SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS is one of the most famous British tabloid newspaper headlines of all time. But who came up with it?
We can see the writer’s name (Rodger Baillie) and picture on the Scottish Sun’s match report of Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s 3-0 victory over Celtic in 2000. However his is not the standout work on this page. Nothing is known about the ingenious – and anonymous – sub-editor whose work has become famous.
Or has it? A Guardian blog on top sporting headlines highlights a lesser-known Liverpool Echo headline from the 1970s, relating to the footballer Ian Callaghan and Queens Park Rangers: SUPER CALLY GOES BALLISTIC, QPR ATROCIOUS.
While sub-editing a Feedback column at The Times (£) the other day, I took the liberty of tinkering with the formula still further. This weekly collection of letters from and responses to readers by the very patient Rose Wild began with a complaint that a procedure to fit the Duke of Edinburgh with a stent did not constitute surgery, which can only be performed by a surgeon; an error the reader described as an “American atrocity”.
When I read the next item – a demand for a clear distinction between “evangelistic” and “evangelical” – something clicked, and it then became about fitting pieces in around “evangelistic” and “atrocious”. A whimbrel that had been pictured where a dunlin should have been (birdwatchers are among The Times’s most ardent correspondents) wasn’t a perfect “xp al”, not least since it required an extra syllable to be inserted (whim-ber-el) to make SURGERY, EVANGELISTIC, WHIMBREL? ATROCIOUS work, but fortunately my colleagues laughed and left it as it was.
“Great headlines that have been disallowed” is another blog entirely.
This one is intended primarily as a gallery of good ones that are printed. Never given bylines or awards, sub-editors nonetheless make a huge contribution to the quality of the newspapers we read. But the most creative part – the headlines, standfirsts and picture captions – is also the most fleeting. How often do you read a great headline, smile and then forget about it? Often times, it will be rewritten for the web (those that, for example, relate to a picture will rarely work online – think GOTCHA) and disappear.
So here are a couple I’ve enjoyed in the past few weeks:
ONE SMALL STEP FOR MANCHURIA: CHINA OUTLINES PLAN TO LAND ON THE MOON
(The Guardian, December 31, 2011)
and this by my colleague Jim Soar, on a piece about retailers hoping Christmas would boost sales:
FROSTY THE SALESMAN
(The Times, October 19, 2011)
And here is one from tomorrow’s paper – a title by Hugo Rifkind on a leader about Scottish independence:
(The Times, January 10, 2012)
Anyone got any more? Email me.