Shome inconshistenchy shurely

Reading Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary in last Wednesday’s Irish Times, I spotted what I thought might be a change in the paper’s policy on swearwords.
But it would seem the answer is ‘No’, because here is a piece in yesterday’s sports section by Keith Duggan.

Maybe the sports subs use a different stylebook than those on the op ed page?
The publications which are most coy about swearing are of course the tabloids, which add asterisks to the most low level profanities. So we get Trump’s remarks about Africa and Haiti described thus in the Daily Mail:

Knowing that the Guardian is much more relaxed about using swearwords, I checked out its style guide, and was amused to see that the use of asterisks or blanks was condemned by no less an author than Charlotte Brontë.

If it was OK by her back in the 19th century, then I reckon it should be OK for the Old Lady of D’Olier Street in the 21st.

 

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Happy Christmas, 41 years ago

Old guys and nostalgia freaks like me love blogs like The Radical History of Hackney. A year or two ago, I donated an almost complete run of issues of Hackney People’s Press to John, the blog’s compiler, in the sure knowledge that he would give them a good home and find them useful for reference.
John has obviously been working through them, and has just posted a summary of the issues we produced in 1976. The first issue of HPP for the year didn’t get published until May, when I got together with one or two people in a hopeful attempt to get it back and running again after an absence of several months. I’m glad to say that a few people came forward, and throughout that long hot summer we managed a few more editions, culminating in a November/December Christmas special. One of the new people involved was called Tony, and it is him that is posing in the Father Christmas outfit on the cover shown here.
One page in the Christmas issue was a spoof Hackney Gazette, which we subjected to biting satire based on its normal diet of gruesome court cases.

At the bottom of this page is a happy picture of HPP workers sitting on the ground at that summer’s Hackney Marsh Fun Festival folding copies ready for sale. Tony is the guy at the front, holding up a copy for the camera. Behind him facing right is a considerably thinner and hairier figure: me at the age of 26.
Forty-one years ago, eh? A lot has changed since then, but I’m still here, and at this festive season I wish you a very happy Christmas.

Respect and respectability

I am reading and much enjoying Lynsey Hanley’s book, Respectable, about social class in Britain. Like her, I read Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy at quite a young age although with my solidly middle class background I did not feel, as does Hanley, that Hoggart could have been writing about my own childhood.

However, it’s not the content that I want to write about here. Rather, it’s the book production standards which display a slackness one would not have expected from a firm like Penguin. Here is a spread:

Just how did the quoted matter on the left hand page slip through the proofing process? You would think that anyone with half a book production brain would spot that it is set in Times – especially so when there is quoted matter on the right hand page, set correctly in Bembo. In case you think I’m being unnecessary picky, there are actually several instances of this in the book – I’ve chosen to show the one where there are two pieces of quoted matter on a double page spread.

The typography in the book is actually very classical in style and quite nice, and I’m glad to see that Penguin still provides the typeface name on the title page verso. Quite why the book is set in a typesize of 11.76/14.76pt is, however, a bit of a mystery. How would you happen on such an odd size?

Mass book production has always depended on fast turnaround but you do expect good practise from the firm whose high standards were set by one of the greatest 20th century typographers. Hans (‘Half-Point’) Schmoller would not have been amused.

Aitken and the ABC case

[L-R] Tony Bunyan, Duncan Campbell and Sarah Kavanagh speaking at the Arnolfini in Bristol, an event organised to mark the 40th anniversary of the ABC Campaign

The event in Bristol a couple of weeks ago to mark the 40th anniversary of the Aubrey-Berry-Campbell official secrets case was a good chance to catch up with many people I hadn’t seen for a good number of years. I was also quite surprised by the large number of bits of ephemera which I designed for the campaign. Stickers, posters, badges, the ‘souvenir programme’ which we produced for the 1978 Old Bailey trial and a few more I had totally forgotten about. The product of many nights Letrasetting headlines and pasting up artwork, and there they all were, projected onto the backdrop behind the speakers in a never-ending slideshow.

One was for this Conway Hall meeting, held in April 1977, an event I remember well.

