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.”
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.”