Trivia · Universal Knowledge

Trigger’s Broom

Earlier this week, on the BBC1 Quiz Show “Pointless”, Richard Osman compared UK pop band the Sugababes to Trigger’s Broom, because all of the original members were replaced but the band name remained the same. He didn’t go into detail about the derivation of the phrase Trigger’s Broom. Does it mean anything to you? The same idea (comparing members of the Sugababes with Trigger’s Broom) is explored, with more detail, in a footnote in Pete Brown’s “Shakespeare’s Local”. I read the book last month. If I hadn’t I might not have understood the reference.

Trigger was a character in the BBC comedy series “Only Fools and Horses”, a road sweeper played by the late Roger Lloyd Pack. Is that Universal Knowledge? It might be for you but it’s probably not for most people under 25, or for people outside the UK. In the show Trigger won an award for using the same broom for 20 years. How did it last so long? Well, the broom had gone through 17 new heads and 14 new handles. There’s a brief clip here where he explains it, and is asked, “How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?”

It’s similar to the philosophical conundrum known as the “Ship of Theseus paradox”. If a ship is over-hauled and every piece of wood, and every rivet, bolt, nail or screw is replaced, is it still the same ship? This question has exercised philosophers for thousands of years. The original three members of the Sugababes (Siobhan, Mutya and Keisha – my personal favourite) were replaced one by one until none of the original performers remained. Were they still the Sugababes? And what would happen if the three original members performed again together? Thousands of years from now will the “Ship of Theseus paradox” be better known as the “Trigger’s Broom paradox”, or as the “Sugababes paradox”?


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