One ordinary Saturday evening recently I was doing what I've done for years: Watching BBC comedies on public television. I once did have a life, so I've not always had time to watch them very regularly, but I've watched. And when there's a reference to something that, being in the States, I don't understand, I've always tried to look it up. That's far easier now with the advent of the internet than it ever used to be!
On February 6, 2010, I was watching an episode of Ever Decreasing Circles, a Britcom from the 1980s. It was called "The Cricket Match" and originally aired in 1984 [Time flies, eh?]. One of the main characters, Paul Ryman [played by Peter Egan], spoke a line something to the effect of, "Who do you think you are? King Willow?"
As usual, I wanted to understand the reference there that provoked such a guffaw on the episode's "laugh track". I didn't have much luck, which surprised me. Typically search engines whisk me to my answer relatively quickly and painlessly.
Not so that evening. Try your own rudimentary search for king willow [6,750,000 results] or king willow cricket [1,190,000 results] and you'll see what I mean! Bing.com did quickly turn up a 1929 silent film entitled Enter… King Willow, but I found it extraordinary that a dashing and thoroughly modern character like Paul Ryman, seemingly in his late thirties in 1984, could possibly have been making some sort of comedic baby-boomer/pop-cultural reference to a British Pathé film from before the era of sound!
Grinding through some Boolean inquiries after my initial searches, I finally decided the "King Willow" reference must be to an apparently largely forgotten book I bumped into, dated on the amazon.com as published in 1951, and called King Willow. The author was listed as George Mills, and further investigation that evening turned up the fact that the novel was indeed, about the sport of cricket!
Try, however, entering George Mills into a search engine [left]. Google produced 7,220,000 initial results. Altavista.com gave me 35,400,000. That new Bing search engine—the one that narrows down results for you—produced 11,700,000.
That didn't really narrow anything down much at all, Bing: Who is George Mills?
I knew at that point it would be difficult to winnow that seemingly never-ending heap of "George Millses" very much without so much as a middle initial to work with. Little did I know how little I'd be able to find about a published author in one of the most historically and prolifically literate countries on the face of the planet…