The anniversary of the death of one of the world’s most famous newspaper columnists, Ann Landers, took place a week ago.
The columnist’s real name was Esther Lederer and she was known as “Eppie”. Her agony aunt column in the Chicago Sun-Times also had an anniversary this year – it turned 70. Under Eppie, it was syndicated to 1 200 newspapers and had 90 million readers. She died aged 83 in 2002.
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?