Tag Archives: Journalism

The drama of news headlines

 

Newspapers are less important than they used to be, as proved by years of declining circulation. Perhaps no surprise, then, that newspaper headlines now are often long, plain and inelegant.

One recent example which bucked the trend was “Enemies of the people”, the Daily Mail’s concise and provocative description of the High Court judges who ruled that Parliament, and not the Prime Minister, should vote to begin the UK’s process to leave the European Union.

It recalled another Daily Mail headline from those earlier days of high circulation and political influence: “The Enemy Within”, supporting Margaret Thatcher’s criticism of the miners’ during the 1984-1985 strike.

A few more from that era stick in my mind. When Arthur Ashe defeated the favourite Jimmy Connors to win the men’s singles tennis title at Wimbledon in 1975, more than one paper saw the available pun. “King Arthur’s court”, The Observer stated. However, the Sunday Express extended it more eloquently to “Connors bows at the court of King Arthur”.

In 1979, the announcement that Sir Anthony Blunt, art historian and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, had been a Soviet spy since his youth resonated perfectly with the popularity of John Le Carré’ s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and its TV adaptation. The Glasgow Herald borrowed one of Le Carré’s great pieces of espionage jargon for their headline of “Mole at the Palace”, but I thought Blunt’s character suited better the more old-fashioned, and more stylish, phrasing by the Daily Mail: “Traitor at the Queen’s right hand”.

This September sees the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, one of the most dramatic media events in my lifetime. Most of the press and TV coverage at that time made me wince, and its polarising effect is shown well in the Peter Morgan/Stephen Frears film The Queen.

However, one headline which I did admire came from the Glasgow Herald at the start of that dramatic week in 1997 when Diana’s body was flown back from Paris to RAF Northolt. “Home – to a nation of broken hearts” displayed assonance, alliteration and an appropriate sense of rhythm.

 

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A wise man of (music) journalism

 

One of the Leaf Collecting links on the right is to David Hepworth’s Blog.

David Hepworth wrote for Sounds when I was regularly reading the paper in the 1970s  but I became more closely acquainted with him later on TV. During the mid 1980s, he was, along with Mark Ellen and Andy Kershaw, part of the last presenting team of The Old Grey Whistle Test.

While the programme’s respectable range and quality of music was a model which had been formed from its earliest days, what Hepworth and co. added was a welcoming, jovial fans/pals vibe. This more casual style, a marked contrast equally with both the Bob Harris and Anne Nightingale eras, seemed representative of the way tastes and styles in pop and rock music were expanding and also often coalescing, during that period where the arrival of music videos combined with the political activism of  Band Aid and Red Wedge and the early days of hip-hop, house and world music. The enthusiasm displayed on Whistle Test was something which Hepworth and Ellen brought to their print journalism at that time and later: they wrote for, edited or managed the charts-oriented Smash Hits as well as the more serious Q, Mojo and The Word.

Hepworth’s weblog comments on music, other arts, the media and other topics in a wonderfully crisp, succinct and witty way. Just a handful of recent fine examples have covered the plagiarism court case brought by the Marvin Gaye estate over the Pharrell Williams/Robin Thicke hit “Blurred Lines”, the female pupils from the London school who left their homes without warning to join the Islamic State organisation in Syria, how bands owe their success to different combinations of talent and charisma“the only two creative thoughts on TV”,  the current appetite for public apologies and “the 21st century disease – fake indignation”.

 

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Signposts for a journey into film

 

My life-time interest in the cinema, although it began simply because  films were a central element in the TV schedules of my youth, was significantly developed by two particular publications at two different times.

The first, when I was still at school, was a series on cinema which ran for about ten weeks in The Sunday Times magazine. Among other things, this introduced me to the concept of film genres, and to my first film lists. So, on different weeks, there were articles about the thriller, the musical, the comedy, the epic,  the fantasy, the documentary. Alongside these chapters, a critic had chosen ten great examples of that genre.

Within the first few years of my reading it, I had seen several of their exalted films, like one of their top thrillers, Double Indemnity, and one of the top documentaries, Battleship Potemkin. It was exciting to compare my observations and responses to those of the published critic. Although, even now, I am waiting to see The Mask of Dimitrios to assess whether I share that writer’s enthusiasm!

Film tastes change of course, which is one reason perhaps why I long ago discarded those fraying magazine pages. Those lists compiled around 1970 mentioned directors who are seen and discussed much less often now, such as the silent- era pioneers D.W.Griffith and Charles Chaplin, or foreign language film-makers like Kenzo Mizoguchi and Luis Buñuel.  Fantasia is no longer so highly rated among Disney’s output. However, some films from those days are still highly regarded, like La Regle du JeuRio Bravo and 2001 : a Space Odyssey.

