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Dyson at Large: Cake, Shuttle, Bells and Frank Skinner’s Telephone

Have you heard the one about West Midlands comedian Frank Skinner and the wonderfully titled (but sadly now defunct) newspaper called the Smethwick Telephone?

Frank was performing his stand-up gig in Birmingham some years ago and asked the audience why on earth anyone would have called what used to be his local paper the “Smethwick Telephone”.

A reply came from a loud but flat and heavily Black Country-accented voice in the audience: “Because it’s from Smethwick!”

As my old reporter colleague Dave Disley-Jones said when he recounted this story: “Golden.”

Smethwick Telephone

This was just one of a mini-glut of bizarre but beautiful newspaper titles that emerged in an inky corner of social media after my last blog on ‘The longest newspaper title in Britain’.

This Facebook chat was kicked off by a former Gloucestershire journalist called Andrew Christopher Davies who said: “Mr Dyson should explore the papers with the most amusing titles too.

“I remember nearly expiring with hilarity when a reporter with whom I was at a refresher course informed the room he worked for the Banbury Cake. I wonder whether that still exists (probably not, as it eventually passed into the hands of Newsquest…)”

His query was quickly answered by Alison Gow, Trinity Mirror’s digital innovation editor, who said: “Yep, it’s got a great reputation as a local news title. Brilliantly, the top story atm is illustrated with a wedding cake pic.”

Alison’s boss, Trinity Mirror’s regional editorial director Neil Benson, then chipped in: “My favourite is the Daventry Express, aka The Gusher. I don’t know why, but there it is. Followed by The Epworth Bells.”

Marc Reeves, editor of the Birmingham Mail, tried to explain: “Daventry was named after a locomotive, I believe. Kidderminster Shuttle is my personal favourite, as my dad worked in the carpet industry there.”

And this was when the above mentioned Smethwick Telephone story was brought up by Dave Disley-Jones, who later added: “An ex-girlfriend (Spanish) worked for El Faro de Vigo (Vigo Lighthouse) which I love, particularly for a coastal town. I suppose ‘Telephone’ is no more stupid than that or indeed ‘Bugle’. There’s just something extra clunky about it though.”

The reasoning behind many of these titles was, of course, forms of communication, or how communications were once transported, transmitted or broadcast, hence the litany of Telegraphs, News Letters, Gazettes, Posts, Records, Echos, Couriers, Mails, Chronicles and Heralds.

This explains (Frank Skinner – are you reading?) the reasons for the Smethwick Telephone, but I still can’t get my head around the origins of the Banbury Cake, except that the town is renowned for, yep, its cake.

Back in 2011, media guru Roy Greenslade mentioned the Cake along with his own discoveries of peculiar newspaper titles that included the Impartial Reporter, from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, which he recounted was “once impartially in favour of Protestantism and Unionism”.

Roy’s other UK favourites were The Keswick Reminder, the Royston Crow and The Falmouth Packet, the latter which he notes was “named after the mail-carrying packet ships”, while his USA picks included the Carlisle Mosquito (Massachusetts), the Boulder Daily Camera (Colorado), The Canton Repository (Ohio), The Youngstown Vindicator (also Ohio) and The Sacramento Bee (California).

He also listed The Barrier Daily Truth (Australia), The Casket (Nova Scotia, Canada), The Northern Pen (Newfoundland, Canada) and The Gleaner (Jamaica) as newspaper titles that made him smile.

I tried to conclude the above-mentioned social media conversation by saying: “I might launch The Boldmere Tweet” (the suburb where I live), but this was countered in a final comment from Trinity Mirror regionals digital director David Higgerson, who said: “In the 90s that could have been the Sutton Modem.”

So how about you, HoldtheFrontPage readers? Surely someone out there can think of a better modern name to call a newspaper in 2015? Or are there other weird ones in existence that haven’t been mentioned yet?

Postscript: My last word on this newspaper nomenclature malarkey comes after a late but fascinating comment on my previous blog.

If you remember, several of us had been debating the longest newspaper title, and Gordon Neish, the current editor of the Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard, has now revealed why his paper was once the undisputed world champion.

