Lawlessly Yours column

Bill Lawless.
Bill Lawless.

An old newspaper friend dropped in the other day and many old tales of mystery and imagination were exchanged, some along the lines of “whatever happened to Barney” and “did he really get 18 months?”

We had both been sub-editors on a big regional evening newspaper and me old mate modestly reminded me of the greatest headline he, or indeed anybody else, had ever conceived.

The story underneath concerned a terrible blow to the malt whisky drinkers of Valparaiso when a pallet of scotch being craned from a ship’s hold became disastrously detached and fell about 50ft on to the dockside, upon which the dockers descended like a plague of locusts and drank the wreckage dry.

The headline brilliantly summed up the story, as headlines are supposed to do. It announced, in 48-point bodoni bold, ‘Drop of the Hard Stuff.’ Pure genius, as I reluctantly conceded. Absolutely intoxicating in fact.

Across the big pond, our American cousins are no slouches with a stirring headline either. The one often quoted came from a tabloid in the 1950s and concerned the death by shooting of a gangster called Joseph Bonnono. The late and unlamented crime boss was perhaps better-known as Joe Bananas.

The front-page strapline declared “Mafia hitman confesses” then the main headline shrieked: “Yes, we got Joe Bananas”

We all thought Chicago was the promised land when it came to snazzy headlines.

Once upon a time there were three evening newspapers in London, the Star, News and Standard. It was common practice to think up a headline and then fabricate a paragraph or two to suit.

Subs on weekly newspapers supplemented their near-starvation wages by flogging as many of these items as possible at about a quid a time to the London sheets. Imaginations ran riot. No news editor questioned how a linage wallah in Tunbridge Wells, for instance, was sending over an item from a happening in Valparaiso.

Thus, we had a Japanese diner who slipped in an Indian restaurant and impaled himself on a chopstick (hari curry); the Italian pilot who crash-landed his light aircraft and was found to totally trollied (Hi tiddly Eyetie); and the man whose roof was smashed by a chunk of deep-frozen urine from a passing airliner (Pennies from Heaven). So don’t believe all you read in the papers. Except this one of course...