It’s not easy being a headline writer. You have to think, fast. With a headline for a complicated story, you sometimes have to stand back and look at it before pressing the button. Journalism these days is mostly about pressing buttons – the secret is to think before doing so.
The problem is that there’s usually very little time for thinking.
I have heard it said that while one might not remember the name of the president in 1980 or the inventor of the ballpoint pen or the designer of the jet engine, one will remember the name of one’s school teachers, even 50 years later. I recall so many of mine and can still picture my English teacher – Alice Earnshaw.
Until after World War II when the men tired of chasing Germans and Italians round Europe, British schools greatly relied on women such as Miss Earnshaw.
There is an art to name-dropping just as there’s an art to making confit de canard or flying a helicopter. And it occurs to me that whoever dropped whose ever name to obtain permission to land a private jetliner filled with party-goers at one of Africa’s largest military air bases deserves a Nobel Prize for name-dropping.
Was it the pilot? Was it the Guptas? Was it you-know-who?
Roadside advertising is a pain to the beholder and its proliferation along suburban avenues has become unsightly and a serious distraction. On the other hand, our major highways – once one is out of the metropolis – are mercifully free of it.
But Vic Pierson reminds me that for 50 years (up until 1963), in the US, one firm provided an amusing innovation along that country’s interminable trunk roads – the Burma Shave roadside ads.
The product was a brushless shaving cream and the ads took the form of short verses whose lines were displayed, one at a time, some distance apart.
Here are some samples of the verses – each ended with “Burma Shave!”
Was stiff and coarse
And that’s what caused
His fifth divorce
He had the ring
He had the flat
But she felt his chin
And that was that
Within this vale
Of toil and sin
Your head grows bald
But not your chin
Henry the eighth
Prince of friskers
Lost five wives
But kept his whiskers
Vic says about 600 verses appeared.
Burma Shave later used its ads (see below) to draw attention to road safety.