Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A mid-week missive from a humble 'Pie who blushes at the flattery from a most unlikely quarter - and offers a bit of a larf at some of the classic cock-ups from newspaper from around the world.

Today, it is a humble Magpie who glides into your inbox, head bowed in embarrassment at the flattery bestowed upon him from a most unlikely source ... The Daily Astonisher!!

Well, Typo and crew haven't exactly made any direct reference to their favourite weekly read, but it cannot be any other way. 

More on that later, but in order to keep this mid-week missive light'n'bright, it is timely, given the dark doings of certain London papers, to have a look at the harmless mirth caused by the sometimes deliberate, sometimes inadvertent publishing cock-ups around the world and down the decades.

It's all here in the mid-week Magpie's Nest at

The pen is not only mightier than the sword, it is much more entertaining. After all, errors made with a sword tend to lack a comic element unless you have a tax assessor's sense of humour, whereas a slip of the nib often puts the reader at the risk of laughing to death.

Deliberate word play has long been a feature of newspaper headlines, giving stories an extra zing. The New York Post's famous 'Headless Body In Topless Bar' has a symmetry and brevity for which any wordsmith has to show a sneaky admiration.

That brings to mind an echo in Sydney some years ago of TV crime reporter Harry Potter - real name, long before Hogwarts -  who is supposed to have reported that 'a headless body lay face down on the floor'. This incidentally, is the same bloke who reported on the bashing of an elderly couple with the immortal line 'robbery is not considered to be a motive, although the couple were Jewish'.

London's Daily Mirror even showed a self-deprecating sense of their own front page history during the 80s. When the British sank the Argentine warship Belgrano, The Mirror - none too sensitivly considering the death toll - headlined 'GOTCHA!!'. But when Diego Maradona indulged in some neat handiwork to score an illegal goal which put England out of the World Cup in Mexico four years later, the Mirror acknowledged tit for tat with the headline 'OUCHA!!'.

But the all-time champ of the double entendre headline must belong to London's Daily Telegraph.

In the closing days of World War 11, the allies made their famous sweep up through 'the belly of the crocodile' driving up into France through Marseilles, putting the Germans into full retreat. This allowed the French resistance to cut off and surround several lagging German battalions, forcing them to surrender.

The Telegraph gleefully headlined the success of this operation with the eye-bulging headline 'French Push Bottles Up German Rear'.

But these are the deliberate front page results of professional wordsmiths tinkering at the forge of the living language, but the small print gets big laughs, too, due mainly to inadvertent nib-slips.

In the 70s, an English provincial newspaper carried this correction: 'Due to a misunderstanding on the telephone last weekl, we said that the newlyweds Vicar and Mrs Entwhistle would be living with the bride's father. We would like to point out that the happy couple will be living at The Old Manse'.

Or this from a New Zealand paper, proving that corrections themselves are the place for the most caution: 'By an unfortunate typographical error last week, we said the retiring officer Mr Sculthorpe was a member of the defective branch of the police force. Of course, this should have read the detetctive branch of the police farce'.

A Sydney paper once quoted a magistrate who was praising a bloke for capturing a burglar ' .... it's not every body who has the courage to tickle an armed intruder'. Presumably this took place after the hero had said 'hands up'.

Typos are one thing, but meanings are altogether a different slice of the printers pie.

From the San Francisco Bulletin: 'Policeman Leo Grant was shot through the stomach, and John Marcinoak, a taxi driver, through the hip, while a trustee at the jail was shot in the excitment'. Oucha, indeed. From the same paper, this headline over a story of city councillor Maria Chick complaining of the chauvanistic behaviour of colleagues 'Councillors Are Sexist, Says Chick'. Well, they all do, don't they?

Sincerity doesn't save you, either.

The North Bucks Times in England carried this personal message: 'Mrs Dunstone wishes to thank the doctor and nurses for their kind cooperation in the loss of her husband Frederick'. Sounds like your better of dead, Fred.

And the double-meaning devils of the printed word show a fine disdain for class distinction as in this Wiltshire paper's headline: 'Peer's Seat Burns All Night - Ancient Pile Destroyed'.

This last story was not, to The Magpie's knowledge, connected to another yarn in The Liverpool Daily Post 'No Water So Firemen Improvised'. Sounds like someone was taking the piss.

