Author Archives: felicity

Record breakers

*If you’re the tallest, the smallest …

For a child growing up in Britain in the 1970s the Christmas edition of Record Breakers was a sign that the holiday was really underway.  This children’s TV programme, presented by the multi-talented Roy Castle, met the BBC’s remit to educate and entertain by presenting the facts and figures associated with world records, as well as showing live attempts at creating new records.  There might even be a chance for audience participation: “What’s the longest anybody can hold their breath?”

The largest Christmas cake ever baked?  The most expensive perfume gift you could buy?  The best-selling Christmas song of all time?  Keep watching, and you’d find out.  As the 1970s progressed, the format started to include an all-star Christmas panto, a rare chance to see your favourite TV personalities singing and dancing and often looking out of their depth.  (Though not in a world-record-breaking way.)

The programme also featured the McWhirter twins, who compiled the Guinness Book of Records.  In this pre-search-engine age, children from the audience could test the McWhirters’ comprehensive knowledge of all the record-breaking statistics.  (According to Who’s who online, Ross McWhirter read law at Trinity College, Oxford, studying there alongside his brother Norris who became an expert in contract law.  A legal education really can take you anywhere.)

The idea for the Guinness book of records sprang from an argument at a shooting party about which game bird was the fastest.  The director of the Guinness Brewery couldn’t find an authoritative source to settle the argument, and came up with the idea of compiling a new reference work.  This grew to become an annual bestseller, now under the title Guinness world records.  Taking at random the 2012 edition, I checked the section on Crime & Punishment, hoping to find the answer to legal questions such as the longest-running civil court case or maybe which council in the UK paid out the most to pedestrians who tripped on their pavements.  Instead we find categories such as Worst Kleptocrat and Highest Ransom Paid for a Ship.

At the Law Library, authoritative sources are our thing.  As well as standard legal resources (try KZ for Halsbury’s laws of England or follow our guide for using it online ) did you know we also have more general reference materials?  If you need to look up a medical term, or translate a word from Welsh into English, or find an apposite quote for a speech, come to our Ref section.

For a quick question you could try SOLO Live Help.  For more in-depth queries you can Ask an Oxford Librarian, the closest thing we have to the McWhirter twins.

For those of you playing at home, answers include:

  1. According to the 1972 show, the most expensive perfume on sale was a huge bottle of Chanel No. 5.
  2. Bestselling Christmas song: in 1972, as now, White Christmas.  Some things never change.
  3. I don’t know which is the biggest Christmas cake ever baked.  I should book a research session with a librarian.
  4.  Worst kleptocrat according to 2012 edition of Guinness world records: President Suharto of Indonesia.
  5.  Highest ransom paid for a ship according to the 2012 edition: £5.8 million to release the tanker Samho Dream.

[“If you’re the tallest, the smallest… ” are the first words from the Record Breakers opening theme, performed by Roy Castle.  I’ve been unable to verify the writer of the lyrics; there is an unconfirmed suggestion it was written by Roy Castle himself.  Please let us know if you have any information about the correct attribution.]

The Bodleian game

You were promised tenuous links, but there’s nothing difficult to follow about this one.

Yes, there really is a Bodleian board game.  Its aim is to recreate “hours spent in scholarly pursuit” as you move around the different reading rooms of the Bodleian Libraries, reliving the thrill of creating a bibliography for your research project.

Christmas is a time for nostalgia, and as soon as you open the board you can see how things have changed since 1988 when the game was created.  Locations include Rhodes House library, which closed in 2014, while the Weston Library features under its former name, the New Bodleian Library.







All players are trying to track down the same fourteen books, relating to a topic agreed at the beginning.  (No frivolity here, options include: The theory of games, Women & society, Childhood.)  These are real books, such as Bringing up children in Ghana, found in the game at Rhodes House, but now relegated to the Book Storage Facility.  Or you might find yourself hunting down Advertising and Marketing Law & Practice* which is still here at the Law Library on open shelves just as it was in 1988.

