while still trying,
futilely, to continue commentating. As Agnew would state of it, “It was Johnners
who made it with those ridiculous squeaks … and tears pouring down his face.” With laughter being as contagious as it is,
and it being so out of character for Johnston to lose his composure like that, thousands
of British motorists across the country listening to the broadcast likewise burst into fits
of hysterics, with some having to pull their cars over to calm down. So many commuters were forced to stop or slow
down due to laughter that noticeable traffic jams were caused across the country directly
thereafter with the longest on record being one at the entrance to Dartford Tunnel which
was an estimated two miles long. Johnston, as noted, was a man who prided himself
on his professionalism and he was initially deeply upset at losing his composure, a sentiment
echoed by the show’s producer who scolded the pair for being so unprofessional. As Agnew would later state in an interview,
“[I]t was a mistake at the time – we nearly fell off air and the whole thing descended
into farce. I remember feeling really sick, because I
felt this was potentially disastrous. It was a proper, genuine, uncontrived cock-up.” The rest of the country, however, thought
it was hilarious and the clip became an instant hit with public, something Johnston only became
aware of the following day when he was driving to work and heard it being replayed on a morning
radio broadcast. Although he came to appreciate the joke, Johnston
excused himself from commentating alongside Agnew for a year afterwards, reportedly because
he was terrified he’d burst into similar fits of laughter again if the two made eye
contact while commentating. When the pair were reunited, Agnew, once again
made Johnston corpse with laughter by handing him a letter written by a fan called “Mr
William H Titt”. Agnew stated of the aftermath, “Johnners just
collapsed. He had to be wheeled out of the box, there
was terrible wheezing and whining and giggling. Brian later wrote to William H Titt and apologised. He didn’t get a reply.” Sadly, Johnston passed away just a year later
in 1994, however, the moment has lived on, reportedly being used by drama and broadcasting
schools in Britain as a textbook lesson of what not to do when you feel the need to laugh
while broadcasting. The moment received perhaps its greatest acclaim
in 2005 when British radio listeners rated it as being the best moment in sports broadcasting
history. As a nod to his sense of humor and the enduring
legacy of the line, the BBC ended Johnston’s 1994 obituary with “I’ve stopped laughing
now.” Bonus Fact:
The oldest joke in human history that has survived through today as, naturally, a fart
joke. To wit, recorded on a Sumerian tablet somewhere
between 1900 and 2300 BC, the first known joke is as follow:
Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart on
her husband’s lap. The second oldest documented joke moves away
from potty humor in favor of a sex, recorded about 1600 BC on the Westcar Papyrus: “How
do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed
only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish.” The third oldest known joke was recorded on
a Babylonian tablet dating to about 1500 BC and, given some of the context is missing,
is interesting today mostly for its construction, being the oldest known “Yo’ Momma” joke… (We haven’t really changed all that much,
have we?): “…of your mother is by the one who has
intercourse with her. What/who is it? *No answer*”
Burn… Fast-forwarding to the first jokes in English,
there are a few riddles from the 10th century AD Anglo-Saxons recorded in the Exeter Codex
that are generally regarded as the first known English jokes (albeit Old English) due to
their double entendre nature. For example: “What hangs at a man’s thigh
and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? Answer: A key.” And the similarly themed:
“I am a wondrous creature for women in expectation, a service for neighbors. I harm none of the citizens except my slayer
alone. My stem is erect, I stand up in bed, hairy
somewhere down below. A very comely peasant’s daughter, dares sometimes,
proud maiden, that she grips at me, attacks me in my redness, plunders my head, confines
me in a stronghold, feels my encounter directly, woman with braided hair. Wet be that eye. Answer: An Onion”

100 thoughts on “That Time a Joke Caused a 2 Mile Traffic Jam in England (and The First Joke in History)

  1. The English: "why don't Americans just use the metric system? Bloody idiot yanks"
    Also the English: P1: " how long was that traffic jam?" P2: "As I recall it was nearly 2 miles long!"

  2. For anyone who wants to hear the broadcast itself, check it out here!

  3. Just wondering, have yall done a segment on why the/our moon hasn't a proper name like the other moons of the solar system? Maåse /Thanks

  4. Ok… you Brits are totally hilarious, but the stuff you think is funny, isn't.
    And then stuff you move past without noticing is consistently hilarious.

  5. 7:25 Modern translation: "Guess who slept with your mother last night?" "….?" "That's right, yo momma so ugly she couldn't even get laid in your nightmares!"

  6. My 5th grade teacher would give us spelling test words while shoving cake in her face. Then she'd tell us we were all idiots because we couldn't understand her. This is why I have trust issues.

  7. And here I figured it would be the time aliens invaded New Jersey. Admittedly that was not a joke and was instead the broadcast of War of the Worlds on CBS radio by Orsen Wells.

  8. In England a leaf in the wind can cause 2 mile traffic jam. And to be honest, it is the norm around the Dartford tunnel rather than the exception.

  9. Maybe that's why British people are not funny. Their culture discourages it. This guy is afraid to tell a joke or laugh essentially, ugh.

  10. I like those "Willie" jokes, I think the double entendre nature is what makes them funny.
    A four lettered website name that starts and ends with the letter 'x' that a lot of teenagers visit nowadays.

  11. If there's no reason that car radio can't have all the features of Pandora, I would if a graphing claqulator could be modified to take the place of the computers involved.

  12. Football (Soccer) commentators have their moments, too: John Motson commentating on England vs Germany: "and the Germans have scored again – Kuntz!" or a BBC Radio presenter insisting of David Seaman (England goalkeeper) " Seaman – the name on everyone's lips"…..

  13. I would've been very disappointed if the oldest English joke WAS'NT a Dick joke! : )
    This Channel is Hilarious at times. SO glad i came across it! Probably the best channel on YT!

  14. Simon, can you please go to the doctor and get your forehead looked at? No malicious intent. But the bump just above your left eye looks a bit off. ❤️

  15. This channel should be boycotted by all AMERICANS. I will post a video soon about this British stooge. In many of his videos he mocks AMERICANS. Britain and the Crown are not our friends or allies. So much so President Truman and Eisenhower did not want Britain obtaining the Atomic Bomb. Before WWI Britain had plans to invade the US through Canada, so much so the US Army streangthened Ft. Ticonderoga and placed 5,000 troops on the border. Wake up people.

  16. I know you can't speak English Simon, but please, please, please tell me; how is it possible that a Pom can get Ian Botham's name wrong?

    Surely the sun has set🏏

  17. Being American I've never heard of this guy or any of these BBC traditions and all I know about Cricket is it is one of the world's most boring games. Damn if this wasn't funny

  18. Was NOT a joke… It was a description of an incident that two childish senses of humour thought funny. The listeners thought their attempts to continue commentating hilarious.
    No joke anywhere…..

  19. When your american and don't understand the joke so you're waiting for a brother from England be kind enough to explain it

  20. Radios greatest moment was not this, it was Orson wells in the 1930s in America, you were wrong about quite a few things on al capone so I guess it goes with the flow with you.

  21. Getting the pronunciation of a foreign word wrong is forgivable…. getting the pronunciation of "Botham" so terribly wrong should result in being sent to the Tower!

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