“IS this the death of the sandwich?” asked the radio headlines as I was waking up yesterday to the news that two sandwich chains whose business involves providing on-the-go food for travellers at railway stations and airports are to lay off thousands of staff.

With no one travelling on the rails or in the air, no one is eating sandwiches. Indeed, with so many people working from home, there are no office workers dining al desko on sandwiches.

The Covid crisis is going to change our lives in unimaginable ways – at this point in the construction of this column I must break away to ‘attend’ a parish council meeting from the comfort of my attic via Zoom – so can the sandwich survive?

The question, as intriguing as it may be, only held my attention for a few seconds while the bread was in the toaster. The really interesting part here is the word “sandwich”.

A chap called Edward Gibbon is credited with being the first person to use this word in the English language when in his diary on November 24, 1762, he wrote: “I dined at the Cocoa Tree. That respectable body affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom supping at little tables upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich.”

At that table must have been John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who has given his name to the concept of a bit of beef inbetween two slices of bread – it is amazing that no one anywhere else in the world had come up with a word for it before.

Montagu, the First Lord of the Admiralty, was a big supporter of our own Captain James Cook. He provided funds for Cook’s second and third voyages of exploration into the Pacific and, in return, Cook named Hawaii after him: the Sandwich Islands. Just to underline his gratitude, 8,000 miles away, Cook named part of the Falkands the South Sandwich Islands.

Montagu lived a colourful life from a bygone age, and, as the humble sandwich shows, he is a deeply controversial figure.

One version of his life says that he was a hugely energetic member of the Hellfire Club, drinking and gambling enthusiastically. He did his job at the Admiralty so badly in not copper-bottoming British warships that he contributed to us losing the American War of Independence, and when his wife went mad, he took a 17-year-old singer as his mistress. Their relationship ended when she was sensationally murdered at the opera by a jealous sometime lover.

Such was his attention to gambling, that he would not leave the table for 24 hours at a time, instructing his servant to bring him a piece of meat between layers of bread so that he could eat while he wagered. His fellows started ordering “the same as Sandwich” and so the sandwich was born.

Some biographers, though, say that he was a hugely energetic traveller and scholar and he was dedicated to reforming the dockyards while at the Admiralty. He’d seen that Britain was building more warships than ever but had never invested in its dockyards and so there were more warships in need of repair than ever. That Britain even had a fleet to contest the war was down to the success of his reforms.

And so dedicated to his reforms was he, that he wouldn’t leave his desk and called for convenient food to be brought him, and so the sandwich was born.

So the Sandwich story containing a member of the upper crust has many layers, but surely the humble sandwich can’t be killed by Covid.