*spot the typo

The game was released at a time before automation had really taken hold, so all players start at the central Bodleian, and must check the printed catalogue to find the first book.  This is where it gets exciting – you have to choose between the Pre-1920, the Post-1920 and the Interim catalogue (“listing some pre- and post-1920 publications actually acquired by the library after about 1983-4”).  You can only check one at a time; choose the wrong one and you’ve wasted your turn.  If you discover that your book is held in another library, you have to throw the dice, move there and check the local catalogue to find it on the shelves, a time-consuming process.

The advent of OLIS, the first online union catalogue here, has made life easier since then.  Of course even now not everything that’s held by the Bodleian is in the main catalogue (now known as SOLO).  For some specialist materials you may still need to check a different catalogue – see the ‘Other catalogues and services ‘ box on the SOLO homepage.  For others, your best best is still to ask a subject specialist, as there may be resources which aren’t discoverable online at all.

Chance cards speed you on your way or throw hazards in your path.  Maybe the book you requested from the stacks isn’t waiting for you.  In the game this would mean a wasted turn; nowadays there are automatic email notifications when your book arrives at the reading room, to save you a wasted trip.

Another chance card sees you missing a turn for being caught eating in the library; you have to go the Admissions office to retrieve your confiscated reader’s card.  These days, food is still mostly forbidden except in a very few designated areas, but you can at least bring in your hot drink into several reading rooms, as long as it’s in a Bodleian-approved Keep Cup.

Some things haven’t changed – “Should a player land on the same square as another player, both players must go to the Kings Arms“.  This Oxford institution is still going strong after all these years, and still luring readers away from their study.

A major change in the last decade is the arrival of electronic formats for books and journals, which mean you might no longer need to visit a physical library at all.  To update the game, perhaps these chance cards should be added, courtesy of the digital revolution:

  • The book is available as an unrestricted eBook so you can log in remotely and read it wherever you are.  Throw again to move on to your next title.
  • The article is available on electronic legal deposit; go to any Bodleian library computer to read it.  Perhaps with the concomitant  hazard This eLD article is already being used by someone else.  Wait a turn until it’s free.

Since it’s a high-minded game for scholars, the winner isn’t the person who finds all the books first.  Whenever you’ve located a book, you have to throw the dice to see how useful the book is to your research, and record your score.  So, even once you’ve found all the books, you can add to your score by ‘reading’ them again.  The end only comes when a second player completes the list, and then all players add their scores, so the actual winner may not be the person you expected.

You will no doubt be sad to hear that the Bodleian game is no longer available to buy.  For alternatives you could visit Board Game Geek who have a list of other library-related board games.  As far as I know, the Bodleian is the only library to have its own board game; even if it is, shall we say, not entirely enthralling to play, its existence must surely be a source of pride.


The Bodleian Board Game: designed by Leslie Scott and Sara Finch, c1988 Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Return to sender

In 1962, although his best films were already behind him, Elvis’ music was still hitting the spot.  He’d already had three UK number ones that year (including one of the best single releases of all time, Rock-a-hula Baby/Can’t Help Falling in Love) and ended the year in top position again with Return to Sender.  Written by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell, this is the only good song* from the soundtrack film Girls! Girls! Girls!, a film exactly as ropey as you’d guess from the title.  And yet, and yet… when he sings Return to Sender, pastiching Jackie Wilson’s dance moves, all the irresistible Elvis charm and humour is there.

By Paramount Pictures (corporate author) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Girls! Girls! Girls! publicity poster by Paramount Pictures via Wikimedia Commons

For further details about this song, such as the other musicians or date of recording, I commend to you the encyclopedic Elvis: his life from A to Z which can be requested from the Bodleian stacks.  Oh, wait, this is a law blog.  If you have an interest in trademarks then there’s plenty to keep you interested. Since the 1990s, Elvis Presley Enterprises, the ‘official’ vendor of Elvis merchandise, which represents the interests of Elvis’ estate, has been at work to limit use of his name, image and signature.  In the US, starting in the Tennessee courts, they brought a trademark infringement case against a well-established but ‘unofficial’ vendor, Elvisly Yours.  This ended with a ruling by the US Court of Appeals in 1991 which confirmed that ‘Elvis’ and ‘Elvis Presley’ could be considered as trademarks and controlled by Elvis Presley Enterprises.  When a similar case was brought in the UK, the eventual ruling was the opposite, with the UK Court of Appeal finding in favour of Elvisly Yours in 1999, indicating that no party could claim exclusive rights to use the name.  So often a trendsetter, Elvis has led the way in developing  the law on celebrity merchandising.  For further information, you can browse our UK copyright books at KN112 on Floor 2; our US books on the subject should be joining them there some time in the coming year.

