Belfast Telegraph

Billy Simpson: Binmen’s strike digs up howlers of the past

Funny how the association of ideas can throw up a memory that, on a conscious level, would appear to have very little to do with the thought that ignited it.

The council workers’ strike got me thinking about a marvellous newspaperman who graced Belfast journalism back in the days when the typewriter was the fastest vehicle on the information super highway. His name was Jack Bennett and he could be irascible when the mood took him but he was really a charming man and a very talented sub-editor.

Jack had an old notebook where he recorded classic newspaper howlers committed by reporters whose typing fingers occasionally worked faster than their brains. And he guarded that dog-eared old jotter like it was the Book of Kells. The binmen's strike reminded me of one little gem Jack recorded once when grave diggers went on strike.

It read: "The Glasnevin Cemetery authorities announced that grave digging implements would be available on Monday to all who wished to dig their own graves."

Before the explosion of television out-takes, people had to trip over their tongues in print — or misprint. Although some misprints freakishly seemed to fit. Such as the headline on a drought story ...

‘There's Plenty of Waatter in Ballycastle’.


A clerical gentleman, wearing a temperance badge and an expression to match, was seated next to an Irishman on a flight from London. When the drinks trolley came by the Irishman ordered a whiskey. Asked if he would care for a drink, the clergyman snapped in disgust: "I'd rather be savagely raped by a dozen brazen hussies than let liquor touch my lips."

The Irishman quickly handed his drink back to the attendant and said: "Me too. I didn't know we had a choice."

(Courtesy of James Bell)


"For every action there is an equal and opposite government programme" — Alf Fowler.


I understand that in some cinemas showing the ABBA musical Mamma Mia, young (and not so young) women are inspired to leap about and join in the singing whenever ‘Dancing Queen’ is played. More than one critic has wondered if music as ‘dated’ as ABBA's can still attract an audience today.

But some of the most successful film musicals of the past used melodies that were not in tune with the pop trends of the time. Singing in the Rain released in the 1950s was filled with tunes from the 1920s. The Sound of Music was basically an operetta with a style of song that could have fitted in equally well a century earlier.

Grease in the late 1970s was a hymn to the music of the mid-50s.

So it can't be the age of the product that counts. Must be the quality. Coloured glass may sparkle, but diamonds endure. Mamma Mia should do very well.

I will await with anticipation its arrival on television in about three years. Don't think I could risk seeing it in the cinema. If the aisles were filled with dancing queens, I'm not sure I could take the excitement.

Back in the 1950s, I was privileged to attend a show given by the great Bill Haley and the Comets in London during a UK tour. Some Teddy Boys in the audience leaped up and began jiving in the aisles to ‘See You Later Alligator’. It was the first time I'd ever seen grown men dancing together. I pretended not to notice. It seemed best.

Belfast Telegraph


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