‘You must be f***king joking!’ he screamed, poking Blake in the chest. ‘You just don’t understand the readers, do you, eh?’
MacKenzie rapped out his picture of the Sun‘s older reader. ‘He’s the bloke you see in the pub – a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he’s afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and weirdoes and drug dealers…’
Yesterday I was on the Tube and found myself sitting next to the very same Old Fascist that Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun newspaper, had described as the paper’s typical reader. I did not ask the O.F. whether he voted BNP, because really I do not ever want to have that conversation with anyone ever. But he did look like the racist old men you find clogging up British pubs, and he was reading the Sun.
I was on my way back from a training course on how to write for charity. And of course, the key to writing anything – whether for a charity or for a popular tabloid newspaper - is to know your intended reader really well, and write for him and him alone. MacKenzie never failed to remind his journalists how vital this is:
He gave the entire desk a bollocking on its duty to know the ‘old fascist’ so well they could predict his every word.
I was sort of trying to watch the O.F. out of the corner of my eye, and discern his voting habits from the clothes he was wearing. (A dirty green jacket, since you ask – a black shirt would’ve been a dead giveaway.) I was also morbidly fascinated by the headlines in the Sun itself. The best one I saw was I’M DEAD STROPPY above a story about a toddler who had a ‘holding-breath tantrum’.
I’m kind of intrigued by the Sun now. As soon as I blogged about MacKenzie being doorstepped by Channel 4 News about his headline for the Hillsborough disaster, I ordered the book I mentioned in that post. Turns out, Stick It Up Your Punter is the kind of book you’ll be reading out loud to anyone who’ll listen, and plenty who won’t. History of a newspaper, you say? Sounds interesting but surely a somewhat niche appeal? Nope. The whole book is full of truly excellent anecdotes.
Like that time in 1985 when the Sun office was stuffed to the rafters with thousands of cheap copies of a hideous picture. There were so many of the things that they were ‘stacked twelve feet high in the newsroom, spilling out of cupboards, and entirely filling a little-used interview room.’
A fire had destroyed a house…but a (somewhat trashy and sentimental) picture called The Crying Boy had survived completely unscathed.
The Sun‘s readers were just the kind of people who had prints of The Crying Boy in their homes. So the paper told its readers that the picture was somehow cursed and might cause fires, and they kindly offered to dispose of the offending objects. The readers were understandably anxious to get rid of their evil fire-causing pictures, and sent them all to the Sun offices. Soon the poor old hacks found themselves completely hemmed in…
‘Bloody hell!’ MacKenzie kept saying as he threaded his way through the piles of Crying Boys. ‘What the f*** are we going to do with this lot?’
At first they wanted to burn the pictures on the roof of the building, but the London Fire Brigade refused to co-operate, saying the whole thing was a ‘cheap publicity stunt’ which was causing it endless trouble. Eventually the Thames Fire Brigade agreed to help, and reporter Paul Hooper was duly dispatched to Reading with two pantechnicon loads of Crying Boys, which he ceremoniously set light to.
MacKenzie splashed the story under ‘THE SUN TAKES ON THE CURSE OF THE CRYING BOY’, increasing the ‘spin’ by bylining Hooper as ‘Fine Arts Correspondent’.
Last year the Sun decided it was high time they got to the bottom of the curse of the crying boy. Just warning you before you click – the story is so disappointingly mundane that I couldn’t even find a good quote to put here…except maybe the last sentences.
Many people were spooked and wanted to be rid of them but Kelvin MacKenzie thinks there is another reason why the paintings flooded in.
He reckons many came from couples where one person had never liked the picture anyway — and saw a good opportunity to get rid of it.
Do you know an O.F.? Perhaps some of your best friends, etc etc. Perhaps you are an O.F. yourself. Alright, I’m not judging you. But you should immediately get rid of any suspiciously flammable-looking sentimental pictures. Except maybe don’t send them to the Sun.