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  1. ITV Report

'Darwin discovered sex' - 2013's best exam bloopers

General Franco's rule of Spain was ably assisted by "right-wing panties", while Alfred Hitchcock's films reflect his life as a "torched Catholic".

Another little known fact, at least according to one student, is that the Ebola virus can lead to death - in some cases fatally.

These misguided statements are some of the bloopers submitted by university lecturers to the Times Higher Education magazine's annual exam howlers competition.

The entries reveal how university students have been left flummoxed in the exam hall or caught out by spelling mistakes.

  • Right-wing panties

In one paper on General Franco, a student reliably informed his tutor, Nicholas Martin, a reader in European intellectual history at Birmingham University, that underwear was the secret weapon in the Spanish dictator's armour, stating "General Franco was supported by right-wing panties".

General Franco ruled Spain from 1938 until his death in 1975. Credit: PA
  • Torched Catholic

Meanwhile, a film studies student revealed that several of Hitchcock's recurring themes arose because he was a "torched Catholic".

Martin McLoone, director of the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster, who submitted the entry, said: "Of course, in another era, he might well have been."

Alfred Hitchcock was brought up as a Roman Catholic but was not torched. Credit: PA
  • Hotly contested potato

Another student at a mixed his metaphors to describe Alain Resnais' controversial Holocaust documentary Night And Fog as "a hotly contested potato".

  • Piranha state

Jackie Eales, professor of early modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University, submitted an entry which stated: "Britain under the Cromwellian Protectorate was a piranha state".

One student described Britain under Cromwell as a 'piranha state'. Credit: Topham
  • Darwin discovered sex

Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, told how he was faced with an "unpleasant image" of an unlikely union between two eminent Victorians when one student wrote: "Sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel."

This man was not the first to discover sex. Credit: Topham
  • Cases of fatal death

There was also some confusion about the benefits of Nigella seeds and the effect of Ebola.

In one paper a student revealed that "Nigella seeds can cure all disease except death" while another student suggested that "Ebola could lead to death, in some cases fatal."

The mistakes were submitted by staff at University of Westminster, including Keith Redway, senior academic in microbiology and molecular biology.

The Ebola virus seen through a micrograph. Credit: DPA