Today I discovered a relatively obscure false memory that persists even though I know it never happened.
When I was growing up in Dublin, Irish cinemas used to show short films before the main feature. They were, possibly deliberately, not as exciting as the main feature, and one short sparked a meme among me and my friends.
It was called ‘Telly Savalas Visits Portsmouth’, and it featured the late Kojak star promoting the old English coastal town. The strange combination so stuck in our minds that we began to refer to the time waiting for any feature movie to start as ‘Telly Savalas Visits Portsmouth’ time.
I was discussing this meme today with Ashling O’Brien, and to show her what I meant, I googled ‘Telly Savalas Visits Portsmouth’. The search results led to a short movie titled ‘Telly Savalas Looks at Portsmouth’, which seemed a more clunky title than I remembered.
On watching it, I realised why. Telly Savalas was nowhere to be seen. He was merely narrating the tourist video, which showed buildings, markets, ships and more. It turns out that the Kojak star had not actually visited the town, but had merely recorded the voiceover in a Soho studio.
And yet I have (clearly false) memories of watching Telly Savalas walk through Portsmouth and point out the features of the town. I can still see his familiar smile, bald head and glasses, and detective-style overcoat. I don’t see him sucking the lollipop that he did on Kojak, because it was Telly Savalas and not Kojak that was visiting Portsmouth.
In my (false) memory’s favour, the narration by Savalas is scripted to create the impression that he was there.
He says about the Prince of Wales visiting Portsmouth: “In Guild Hall Square, all kinds of things happen. I felt the anticipation, the excitement. As the band plays, a limousine arrives at the red-carpeted Guild Hall steps.”
He asks: “Would you turn down an invitation to go to sea with the Royal Navy? You wouldn’t? Well, neither did I. I went to sea to see the Navy’s sea day programme.”
And the film concludes with Savalas telling us that: “The Guild Hall seems to be looking at me. So, so long Portsmouth, here’s looking at you!”
But despite the assertions by Savalas that he felt anticipation and excitement before the visit of the Prince of Wales, that he went to sea on a Navy ship, and that the Guild Hall seemed to be looking at him, he does not appear in the film. And yet, despite that I now know this for a fact, my memory still pictures him walking through Portsmouth on the Savoy cinema screen.
This is the second false memory that I am aware of having. In 1976 Bohemian football club, who I watched nearly every week as a child, were drawn at home in an FAI Cup tie against an amateur league side called Ringmahon Rangers, and Bohs were expected to win comfortably.
However, Ringmahon packed their defence, and despite relentless pressure Bohs only scored one goal – a free kick from outside the box, hammered home in typical style by Joe Burke, to the relief of those of us watching from behind the goal on the Tramway end terrace of Dalymount Park.
That vivid memory resurfaced in 2004, when Bohs were again drawn to play Ringmahon Rangers in the Cup. But the match programme for that game also recalled the 1976 fixture, and it described Joe Burke’s goal as a header, not a shot from a free kick. I later checked the Irish Times archive, and unsurprisingly, the match programme was correct.
Again, in my (false) memory’s favour, Joe Burke scored many goals from free kicks just outside the box, in exactly the manner that I falsely remembered his goal against Ringmahon rangers. Perhaps my mind combined the significance of this particular goal (Bohs went on to win the Cup that year) with the type of goal he typically scored, to create a composite false memory. I don’t know.
But I still have two relatively obscure memories fixed in my mind, even though I know that both of them are false. I can still see Telly Savalas walking through a town that he never visited, and I can still see Joe Burke score a goal from a free kick that never happened. And I inevitably wonder how many more of my memories might later join this short list.