But if all that makes your eyes water, here's something to make your brain soggy - and it's fair dinkum.

An English industrial magazine carried a scientific report telling us: 'Recent tests conducted by a zoologist prove that grasshoppers hear with their legs. In all cases, the insects hopped when a tuning fork was sounded nearby. There was no reaction to this stimulus, however, when the insects had their legs removed.' 

And this from a country that makes fun of the Irish?

Now let's return to the local scene and the amazing, indeed the astonishing fact that The Magpie has been flattered by Typo's Daily Astonisher .

Well, sort of.    

Here's what Typo had to say in his editorial today, Wednesday July 13, referring to the story carried on from the blustering front page yarn about the small fortunes spent by retired MPs on taxpayer-funded travel.

Former Herbert MP Peter Lindsay already has form for jaunting around the countryside courtesy of the taxpayer. He did a global lap of honour before retiring from politics before the last election ........ Today we reveal that Mr Lindsay has taken his travels to a new dimension by claiming the dubious honour of becoming the federal MP who travels the most in retirement. Mr Lindsay has clocked up a staggering two flights a week (for the last six months of last year) to Brisbane as part of the retirement package that goes with being a former long-serving MP.

Typo then warms to his task and sinks the slipper with glee into the posterior of Prince Peter's velveteen pantaloons, but somehow manages to avoid mentioning that more than half the benificiaries of these travel perks are Labor pollies. He then argues that the whole rot is all legal, but it shouldn't be.
And - believe it or not - Typo's stance, as you will very well know, is almost exactly that of The Magpie on this issue. 

But how would you know this? 

Because you read it here five days before in last Saturday's Magpie droppings. And The 'Pie allows himself the conceit that Typo, a busy editor, was pressed for time and followed the old bird's lead for a hard-hitting (oh, gurgle, snurffle, wheeze ) editorial. (Given Typo and the paper's credibility, It's like being savaged by a dead sheep, to pinch Denis Healy's parliamentary line). 

A couple of points then: 'Today we reveal'?  

Huh?? Get off the table Mabel, the money's for the beer, as The 'Pie's disbelieving old nana used to say. 

Actually, the figures were released last week and reported in Melbourne's Sun Herald on Friday, where The 'Pie picked it up courtesy of Melbourne mate Betty The Builder (and with acknowledgement to that paper) and reported on it last Saturday July 9. Prince Peter stamped his foot and was a bit huffy, but he'll get over it.

Now, The Magpie is, if nothing else, a caring, sharing kinda guy, and he knows only too well how overworked Typo and his tabloid toilers are in Ogden Street. So the old bird will cheerfully and without complaint fill in a notable omission, no doubt caused by modesty. 

When Typo mentioned the lap of honour, he forgot to mention that at that time, he completely fabricated figures for a front page spin story - certain uncharitable churls reckon 'politically motivated lying' would not be too far from the truth. According to Typo's fantasy figures, the trip cost $100,000, whereas it turned out the real cost was around $46,000, of which the taxpayer ponied up only around $17,000 (The Prince meeting the costs of his accompanying missus himself). Typo was probably just being modest in not revisiting this milestone of creative journalism. And today's story itself had at least four paragraphs that were word-for-word with the Sun Herald story, but there was no acknowledgement. Or, more obvious it must be said, to the Magpie's Nest.

So no one in Townsville can feel that we up here are being left out of News Ltd's global web of information and hard-hitting, timely reporting. The Magpie is humbly grateful to be able to make his own small contribution in leading The Astonisher to a story - eventually. Heh, heh, heh. 

But away now to Poseurs' Bar, where The Magpie will patiently explain to the object of his ardour that Gotcha! doesn't necessarily have be followed by Oucha!


  1. So can we assume that Typo will run a piece on those most avaricious of feather dusters the members of the former PMs club? Oh, and there's always plenty of stray lolly disappearing in the general direction our next Prime Minister Bill Shorten's ma-in -law's travel agent. That's gotta be worth some ink.

  2. I assume that World War eleven is also an inadvertent nib-slip. Although if the carbon tax does come in we will likely be fighting WW 3 with paper planes and solar powered bombs.

  3. Now there's a GOTCHA!! and an OUCHA!! But the old bird supposes if you're going to be a smartarse blogger, you end up with smartarse readers. As it should be.