In honour of the Essex lion, which seems now to have passed into legend, here is another urban myth. This one is subeditorial. It concerns what was said to be the worst headline ever published in one of the regional newspapers where I was a trainee. Since I’m presenting it in its pure mythic form, as passed from subeditor to subeditor without contamination by fact-checking or archive searches, I am not going to name the newspaper in question.
I was told the story in the early 2000s. It happened in the 1970s – recently enough that some of the paper’s subs could claim to have been there (though no one ever claimed responsibility), but long enough ago for the anecdote to have been worn smooth in the telling. And it was a story about a lion. A real lion, which escaped from a private zoo and roamed the countryside for several days before finally being sighted and recaptured in somebody’s back garden.
The news reached the paper just before an edition was due to go to press. (In those days, we were told wistfully, there were dozens of editions.) The chief sub specified his largest type size and mapped out a vast banner across the front page. There would be room only for a few words. It was vital that none be wasted. He went with
‘FOUND IN GARDEN’.
At the time, this headline was widely felt to have something missing. I can’t help thinking, though, that something similarly vague might have been more honest than some of what appeared in yesterday’s national press.
(In the interests of complete honesty, and the benefit of the very literal-minded: the image at the head of this was not taken in Essex yesterday, but somewhere else – probably London – in about 1900. Oh, and the lion is stuffed. No little girls were harmed.)