Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Neville Chamberlain: British Prime Minister, Downton Abbey Visitor

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Tonight’s episode of Downton Abbey once again found the fictional Crawley family members rubbing elbows with real historical figures (previous familiar faces to interact with Lord and Lady Grantham include Dame Nellie Melba, as well as future king Edward, the Prince of Wales and his then-mistress, Freda Dudley Ward).

This time around, it was the eventual British prime minister Neville Chamberlain (portrayed by actor Rupert Frazer) who came to dine at the grand estate. But to use the words of Tom Branson, the meal “delivered more than [he] bargained for.” (SPOILER ALERT: In a deeply upsetting scene, Lord Grantham suffers a burst ulcer and proceeds to projectile-vomit blood all over the table and his guests).

While Chamberlain’s presence wasn’t vital to the episode’s plot (he was brought in by Maggie Smith's character, Violet, the Dowager Countess, as hired muscle in this season's ongoing hospital-takeover debate), his subsequent, pivotal role in British history makes this a good time to take a look at his background a little more closely.

Since Downton Abbey's final season takes place in 1925, the then-minister of health could appear as an innocuous dinner guest whose most interesting characteristic was that his brother-in-law was a notorious British prankster (he and Tom discuss this fact toward the end of the episode).

But just over a decade later, Chamberlain—having proved Downton cook Mrs. Patmore’s ever-so-prescient suggestion that he “may be prime minister one day”—would make several diplomatic decisions that would leave him in an unfavorable light as the United Kingdom edged closer into the Second World War.

In order to avoid giving the Downton Abbey characters too close of a connection to the man who would one day favor appeasement with Nazi chancellor Adolf Hitler—and be photographed shaking the murderous dictator's hand—the family link was made through Chamberlain’s real-life wife, Anne de Vere Cole. According to Violet, her late husband was Mrs. Chamberlain’s godfather.

At the time the Downton episode takes place, the idea of another world war wasn’t even a glimmer in Chamberlain’s eye, probably because the wounds from the Great War were still so fresh in everyone's minds. This is why one of the most substantial arguments that has been made for the appeasement decision is that Chamberlain was willing to do whatever was necessary to evade a repeat of the First World War.

Neville Chamberlain became prime minister in 1937, participating in what would become his most notorious act as leader of the British people one year later: the Munich Agreement. With German aggression looming, and war becoming even more of a foregone conclusion, Chamberlain met with Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and French Premier Édouard Daladier in September 1938. The resulting plan handed over the area of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland to Germany.

In Chamberlain's opinion, this diplomatic decision would assure peace within Europe, and prevent any further atrocities of war. By this time, he may have had another decade to get over the events WWI, but even 20 years after the Armistice, a world war repeat wasn't high on Chamberlain's priority list.

According to historian David Dutton, the author of Reputations: Neville Chamberlain, in a 2009 piece for The Telegraph, the Prime Minister "had been deeply scarred by the memory of the First World War. Expert opinion predicted that any future war would be even worse: to the slaughter of the battlefield would be added unspeakable destruction from the air. Extrapolating from the Spanish Civil War, it was estimated that the first few weeks of a German air assault would bring half a million casualties: Britain was defenseless in the face of the bomber."

However, Chamberlain's decision of what he called "peace with honor" and "peace for our time" would ultimately be his downfall, even before Hitler broke the Munich Agreement by invading the rest of Czechoslovakia and then Poland in 1939. The man who would succeed Chamberlain as prime minister and lead the United Kingdom through the darkest years of World War II to eventual victory, Winston Churchill, castigated his predecessor's act of appeasement upon his return from Germany: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor," Churchill said. "You chose dishonor and you will have war."

Whatever promises of peace that had been made lay in a broken mess at Chamberlain’s feet by September 1939, forcing the prime minister to declare war on Germany following its invasion of Poland. He remained in office through the following year, but his popularity steadily declined over the next several months.

Historians like Dutton, in retrospect, do offer up arguments that Churchill may not have had any success in turning the tide of history if the roles had been reversed: "He overestimated his ability to reach a settlement with the dictators," wrote Dutton of Chamberlain in the same 2009 Telegraph article. "He probably clung too long to the hope of averting war. But it is doubtful if anyone else would have done much better, Churchill included."

Bereft of political support following an unsuccessful attempt to liberate Norway from German forces, Chamberlain resigned as prime minister in May 1940, with Churchill chosen as his successor. Chamberlain died of bowel cancer in November of that year.

Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State

There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.


The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."


The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.


The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.


The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.


The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.


For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.


Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.


You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.


In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.


When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.


On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."


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