Gordon said: “Until, I believe, 1996, our full and glorious title was ‘Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard (incorporating the Dunoon Advertiser and Cowal Watchman)’.”

Wow … twelve words and 86 characters. Beat that! As Gordon added: “The masthead left little space for front page news.”

16 comments

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  • October 21, 2015 at 9:16 am
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    Long titles? There was once one in South Devon grandly named The Newton Abbot Town And Country Home and Property News Shopper.
    Don’t even ask…

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  • October 21, 2015 at 9:31 am
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    Always like The Cleveland Plain Dealer from Ohio.

    The name that is, not its politics.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 9:42 am
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    Delighted to see Marc Reeves giving the Kidderminster Shuttle a mention. I was born in Kidderminster and did my first work experience on the Shuttle at the age of 15.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 10:33 am
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    Craven Herald & Pioneer – still one of the best local newspapers in Yorkshire. Why does the Southport Visiter spell its name in such a perverse fashion? Finest of all, however, is the Skibbereen Eagle – whose Facebook page even today warns that it has been “keeping an eye on the Czar of Russia since 1898″

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  • October 21, 2015 at 10:41 am
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    Not one of your best efforts today, Steve. “Roy’s other UK favourites were The Keswick Reminder, the Royston Crow and The Falmouth Packet, the latter…”, “several of us had been debating the longest newspaper title” – but then what would we Newsquest subs in Wales know, eh?

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  • October 21, 2015 at 11:52 am
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    You’re dead right, ‘Journo watch': good grammar error spots. Bring back sub-editors!

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  • October 21, 2015 at 1:03 pm
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    Having been the proud editor of the Falmouth Packet and its then nine associated journals in the 1980s and 1990s, I feel well-placed to comment on unusual newspaper titles.
    When I worked for a US features agency in the 1960s, my by-line appeared in such respected titles as the Toledo Blade, the Torrance Daily Breeze, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the San Diego Union, the Quincey Patriot-Ledger, the Worcester Telegram and the Seattle Intelligencer, not to mention the Barbados Advocate, the Jamaica Daily Gleaner and the Philadelphia Bulletin.
    My dad came from western Scotland, where there was once a paper called (something like) the Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead and Argyllshire Advertiser, affectionately known as The Wee Squeak.
    My favourite is the Skibbereen Eagle from southern Ireland, which once famously warned Adolf Hitler to desist from invading other countries, as the Eagle was watching his every move.
    It was obviously the implied threat of the Eagle’s ire and opprobrium that scuppered Nazi plans for invading the British Isles.
    The power of the press can never be under-estimated.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 2:25 pm
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    Adverts on front page, that’s when local newspapers were local newspapers. Before fleet street wanabe editors emerged to temporarily rule their little empires.

    Ads gone , circulation gone, QED

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  • October 21, 2015 at 2:33 pm
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    Great memories emailed to me today from a former Smethwick Telephone reporter, which I think Htfp readers will enjoy…