The second publication which influenced me was Time Out. The Sunday Times series had first introduced me to the auteur theory that, although a film was a team project in the way a novel wasn’t,  a film’s director was its overwhelming creative spirit, and this was definitely emphasised in Time Out’s film reviews.

In the first half of the 1980s in London, alongside the West End cinemas showing the new releases from Hollywood and elsewhere, there still seemed to be independent cinemas which showed regularly changing double and triple bills of films from previous decades. In Time Out  I was introduced  to such  lesser known and ignored films, and especially to the Hollywood genre directors who were being promoted within the critical pantheon : Howard Hawks, Samuel Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk. Many Time Out reviewers had a fondness for theory and for social and political context which, although easy to mock, I still find invaluable for the maximum appreciation of any film.

I was able to read  the magazine because my brother was living in London at that time and often brought copies back home, but its film reviews were later compiled in book form. I have retained an increasingly battered copy for twenty years which is still an indispensable bible.

What about this example of the “confrontational” style of Time Out film criticism (to borrow the term used by Geoff Andrew in his foreword to my edition) : Paul Taylor writing on Once Upon a Time in the West? “Leone’s timeless monument to the death of the West…rivalled only by Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for the title of best ever made. We’re talking favourite films here, so only superlatives will do… Morricone’s greatest score, handing Bronson his identity with a plangent, shivery harmonica riff…Counter-casting (sadistic Fonda) and location choice (Monument Valley) that render an iconic base for Leone and collaborators… to perform their revisionary/revolutionary critique of the Classic American …Creation Myth… Critical tools needed are eyes and ears – this is Cinema.”

Sometimes, especially in your own youthful enthusiasm, is such dogmatism not irresistible?  It certainly provides a clear signpost.  That Sunday Times series has vanished into the mists of time and memory, but, happily, the influence of Time Out is still strong.

 

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Of music journalism, especially Steve Peacock

 

An often-repeated question : is the internet (or more specifically the world wide web) the modern equivalent of a great library, full of erudite learning on dozens of subjects? Or is it more akin to a newsagent, stacked with up-to-date titles, catering superficially for the narrowest of niche tastes? Or is it  perhaps a cavernous second-hand bookshop, reaching  all parts of the reading public, like the former railway station in Alnwick  or the several multi-roomed castles in Wigtown?

You can decide for yourself which category best suits articles from now defunct music publications.

Like many, especially male readers, I have spent a certain amount of time listening to various types of pop, rock, folk and jazz music and also reading newspapers and magazines associated with these. One music paper I bought regularly for a time in the 1970s was Sounds, and I can still recall the names of some of the journalists who wrote for it, and even to what extent their tastes accorded with my own.

One name which  I recall was Steve Peacock. Peacock appeared to have a taste in rock music which seemed particularly cool (since this adjective has continued in vogue unchanged in meaning into the 21st century, I can’t immediately think of a better one):  Van Morrison, Captain Beefheart, Little Feat, the jazz-influenced experimenters like Soft Machine, certain members of the folk-rock school like Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band, reggae. He seemed to share many of the tastes of the late John Peel who was at that time a columnist and occasional singles reviewer with the paper.

In the later 70s, Peacock left Sounds along with a number of colleagues and joined another, short-lived, publication,  Streets Ahead, which appeared to cover other arts, current affairs and sport as well as popular music. After that, I never saw his by-line again.

Until thirty years after that, when the internet had arrived, and, one day, I came across the web-site of one Steve Peacock, a journalist and broadcaster who appeared to specialise in agricultural and countryside matters. The web-site suggested  that he had spent some youthful years in music journalism, so it did seem to be the same man. However, it appeared that, in contrast with some of his contemporaries who had continued their coverage of  popular music into the glossy magazine world of the 1980s and 1990s, or on radio or TV,  music had been only a temporary part of Peacock’s professional career.  For the subsequent  thirty years he ploughed (to use an obvious and lazy pun) an entirely different furrow.

Some of Peacock’s pieces on such  luminaries as King Crimson and Roxy Music feature elsewhere on the internet, but this story serves for me as a reminder that something that seems important and long-lasting when you are young, may become, if you are lucky enough to live longer, only one short adventure among many.

In the light of Peacock’s range of expertise, it is probably appropriate that one particular snippet of his music journalism which sticks in my mind has  a wider resonance. When Bad Company, whose members had enjoyed success with other bands,  released their first album in 1974,  Peacock felt that it was a bit predictable. “It is a manifesto, a policy statement,” he wrote, “and, like all such things, it tends to state the obvious and let the finer points slide.”  I thought then that it was a clever thing to say, and, ever since, it has seemed an observation which has remained very relevant and applicable to manifestos compiled by other people.

 

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