My SCRAPBOOK (సేకరణలు): A COLLECTION of articles in English and Telugu(తెలుగు), from various sources, on varied subjects. I do not claim credit for any of the contents of these postings as my own.A student's declaration made at the end of his answer paper, holds good to the articles here too:"I hereby declare that the answers written above are true to the best of my friend's knowledge and I claim no responsibility whatsoever of the correctness of the answers."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ideas, Out of Stock!

Jon Stock
I do like a good headline. Not the jingoistic ones favoured by the tabloid press, but those which make you stop turning the page and smile. "Gotcha!", The Sun's response to the British sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands War, was iconic, but also sickening. "New Bridges Held up by Red Tape" or "Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request Training" are more to my liking.
When I was living in Delhi, I used to cut out my favourites from the Indian press. "Jayalalitha Questioned over Bogey Probe" appealed to my childish sense of humour, but only because in Britain bogeys live up noses rather than on railway tracks.

This term, at our village school, my children have been learning all about newspapers and I was asked to give a short talk about headlines to Year Four (eight-year olds-about my level). They had already been told that headlines should be snappy and informative, which didn't sit very well with my first example. There are two things you need to know before I share it (stay with me, it's a gem). The first is that there is a football team in Scotland called Inverness Caledonian Thistle, known affectionately as Caley. The second is that one of the most popular songs in the famous 1964 film of Mary Poppins is called "Super-cali-fragilistic-expiali-docious".
So, when Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup in 2000, the subs at The Sun duly put two and two together and came up with arguably the wittiest headline of all time: "Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious".

The children loved this one, not least because they knew the original song. Its comprehension also came with a sense of breaking a code. Others which tickled the assembled eight-year olds included "Hospitals are Sued by Seven Foot Doctors"; "Children Make Nutritious Snacks"; "Stolen Painting Found by Tree"; "Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing"; Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery, Hundreds Dead" and "The Umpire Strikes Back" (about a dodgy umpire decision on the subcontinent).

The internet, of course, has turned funny headlines into a small industry. There are hundreds of different sites listing unintentionally amusing ones from the world's press. Many of them I couldn't possibly have shared with my school: "Clinton places Dickey in Gore's Hands; "Clinton Stiff on Withdrawal"; Starr Aghast at First Lady Sex Position" or "Prostitutes Appeal to Pope". You suspect with many of these that the subs knew exactly what they were doing and just wanted to see what they could get passed the editor. When the late newspaper proprietor, Robert Maxwell, was destroying the Daily Mirror, morale was so low at the tabloid paper that staff tried desperately to get their own back. The political cartoonist, for example, managed to write "Robert Maxwell is a ****" in tiny writing, hidden in his last cartoon for the paper.

Naughty headlines are a more subtle form of rebellion, allowing staff to let off steam, while the paper can look the other way and maintain a cloak of decency. That, at least, can be the only explanation for "Chef Throws his Heart into Helping Feed the Needy" or even "Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents". At the end of my little school chat, which I resisted ending with "Chinese Killed in Car Clash", I asked them to come up with some headlines of their own. If they had a story about an owl which looked funny, how would they caption the story? "What a hoot!" came back the answer, quick as a flash, confirming that there is a new generation of headline writers in the waiting.

They finished by asking for my most recent favourite, and I had to tell them it was for a book which we've been serialising in my newspaper, all about female Spitfire pilots in the Second World War: "Frocks Away!". They all looked at me blankly, until I explained that pilots used to shout "chocks away!" before taking off.
As you can see, I like nothing better than a good headline, and I shall be looking closely to see what the fine subs at THE WEEK come up with at the top of this column. In the meantime, I could do with some help from readers, as the school has asked me to come back and talk to the older children about Shakespeare's Hamlet. Could I come up with some headlines for the most famous scenes? In the meantime, I shall leave you with another personal favourite: "Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge".
(The Week, 04:11:2007)



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