beware the unauthorised hole

Old Etonian Horace de Vere Cole was widely known as a practical joker.

“His pranks are legendary. The most well-known is probably the Dreadnought hoax of 1910, in which Cole and five friends (including a young Virginia Woolf) disguised themselves as the Emperor of Abyssinia and his posse, and were given a full VIP tour of the British warship, the H.M.S. Dreadnought.


My favourites were more low key:

The Time-Life Library of Curious and Unusual Facts reports that “Cole often targeted his peers. For example, playing on the innate good manners of the well-bred English gent, Cole would pose as a surveyor on the street and politely ask a passing swell to help by holding one end of a string for a moment. Then the prankster would disappear around the corner, find another man to hold the other end of the string, and walk away.

Learn how to play cat’s cradle here

“He was also fond of spontaneous pranks. When he stumbled on a road crew without a foreman one day, Cole leaped into the breach and directed the men to London’s busy Piccadilly Circus, where he had them excavate a huge trench in the street. A nearby policeman obligingly redirected the heavy downtown traffic all day, and it was several hours before the city noticed the unauthorized hole.”


The Museum of Hoaxes also lists three more, including the infamous cow’s udder trick

He once stood in the street handing out free theatre tickets to a series of extremely bald passers-by with the result that, when viewed from the dress circle, the assembly of shiny bald heads in the carefully chosen seats clearly spelt out an expletive – complete with a dot over the ‘i’.

He used to wander the streets with a cow’s udder poking through his flies. At the moment of optimum outrage, he would then produce a pair of scissors and snip off the offending protrusion.


More adolescent pranks ranged from organising a large party where all the guests were called Ramsbottom or Winterbottom to driving around London in a taxi with a naked tailor’s dummy. Whenever he saw a policeman, he would stop the cab, open the door and beat the dummy’s head on the ground, shouting: ‘Ungrateful hussy!'”


Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 9:02 am  Comments (40)  
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40 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s probably just as well that Horace didn’t have the internet as his playground.

  2. Unauthorized hole… but you can probably get clearance for it after a few more martinis.

    • hahah….If I had milk in my mouth, I would have probably snorted it through my nose.

      • RF always has that effect on me

  3. I would love to have seen the looks on faces as he snipped the udder off…

    • … and hear the screams

  4. He could be a star of that American TV show “Punked” where they do outrageous stuff.. Some things just never change.

    • I’ve not seen Punked but have heard about it. He’d fit right in.

  5. This guy exploited the kindness of civilized people which is wrong and evil. In the holding a string story, and digging a hole in the street. People assume there is a legit reason for someone asking something. If people are not kind, polite and considerate to the stranger in the city , society-the city would (will) go to hell, hell of anarchy of crime.

    • Thanks for the comment Mark. Hope you’re well.

      • udderly diplomatic of you, nurse M.

        (as if amusement isn’t a legit reason. sheesh.)

  6. One of my childhood heroes

    • Ooh goody, I’m glad you knew of him. He was ‘new’ to me. as are most of the people I write about here

  7. What is going on with that doll?

    • Click the link below it and find out

  8. just my kinda stoopid! a high school friend bought a store mannequin, named her Connie Lingus, and brought her everywhere with him for a time… we went to see the redone movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, but the ticket dork said we’d have to buy her a seat. So we left her in the drivers seat of his car in the parking lot…

    • that is such a daisyfae story 😉

  9. Sorry, Cole. That one had been done before a number of times.

    • Which one Denny? And don’t forget this was over 100 years ago….

      • Oh yeah.

        I tanked your comment on YNBH somehow, but seamlessly reconstructed it as only Denny can.

        That’s the Denny DelVecchio difference, love.

    • And in case you care to hear my DelVecchian take, this is a pretty damn well done site, love.

      • Thank you Denny

  10. I am going to have an awesome combover like that too

  11. Beware the unauthorised hole…

    That’s what she said!

  12. So Eton does have some use after all ……and I’ll play Cat’s Cradle with you Nursey – no strings attached of course …..

  13. What a wonderful way to start the day, snickering and giggling and laughing like a loon. I have to say my favorite prank was the cows udder — that still has me snorting.

    Thanks, nursie!

  14. I love the word hussy. I think I might be one. But I’m not strictly sure.

    • Oh you’re a hussy alright. One of the highest quality

  15. I shall acquire a cow’s udder immediately and disport myself around Westminster, causing consternation and chaos.

    • Will it be poking out from your flies Madame? That would be quite a sight

  16. We need more fun like this. But seriously, where does one purchase a cow’s udder?

  17. I swear before I die I will pull that string trick on two worthies. It’s brilliant!

  18. Oh My God, the Bottom Dinner Party!

    That’s in Robert Graves’s “Occupation: Writer,” in the essay titled “Mrs. Fisher, or the Future of Humour.” Unless it’s in the one called “Lars Porsena, or the Future of Swearing.” It sort of straddles the two subjects if you would pardon the expression.

  19. There is no way I’m clicking that link under the doll.

    • Queenie! I’ve been out drinking wine with my good friend T tonight. We have discovered a new bar in Newtown which I absolutely have to take you to

  20. It’s a good thing there was someone there with an SLR camera to catch that ectoplasm looking for a new home, or we might never have known that aliens are covered in taste buds.

  21. It always saddens me I don’t know people like this in real life.

    Well, there’s always the next life.

  22. I actually know a guy that would do something like that with a mannequin head as he has a small collection of them.

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