SOME time ago I invited readers to share their favourite newspaper headlines. First off the mark was therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ , who submitted this classic from the New York Post:
HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR
He wrote: ‘It was voted their most memorable headline of all time. Not particularly diabolically clever, mind, but one could hardly have stated the brute facts with more conciseness.’
Jethro offered two from World War II: FRENCH PUSH BOTTLES UP GERMANS and MONTY FLIES BACK TO FRONT.
johnthebridge said: Quite topical, but I liked the AP headline reading ‘Miracle cure kills fifth patient’.
no-one important: I seem to remember reading of a newspaper headline about Captain Fuchs, the intrepid explorer. Apparently it read: ‘Captain Fuchs Off To Antarctica’.
Charles Dawne: The commonest headline for whenever my local football team lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers was: DUNCES WITH WOLVES.
Andy Marshall recalled the classic Sun banner: FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER.
One of the all-time great headline writers is our friend and former Daily Mail colleague Tom. He has many superb examples from which to choose, but his personal favourite was on a nib (news in brief) he subbed for the Mail in Manchester.
The story read: ‘Dog licences in the Isle of Man will be going up from 75p to £1 from next April.’
Headline: Man bites dogs.
One of the best Daily Mirror efforts I can remember was on a story about snooker player Alex Higgins having a break interrupted during a tournament by a leaky roof. This was at the time when the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was all the rage. Topical headline: Raindrops keep falling on my red.
Another Mirror purler came on a tale about an American beer drinker who was having to forsake his favourite brand because doctors had found he was allergic to one of the ingredients. Headline: A sadder Budweiser man.
Sub-editors in my part of North-East Lancashire used to struggle to find original headlines on wedding reports because a) most couples worked in the mill and b) they invariably honeymooned in Blackpool. One paper, I think it was the Accrington Observer, got round this problem by simply putting the newly-weds’ names over their picture, for example ‘Smith-Jones’ or, less probably, ‘Cholmondeley-Featherstonehaugh’. One photograph showed a smirking plug-ugly alongside his pretty young bride, beneath the headline: ‘Tonks-Maiden’.
My former Daily Mail colleague Mike Stanford, a stalwart of the sports desk, reminds me of a headline written many years ago at a time when ladies used to drink a sweet fizz called Babycham, described as ‘champagne perry’, often mixed with brandy for increased effect. Watford Football Club had a goalkeeper named Perry Suckling, who saved a penalty to give his side victory. The sub-editor handling the report was inspired to write the headline ‘Champagne Perry’. Unfortunately an ambitious stone sub (a production journalist overseeing pages in the composing room), looking to curry favour with the management, knew that the use of forenames in headlines was technically banned so he reduced it by several sizes to read: ‘Champagne Suckling’. Cue the sound of colleagues banging their heads on the desk.
‘In a similar vein,’ writes Mike, ‘after England beat Turkey 8-0, a sub on the Express wrote the headline: “Two, four, six, eight . . . roast Turkey on a plate!” However the stone sub (who later moved to a semi-executive role at the Mail) decided it was a bad shape so he “improved” it by changing it to “Two, four, six, eight . . . a nice plate of roast Turkey”.’
One of the worst headlines ever to appear in the Mail was a subdeck on a story about British planespotters in Greece being released without charge after being arrested as spies, while a UK tourist who bared his rear end at police was clapped in irons.
The main head was straightforward enough: ‘Planespotters freed’. Beneath it: ‘But tough Greek stance goes on as ‘buttocks’ man jailed’. What on earth is a ‘buttocks’ man?
The sports sections of the Times and Sunday Times are fertile ground for the connoisseur of crap. The other Sunday saw a back-page story about the jockey Bryony Frost, who accused a rival of bullying. Banner headline: THE STORY SO FAR . . .
Talk about a cop-out. Those words could appear over any article ever written.
My favourite headline is arguably the most inept of all time (although today’s papers provide plenty of competition). It appeared in a Lancashire newspaper, possibly the Radcliffe Times, many years ago. The story was that an old lady was crossing the road when a bakery item fell out of her shopping bag. As she tried to pick it up, a pantechnicon came round the corner and caught her amidships, with fatal consequences.
Reporting the tragedy, a small subsidiary headline (known in the trade as a strapline) read: ‘Woman, 84, killed by lorry’. And the bizarre main line? BENT TO RETRIEVE MUFFIN.
By the way, at the Sunday Mirror in Manchester 40 years ago, the editor put a memo on the notice board next to the subs’ desk reading: ‘I am sick and tired of subs using the definite and indefinite article to fill out headlines. This is lazy and must stop.’ Beneath his words was scrawled: ‘EDITOR IS C**T’.
A festive encounter
ONE Christmas Eve several decades ago in the corner of a Blackburn pub, I found myself in a drunken clinch with the landlady of a neighbouring hostelry. ‘Do you know,’ she said, ‘I’d always thought you were a poof.’
‘Because you say “please” and “thank you”.’
With that in mind, I’d like to say thank you for reading and please have a jolly and well-lubricated Christmas.
A PS from PG
Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to speak French.
PG Wodehouse: The Luck of the Bodkins