The bark falls silent

PRESS GAZETTE staff are in deep mourning this week following the passing of their dearly beloved Dog.

After
nearly four decades resident in the kennel, and after seven changes of
ownership, the gossipgrabbing mongrel has been let off the leash for
the last time.

Editor Ian Reeves said: “Many of us well remember
the childhood trauma we all suffered after the death of the Blue Peter
dog. I never thought such tear-soaked anguish over a canine would be
repeated in my lifetime – but this is far, far worse. Still, it was a
good innings. Not many dogs get to the age of 40, after all.”

Dog
first appeared, as an eager pup, in the very first issue of UK Press
Gazette, as it then was, on 22 November 1965. He was, in those early
days, accompanied by the tagline “A weekly appreciation of what is not
always appreciated” and provided a combination of serious editorial
comment mixed with more light-hearted issues. And he was clearly not
afraid to delve into controversial topics. Indeed, his very first piece
included discussion of Kenneth Tynan’s famous historic use of the
f-word on television – even if he was a little shy of actually
repeating it in print. Noting that The Guardian had previously been
threatened with proceedings under the Obscene Publications Act, Dog
added: “Nothing (or as some might say, ****-all) happened.” In later
years, he would not be so coy.

Neither was he, as a fresh-faced
cur, averse to breaking the odd news story. It was Dog, for example,
who delivered the news that The Times was planning to take the
revolutionary step of putting news stories instead of advertisements on
its front page. The item also shows that he was happy to be
unconventional in his approach to reporting – the salient facts of the
story being buried well over halfway down.

As he got into his
stride through the late Sixties and early Seventies, Dog’s style began
to develop as an analytical, rather than anecdotal one. His precise
dissection of issues – often over three densely packed pages of
eight-point type – was in many ways the precursor to today’s myriad
media pundits who sound off (with far less erudition) from national
newspaper pages most days of the week.

He was also a stickler for
good taste. In March 1966, for instance, he was upbraiding The Times
for its use of the word “serviette” in a headline. “Surely The Times
has heard of U and non-U English,” he asked loftily.

But by the
early Eighties, when Charles Wintour became his master, Dog was given a
longer leash and began to opt for the more irreverent approach that was
to mark the second half of his long residence of the kennel.

He
introduced the Golden Bone awards to honour the feats of Fleet Street’s
finest fumblers. Boneholders would include Tim Satchell, diary editor
of the London Evening News in the Best Excuse for Late Copy award, for:
“I’m sorry it’s late, I’ve been to see the gynaecologist.”

None,
though, would be as celebrated as the Mail team, including Ian
Wooldridge, which won the Golden Bone for Cock-up of the Year in 1986.
They had been drinking in Annabel’s nightclub on the night that the
Princess of Wales and the Duchess ofYork walked in disguised as
policewomen for a joke.

And they’d all completely missed it.

It
was not just errant reporters who began to dread Dog’s weekly mauling.
Subs and production editors have turned to the page with sweaty palms
in fear that one of their blunders would anonymously have winged its
way in to the kennel letterbox. Thus classic headlines such as “SOCCER
BLAZE: CHIEF EXECUTIVE GRILLED”, “WOMAN WHO BEAT CANCER IN BOAT RACE”
or “POLICE COMB SHEPHERD’S BUSH” entered the annals of history.

Another
regular feature that made its mark in the Nineties was the Wimborne.
These were inappropriate juxtapositions of headlines and pictures (or
captions) that had unintentionally comic results. A couple of classics
are reproduced above. The name, incidentally, came from 19th-century
writer Ronald Knox, whose collection of such items was kicked off with
a newspaper picture of a footballer above the caption: “Lady Wimborne,
who has adopted the new windswept style of hairdressing.”

By the
turn of the most recent century, Dog’s thirst for exposing the
iniquities of journalists and their bosses was as keen as ever –
introducing The Campaign for Real Exclusives to shame those national
newspapers who seemed unaware that the term meant their story should
not have appeared anywhere else prior to publication.

But now, he
is no more. He had survived libel writs from the likes of Robert
Maxwell, and caused more than one editor to ban Press Gazette from
their newsroom – not that it ever stopped their teams from getting hold
of a copy. And as Dog bows (or bow-wows) out and goes walkies to that
great Ex-Columnists Club in the sky, where he joins the likes of
Cassandra, Brutus and the Scurra, what of the future?

Reeves
would only say: “It’s far too early in the grieving process to talk
about what happens next. But I’m sure Dog’s spirit will be present in
Press Gazette’s pages for as long as it continues to publish.”

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