Some people might be surprised to see Jonathan Aitken’s name as a speaker at this meeting, given that he is most famous now for being convicted of perjury following the collapse of the libel case he brought against the Guardian in 1995. However, he had himself been on trial in 1971 for breaching the Official Secrets Act, along with the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, the newspaper itself and a retired army colonel who had been an observer in the Nigerian civil war in the late 1960s. All the defendants were eventually acquitted on all charges. (The best summary of the case that I could find online is actually from the New York Times.) The judge told the court that the Telegraph’s report did not contain ‘a word affecting our national security.’ and that the result should make the Government consider whether the broad terms of the act had ‘reached retirement age and should be pensioned off.’ The case against Aitken was brought by a Labour government and Attorney-General, and it was the same combination who brought the 1977 prosecution against Aubrey, Berry and Campbell. That might have been the party political reason for Aitken speaking in support of a campaign which had previously only been backed by left-wing Labour MPs (such as Neil Kinnock, Jo Richardson and Robert Kilroy-Silk(!)).

After the case, Aitken wrote a book, Officially Secret, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in 1971. I have a copy of this, which I see from the stamps inside that I bought from a LB Hackney sale of withdrawn library stock in 1986 for 25p. The cover was designed by Craig Dodd, who also worked on covers for other publishers in this period. (See these posts on Existential Ennui: The Dame, The Right Stuff and The Shooting Party.)

There is another link between the Aitken and ABC cases. One of the defence counsel in both was Lord Hutchinson QC, who died yesterday at the grand age of 102. In his obituary in today’s Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson QC (who was a junior counsel in the ABC case) recalls how Hutchinson found out about the jury-vetting in the latter case, in a story which he also told at the Bristol event:

On the opening day of the ‘ABC’ trial in 1978, Jeremy discovered by chatting to an incautious Old Bailey clerk that the prosecution had made a clandestine application to a subservient judge to ‘vet’ the jury panel. This practice had been secretly used in ‘political’ cases and Jeremy’s advocacy blew it up into a national scandal. A pupil barrister (now Mr Justice Nicol) was dispatched post-haste to the LSE library to borrow a copy of Bentham’s Elements of the Art of Jury-Packing, which Jeremy used as the basis for a blistering attack on the weak Labour law officers who had approved this obnoxious form of secret policing.

By the time the ABC case came up for trial, I was working for the National Council for Civil Liberties as its publications officer. The very first item I produced in this new job was a pamphlet called Justice Deserted, written by one of NCCL’s legal officers, Harriet Harman, and LSE professor John Griffith. The foreword was by EP Thompson, no less, and I recall having to ring the great man himself to give him instructions as to where to post his text. Heady days indeed.

“Unctuous and insincere toadying”

Not my words, but those of Bill Bryson who, before he became the world-famous travel writer, was the much-revered (in sub-editing circles, at least) author of the Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words. I have the original 1984 edition, others are available.

As has been widely reported this week, the UK’s International Development Secretary has resigned/been sacked from her position after certain difficulties arose with her failure to tell her colleagues what she did on her holiday in Israel. She spent an awkward hour or so in No 10 before issuing the letter seen above.

What has not been widely reported this week is the language howler in her resignation letter. Ms Patel offered the Prime Minister her ‘fulsome apology’, presumably under the impression that this is a beefed-up version of a ‘full apology’. However, as the estimable Mr Bryson says, the sense that is usually accorded the word ‘fulsome’ – of being copious or lavish or unstinting is almost the opposite of the word’s actual meaning. ‘Fulsome,’ he writes:

is related to foul and means odious and overfull, offensively insincere. ‘Fulsome praise’, properly used, isn’t a lavish tribute; it is unctuous and insincere toadying.

There was a time when civil servants (who presumably drafted Ms Patel’s letter) were given Ernest Gower’s Plain Words to help them to learn how better to express themselves. Someone slipped up here.

Talking to plants

This photo was in the Guardian on Friday. It is supposed to show a lonely Theresa May in Brussels, in a room on her own waiting for an EU delegation to arrive. But as an informative blogpost by Jon Worth points out, May wasn’t alone in the room at all. She had arrived with British delegation colleagues including Tim Barrow and Gavin Barwell, but had then made the mistake of taking a seat before the EU delegates arrived. Here’s the sequence of pictures, all taken by freelance Geert Vanden Wijngaert, working for AP:

Wijngaert confirmed that May wasn’t alone in the room, telling Worth in an email: ‘She just was the first to go and sit at the meeting table when others were still standing. I framed the image so you only could see her. That’s what press photographers do all the time to illustrate news stories.’ Great work from the photographer, given that he probably only had a few seconds to see and get the shot.