These were being published in books from at least the late nineteenth century. Peter Haining, most of whose archive we now hold, collected a number of them for a projected book. Here are some examples he found. The first were sent in for a prize competition of c1900, the second bunch was assembled by Charlie James from a northern comprehensive school in 1987 and the third lot of howlers has a more international flavour:
Ben Johnson was the man who wrote a life of Bothwell. Bothwell was the man who murdered Mary Queen of Scots.
The fire of London, although looked on at first as a calamity, really did a great deal of good. It purified the city from the dregs of the plague and burnt down 89 churches.
Edward III would have been King of France if his mother had been a man.
When will you expect an eclipse of the sun to take place? In the night.
The sun never sets on English possessions because the sun sets in the west and our colonies are in the north, south and east.
The zebra is like the horse, only striped, and is chiefly used to illustrate the letter Z.
A primate is a Prime Minister’s wife.
The Iliad was written by Marie Corelli.
Who was Robinson Crusoe?
He was a sailor who got stuck on a desert island without even a television
What was Gandhi’s first name?
As he grew older Wordsworth went out one evening because he felt the call of nature
Describe your feelings towards manhood
I have said goodbye to my boyhood now and am looking forward to my adultery
Joan of Arc was condomed to death
State one change in boys at puberty
Their vice deepens.
Write down one way in which radioactive materials can be useful to human beings.
Jenny is a clever girl and wants to go into bonking
Exams do put enormous stains on you.
‘Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water.’ United States.
What is a vacuum?
‘A large empty space where the Pope lives’
What is artificial insemination?
‘When the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull’.
What is a skeleton?
‘A skeleton is what is left after the insides have been taken out and the outsides have been taken off. The purpose of the skeleton is something to hitch meat to.’
How would you prevent milk turning sour?
‘Keep it in the cow’.