    Hi Steve,
    I hope you are well.
    I read with interest your piece on HTFP about the Smethwick Telephone’s ‘odd’ name.
    I started my career on the Telephone in 1960 and never thought it strange. More importantly, neither did its readers. I suppose it was simply familiarity, though, which is why (local boy) Frank Skinner’s sneering is so odd.
    BTW during the 6 years I worked on the Telephone – which included the maelstrom of 2 general elections fought on the race issue, making it the focus of world media attention – it sold 20,000 a week . . . in a town with a population of 55,000!
    Of course, when Telephone reporters contacted the The Big Wide World outside Smethwick on a story (a rare occurrence!) people did always double check on the name . . . and often sniggered.
    I never understood why because – as you wrote – virtually all newspapers are named after another means of communication – Mail, Post, Telegraph etc – and the Smethwick Telephone was so called because it was founded in the same year that the telephone was invented.
    The name did nearly cost one Telephone journalist his life, though. When I started on the Telephone, the editor was Morris Green who had worked on the paper man and boy.
    He told how – before the war when he was a mere reporter – he went to interview a local GP about a workaday tale. The door of the doctor’s house-cum-surgery was opened by his housekeeper who left Morris on the doorstep and went to speak to her boss, apparently telling him someone from the Telephone/telephone wanted to see him.
    The GP – drunk as a skunk and scarcely able to stand up – lurched down the hall with a loaded shotgun in his hand, which he pointed at a terrified Morris. He was shouting: “You killed one of my patients and now I’m going to kill you.”
    Morris and the housekeeper managed to defuse the situation and it was later explained that the GP was furious because a patient had tried to telephone him in an emergency but the phone was out of order (it had been for several days apparently) and the patient had collapsed and died by the time help eventually arrived.
    The GP had assumed Morris was a a telephone engineer from the GPO belatedly arriving to fix the fault and he was about to feel the full blast of his anger – literally.
    The Smethwick Telephone was not the only Telephone ever to have existed. The Yiddisher Telephone had a short life in the Jewish community in the east end of London at the turn of the 19th/20th century.
    Although no longer the title of a newspaper, the Smethwick Telephone lives on; it is the name of the magazine of Smethwick Heritage Centre.
    Regards,
    Bob [Haywood]

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  • October 21, 2015 at 4:17 pm
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    I worked for a newspaper which had the full title “County Express for Worcestershire and Staffordshire, incorporating the Dudley Mercury”. Its readers simply called in The County.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 4:34 pm
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    I actually started my photographic career on the Smethwick Telephone back in 1974, it was then sister paper to the Oldbury News part of the West Midlands Press Group.

    Dave Lawley was Chief Reporter, later of the Express & Star, sadly recently passed, I seem to remember David Clarke may have worked there at some stage along with John Clegg, Stan Keeley and various other great well known Midland journalists.

    When Frank Skinner was given the “Freedom of the Borough” at Oldbury Council house I had to photograph him for the Sunday Mercury.

    In the council chamber as part of his speech he told the story of how the local paper had featured a story of him when he started his career and the photographer made him put his thumbs up and give a cheesy grin, I could feel myself going bright red.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 5:36 pm
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    Back when my school newspaper in Northumberland was advised and published by the Tweeddale Press Group in the 1980s, its editor-in-chief visited with his own paper The Southern Reporter, or to give it its full masthead title at the time, The Southern Reporter, Kelso Chronicle, Jedburgh Gazette, Border Mail and Hawick Express (the order might be wrong), each with their own ‘Est’ dates alongside each absorbed title. Sadly I believe one of the first actions of Johnston Press on buying Tweeddale Press from the Smails was to banish these incorporations from the masthead to an inside page.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 7:03 pm
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    Mention of the Daventry Weekly Express – aka The Gusher – reminds me of a story from the 1960s when the remarkable Bill Green was editor.
    So feared was The Gusher in those days that a local criminal who skipped bail told magistrates: ‘I left town because The Gusher was after me.’
    When right-wing activists painted swastikas on The Gusher’s office windows, Green ran a page one story challenging them to ‘come out and fight you lily-livered b…..ds’.
    In those days, The Gusher ran to only six or eight blotchily printed pages, but customers queued outside the office as it came off a flatbed press, eager to devour its provocative editorials.
    Ah, those really were the golden days of local journalism.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm
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    I absolutely loved the comments on newspaper titles. As the launch editor of one of the long ones, Wellingborough & Rushden etc, etc, etc, I well recall ‘The Gusher’ at nearby Daventry.
    It did indeed get its nickname from the train huffing and puffing up the local branch line and tended to couple itself to the name of the editor too.
    Hence good old Walter Green was known locally as Gusher Green. And when young thruster Keith Ridley succeeded him, I believe he became The Gusher too.
    Happy days.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 8:03 pm
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    My favourite Californian newspapers are the Carmel Pine Cone and the Idyllwild Town Crier, the latter carrying the immortal; slogan “Almost all the news…part of the time”…

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  • October 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm
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    The Black Country Bugle is still making a noise, I believe. Proud, ‘cos me ode mon started it!

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