Monday 17 July 2017

Getting old, Latin, spoofs and serendipity

I had an email today from the alumni association of the university I studied for my first degree at. This was the header:

It's 25 years since you left

Thanks. Thanks a lot. Way to make me feel old. And thanks especially for the 18pt semi-bold, hot-pink font to emphasise the fact.

This did set a train of thought in motion, however. It started with me wondering whether the Latin alma mater applied only to the first uni studied at, or last, or any/all. So I did what everyone does these days and Googled the phrase. Here, you can too, in case you're doubting me when I say that the phrase is defined as "the university, school, or college that one formerly attended." On that basis, it can be used to described any former seat of learning. And that should have been that. Except...

...except over in the right sidebar of the Google search results page was a suggested related search for "Alma Mater Europaea (university). Number of students: 1,300. President: Felix Unger." And that was what shunted the train of thought onto a branch line. That had to be a spoof, right, some sort of pseudo-university or dodgy certificates-for-cash scam, surely, because Felix Unger was the name of one half of The Odd Couple in Neil Simon's famous play starring Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau, and later made into a TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman! So there surely wasn't a seat of learning with Felix Unger as president, was there? Except of course there is: Austrian Felix Unger is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons, and performed Europe's first artificial heart transplant in 1986.

Okay, I was content with this quirk of coincidence - that's not the serendipity of this post's title. By now, I was rather more concerned with The Odd Couple - not the film, though that's great. Rather the TV series, which was often repeated during the school holidays of my teens. I used to love it and, curious to see how well it had aged, I hopped over to YouTube and found this. Aside from still being funny, who else should I discover in this clip (from 1974) than one Al Molinaro as a police officer - better known to us all as "Big Al" Delvecchio from Happy Days! No real surprise there though - his was a recurring role. No, no, the real serendipity here was the discovery of a pre-fame, pre-Close Encounters Teri Garr as the insurance clerk. Here, take a look, about 25 seconds in.

And that's not the end of the chance discoveries. Perusing Teri's credits on IMDB, I discovered that in 1969 TV Series It Takes A Thief, Teri played a character called Maggie Philbin! Presumably not this one, from '80s Tomorrow's World:

And that was when the train of thought completely derailed. Feeling rather like Ouroboros, I closed the browser.


  1. Ooh, I love this little train journey of serendipity, taking that little branch line and stopping at the stations of coincidence and curiosity. I could travel on it all day! I'm intrigued by this kind of thing; seems there's no point or meaning to it but at the same time it piques our interest and makes us question if there is.... what is it leading to?... is 'Maggie Philbin' in fact some kind of code? And Is that a giant compact disc Maggie's holding there?
    (Btw, whenever I think of Teri Garr, I think of one my favourite films - After Hours.)

    1. I know, C, I find it very easy to get lost in the Internet like this sometimes. I was really hoping that Maggie had left Tomorrow's World 25 years ago, as that would have taken us neatly back to the start but apparently no, she quit 23 years ago. Close but no cigar!

    2. Oh, and how have I never seen After Hours? A Scorsese film that has passed me by! I will seek to remedy this...

      Also, Maggie's holding one of these...

    3. You know, I had completely forgotten those laser discs. Just not ringing any bells at all, weird!
      I hope you get to see After Hours, it's brilliant, one of those 'just when you think things can't get any worse' type of scenarios which gets more and more frustrating and surreal - a great cast and characters too. Think I need to watch it again myself now.

    4. Laser discs never caught on. The players were hideously expensive, the discs had to be handled with care and the quality was not always what you might expect. Not really a casualty of the format wars, as it never really got started, at least not in the domestic market.