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Crazy Things The Brits Will Bet On

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Britons, it appears, will bet on anything, from whether it'll snow on Christmas to the outcome of the American presidential election, to not only whether Kate Winslet would win an Oscar this year, but also whether she'd cry during her acceptance speech (odds were 8 to 15 that she would).

The gambling industry in the UK is massive: According to the UK Gambling Commission, gambling operations turned over £84.2 billion in 2006 to 2007. Gross gambling yield (that is, what operators make after paying out, but before deducting operational costs) was estimated at roughly £9.9 billion during that same time period. More than 3400 betting and gambling operators are licensed by the Commission and it shows "“ in virtually every town center, there is an off-track betting storefront, including the appropriately named Ladbrokes.

And they are busy. A 2007 Gambling Commission report also found that around 68 percent of the adult population of Britain reported participating in some form of gambling in the past year, including people who had only participated in the National Lottery Draw. Among the most popular forms of gambling, after the National Lottery, were betting on horse races and playing the slot machines. (The study also found that only about 0.6 percent of the population could be considered problem gamblers.)

Off-track and off-course gambling "“ the kinds of places that take bets and fix odds on things like Kate Winslet's tears "“ has only been allowed since 1961, when British government essentially legalized all of the already existing illegal bookmaking shops operating around the country. But well before that, Britons were betting on virtually anything that moved: In the 19th century, for example, young men of leisure would bet which drop of water on a window would reach the bottom the fastest.

And that barely scrapes the surface of the weird and wonderful bets British people have made "“ here are few of the strangest, most outrageous bets to come out of Britain in the last few hundred years:

ferret.jpgA popular betting game for charity functions and school field days is something called called Ferret Bingo. And it really couldn't be simpler: A ferret is placed in a specially made cage that features seven numbered exit tubes. Players bet on from which tube the ferret will emerge. But really, when ferrets are involved, everybody wins.
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London resident Matthew Dumbrell took 1,000,000 to 1 odds that the world would end before the end of the year 2000 "“ begging the question, how would he collect his winnings?
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In 1964, the prescient David Threlfall put £10 on 1000 to 1 odds with bet makers William Hill that a man would walk on the moon before January 1, 1970. Threlfall won, of course (surely angering those who think the whole lunar landing thing was a sham), but sadly lived only long enough to spend his winnings on a new sports car and crash it.
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brit-bet.jpgIn perhaps the most audacious bet ever, in 2004, professional gambler Ashley Revell, 32, of Kent sold all of his worldly possessions and skipped off to Vegas with $135,000 in his pocket "“ where he sidled up to the roulette wheel and put the lot on red. The wheel hit a red 7, Revell doubled his money "“ and probably breathed a huge sigh of relief. According to the BBC, he described his all-or-nothing, black-or-red bet as the "purest bet you can do," before adding, "I'm not married and I haven't got kids. It's almost like my last chance to go mad."
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However, Revell wasn't the first man to try his luck in one go on the roulette wheel: According to the BBC, in January 1994, a punter (as they call the betting folks over here) from High Wycombe sold his home for £147,000, flew to Las Vegas without telling anyone, and placed it all on red. He won.
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In 1907, John Pierpoint Morgan and Hugh Cecil Lowther Lonsdale, the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale, were dining at the National Sporting Club of London, when Morgan made the claim that no man could walk around the world and not be recognized. Lonsdale disagreed "“ and so was born one of the strangest bets in history.

According to lore, man about town and consummate showman Harry Bensley heard about the bet and decided to take it on, for the princely sum of £21,000 ($100,000 then). By the start of 1908, the bet had changed. The wager allegedly stipulated that Bensley would walk around the world with only one set of underwear, pushing a pram, and wearing a metal helmet. Along the way, he was supposed to find a wife, never reveal his identity, and, in order to finance the journey, sell postcards of himself in his suit of armor. Huge crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square on New Year's Day, 1908, to cheer Bensley on his way, as he shuffled out of town pushing his pram and wearing his visored metal mask. A few stories of his exploits trickled back: He was arrested in Bexleyheath, southwest London, for selling postcards without a license. The local magistrate there, however, respecting the rules of the bet, allowed Bensley to be tried as "the man in the iron mask" and he got off with a fine. But after that, little of the man in the iron mask and his adventures made the news.

Bensley returned to England after six years and, he said, making it mostly around the world, hitting Ireland, Canada, America, Japan, China, India, Turkey, Italy. It was only the start of World War I that stopped him, forcing him to return to England. Morgan, he said, had abandoned the bet because of the outbreak of war, and had awarded him £4000 for his troubles.

It's a good story "“ but is it true? There is no evidence that Bensley ever actually left England, despite his claims, and even now, his family wonders if the tale was anything more than fancy.
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In 2005, a 91-year-old former solicitor from Devon placed £500 on 6-to-1 odds that he would be dead by the end of the year. Arthur King-Robinson's morbid wager, which was accepted by bookmaker William Hill, was an effort to sidestep a £3000 inheritance tax that his estate would have been liable for should he have died by December 6, 2005. Luckily, King-Robinson didn't die, the death tax was avoided, and the bookmaker took home £500.
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Horatio Bottomley, a Liberal MP who was also a less than honest businessman, had the perfect scheme for fixing a horse race. In 1914, Bottomley bought all six horses running in a particular race in Belgium, then bribed the jockeys to finish in a certain order and placed massive bets on the race. Fool proof, right? Not so much. The racecourse was a seaside track and the day of the race proved exceptionally foggy: Not only could the jockeys not work out who was where, but neither could the judges. Bottomley lost a vast amount of money on the race.
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Before off-track betting was legalized, many of these kinds of weird wagers were made within in the confines of gentlemen's clubs (not those kinds of gentlemen's clubs). Whites, which at more than 300 years old is one of London's oldest such clubs, kept records of colorful wagers made by club members. Some are morbid: In 1817, Whites' ledgers reveal, one member bet 10 guineas that six other Whites patrons would die within a year. Others were a bit whimsical: In 1812, the record shows that one Mr. Talbot bet Sir J. Copley five guineas that "he does not make a bet with him during the next three years." Still others concerned matters of state: A Mr. Bouverie bet Lord Yarmouth £150 that the Duke Clarence, who would become King William IV, would sire no legitimate children in the next two years. And some were just crass: In 1819, "Mr. Raikes bets Mr. Greveill one guinea the Empress Marie Louise is in Paris before Emperor Napoleon is in her person."
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Honorable mention goes to professional gambler Brian Zembic, a Canadian, who in 1998 accepted a $100,000 bet to get and live with breast implants for a year. The weird part? He still has them.
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What's the weirdest thing you've ever bet on?

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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