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That Reminds Me: Return to the Black Museum


IT’S been a few months since I wrote about the Black Museum, a dog-eared paper collection of howlers perpetrated by reporters and intercepted by sub-editors. So let’s pay another visit to the hallowed time before computers ruled the world.

Our first exhibit comes from Kevin Dowling, an Irish chap who worked on the Daily Mail in Manchester at the same time as I did in the 1980s but who spent much of his professional life as a freelance in Nice. Here is part of a dispatch from the Riviera.

Incidentally, there used to be adverts in papers and magazines headed: ‘So you want to be a journalist’ and offering a correspondence course on the art of hackery. A cruel colleague on the subs’ desk applied under Kevin Dowling’s name and there was a major inquest but the culprit was never found. I can reveal that it was Alistair Sinclair, later to become deputy editor of the Mail.

Here’s one from Solent News, based in Southampton. I don’t remember the story but it sounds like a cracker.

Numbers are always a problem for reporters. Here’s one from Neely of Belfast (when it says ‘as staff’ it means the writer is doing a shift for us).

This is from a London staffer.

All I know about this person is that he or she was called Willis.

And there is no information whatsoever on the author of this.

Or this.

Or this little belter.

Here’s a correction from the Press Association.

This is a prime example of the gibberish which emanated from the Emerald Isle.

And finally, one of many exhibits from Motoring Correspondent Michael Kemp, who when a sub approached him with a query would aggressively demand: ‘What’s wrong with it? There’s nothing wrong with it!’ After it was pointed out to him that the copy was nonsense he would invariably slap his forehead and declare: ‘I’m a c**t.’ He was in a class of his own.

What would Peter Simple say about BLM?

ENCOURAGED by the number of readers who endorsed my love of the old Peter Simple  column in the Telegraph, I revisited the double autobiography of its author, Michael Wharton. The Missing Will was published in 1984 and A Dubious Codicil seven years later, by which time he was almost 80.

I am afraid I cannot recommend them unequivocally. Unlike his marvellous columnar flights of fancy with characters such as Alderman Foodbotham and Julian Birdbath, Wharton’s reminiscences hardly dance off the page. His prose is repetitive and accounts of his lifelong depression can become a little dreary, as can his long list of lovers and boozing sessions. The second volume is a mess, full of mistakes and needing a decent editor to put things in order.

Having said that, Wharton’s laments about the state of the world seem extraordinarily prescient. Describing his thoughts in 1937, he writes: ‘If I was a passionate anti-Communist, it was partly because I felt that Communism was going to win, that in various forms and guises the barbarians, the materialists, the atheists, the levellers, the worshippers of perverted science, the destroyers of hierarchy and ritual splendour would take over the world – though not, of course, for ever. To believe that would be ultimate despair.’

And recalling his feelings at the time Harold Wilson took power for Labour in 1964, he says: ‘In everything which really interested me and which I thought I could understand, there seemed little to choose between Labour and the Tories: neither seemed concerned with the moral degeneration of England; neither seemed concerned with the flood of unassimilable alien immigrants who were altering the character of entire cities to the dismay and anger of the indigenous population, which were eventually suppressed by law and by the monstrous growth of the Race Relations Industry (a term I invented about this time); neither seemed concerned by the infiltration of every government department and every sizeable institution by people who, whether they were Communists or not, had no loyalty to the State and in many cases were actually working to overthrow it.’

One can only imagine what Wharton would make of today’s shenanigans, from jab-mania to taking the knee. I suspect they would induce, in his words, ‘ultimate despair’.

Old jokes’ home

Southern tourist visiting Pendle Witch country sees an old farmer sitting on a dry-stone wall with four little black balls beside him.

‘What are they?’ asks the visitor.

‘Them’s learning pills, them is.’

‘How much are they?’

‘Three quid for one, two for a fiver.’

Handing over a £5 note, the man pops the little balls in his mouth and immediately spits them out.

‘That’s sheep shit!’ he protests.

‘See,’ says the old timer. ‘You’re learning.’

A PS from PG

(The visiting Russian writer) Vladimir Brusiloff proceeded to sum up. ‘No novelists any good except me. Sovietski – yah! Nastikoff – bah! I spit me of zem all. No novelists anywhere any good except me. PG Wodehouse and Tolstoy not bad. Not good, but not bad. No novelists any good except me.’

PG Wodehouse: The Clicking of Cuthbert

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to

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