style of journalism, more than most, relies on contributions
from readers". - Nury Vittachi: Only in Hong Kong (1993)
I have a delightful journalist friend in Hong
Kong called Nury Vittachi who collects headlines.
Now most people who want to collect something
for a hobby collect something sensible and practical like stamps
or coins or picture postcards or CDs — but not my pal Nury. He
has to be different.
Whenever he sees an eye-catching headline in a
newspaper or magazine, Nury writes it down in his notebook. He
then adds it to what I term his ‘storehouse of useless
information’ that he keeps on the hard drive of his computer.
Sometimes I think that when he has nothing to do he sits in
front of his computer screen and studies his Headlines File
(like my Scrabble-mad nephew diligently spends his leisure hours
studying the dictionary or my Toastmaster neighbour hopefully
studies his Book of Jokes).
When we lived in Hong Kong we used to enjoy
Nury’s visits to us because from time to time he would delve
into his memory and recount one of these amusing items of
information for our listening pleasure.
"Did you know" he asked me once "that in the
American state of Illinois there is a town called Oblong and a
town called Normal?"
"No" I admitted.
"That explains" he continued "why the local
paper was able to run a story entitled Normal man weds Oblong
"I suppose this sort of thing only happens in
America" he went on "because in another state, in Minnesota,
there are actually two towns called Climax and Fertile. So one
day, when there was a particularly nasty car accident in the
first of these towns, the local paper carried the unfortunate
headline FERTILE WOMAN DIES IN CLIMAX."
There were times when I used to suspect that
Nury was making these headlines up in his fertile imagination.
But whenever I took the trouble to check the atlas or the
internet, I would find that the places he mentioned actually did
exist, along with towns in the US having names just as unusual
such as Hell, Whiz Bang and Crazy Woman.
No wonder the country produces political leaders
with names like Gore and Bush! If the first of these towns voted
for Al Gore, American newspapers could have written ‘HELL FOR
GORE’ while if little George won in the third town mentioned
above the headline would have read ‘CRAZY WOMAN LIKES BUSH’.
America is a land of opportunity, not least for headline
On another occasion, Nury recalled an American
newspaper which published a scoop reporting how the Vietnamese
currency (known as the Dong) was going to be revalued following
a recent rise in the value of the American dollar. On the front
page of the Sunday edition the headlines crudely screamed:
VIETNAMESE GET BIGGER DONGS.
Nury also explained to me about a previous
Maldivian prime minister called Mohamed Didi, who succeeded in
scoring a surprise victory in the Maldives’ general election. In
those ancient days when reporters had to file their stories by
telegraph and Morse code, the national paper ran its election
story on the front page with a banner headline DIDI DID IT!
"Speaking of politicians of yesteryear" Nury
chuckled, "there once was a fellow called K. C. Pant who was
foreign minister of India. After his official visit to Sri
Lanka, one of the local papers had a photo of him and his wife
saying goodbye to his hosts at the airport.
"I believe the prize for the best headline of
all time should go to this newspaper. Can you guess the caption
they used for the photograph? PANTS OFF!"
Come to think of it, Nury’s hobby is so much
more interesting than collecting used postage stamps!