Girls! Girls! Girls! by Thomas Hawk used under Creative Commons Licence

Girls! Girls! Girls! album by Thomas Hawk used under Creative Commons Licence

As I started to research this post, I began to think that the law connected to Elvis was such a big topic that it really deserved its own website, and then I found this: Preslaw, a collection of documents and cases covering several areas of law, gathered by US lawyer and fan (I assume!) Ian Feavearyear.

But what about the sad story enacted in the song Return to Sender?  The addressee repeatedly returns the singer’s love letters, marking them as undeliverable: address unknown, incorrect post code, non-existent addressee.  If you’re looking for federal regulations governing the US postal service you should consult the United States Code Annotated at USA 35 (still on Floor 3, as before our renovations).  Title 39 which addresses (ahem) the Postal Service is also available online, without annotations, through the Legal Information Institute.   The section on Nonmailable matter covers the situation where the name or address is fictitious.  (As well as prohibiting the mailing of – have I read this correctly? – fragrance samples and car keys.)

However, in our scenario, the address details are correct and the letters are simply unwanted post.  The US Code mentions unwanted advertising material and merchandising samples, but not the Return to Sender service as such.  More detail comes from the internationally agreed Universal Postal Convention, set by the Universal Postal Union, which describes itself on its website as “the second oldest international organization worldwide”. First drawn up at a meeting in Berne in 1874, the Convention created some uniformity of standards between the postal services of member states and established the principle that a sender of international mail would pay a single charge in their own country.  For more on the history of the UPU see International communications : the International Telecommunication Union and the Universal Postal Union by Francis Lyall, available in print or as an eBook.  

Under UK law [UK Statutory Instrument 2012/936 Sch. 1 para. 5] returned mail should be sent back “within a reasonable period”.  In our song the local postal service is remarkably efficient, returning the rejected mail “the very next day”.  Perhaps this is not too surprising in view of a 2012 NBER paper which argued for measuring the relative efficiency of national governments by comparing how quickly their postal services returned wrongly-addressed mail.  The researchers sent letters to fictitious business addresses and recorded how long it took for them to be returned to sender.  All the letters sent to a US address were returned, within an average of 16 days, putting the US at the top of the list for mail efficiency.

Elvis Stamp. Photo from John Flannery under license from Creative Commons

Elvis Stamp. Photo from John Flannery under Creative Commons Licence

And finally, since all roads lead to Elvis, the US postal service does have reason to be extremely grateful to The King.  According to the Washington Post, when an Elvis stamp was issued in 1993, 124 million stamps were bought as souvenirs by fans and remain unused, which proved highly profitable.  Less so for any collectors hoping they’d have any resale value.

*Though I will admit to a liking for Thanks to the Rolling Sea.

Brill eBooks on International law and Human rights


The Law Library has just bought an eBook package from Brill/Nijhoff for recent books on international law, and human rights and humanitarian law.  This provides full text access to 133 books from 2015 onwards, and all the books are catalogued in SOLO so you can link through easily to the Brill platform, Brill Online.  Then you can read the book directly from the website, or download it.

New books on these subjects will become available as soon as they are published.

A great feature of this package is that readers can buy a basic paperback version of any favourite eBook using the Brill ‘My Book’ option.Brillmybook  The price is usually 25 Euros plus tax (about £25 total, a huge reduction from the usual print prices).  To do this, you will need to create a personal account, which also allows you to mark your favourites, see your search history, and set up publication alerts.

To check whether an ebook in SOLO is provided through this package, choose the Details tab:


… towards the bottom of the record you will see a note confirming that online access is provided by Brill:


If you would like to see all the titles provided, do a search on SOLO for the exact phrase “online access provided by Brill” and limit it to 2015 and 2016.   Here are just a few to whet your appetite…


Law in society [electronic resource] : reflections on children, family, culture and philosophy : essays in honour of Michael FreemanIssues in International Migration Law [electronic resource].