"Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall," sang John Lennon, in the Beatles' "A Day in the Life". But do they know? How can holes fill anything? What's he on about?
The Beatles spent their most successful years in London, yet the capital barely figures in their lyrics. One notable exception is the Albert Hall, which is name-checked so memorably in the final track of Sgt Pepper*.
As you'll recall, the Hall appears in the verse about "Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire". Lennon's inspiration came from an article in the Daily Mail, of all places. An item in the 17 January 1967 edition asserted that: "There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical, there are two million holes in Britain's roads and 300,000 in London."
There is no mention of the Royal Albert Hall in the article. Its comparison to the holes was Lennon's invention, with a little help from his friend (and "man from the motor trade"), Terry Doran. Doran supplied the verb "fill" to Lennon's nascent idea of rhyming "And though the holes were rather small" with "Albert Hall". It's not clear why, exactly, Lennon was so keen on getting the Albert Hall into the song. The Fab Four had played a couple of gigs at the venue, though four years earlier in 1963.
So how big are those holes?
The lyrics don't pick up on the two million holes in Britain or 300,000 in London, so can assume that the number of holes Lennon equated to the Albert Hall is the original 4,000. We can therefore work out their average size.
It's been estimated that the volume of the Royal Albert Hall is 100,000 cubic metres. If true, that means the 4,000 holes have an average volume of 25 cubic metres, or 25,000 litres. A typical bathtub holds about 180 litres (when full to the top). So the mean size of the 4,000 holes would be the equivalent of 139 full bathtubs. Those are not "rather small" holes.
If, on the other hand, we take the "two million holes in Britain's roads" from the news article, and fit them into the Albert Hall's volume, then we get a mean hole size of 0.05 cubic metres, which is 50 litres. Just over a quarter of a bathtub. THAT seems much more reasonable.
So, in conclusion, we reckon it takes two million holes to fill the Albert Hall, not 4,000.
All of this is entirely silly, of course. But with the Government making demented noises about returning to Imperial measurements, perhaps the "Albert Hall" could become the new unit of pothole numbers.
*The only other bit of London to be namechecked in a Beatles' song is Bishopsgate, which is also mentioned on Sgt. Pepper in the song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite. Abbey Road is, of course, the name of an album, but isn't mentioned in song.